Thursday 24 February 2022

Derby Museum And Art Gallery Review With Visit Derby (standard admission is FREE of charge)

As a child in the early 80's I was allowed to go 'into town' on my own from around age 9. Obviously I had no money and nothing to buy, so I spent my Saturday mornings exchanging my books in the library, and wandering around Derby Museum and Art Gallery. 

Derby Museum and Art Gallery Review with Visit Derby

I revisited the museum and art gallery during my review trip with Visit Derby, taking a look at the cultural attractions my old home town has to offer, and I'm pleased to say all of my museum favourites were still around, as well as some new exhibits - including a lot of 'hands on' activities to really bring our history to life. 

Full size remains of Wooden Bronze Age longboat resting on a base of pebbles and stone

St Alkmund's stone granite Sarcophagus - moved when St Alkmunds church was demolished

The Natural History areas have been completely updated since my last visit 20 years ago - including the remains of a hippopotamus found locally, and some other surprising (and less surprising) local wildlife. 

Derby Museum natural history display gallery long view from a distance

Derby Museum natural history display galleries

The whole museum feels incredibly airy and clean, and bright. It's a really nice space to wander around. 

Animal Exhibits in glass cases including armadillo and badger

There is still a large section dedicated to Derby's military history, but when I was a child it was very much about World Wars I and II, and now it features my own history - which is probably just as much 'the past' to my own children. 

Derby's military history at Derby Museum models of soldiers in uniform and view of huge room of exhibits

Derby Museum exhibits from other nations asking how did they come to be here

Very differently from when I grew up, we are now asked to consider why these things are here? Where did they actually come from? Were they donated, stolen, found? Are they factually correct, racist, acceptable? It's a much more honest and open history than the one I grew up with, and it is a brilliant way to make people think more deeply about what they are actually looking at. 

Derby Museum and Art Gallery collage of historical exhibits from around the world

British or German children's cardboard theatre which shows how racism was accepted 70 years ago

One of the newer exhibits which I found particularly striking is a recreation period drawing room. I didn't take note of whose room it was, which is as good a reason to go back as any... Pickford's House Museum, which is a little way up Friar Gate, is a family home full of period rooms, and somewhere I also need to return to... 

Derby Museum recreation of period drawing room

Potentially my favourite parts of Derby Museum were exactly where I left them. The Mummy, who every young child always remembers, and the 'secret balcony', which actually sits above Derby's main library... 

Derby Museum and Art Gallery tour Mummy

Secret part of Derby Museum, above the library. A square balcony with shelves full of potions boxes and unexhibited items

In a genius move which combines the Art Gallery with the Museum, there was a fantastic box full of dressing up clothes, and a huge gilt frame. I don't think we could have been any keener to try it out - and didn't we look fabulous!! 

All 6 of us Dressed up in period costumes and standing in a giant frame at Derby Museum and Art Gallery

The Art Gallery was the main focus of our visit, and Joseph Wright in particular, although there were also a couple of temporary exhibitions on at the time of our visit. Joseph Wright is Derby's most famous artist, potentially Derby's most famous inhabitant, and probably a large part of the reason I became so interested in science. I blame him almost entirely.
Joseph Wrights Orrery painting at Derby Museum and Art Gallery

Derby Art Gallery has the largest collection of Joseph Wright's artworks in the world. It is incredibly impressive, and varied. In common with many artists he painted landscapes to hone his craft, and portraits to earn his everyday 'bread and butter', but many of his works featured new scientific discoveries. Potentially the most well-known, "A Philosopher Giving that Lecture on an Orrery, in which a Lamp is put in the Place of the Sun" is above. 

Joseph Wright portraits Collection Art Gallery Derby

Joseph Wright painting of men at work at a blacksmiths Forge Derby Art Gallery

Joseph Wright egypt Derby Art Gallery

As well as a tour of the museum and gallery, we were lucky enough to have a sneak peek into the archives, to see where all of the artwork not currently on display is kept - in fireproof cabinets which are climate controlled and firmly locked. Among this collection are designs and drafts, originals, prints and some reproductions commissioned by the artist. 

Joseph Wright Archives at the Derby Museum and Art Gallery

If I had any complaint, it's that we would never have had enough time to look around before heading for a light lunch downstairs in The Coffee House -  Derby Museum's cafe. 

Derby Museum and Art Gallery light lunches at fair prices

They serve good honest food, quickly and with a smile, and at a fair price for a quick lunch. It's ideal for families, including those with younger children. Excitingly the cafe is in the Ceramics Gallery, which is a fabulous backdrop while you sit in comfort with a nice cup of tea or coffee... 

A quick mention for the Gift Shop, which is full of lots of relevant items at very fair prices, as well as those kinds of things you always find in museum shops. I bought a handful of postcards featuring some of Joseph Wright's better known works for 70p each, and a range of different sizes of prints are also available.

Entry to Derby Museum and Art Gallery is free, with a suggested donation of £5, and there are many  opportunities to join in with special events and workshops, which sometimes have a small charge. Find out more about 'What's On', on the Derby Museum and Art Gallery website

Joseph Wright Derby Art Gallery Landscape With A Rainbow

Joseph Wright of Derby The Widow of an Indian Chief watching the Arms of her Deceased Husband

My trip was arranged by Visit Derby and Culture Derby - as part of the bid for Derby to be named a very worthy 'City Of Culture 2025'. You can find lots of photos on my Visit Derby Instagram highlights and grid posts, and see what else we got up to by looking at my other 'Visit Derby' posts

I was not paid to promote Derby, but my weekend of activities was free of charge, including my cheese sandwich and cup of coffee at the museum! 

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