Yesterday it was really cold again here in Birmingham so we were hunting around for something to do that would get us out of the house, but still be indoors. A few weeks ago someone recommended the Barber Institute of Fine Arts at Birmingham University to us as being 1. open, 2. free and 3. pretty good. We'd heard of it before but always assumed it was only open to students, university staff and the like, not the general public, but a quick search on the net soon showed it's open to anyone, almost every day of the year.
And very impressive it was too. It's housed in a award-winning Art Deco building and the inside is slightly odd - less art gallery and more institution - but it was blessedly warm and filled with staggering works of art. The collection is only small (around 150 paintings plus sculpture and other artefacts, collected by Lady Barber as an aid to education) but represents some of the finest artists in history. Big names include Van Dyck, Manet, Monet, Pisarro, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir... this list goes on. Unlike most galleries they might only have one or two works by each artist, but you can guarantee that said work(s) will be among the best or most interesting examples.
We spent well over an hour browsing the galleries and were pleased to see a steady stream of people coming through the doors. It was never busy enough to be uncomfortable but clearly it's one of Birmingham's better-known secrets. And a very pleasant way to spend a miserably cold afternoon.