Our Designated fine art collections have principle strengths in the areas of 18th and early 19th century English watercolours, 20th century British Art, particularly the period 1910 to 1950, and a modern sculpture collection more extensive than any other regional gallery in the UK. There are also significant holdings of late 19th century pictures, particularly strong in the area of Victorian narrative painting, and some high quality French paintings, as well as notable examples of contemporary artists’ moving image works from the last decade of the 20th century.
The collections are kept and primarily displayed across three sites, with overall approximately 1300 oil paintings, about 3,000 English watercolours, and 2,000 prints and about 1000 sculptures. The primary elements mentioned above at the city-centre located Leeds Art Gallery, as well as notable collections of ‘Old Master’ and British painting dating from before 1840 at Temple Newsam House, while the Gascoigne family paintings and some British Impressionists are shown in the settings of the Edwardian house, Lotherton Hall. In both these latter venues the fine art collections are integral to historic country house displays, and, taken overall, with the Art Gallery which is best described as a gallery of modern and contemporary art, the collections offer visitors, and researchers, a wide range of engagement through different display styles and strategies.
We have collected Victorian pictures since the Art Gallery opened in 1888. Whilst not comprehensive, our collection holds some remarkable works.
Of particular note are the landscapes, characterised by Sogne Fjord by Adelsteen Normann, Pre-Raphalite romantic pictures like Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, ‘modern moral subjects’ of everyday life like Holl's The Village Funeral and Tissot’s The Bridesmaid), as well as paintings depicting contemporary events like the war in Afghanistan represented by The Drums of the Fore and Aft by Edward Hale.
We are probably most associated with the Leeds artist John Atkinson Grimshaw, the holdings of whose works has grown to encompass the largest of any public collection.
British and French Painting 1850-1900
We hold a major collection of French art of the Barbizon school, including important works by Courbet and Corot. We are able to demonstrate the changes since the Renaissance, in particular with the development of realism and impressionism. Andre Derain's Barges on the Thames, acquired later is a key work in the post-impressionist canon.
British Art 1900-1920
The work of Walter Sickert and the grouping around him of young artists known as the Camden Town Group, (Ginner, Gilman and Gore) who were influenced by new European developments are well represented in our collection. Mark Gertler, David Bomberg, Stanley Spencer and Leeds’ own Jacob Kramer were part of this fresh approach, and are all represented with significant, and often multiple works in the collection.
We also have major works from the Vorticists painters Nevinson and Wyndham Lewis. The First World War period is also well represented by artists such as Paul Nash.
British Impressionism and the Sam Wilson Collection
Leeds woollen manufacturer, Sam Wilson formed a modern and progressive collection, which was subsequently bequeathed to the city in 1918. Focusing on ‘English Impressionists’ like Mark Senior, Wilson built up a collection of over three hundred paintings, sculptures, oriental porcelain and Gillow furniture. Collecting artists of his own times - notably Frank Brangwyn, Georg Sauter, George Clausen, William Orpen and John Buxton Knight, Wilson's collection also included several sculptures by Leighton, Olsen and Alfred Gilbert .
Modernism. Painting in Britain 1920 – 1950
This period is dominated by the artists such as Spencer, Sickert and Matthew Smith and Wadsworth the acquisition of which was driven by gallery director Philip Hendy. Work by most other leading British artists of the period were bought and during the Second World War a pioneering series of exhibitions was held at Temple Newsam House, Leeds, featuring emerging ‘new’ artists such as Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson and Augustus John, thus establishing Leeds’ reputation as a centre for contemporary art.
Post War British Art 1950 – 1980
Significant acquisitions have added some major works from this period; these include significant loans from the Leeds Art (Collections) Fund. One of the most celebrated being Francis Bacon’s Painting 1950. Other artists represented from this period include the Gregory Fellows – a series of artist residencies at Leeds University – whom numbered Terry Frost, Alan Davie, Hubert Dalwood, Reg Butler, Kenneth Armitage, Austin Wright, Norman Stevens, John Walker and Keith Milow.
