To outsiders Blackburn might be better known for the adventures of its football team rather than for its place in history as one of the greatest weaving capitals in the world. Weaving transformed what was a small market town into a bustling industrial heartland. The rich collections now housed at Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery were born from the proceeds of this industry and the generosity of its industrialists.
Perhaps the best known painting at Blackburn is Frederic Leighton’s 'Mother and Child', or ‘Cherries’ as it is more affectionately known, referring to the sweet child feeding her mother ruby red cherries. A lesser-known but exceptionally important and much treasured painting is by James Sharples, a smith turned self-taught artist. His painting 'The Forge' is one of the few in art history which depicts the Victorian workplace fuelling the Industrial Revolution and is even rarer for having been painted by a smith. The atmospherically dark canvas is only illuminated by the roaring forge fire which glows orange on the faces of the blacksmiths.
There are also many popular British artists represented in the Collection, such as Richard Ansdell, David Murray, Thomas Faed and Edmund Morison Wimperis. A few nineteenth-century foreign artists are represented including Rosa Bonheur, Eugène Joseph Verboeckhoven and Julien Gustave Gagliardini. The Collection also contains a small number of Old Masters including works by Joshua Reynolds, William Hogarth, Godfrey Kneller and Giovanni Francesco Grimaldi.
In recent decades, especially with the assistance of the Friends of Blackburn Museum and Art Gallery, both old and new paintings with a local provenance are actively being collected to record and reflect for posterity the changes the Borough has already witnessed.