Sunderland has wide-ranging collections of 18th to 21st century fine art, which have been acquired since the museum’s foundation in 1846. Particular strengths are the Victorian paintings, which were greatly enhanced by the John Dickinson bequest in 1908. There are also two drawings by Rossetti, given by the artist in 1879 to mark the opening of the new building.
20th Century works include pictures by Ayrton and Burra, the largest regional collection of paintings and drawings by LS Lowry outside Salford and Manchester, and a small but growing group of contemporary art. There is also a large collection of works with strong local/regional connections.
Significant/key items fine art
- Collection of LS Lowry paintings and drawings
- Study after ‘Astarte Syriaca’ by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1879.
- The Castle of Ischia from Mole, Italy by Clarkson Stanfield, 1839-1841
- Esther Denouncing Haman to King Ahasuerus, by Ernest Normand,1888
- Slow Dance of the Nativity, by Michael Ayrton, 1958.
The collection of 18th and 19th century locally-manufactured pottery is the largest in the world. Comprising over 750 pieces, it represents all aspects of the production of Sunderland pottery, from traditional slipware to transfer-printed creamware and earthenware, including the famous pink lustre wares. Major donations include those from the pottery manufacturers Messrs Scott & Sons of Southwick in 1897, and the Rowland Burdon collection in 1946-7.
The highlights of Sunderland’s glass collection are: friggers (novelty items such as walking sticks, made by glass workers); 19th century engraved glass, including Sunderland’s famous Wear Bridge rummers (large glass goblets) the Londonderry service of 1824; the Darnell service of 1812-25; Victorian pressed glass and 1930s Jobling’s art glass. There is a large collection of PYREX items, dating back to the start of production in this country in the 1920s. Hartley Woods, the stained glass manufacturer, is represented by glass samples, pressed ’jewels’ and hand-blown decorative pieces. Since the late 1970s the Museum has developed a collection of contemporary glass by glassmakers working in, or closely connected with Sunderland, particularly makers associated with the Glass & Ceramics course at the University of Sunderland
There is a collection of silver dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries, including a large collection of 17th century spoons. Many of the items were bequeathed to the Museum in 1947 by James Wilson, a prominent businessman and local councillor. Apart from the wide range of domestic items, there is also a collection of silver from local churches.
Significant/key items decorative art
- Londonderry Glass Service. 188 pieces engraved glass tableware commissioned in 1824
- Darnell Glass Service 1812-1825, 428 pieces engraved glass tableware
- Sunderland Pottery Prima Jug. Large jug made at Seaham Pottery made in 1847
- Early bridge view mug. Marked for ‘Olde Sanders Low Ford Pottery’
- Jug. Marked for ‘Hylton Lowford Pottery, May 21 1801’.
Local History Archive
Includes collections of:
- Paper ephemera (handbills, letters, posters from local commerce, business, government, theatres etc).
- Maps (county maps, Ordnance Survey, local maps, local estate plans).
- Photographs (topographical and subject).
There are also collections of objects relating to domestic, commercial, community and working life; medals both military and civilian; medallions and badges; coins, tokens and paper money.
Objects relating to shipbuilding and maritime life (including a large collection of locally built ship models and some engine models) and a ship’s diesel engine made by Doxfords and used as a test engine and photographs relating to maritime life and shipbuilding.
Science and Industry
Objects relating to local industry including industrial processes and products including coal mining and manufacturing industries (includes 2 cars: Nissan Bluebird and Nissan Micra); railway transport and bicycles.
Significant/key items history
- Jack Crawford Medal. Medal of national significance awarded to Jack Crawford for the part he played in the Battle of Camperdown in 1797
- Nissan Bluebird. First Car of the Washington production Line
- Victoria Hall Disaster Toy Horse.
- Model of Empire Liberty. The Empire ship design created a standard design cargo ship important in WW2.
- Swan Plaque. Celebrates the life of a Sunderland chemist and inventor.
The archaeology collection includes finds from the excavation of the Anglo-Saxon monastery at Wearmouth. Most of the finds are from the structures of the buildings, and therefore include rare pieces of coloured window glass, carved stone, painted plaster and a unique piece of lead interlace. There is also an extensive collection of prehistoric material that includes a complete log boat, two Bronze Age swords and the finds from a number of Bronze Age burials, including cists from Hasting Hill and Humbledon Hill.
Significant/key items archaeology
- Wearmouth glass. Anglo-Saxon coloured window glass from the monastery
- Wearmouth beast. Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture of a mythical beast, possibly from a chair
- Hasting Hill burials. Bronze Age cist burials
- Bronze Age swords. Two swords recovered from the River Wear
- Log boat. Complete log boat from the River Wear
Ethnographic material has existed in Sunderland Museum collections since at least 1819 (these items were once part of the collection of the Sunderland Natural History and Antiquarian Society). The collection includes 350 items from Africa, 220 from Asia, 200 from Oceania and 100 from the New World.
The Edward Backhouse collection includes some items brought from the Pacific by Quaker missionaries.
There is also a collection of shoes, spears, Oceanic weapons, Peruvian (Chimu) pottery, paddles and a scoop from the Austral islands, oriental armour and ivories and North American quillwork.
Significant/key items ethnography
- Maori paddle with manaia figures at base of blade and on end of shaft. Probably of early to mid19th century date.
- Wooden kava bowl. Large circular wooden food dish or kava bowl, on three legs.
- Marquesan ‘u’u club of heavy, dark ironwood.
- Oliphant (Trumpet made from a short, thick elephant’s tusk side, collected by John Petherick).
Natural History collections include historic Victorian taxidermy, the Robson herbarium (late 18th Century) Durham Flora, Co Durham lichen collection and large collections of shells, butterflies, insects and birds eggs, local mammal and bird study skins.
Significant/key items Biology
- Woodward collection. Probably the country’s most comprehensive collection of freshwater mussels and other molluscs, including some of the rarest species in the world.
- Passenger Pigeons. Driven to extinction through hunting by the early 20th century
- Edward Robson Herbarium. A large collection of flowering plants from Northern England dating from the late 18th century.
- Skeleton of Comet the Bull. As the first bull in the lineage of the English Shorthorn cattle breed, the skeleton is of great significance in understanding the origins of modern cattle
- Swallowtail butterflies. Collected by Alfred Russell Wallace, a contemporary of Charles Darwin and ground breaking biologist, he is believed to have heavily influenced the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution.
Geological specimens including a rare gliding reptile, coelurosauravus, found at Hetton and many other carboniferous and permian fossils found in local coal mines. Minerals from the West Pennine Ore Field in County Durham, North Pennine minerals and Cannon-ball limestone.
Significant/key items geology
- Dr Clannys fossil fish. Platysomus striatus. (Late Permian)
- Gliding reptile fossil. Coelurosauravus jaekeli (Late Permian)
- Plant fossil (Holotype) Plagiozamites belli (Late Permian)
- Amphibian skull fossil. Anthracosaurus russelli (Coal Measures, Carboniferous)
- Reptile fossil (includes jaw fragments and teeth) Protorosaurus speneri (Late Permian)