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Councils' hidden artwork: how many treasures are on display in your area


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Councils in Kent own millions of pounds worth of valuable artwork - from renowned sculptures to a master collection of centuries-old prints.

But, although the taxpayer ultimately owns the treasures, some may never be seen.

Some authorities blame a lack of facilities to display watercolours and oil paintings. Others admit a staggering 90% of artwork is not on show.

The Antony Gormley Boulders Sculpture is now on display at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone.
The Antony Gormley Boulders Sculpture is now on display at the Kent History and Library Centre in Maidstone.
  • In Canterbury, just 10% of treasures are available to view
  • In Maidstone, just 10 of the 950 watercolours it owns are on display
  • Just a fraction of Tunbridge Wells's watercolours and oils are publicly available
  • Gravesham council admits it doesn't have a financial record for its works of art

Some councils rate better than others for the number of paintings and other objects they are able to display. Some authorities declare they have NO valuable objects.

How does your area fare?

Canterbury City Council owns £8.3 million worth of artwork but only a fraction of it is actually available to see.

More than 3,000 works are held by the authority but only 350 of those can be viewed.

The rest is in storage as the council says is does not have the facilities to display the artwork.

Dover District Council owns more than 70,000 individual items and groups items in its museum collection.

The majority of its oil paintings are on display in buildings such as the Town Hall.

Many of the council's other objects are recorded only in accession registers and card indices, however it does have a photographic collection of works which are scanned and indexed on a database.

The insurance valuation for the artefacts currently stands at more than £4 million, this includes cover for items on loan from the Dover Bronze Age Boat Trust and the British Museum.

The Queen Victoria Statue is on display in Gravesend
The Queen Victoria Statue is on display in Gravesend

The art is displayed at various times in permanent and temporary exhibitions depending on the programme.

Maidstone Borough Council owns more than 630 oil paintings, of which only 128 are on display.

The average proportion of collections on display in museums in Maidstone owned by the council is around 10%.

The museums include Maidstone Museum and Bentlif Art Gallery, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regimental Museum and The Tyrwhitt Drake Museum of Carriages.

It also owns 950 watercolour pieces, only ten of which are on display. These are circulated because watercolours are susceptible to light damage.

It also has 127 sculptures, 39 of those able to be viewed by the public.

These statistics do not take consideration of those works on temporary display or as part of touring exhibitions.

The long list of historic artwork and artefacts owned by Kent County Council includes a grade II listed statue of Queen Victoria, which is outside the Adult Education Centre in Gravesend.

KCC also owns a master collection of 16th to 19th century prints and drawings worth more than £1.5 million which are currently on loan to Folkestone Town Council but held at the Kent History and Library Centre, in Maidstone.

The launch event of the town council agreeing with KCC a loan of collections for the museum in Folkestone
The launch event of the town council agreeing with KCC a loan of collections for the museum in Folkestone

The Antony Gormley Boulders Sculpture, is on display at the Kent History and Library Centre.

Part of the council's art collection includes the Glass Screen, which welcomes visitors to the Folkestone Library.

The piece by Chris Ofili is valued at just under £300,000.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has more than 600 different works of art which are on display around the town.

This includes 502 watercolours, seven of which are on display at the council's museum, 133 oil paintings, 11 of which are also on display at the museum.

The half-size replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat.
The half-size replica of the Dover Bronze Age Boat.

There's also a gouache - a painting using opaque pigments ground in water thickened with a glue-like substance - which is also on display in the museum.

Artwork on permanent display counts for 22% of the council's total collection, which includes inside the town hall, but this doesn't include the changing temporary displays.

Gravesham Borough Council has 150 listed records of artwork, photographs and civic documents.

A number of paintings are on display in the town hall and Civic Centre, with others in storage.

However, the council has said a financial record of the specific items is not known.

Shepway District Council owns nine oil paintings, including portraits of past mayors and clerks of Folkestone.

They are displayed at the Metropol in the town and have a value of £17,800.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council has revealed its only significant valued artwork owned by the authority is a sculpture in Tonbridge Cemetery which is valued at £20,000.

Tonbridge and Malling has a painting at Tonbridge Castle worth £38,000
Tonbridge and Malling has a painting at Tonbridge Castle worth £38,000

It also has a large painting at Tonbridge Castle which is worth £38,000.

Swale Borough Council's artwork has a total value of £25,700.

This includes more than 30 different individual works with just a handful in storage.

Ashford Borough Council and Sevenoaks District Council have revealed they hold no pieces of artwork.

Medway Council were contacted several times about the work they own, but they have not responded.

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