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'Quality Street' Art Collection Returns Home
Hugh Thomson.

LONDON, ENGLAND.-The Art Fund has given a grant of £40,000 to help Coleraine Museum buy the definitive collection of the Victorian illustrator Hugh Thomson. The collection returns to the artist’s home town of Coleraine, Northern Ireland, after being stored away in suitcases for 30 years.

Hugh Thompson was born in Coleraine in 1860. Recognition for his artistic talent bought him to the attention of the prestigious printing and publishing firm, Marcus Ward and Sons, Belfast. Here he developed his skills before setting off to England in search of fame and fortune in 1883. During his illustrious career he created illustrations for many of the great characters in literature, including Jane Austen’s heroines, as well as illustrating classics by Shakespeare, Thackeray and Dickens. His charming illustrations for J.M. Barrie’s play were until recently used worldwide on the boxes of 'Quality Street'.

The Art Fund helped Coleraine Museum purchase the 540 watercolours and drawings in the collection, which includes original drawings for Thackeray’s Vanity Fair and Jane Austen’s Emma. The entire collection also includes 168 books and many magazine illustrations. Generous support for the purchase of the collection was received from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£90,000) and the Northern Ireland Museums Council (£5,000).

The acquisition of this collection will position Coleraine Museum as the place to study Hugh Thomson’s work whilst enabling local people to retain close links with the artist. Coleraine Borough Council intends to create a dedicated Hugh Thomson Study Room within the Town Hall. A series of travelling exhibitions are also being planned.

David Barrie, Director of the Art Fund, said: 'Hugh Thomson is one of the great book illustrators of the Victorian era and his depictions of classic literary characters have enchanted adults and children for the last 120 years. This collection is a real find, a wonderful treasure trove of drawings and watercolours showing the range and depth of Thomson’s talent. It was a great shame these works were hidden from public view for so long and we are delighted to play a significant role in returning this magnificent collection to the town he so loved.'

Councillor Timothy Deans, Mayor of Coleraine, added: 'We have acquired a number of items over the years by Thompson, none as substantial or significant. We are delighted that with this collection our museum now holds the largest known body of his work and the importance of it being returned to his home town cannot be underestimated.'

Commenting on the news, HLF’s Manager Kevin Baird said, 'This is amazing news for Coleraine. Hugh Thomson’s work is renowned around the world and his work is often fought over at auction houses. As the largest collection of his original work it is wonderful to see it stay together and return to Thomson’s home town of Coleraine where it will be well looked after. Thomson is important not only to historians and art critics but also to modern readers. Some editions of Jane Austen’s books are still sold complete with Thomson’s illustrations and until recently his drawings were a familiar sight on Quality Street chocolates.'

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