Terry Grimley on the return of globetrotting watercolours from Birmingham's collection.
Birmingham received a notable accolade in Scandinavia last year when the Nordic Water-colour Museum in Sweden hosted the exhibition From Lely to Turner, drawn from the city's collection.
It reflected the fact that Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery houses one of the world's most extensive collections of British watercolours from the golden age of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, thanks largely to the large bequest made by the local industrialist J Leslie Wright in 1953.
Now that the exhibition is safely returned from Sweden, it is being shown in two instalments in the print room, the first of which is now on view.
Conservation requirements dictate that works on paper have to spend most of their lives in the darkness of the storeroom rather than the print room's half-light, so while a few of these works are relatively familiar, there are many which are likely to be new to even the most regular visitors.
Although the exhibition's title is justified by the inclusion of one small (and rare) landscape drawing by Sir Peter Lely, dating from around the time he arrived in England in 1640 but probably showing his native Westphalia, most of the exhibits come from well over a century later.
At the other end of the exhibition's span is a pencil drawing of Lincoln by the 19-year-old Turner, so fragile that it looks as though it might disintegrate if you breathed on it.
Lely is one of a number of foreign artists included in this survey. The most distinguished of them, Canaletto, is represented by the drawing The Thames and the City of London from Richmond House (c1747), which the museum bought in 1994 after it featured in the Canaletto and England exhibition which launched the Gas Hall gallery in 1991. Like many of the works in this exhibition, it is severely faded.
There's a bit of local romanticism in Thomas Hearne's Ruins of the Monastery at Halesowen, and near this example of picturesque dilapidation is a delicate pen and wash drawing by the high priest of the picturesque, the Rev William Gilpin. There are two views of Warwick castle, by Paul Sandby and John "Warwick" Smith, the latter being both the most recent addition to the collection (by gift in 2002) and one of the best-preserved pictures here.
There is also a view of Welsh mountains by Francis Towne, dating from 1777, reflecting the simplicity which makes this individual artist look so modern.
The exhibition also casts a glance at artists on the Grand Tour and at humorous art. The latter category includes three drawings by Thomas Rowlandson - one of them unusual, with three Rubenesque nymphs in a landscape - and a rural anecdote by Gainsborough's teacher, Francis Hayman, with the engaging title The Enraged Vixen, or The Play at Skittles.
* Lely to Turner: British Drawings and Watercolours is on display at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until April 27. Mon-Thu, Sat 10am-5pm, Fri 10.30am-5pm, Sun 12.30pm-5pm. Admission free