The Museum's fine art collection comprises over 7,000 objects in an eclectic mix of paintings, drawings, prints and sculpture, representing important British artists and celebrating the museum's location in the South West.
The many donors who contributed to the collection are too numerous to list but three key people deserve mention: Kent Kingdon, Sir Harry Veitch and John Lane.
Kent Kingdon was one of the key figures in RAMM's formation. He was an upholsterer, interior designer and an avid collector of fine and decorative arts who gathered some notable pieces during his lifetime. After his death in 1889 and that of his sister, Jane Kingdon, in 1892, the collection passed to the Museum. It included prints, drawings, paintings and decorative art and included were works by local artists John Gendall (1790-1865) and William Widgery (1826-1893).
John Lane, founder of the famous publishing firm The Bodley Head, named his company after another famous Devonian Sir Thomas Bodley, the diplomat, scholar and founder of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, who was born at Exeter in 1545. On Lane's death in 1925 he bequeathed his collection to RAMM, which although it included some ceramics and paintings, is predominantly of drawings and prints, all of which relate to his beloved Devon. The collection is particularly strong in fine 18th-century and early 19th -century, with works by artists such as Samuel Prout (1783-1852) and Samuel Cousins (1801-1887).
Sir Harry Veitch was the owner of the famous horticultural firm Veitch and Sons, which was founded in Devon in the late 18th century, it was well known for the collection of rare plant specimens, he was the leading horticulturists of the day and was the founder of the Chelsea Flower show. During his lifetime Sir Harry and his wife amassed a substantial art collection, which also included decorative art. On his death he bequeathed the entire collection to the museum in 1924, which included works by Myles Birket Foster (1825-1899) and Kate Greenaway (1846-1901).
After a successful exhibition on early Devon painters in 1932 more emphasis was placed on collecting works by local landscape artists, such as Francis Towne (1739/40-1816) and John White Abbott (1763-1851). The collection also includes a significant collection of works by Frederick John Widgery (1861-1942).
RAMM's art collection is also strong in portraiture, and contains works by William Gandy (c.1650-1729), Thomas Hudson (1701-1779), Francis Hayman (1708-1776), Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846), to name but a few.
In 1968 the collecting policy was broadened to take in the collecting of British Art as a whole and European art. Around this time works by Victorian artists Edward J Poynter (1836-1919), William Powell Frith (1819-1909) and Stanhope Forbes (1857-1948) were purchased.
RAMM also has a collection of early -to- mid 20th century paintings, prints and drawings, such as work by Walter Sickert (1860-1942), Duncan Grant (1885-1978) and Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975) and the groups and schools with which they were associated (e.g. Bloomsbury, Camden Town, Euston Road). There is also a small selection of work by war artists, which was acquired via the War Artists Advisory Committee and includes work by William Lionel Clause (1887-1946) and Paul Nash (1889-1946).