The now-reopened Barber Institute of Fine Arts at University of Birmingham has been awarded Grade I listed building status. 

The home to an impressive collection of Old Master and Impressionist paintings - including works by Degas, Delacroix, Manet, Monet, Renoir, Rodin, Rossetti, Rubens and Van Dyck - the building, which opened over 80 years ago, is very much a work of art itself... 

One of the Midlands’ finest art Deco buildings, the Barber has been described as ‘the perfect place to contemplate art’. 

And when you look not only at the Barber’s impressive collection of Old Master and Impressionist paintings but also at the sophisticated architecture of the building itself, it’s easy to see why.

Built and opened in the 1930s and awarded Grade II listed status almost 40 years ago, the Edgbaston-located venue has reopened this autumn having now been given Grade I listed building status, the highest available heritage honour.

The updated listing is a real feather in the cap for the popular building, the construction of which was funded more than 80 years ago by the Henry Barber Trust. The Trust was founded in 1932 by Sir Henry’s widow, Lady Hattie Barber, one of the University of Birmingham’s greatest benefactors. 

Lady Barber explained that her vision - shared with her late husband, a Birmingham-born property developer who had died five years earlier - was to ‘build, equip and endow’ an ‘art centre for the university’. 

Her own death, in 1933, sadly deprived her of the chance to enjoy the building, the design of which was the brainchild of Nottingham-born architect Robert Atkinson. Atkinson worked on the project in close collaboration with the Barber’s first Director and Professor of Fine Arts, Thomas Bodkin. 

When opened in 1939 by Queen Mary, the galleries featured just 16 paintings, 31 drawings and watercolours, 19 prints and three sculptures. The collection has since been considerably enhanced with acquisitions by the Henry Barber Trust, under the expert advice of Bodkin and five successive Directors. It now boasts around 160 key paintings by most of the major names in Western art, along with more than 800 works on paper and a much-expanded collection of sculpture and decorative arts, as well as some 15,000 Roman, Byzantine and medieval coins.

An extension to the venue was built in the 1960s, and a glass roof extension added in the ’80s. 
Commenting on the upgrade, Director of the Barber Institute, Nicola Kalinsky, said: “There is no doubt in my mind that Professor Bodkin’s involvement was instrumental in why Andy Foster, writing in Yale University Press’ updated Pevsner Architectural Guide Birmingham, said: 'Among public buildings, Robert Atkinson’s Barber Institute of 1936-9 at the university is an exceptional, nationally important example of this style. Cool and sophisticated, with interior finishes in beautiful materials, it is a perfect place to contemplate works of art'."    

Nicola added: “The professor, mindful of the academic purposes of the then completely new university institute, also advised Atkinson to make space on the ground floor for the various rooms - lecture theatre, book and slide libraries, offices - needed to administer the museum and teach the History of Art to the university’s students.”

Explaining the reason for its updated listing, Historic England said: “The Barber is a building of exquisite architectural quality, with a sophisticated design which follows logically from its plan, arranged around the central auditorium; for the set-piece interiors, particularly the auditorium, which express the sophisticated style of the 1930s; for the remarkable quality of the detailing throughout, with even the smallest features contributing to the thoughtfulness of the overall design; for its survival with relatively little alteration... as what is thought to be one of, if not the first integrated facility of its type for the teaching of music and the arts, with gallery and exhibition space.”

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is home to a number of masterpieces, including: Degas' Jockeys Before The Race; Turner's The Sun Setting Through Vapour; Stom's Isaac Blessing Jacob; Renoir's A Young Woman Seated; Poussin's Tancred and Erminia; Van Gogh's A Peasant Woman Digging; Van Dyck's Ecce Homo; Botticelli's The Madonna and Child with Infant Saint John the Baptist; Monet's The Church at Varengeville and Rosetti's The Blue Bower, to name but a few...

The venue also hosts a number of temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Click HERE to find out more...

The Barber Institute of Fine Arts is now open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am - 5pm. Admission is free by advance booking only via barber.arttickets.org.uk