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Art UK’s oil paintings project in Northern Ireland brought together nearly 4,000 paintings from across the country. The largest collection is National Museums Northern Ireland, which is spread over four sites, with loans as far afield as 10 Downing Street and the Hugh Lane Art Gallery, Dublin. We also catalogued collections at the Northern Ireland Assembly, Stormont and Hillsborough Castle along with the scattered collections belonging to Queen’s University, Belfast, covering over 100 different sites. A rich and varied collection, one painting was hidden in an emergency stairwell of the Royal Hospital, Belfast, and took us days to locate. We also photographed the paintings at the University of Ulster (formerly the art college), which has a rare collection of works exhibited by renowned Northern Irish twentieth-century artists’ work at their degree shows. Artists like Elizabeth Magill and Rita Duffy offer fine examples.

Geographically the Northern Irish collection spreads from the north coast, with Causeway Coast and Glens Borough Council to the west in Fermanagh County Museum – where you will find some of the earliest works of William Scott along with a wonderful series of Terence Philip Flanagan oils – both local boys. Paintings also appear in Enniskillen, by pupils of Kathleen Bridle, and at many small outposts throughout the province. Belfast Harbour Commissioners, Linen Hall Library and Belfast City Hall are hidden gems, with paintings rarely seen by the public.

The collection in Northern Ireland is rich with locally, nationally and internationally renowned artists dating from the seventeenth century to the present day, including comprehensive collections of works by John Lavery and William Conor paintings, as well as examples of work by John Opie, Thomas Lawrence, William Orpen, Stanley Spencer, Henrietta Rae, Frank McKelvey, Walter Richard Sickert, Louis le Brocquy, Pieter Bruegel the elder, Andrew Nicholl, Hugh Frazer, Strickland Lowry, Hans Iten, Basil Blackshaw and John Luke.

Alison Mitchelson, Former Art UK Paintings Project Coordinator