Art Post -1980
Painting is still the dominant medium in the Gallery’s collection, and acquisitions continue to be made by artists who still use paint in new ways, such as Terry Atkinson and notably by women artists, including Gillian Ayres and Paula Rego.
More recently, however, we have collected in the expanded arenas of art production, from Stephen Willats ‘collagist’ approach in ‘Doppelganger’, to Susan Hiller’s ‘Monument’ which incorporates audio-tape. We have embarked on a new direction, acquiring new works by artists working with the moving image and sound, including works by Mark Wallinger, Rosalind Nashashibi, Tacita Dean. This also involved the Gallery in commissioning artists to make work specifically for the collection. Bill Fontana, Georgina Starr and Mariele Neudecker each produced new work and this direction of travel has continued with a recent commission from Bob & Roberta Smith.
The Leeds sculpture collections comprise over 800 objects, 400 works on paper and the Henry Moore Institute Archive of over 270 collections of papers relating to sculptors. These include personal papers, diaries, casting ledgers, photographs and sketch books. The collections are principally British from c.1875 to the present day, although they include works from earlier centuries and other parts of Europe. The Leeds sculpture collections are managed in partnership with the Henry Moore Institute, a specialist centre for the study of sculpture.
The core of the present collection was established in the mid-twentieth century when Leeds Art Gallery gained a reputation for the perceptive collecting of early modern and contemporary sculpture. The introduction of support from The Henry Moore Foundation, beginning in 1982, and the establishment of the Henry Moore Institute in 1993 confirmed Leeds as an international centre for the study and appreciation of sculpture. Since then, the collection has more than doubled in size and expanded in depth, as well as scope, through the acquisition of historic and contemporary works, sculpture and works on paper, preparatory and finished material. The collections seek to narrate the development of sculpture being made in Britain over the last century as broadly as possible by representing neglected practitioners as well as established ones, by incorporating monumental and architectural sculpture by means of drawings, maquettes and archival material, and by using the works on paper collection to represent the scope of contemporary practice alongside acquisitions of three-dimensional work. In recent years there has been a particular focus on conceptual, performance, photographic and other expanded sculptural forms and definitions from the 1960s and 1970s, which traditionally have been considered difficult to collect and as a result are underrepresented in museum collections of sculpture.
Prints and Drawings
Today, Leeds boasts one of the finest collections of prints and drawings in Britain, which is predominantly strong in the area of English watercolour. It includes around 3,000 drawings and watercolours of national importance, and a fine collection of around 2,000 English prints with small but high quality collections of European and Japanese prints.
The story of collecting prints and drawings at Leeds Art Gallery began in 1925 when Robert Hawthorn Kitson, an amateur watercolour artist and member of the Gallery’s sub-committee, set out to create ‘a first rate general collection of watercolours’. In the following inter-war years the acquisition of watercolours became the Gallery’s main focus of collecting, when several key purchases including The Ploughed Field by John Sell Cotman and Lake Albano and Castle Gandulfo by John Robert Cozens.
The Gallery’s expansion into the field of English watercolours began to attract notable private collectors, which led to important bequests. In 1937 the collector and biographer of John Sell Cotman, Sydney Decimus Kitson, bequeathed a significant share of his Cotman collection. This included major works by Cotman including: Barnard Castle from Towler Hill and nearly 600 Cotman studies.
In 1952 we received the Lupton collection, which totalled some 500 watercolours and around 400 prints. Not only did it include major works by leading English watercolour artists of the late 18th century but also a sequence from Turner’s prints for the ‘Liber Studiorum’ and 64 etchings by Rembrandt.
We have a small, but significant, collection of early European intaglio and relief prints dating from c. 1450.
We also have a large number of popular prints that cover ranging subjects such as topography, portraiture and satires. The last century saw us actively collecting works by living artists including many important names. Most notable: Laura Knight, Paul Nash, William Roberts, Henry Moore, Eric Ravlious, Graham Sutherland and Edward Burra. In recent years the most notable acquisition Leeds has purchased is The Valley of the Washburn by J M W Turner.