The Whitaker is set in a mill-owner's mansion in the peaceful surroundings of Whitaker Park.
The Whitaker has what could be described as a typical municipal art collection, dating from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It comprises three main categories of fine art works: portraits of prominent local politicians, civic leaders and members of local families, commissioned from artists in the region; paintings of varied subject matter gifted to the museum by wealthy local patrons and nationally known artists, and a large group of works, including topographical scenes and more portraits, by local and other artists. The latter constitutes a social historical record of the Rossendale area of East Lancashire.
The fine art collection is housed in the town museum in Whitaker Park, Rawtenstall, which opened in 1904. The current catalogue includes 189 original works in oil. Due to limitations of space the museum can only show a proportion of its collection on a ‘permanent’ basis. In the current museum layout there is a total of 50 works on display.
One of the most popular oil paintings in the collection is 'The Lifeboat' by Marshall Claxton, a work which toured Australia as part of the National Gallery of Victoria touring exhibition Exiles and Emigrants in 2005 and 2006.
Other works of some note are 'Stepping Stones: Pamela' by John Collier, 'A Winter Scene' by Alexis de Leeuw, 'The Ford' by Auguste-François Bonheur, 'Near Southampton' by William Shayer, and 'The Devil's Bridge on the St Gothard Pass' by Thomas Creswick.
The acquisition policy states that all future acquisitions will build on the strengths of and enhance existing collections. The focus of collecting is on material with a local relevance and as such work by local artists and of local scenes will be the priority. There is a specific objective within the policy which is to complement and enhance existing displays, such as the period drawing room.