As well as housing a modern art gallery with regular exhibitions from a wide variety of artists, the Whitaker has 189 oil paintings in its permanent collection, most of which have been kindly and generously donated by either owner or painter. The wealth of Rossendale during the industrial revolution of the 19th century is directly reflected within the collection. For a small museum, there are a substantial amount of good quality portraits and a fine collection of 19th century genre paintings. There is the odd gem, and a visit to see the annual temporary exhibition drawn from the permanent collections stores is well worth the outing, with new dates being posted in our 'What's On' page as they become available.
The permanently displayed portraits in the Hall and Landing Galleries are of local people who have made a substantial contribution to the development of Rossendale since the 18th century. They include the major cotton and woollen mill manufacturers including those with a close connection to the Whitaker building.
Of note in the Hall is the portrait of Ann, Mrs. Joseph Wood Whitehead, who was George Hardman’s daughter. Seen on the opposite wall George Hardman commissioned the Whitaker mansion to be built as his families’ residence. When Ann married Joseph Whitehead, she united two great mill owning families in the area. The Whitehead Mills were still working in the 1950s.
Other paintings on permanent display can be seen in the Victorian Drawing Room and in the Hardman Room.
One of the most popular oil paintings in the collection is 'The Lifeboat' by Marshall Claxton, a work which toured Australia as part of the National Gallery of Victoria touring exhibition Exiles and Emigrants in 2005 and 2006. 'The Devil's Bridge on the St Gothard Pass' by Thomas Creswick is exhibited next to ‘The Lifeboat’. Creswick was a contemporary of J.M.W Turner, who painted the same scene.