Lowry print and Dame Catherine Cookson seascape among art treasures held in storage in South Tyneside

Hundreds of works of art – including a Lowry print and a painting by Dame Catherine Cookson – are kept behind the scenes in South Tyneside, an investigation has revealed.

South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Ocean Road,
South Shields Museum and Art Gallery, Ocean Road,

North East councils have thousands of paintings, ceramics, sculptures and other works in the stores of museums and galleries, and a Freedom of Information request has lifted the lid on their treasures.

South Tyneside has an impressive collection with 1,543 items held in storage including a colour print of the painting ‘South Shields’ by LS Lowry.

Laurence Stephen Lowry, who died in 1976 aged 88 was made famous by his painted scenes of 1950s life in the industrial areas of the North West.

In his later years, Lowry spent holidays at the Seaburn Hotel in Sunderland, painting scenes of the beach and nearby ports and coal mines.

Also in storage is a oil on canvas seascape by celebrated South Tyneside author Dame Catherine Cookson.

A spokesperson for the council said artwork owned by the borough is regularly displayed in themed exhibitions.

“By regularly changing the themes of the displays, we can maintain a fresh offer for both residents and visitors alike,” they said.

“The artworks are part of the borough’s heritage with much of it gifted to the council to preserve for future generations.”

Keeping such works in store has, however, attracted criticism from the Tax Payer’s Alliance, which slated councils for keeping items in store at a time when millions were being cut from local authority budgets.

John O’Connell, chief executive of the Alliance, said called on council chiefs to reduce the size of their collections and put more works on display.

“These figures are truly staggering and demonstrate a worrying trend across the public sector,” he said.

“It is indeed the case that some councils are bequeathed these artworks, but the breadth of artists nevertheless suggests huge outlays of taxpayers’ cash.

“At the very least, councils should put all of these works on display, and then seek to reduce the size of the collection for the benefit of taxpayers in the North East.”

Iain Watson, director of Tyne & Wear Archives and Museums which manages collections on behalf of local authorities including South Tyneside, said stored collections are an important resource for scholars and community groups.He said: “All paintings in TWAM collections are available for viewers on the Art UK website and we also organise tours of stores as well as rotating works onto display – in particular watercolours where conservation requirements limit the amount of time the items can be on display.“TWAM works with partners to ensure a mix of public funding and self-generated income to support collections for present and future generations.“All of us are only temporary custodians and it is essential that we maintain this public funding and collection of paintings to ensure this important cultural heritage is not lost for our children and grandchildren.“In making any decisions on disposal the TWAM Strategic Board ensure compliance with the Museums Association’s Code of Ethics – failure to comply can result in loss of accreditation as a museum and significant loss of funding.”