A rare bird finds a home, as Louth Museum celebrates its centenary year

  • 1 April 2010

The Art Fund is delighted to announce that Louth Museum in Lincolnshire has acquired a rare 19th century carving of a Woodcock to which the charity gave a grant of £5,500, the full cost of the purchase, in celebration of the museum's centenary.

The Ailsa Woodcock was carved in 1854 by Thomas Wilkinson Wallis (1822-1903) who worked in Louth, and specialised in carving dead game and foliage from single pieces of lime wood.

The Louth Museum is one of a very few small museums in the UK purpose-built by a learned society. The Museum reopened to the public on Tuesday and the Woodcock was unveiled by James Briggs, The Art Fund’s Regional Representative for Lincolnshire. Bill Ferris, The Chairman of the Association of Independent Museums was also present at the event. The acquisition is particularly fitting as the Museum already owns the full sized pipeclay model that Wallis made in preparation for the carving.

The Ailsa Woodcock was commissioned in 1854 by the Marquis of Ailsa, for Cassilis Castle, Ayrshire, Scotland where it remained until 2009. In his autobiography (1899) Wallis notes that he was paid £40 for the commission. Over the last 15 years The Louth Museum has been researching the present locations of all the carvings mentioned in the autobiography and so were thrilled to find that the Ailsa Woodcock was still at Cassilis Castle. However, unbeknown to the museum, on the death of the wife of the 7th Marquis of Cassilis, the work was sold at auction in Edinburgh.  The Society learnt of the sale in the Antiques Trade Gazette and tracked down the purchaser, an Edinburgh dealer, who had already sold the piece on.  The Museum then contacted the second purchaser who generously offered it to them for a special price.

Failing eyesight in his 50s put an end to Wallis's carving; he taught himself surveying and became Borough Surveyeor of Louth.

David Robinson OBE, President of Louth Naturalists', Antiquarian and Literary Society, said: 'The Louth Museum is thrilled by the Art Fund's generosity in supporting us. The acquisition of the Woodcock means that the Louth Museum now have on permanent display the largest national collection of Wallis's work, for the public to enjoy.'

The Art Fund has helped Louth Museum to buy works of art for its collection on six previous occasions, the most recent being a grant of £10,000 in 2008 towards the purchase of Heron with Bulrush and Ivy also by Wallis, bought for £11,644.

The Ailsa Woodcock is now on display at Louth Museum.

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