BRIAN Hatton is back. The boy from Broomy Hill, Hereford, ranked among the best British artists of his era, is having a major new exhibition of his work to secure its future for generations to come.

It has been six years since the gallery gifted to the county in Brian Hatton's name was controversially closed by Herefordshire Council, throwing the unique collection it held into limbo.

Now, the Hatton cause - long fought by his family and the Hereford Times - has won over the National Lottery, which is contributing £50,000 to put the artist back where he belongs. A further £26,000 is coming from The Hatton Trust Fund founded by his family.

The money helps Herefordshire Council's heritage team put the whole Hatton Collection - about 900 exhibits ranging from paintings to papers and sketches - and related research online as a virtual gallery.

Packs that link the study of Hatton to national curriculum coursework are also being prepared for the county's schools.

To kick-start the project, Hereford Art Gallery opens a major exhibition this month - to run into the new year - devoted to Hatton's life and work.

Born in Broomy Hill, Brian Hatton had barely begun to fulfil the potential that put among the finest painters of his generation before he died during the First World War aged just 28.

His collection and its associated gallery - an annexe of the former Churchill House Museum on Aylestone Hill - was bequeathed to Hereford and Herefordshire in the 1970s by the late Marjorie Hatton, Brian's sister, who made his legacy her life's work.

The collection has been kept in storage since the gallery was shut along with the museum in 2002 - despite a spirited campaign to keep them open - because the council claimed they were no longer cost effective as attractions.

A charity trust to take care of the works was set up in 2003, with the council as the sole trustee.

The selection of paintings going on show will focus on the influence Herefordshire had on Hatton, with local landscapes and family portraits.

All the paintings, now stored at the council's Museum Resource and Learning Centre, are being examined for conservation work.

Anne Jenkins, regional manager for the Heritage Lottery Fund, said the virtual gallery was seen as a great way of raising the profile of an artist of Hatton's calibre, especially among the young.

For the Hatton family, Dr Geoffrey Vevers congratulated the council's heritage team for securing the lottery funding.

"The collection will become more accessible as a result," he said.

● Hatton's Home County - Brian Hatton and Herefordshire is open from Saturday to January 9 at Hereford Museum and Art Gallery in Broad Street.