The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, at the University of Birmingham, is one of the finest small picture galleries in the world, and the most representative collection of European art formed in Britain since the nineteenth century. It was founded in 1932 by Dame Martha Constance Hattie Barber 'for the study and encouragement of art and music'. She bequeathed a sum of money to a Board of Trustees, and instructed them to create from this a building in memory of her husband, Sir William Henry Barber, a wealthy Birmingham property developer and solicitor.
This was to contain a concert hall and art gallery, together with a collection of works of art 'of that standard of quality required by The National Gallery and The Wallace Collection'. Today the Collection, owned by the Trust and mostly acquired with its funds, contains nearly 150 European oil paintings, covering all major schools and periods from the thirteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Among its many masterpieces are Murillo's 'The Marriage Feast at Cana', Thomas Gainsborough's 'The Harvest Wagon', and Degas's 'Jockeys before the Race'. There is, in addition, a small group of paintings that once belonged to the Barbers, mainly consisting of, and notable for, a remarkable series of portraits of Lady Barber herself.
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts' building was erected between 1936 and 1939, at a site near the East Gate of the University of Birmingham, to the designs of the architect Robert Atkinson. Constructed of Derby Dale stone and variegated brick, it is the finest Art Deco style building in Birmingham and one of the best museum buildings of its time. In addition to the first-floor art gallery, it contains a concert hall, libraries for the history of art and music departments and offices for some of their staff.