Russell-Coates Art Gallery
East Cliff Promenade
Dorset BH1 3AA
Housed in an extraordinary building on the top of Bournemouth’s East Cliff is an equally extraordinary Art Gallery and Museum. It is named after a former Mayor and entrepreneur of the Borough of Bournemouth, Sir Merton Russell-Cotes.
Merton Russell Coates
Coates moved to Bournemouth
in 1876 with his wife Annie. Soon after this, they bought the Bath
Hotel. They quickly enlarged the hotel and renamed it the Royal Bath
Hotel because the Prince of Wales had stayed there in 1856.
In 1901 Merton built a lavish Art Deco-style seaside villa on top of East Cliff in the garden of the Hotel and called it East Cliff Hall. It was built as an extravagant birthday gift for Merton’s wife Annie, and they filled it with beautiful art works and curios collected on their travels across the world. They lined the walls with a remarkable collection of British art.
Coates was passionate about turning Bournemouth in to a premier health resort. He was appointed to the Council and elected to the Board of Commissioners in 1883 where he called for a direct railway link from Brockenhurst to Bournemouth.
He also campaigned for an Undercliff Drive to enable invalids to take a carriage drive beside the sea. Both Merton and Annie were committed to fostering The Arts and during his period as Mayor (1894–95), Meyrick Park, two free libraries, and the first two Schools of Art in the borough were opened.
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Gifts to Bournemouth
In 1907, Annie donated East Cliff Hall and its contents as a museum to the town of Bournemouth
and Merton donated his fine art collection. In return they were made honorary freemen of the town. They continued living in part of the house and two years later, Merton was knighted.
History of the Galleries Galleries 1-3
From 1916 to 1919, Annie paid for the building of three additional art galleries to East Cliff Hall. Galleries 1,2 and 3, which are accessed through the main hall, enabled many of the largest works of the founding fine art collection to be displayed.
Annie made a second gift to the town – the freehold of the site and the art galleries. These were formally opened by Princess Beatrice on 1 February 1919 – Merton and Annie’s 59th wedding anniversary.
After Merton and Annie’s deaths, in order to fulfil their parents’ wishes, an additional and unique-shaped art gallery was opened in 1926. Gallery 4 was given to the town by Herbert Russell-Cotes and Ella Stebbing (née Russell-Cotes). It was originally planned to be built at the same time as the other Galleries and was to include an observatory. By 1926, however, hanging space was at a premium and there may have been objections from neighbours about the proposed observatory.
The Borough of Bournemouth
took over the running of East Cliff Hall and re-opened it as the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum on 10 March 1922. After Sir Merton's death, it was extended into his part of the house; a further extension was opened in 2000.
What’s On Display
As mentioned above, the house and the new annex display various items collected during Merton's foreign travels, especially to Japan, and paintings from his personal art collection.
The great actor Sir Henry Irving was a friend of the Russell-Cotes' and the room he stayed in, is an Irving Museum. When Irving died in 1905, this room was devoted to his memory. Items purchased at the sale of Irving's effects formed the basis of the Museum and are displayed with memorabilia associated with his contemporaries such as Ellen Terry and Sarah Bernhardt.
Twice-yearly, exhibitions of contemporary artist support works from the main collection. The gallery in the old annex displays a wide and frequently changing collection of pictures and statues.
Plan Your Visit
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Tuesday-Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays
Times: 10:00 – 17:00 hours.
Closed: Mondays, Good Friday and 25-26 December.
Lift access to most of the house and galleries with the exception of the upper ground floor of the East Cliff Hall. Electric scooters are not permitted inside the house but there is a manual wheelchair available on a first come first serve basis – ask at the Information Desk.
There is an Accessible Toilet on First Floor
Assistance dogs are welcome.
Cafe; Gift Shop; Large bag lockers in Entrance Hall; Learning Gallery and seating areas throughout the house. Unfortunately baby carriages and pushchairs cannot be accommodated in the actual house and must be left outside in the garden.
Not only is this extraordinary Grade II Listed property worth visiting just to see the house itself, but it has four purpose-built galleries showcasing stunning artwork. No wonder the Russell-Coates is Bournemouth
’s principal Museum.
Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1202 451 858 (during opening hours)
- Parking The closest car park is Bath Road South. Using this car park avoids the steep gradient on East Cliff Promenade.
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