A very special art gallery: The Barber Institute of Fine Arts

I wanted to write about somewhere that has been very important, both professionally and personally, to me. That place is The Barber Institute of Fine Arts.

The Barber Institute is a beautiful Art Deco building on the campus of the University of Birmingham. It is the home of a ‘mini National Gallery’, with works by Renoir, Botticelli and Gainsborough – to name just a few!

I first went to the Barber Institute during my first few days at university about four years ago – how else would you want to spend Freshers week! Myself and a couple of new friends wanted to explore campus and we had been told about an art gallery that was well worth a visit.

Although my fellow students and I had only known each other for a few hours, I felt we left the gallery knowing much more about one another. We had discussed the beauty of Rossetti’s ‘The Blue Bower’, its richness and intricacy. We had stared into the eyes of Alexander Pope through Roubaliac’s terracotta sculpture, perhaps hoping for some inspiration as we began our English degrees.

I remember feeling how calm and welcoming the Barber Institute was as a place. This is something I would cherish for the next few years. Whenever university felt overwhelming, I would head straight for the Barber Institute. I would allow myself the time to reflect and be in awe of the skill and variety of subject on display. I would not look at any screens, I would just see and enjoy paint and texture. I could appreciate a new detail that I had not seen on a previous visit. My mind could be as passive or as active as it needed to be for that particular day.

Just over a year after my first visit, I took a special someone around the gallery. It was (I think) our fourth date. I was a mixture of nervous and excited, but the Barber Institute felt like an old ally. This remained the case even when my date accidentally pushed the entrance door too hard and it rattled into the wall. We laughed, a little embarrassed, and apologised to the friendly face at the front desk. We then made our way up the stunning marble stairs to the gallery, just casually passing a Rodin sculpture – as you do. This time the painting that got us talking the most was Frank Auerbach’s ‘Primrose Hill – Winter’. It is a picture of an everyday scene yet its abstract and strong brushstrokes kept our eyes and observations busy. 

I couldn’t have been happier or prouder to take my now boyfriend of three years back to the Barber Institute for the celebratory ‘Interns Tea Party’ this June. I had just completed a five month internship at the gallery with the Communication and Marketing team. They are such a friendly and lovely group of people. I learnt so much during my time there, and perhaps the most important thing I learnt was that I want to work somewhere that I feel truly passionate about and truly believe in the work that I will be doing, wherever that might be. It was and is a privilege to work alongside and spend the day talking and planning with people who feel the same way I do! 

I love the Barber Institute, it is a stunning place to visit and I can’t wait to go back soon.

Visit the Barber Institute’s website: http://barber.org.uk

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