Our visual arts collections are small, reflecting the limited place of the pictorial arts in the local culture in the past. A small collection of paintings and prints, principally portraits of civic dignitaries and local personalities, was inherited from the since disbanded Stornoway Burgh Council. A handful of larger works in oil were acquired from Lews Castle, erected in the mid-nineteenth century by Sir James Matheson, the Lewis landowner.
The highlight of the modest collection is one of a pair of views of the harbour and town of Stornoway, painted in 1798 by James Barret, master painter at the Chelsea Hospital, London. ‘A View of the Village of Stornaway with a Shooting Lodge of the Isle of Lewes’ shows the town at an important period of its development; with its fisheries and maritime industry growing. The painting captures a busy harbour scene to reflect this and details the small town and its buildings.
In contrast, two paintings that can be considered small gems are by a local amateur artist of some skill, Robert Grant Masson. Masson was active around the middle of the nineteenth century and a number of works by him have survived locally. One of those in our collection is a portrait of Thomas Mackay, piper to the island’s landowner, Sir James Matheson, and handyman on his estate. The other is a splendid view of the inner harbour and town c1840. These works lack the painterly skills of James Barret but are significant to the history of Stornoway.
The museum continues to collect artworks, most particularly those relating to its topography and history. Below is a sample from our collection.