Originally in a purpose-built late Victorian building, the functions of museum, library and art gallery were combined. The library was removed in the early 20th century but the Art Gallery and the Museum continued to share premises into the 1970s.
When the Museum and Art Gallery were linked the museum collections provided direct inspiration for the work of both students and the staff. Some of the early works of Maggi Hambling and the bird sculptures of Bernard Reynolds provide an obvious link.
Many other artists have, and continue to be, inspired by museum collections especially the 'Cabinets of Curiosities' idea which formed the origins of modern museums and the spirit of which still continues to imbue some modern museums such as the Pitt Rivers or the Victorian Gallery in Ipswich Museum. The early works of Damien Hirst drew direct inspiration from this theme.
A number of prominent artists, such as Mark Dion, continue to use the ideas and systems of scientific and museum cataloguing and classification as a source for their works.
The marriage of a museum, especially of the Cabinet of Curiosities idea, and contemporary art has a long and well respected tradition and something that can continue to be embodied in the new combined venue.
The Benton End Group (sometimes called The East Anglian School of Painting and Drawing) was opened by Cedric Morris (1889-1982) and Arthur Lett Haines (d.1978), first at Dedham in 1937 and from 1940 to the late 1970s at Benton End, near Hadleigh Suffolk. It was a great influence on many Suffolk painters and made a vital contribution to art teaching in the east of England for forty years.
Benton End was run on very idiosyncratic lines. There was no formal teaching, more the establishment of an environment in which artists could explore their potential. The atmosphere inspired many artists and was a formative experience in the early careers of Lucien Freud and Maggi Hambling among others. There are several paintings already in the collection at Ipswich by artists associated with Benton End, including Cedric Morris, Arthur Lett-Haines, Maggi Hambling, Lucy Harwood, Joan Warburton and Glyn Morgan. Other notable figures influenced by Cedric Morris and the group also included Beth Chatto.
The Ipswich School of Art also attracted many talented artists, sculptors and printmakers to its staff, including Bernard Reynolds, Leonard Squirrel, Lawrence Self and Colin Moss who are represented in the collection. Some notable students include Maggi Hambling and Brian Eno.
The proximity of the two schools meant that a number of artists had links to both or crossed between them including most notably Maggi Hambling and Bernard Reynolds. At this moment there are also some opportunities to significantly increase the works by some of these artists, including Cedric Morris, both as examples of their art but also as illustrations of how they worked.