Terry Grimley finds much to admire in the expanded Barber Institute...
One of Britain's smallest art museums has just become larger, thanks to support from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport and the Wolfson Foundation.
A former storeroom at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts has been converted for public dis-play, with much of the wall space devoted to the gallery's original founder and benefactor, Lady Constance Barber.
The widow of Sir Henry Barber, a wealthy solicitor and property developer, Lady Barber bequeathed funds to the university for the establishment of an art museum and concert hall shorty before her own death in 1933.
She also left a number of portraits of herself to the institute with the requirement that they should be hung on its walls - which they have, though not often until now on public display.
"We got the money to do this on condition that we celebrated our benefactor, which is long overdue," says the Barber's director, Richard Verdi.
"We have put up a selection of portraits and there is a case of memorabilia devoted to Sir Henry and Lady Barber, including photographs and examples of the lace which she collected. We actually don't have all that much but we have put out what we have.
"I thought to do the whole room as nothing but Lady Barber would be too much, so what we're going to use the long wall for is overflow. At the moment we are using it to show 18th century paintings that normally hang where the Dahl exhibition now is. We could also put up displays of paintings that are normally in store. For instance, there are minor Dutch paintings of the 17th century. Because they're minor we don't put them in the main hang, but we have them."
The image of most museums is that the works on view are just the tip of an iceberg, but at the highly selective Barber the opposite is true - around 75-80 per cent of its collection is on display at any one time. The acquisition of some state-of-the-art Austrian-made storage racks, similar to those at Wolverhampton Art Gallery, has made it possible to free-up what was previously storage space. Subject to future funding, there is also room to create a small study area for prints and drawings.
At the moment the Barber is testing the water by opening the Lady Barber Gallery three afternoons a week, but if all goes well this may be expanded in future. Meanwhile, to get maximum value from the collection, visit at weekends or on Wednesdays between 2pm and 5pm. Admission is free.