The Trust has a collection of portraits in oil and busts of leading figures in the dissenting movement. Most of these can be viewed on Art UK’s webpage here.
The Library Sub-committee sees to their insurance, cleaning and general upkeep as part of their normal responsibility for the Library. Portraits are subject to regular inspection and conservation work undertaken as required based on professional advice.
Like the books, the portraits have been acquired by purchase or donation over the years. Beyond their pecuniary value the portraits are an important and tangible reminder of the leading personalities of our denominational history.
Most of the paintings were rescued by the then manager of the Trust and Library, Bernard Honess, from the basement of the old Memorial Hall, where they had been rolled up in newspaper and forgotten when the building was requisitioned during the Second World War. Bernard had them valued, repaired and reframed. They now form a natural extension of the records of the Library and in particular they provide faces for at least some of those Independent and Congregational ministers in the Surman index.
Not all are ministers. Among the grandest are portraits of King William III and his Stuart Queen, Mary II.
There is also one of Isaac Watts, sometimes described as ‘The Godfather of English Hymnody’.
Longer term we hope that space may be available in the refurbished Dr Williams’s Library for a permanent exhibition where some of the paintings may be displayed on rotation.
An exhibition of some of the portraits with subject biographies can be found here.
Some of our busts recently underwent conservation under the capable hands of Alexandra Carrington ACR.
In recent years the Trust has tried to organise an exhibition of a selection of portraits to coincide with the annual Friends’ summer event. Click here to visit our events page.