Bolton’s art collection totals over 3,500 items. Nearly all of these are works by British artists dating from the eighteenth century to the present day. The collection's strength is its twentieth-century oils, watercolours, prints and sculptures. Also in the collection are examples of decorative art including ceramics, glass and netsuke, as well as art and photography from the Mass-Observation project. Highlights include a significant collection of works by Bolton-born artist Thomas Moran and his wife Mary Nimmo Moran (who painted in watercolour). There are also works by Thomas Rowlandson, William Blake and J. M. W. Turner (whose works here are in watercolour), as well as a small selection of old master paintings by Luca Giordano, Adam Colonia and Gaspard Dughet.
Supporting the painting collection are over 1,000 prints, the majority of which are by twentieth-century British artists. Of particular importance is the Sycamore Collection which is broadly representative of British printmaking from 1900 to 1960 and provides an excellent resource for both reference and display.
The sculpture collection consists of around 50 works, the majority of which are bronzes by mid-twentieth-century British artists. Several internationally celebrated artists such as Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Jacob Epstein (who had particular connections to Bolton) and Bolton-born Paul Mason are represented. This small but outstanding collection provides an extraordinary resource, allowing people from the local area to see and study sculpture by world renowned artists without having to travel to a national museum or gallery.
The majority of the 455 oil paintings in the collection are British. Most date from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include works by Ben Nicholson, Laura Knight, Thomas Moran and Roland Penrose to name a few. A small but significant group of paintings date from the seventeenth century, with good examples by Italian, French and Dutch artists.