Art in Belfast, 1760-1888: Art Lovers or Philistines?


Eileen Black

The first book to thoroughly examine art in Belfast in the 18th and 19th centuries, using primary sources. Written by the leading authority on the subject and featuring 120 illustrations, 50 in colour.

ISBN: N/A Categories: ,


This richly illustrated book tells the story of art in Belfast from its early beginnings in the mid-eighteenth century to the opening in 1888 of the town’s first rate-supported art gallery, a suite of rooms in the Free Public Library in Royal Avenue (known today as the Central Reference Library).  Primary sources are used, charting the growth of the city into a lively centre for the trading of art.

Despite the lack of financial support for local artistic ventures, Belfast maintained a flourishing art market through a variety of auction houses.  When the first commercial art gallery was opened in 1864 an exhibiting society, the Art Union of Belfast, was formed. This prestigious space and body developed, and later public-spirited individuals re-established amenities for art education within the community and provided intellectual recreation for the working-class population.  Their efforts led to the opening of a new School of Art in 1870 and the Free Public Library in 1888.

This neglected area of Belfast’s cultural life is given an authoritative reappraisal and places events in context for the first time.  It contains much new material and a wide range of illustrations.

Table of Contents

  1. The beginnings of art in Belfast 1760-1810
  2. The consolidation of the arts in Belfast 1811-35
  3. The failure of exhibiting societies 1836-48
  4. The Belfast School of Design 1849-58
  5. Further attempts to establish annual exhibitions 1849-59
  6. A transformation in the arts: the opening of Belfast’s first commercial art gallery and the advent of regular exhibitions 1860-69
  7. Annual exhibitions and a new art society 1870-88
  8. The establishment of a new School of Art in 1870
  9. Industrial exhibitions and the free public library movement 1870-80
  10. The erection and opening of the Free Public Library 1881-88
  11. The establishment of the Belfast Art Gallery and Museum 1889-90

About the Author

Dr Eileen Black is the curator of Fine Art in the Ulster Museum, and Honorary Curator of the fine art collection of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners. She has organized many exhibitions at the Ulster Museum, and contributed extensively to their production of exhibitions and booklets, as well as contributing to The Dictionary of Australian Artists edited by Joan Kerr.