A new book reveals the rich variety of art held in Hampshire collections

A magnificent nationwide initiative is under way to catalogue all oil, tempera and acrylic paintings in public ownership. One volume covering works held in collections in Southampton and the Isle of Wight has already been published.

Now a book covering the rest of Hampshire has been issued and very splendid reading it makes, too. This is only the 15th catalogue published so Hampshire residents are incredibly lucky to have access to two such magnificent records.

Running alphabetically from Aldershot through to Winchester, it includes pictures owned by Gilbert White's House and the Oates Museum at Selborne, those owned by Hampshire County Council Museum Service, the Winchester military museums and Portsmouth Dockyard.

There are plenty of surprises in these 300-plus pages. You would be amazed at the number of pictures of hovercraft, both military and civilian, owned by The Hovercraft Museum Trust at Lee-on-the-Solent which dates from 1986.

Chawton House Library, near Alton, owns some stunning portraits of both men and women. That of Kitty Fisher attributed to Francis Cotes (1726 to 1770) is a particularly poignant study of a young woman lost in thought.

The Royal Naval Museum collection features many pictures of naval life as well as terrific pictures of ships at sea.The artist most closely associated with the Museum is W L Wyllie, who was fascinated by HMS Victory. He raised funds for its restoration and painted many pictures recording it, including The Main Yard of Victory being crossed. Wyllie's masterpiece, the Panorama of the Battle of Trafalgar, painted in 1929, is a gigantic canvas (42 x 12 feet) and is displayed in a special annexe built to Wyllie's own design.

A huge number by Charles David Cobb, born 1921, show many aspects of life and combat at sea. HMS Submarine Tenchant sinks the cruiser Ashigara 8 June 1945 is an exceptionally evocative work in which the body of the sub is seen through the water while only the tip of the periscope breaks the surface.

In the 1980s, a large set of paintings depicting key battles in World War II were commissioned from former Royal Society of Marine Artists president, David Cobb. Other works by ordinary sailors, although often quite crude, vividly capture life at sea.

A series of paintings by Philip Gunn executed between 1973 and 1976 show such activities as tarring the top gallant stay, a sailmaking class, weighing anchor and stokehold work.

Many of the paintings owned by Winchester Museums Service are views of Winchester and the surrounding district, the earliest being a view of the city from the south west in 1759, with an encampment of Hessian troops.

Some of the local views captured are familiar to many of us but some are of times long gone. The Westgate from the East painted by an unknown artist circa 1800, shows a remarkably rural scene with grazing horses, few other buildings and remnants of the city walls. Winchester from the South, circa 1880, is still easily recognised with the Cathedral clearly in the centre, the water meadows and no M3!

Portraits include Charles I and Charles II, local MPs, mayors, local gentry, civic dignitaries, city benefactors and patrons. The earliest portrait is of Ralph Lamb, a cousin of the then Mayor of Winchester, probably painted to commemorate his attendance at the wedding, in Winchester, of Queen Mary and King Philip. Lamb was a benefactor of St John's Hospital, the local alms charity. Nationally-known artists represented in the collection include Peter Lely, Fred Appleyard, John Opie, George Arnald, William Sidney Cooper and Frank Salisbury.

The Museums Service headquarters in Winchester, where paintings can be viewed by appointment, houses most of the collection. Other pictures hang in Winchester Guildhall and Abbey House, where each year a selection are put on public exhibition. There will also soon be an exhibition space in the new Discovery Centre in Jewry Street.

Most paintings in the collections of Portsmouth Museums and Records Service are in store. Virtually all the fine art works were lost in the bombing in 1941, and after the war it was decided to collect post war paintings. National art movements now represented include artists from the St Ives School such as Terry Frost, Patrick Heron, Winifred Nicholson and Alfred Wallis and there are good examples by the Bloomsbury Group.

The Public Catalogue Foundation, a registered charity, aims to create a complete record of the nation's collections of oil, tempera and acrylic paintings in public ownership and make this accessible to the public through a series of affordable catalogues. It also aims to raise funds through the sale of the catalogues for the conservation, restoration and exhibition of works that are rarely on display, as well as gallery education related to the catalogues.

This volume with 372 pages and some 2,400 colour reproductions is a fantastic resource and makes fascinating reading for everyone from the serious student to those with only a passing interest in art. It is also a remarkable bargain at £20 softback and £35 hardback.

The Hampshire Catalogue is available from all participating collections, selected bookshops and at www.thepcf.org.uk (telephone: 0870 128 3566)

Diana Hargreaves