It would be impossible to find a more appropriate showcase for Torbay’s art collection than historic Torre Abbey, the home of some of Torbay’s leading citizens for over 800 years. The present appearance of the Galleries at Torre Abbey is largely due to the Cary family, who during the 18th century refashioned the Abbey as a magnificent country house. Like all country houses, one of the Abbey’s functions was to provide an appropriate setting for its owners’ pictures and portraits, which as well as being intrinsically beautiful served to underline the family’s social standing by demonstrating their wealth, taste, patronage of the arts, and venerable family pedigree.
Most of the original contents of Torre Abbey were sold by the family at auction in 1858 and 1916. The present art collection is largely the result of donations or bequests made by local people since 1930 when the Council purchased Torre Abbey from the Cary family and turned it into an art gallery. The Abbey has paintings from most periods but is particularly rich in nineteenth-century works. These generally reflect the taste of the genteel families, many from London, who bought villas in Torquay during the 19th century, in the days when it served as a fashionable winter resort.
The Abbey aims to collect eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth-century landscape, marine and genre paintings by British artists, concentrating in particular on views of south Devon and its coastal waters, and works by local artists. The Friends of Torre Abbey was formed in 1992 to raise funds for the benefit of the collections, and have assisted with a number of recent purchases as well as making a substantial contribution to the restoration fund.