The Kirklees Collection was formed in 1974 as a result of local government reorganisation, which brought together the museum and art gallery collections of Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and a number of smaller authorities that constituted Kirklees Metropolitan Council.
The original Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery (the current building dates from 1940) was founded in 1898 by the County Borough of Huddersfield. It initially held exhibitions of loans from local collectors, and the work of the Huddersfield Art Society, formed in 1890. The acquisition of works of art began in the early years of the last century and has continued to this day, with a particular focus on British art – initially of the nineteenth and latterly of the twentieth century – and reflecting the artistic activity of the region. Early purchases exemplified the contemporary taste for landscape painting (for example, George Cole) and for Victorian symbolism (George Frederick Watts) and these sentiments dominated early acquisitions.
Until 1974 the art gallery collection was administered by the Chief Librarian and Curator, with no professional gallery staff but with the assistance of several paid ‘advisors’ who recommended and often negotiated acquisitions to be approved by committee. Members of the Art Committee included the artist Charles Cundall and Philip James, former Director of Art at the Arts Council, Noël Spencer of Huddersfield School of Art and local collector Clement Roebuck.
In the other Kirklees authorities the art gallery function was part of a museum service administered on a more traditional model. In Batley, Bagshaw Museum (named after its founder and first curator, Walter Bagshaw) opened in 1911 as Wilton Park Museum. For a number of years, in the immediate postwar period, Batley Art Gallery situated in Batley Library was known as Bagshaw Art Gallery, when it benefited from membership of the Contemporary Art Society and the curatorship of Ronald Gelsthorpe. In 1952 during Gelsthorpe’s time at the gallery it acquired Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II (the ‘Batley Bacon’), the first painting by the artist to enter a public collection.
In addition a number of substantial works of art were donated to, or acquired by, Town Halls (in particular Dewsbury and Meltham) and over the years several portraits of Mayors and other civic dignitaries have been transferred to the collection. After the Second World War a number of seventeenth-century works were acquired for Oakwell Hall, Birstall, as part of the furnishing of the historic house.
The impetus for the development of the collection based at the new Huddersfield Art Gallery came in the postwar period. Initially Horace Goulden, Chief Librarian and Curator, was in charge of the Collection. He was succeeded by Kenneth Aldridge between 1956 and 1969 who provided a sense of focus and direction for the Collection as a whole. The Gallery had access to a small annual purchase fund and a larger capital fund to support purchases, which had to be approved by the Arts Committee and on occasion by full council.
During this period over 50 significant acquisitions were made which set the tone for the development of the Collection in subsequent years, combining in its relatively small collection many of the major artistic figures of twentieth-century Britain. It is clear that the committee was prepared to accept the recommendations of Mr Aldridge and his advisors sufficiently often to enable works by both young, relatively lesser known artists such as Terry Frost, and William Crozier, (all acquired in 1963), as well as by established and more mainstream artists such as Laurence Stephen Lowry (1961), David Bomberg (1962), Harold Gilman and Matthew Smith (both 1965), John Piper, Lucien Pissarro and Walter Richard Sickert (all acquired in 1966). Several local artists were also supported with purchases during this period, including David Tindle and Peter Brook.
The gallery did not benefit to any great extent from donations of oil paintings; the most substantial bequest by local industrialist D. R. H. Williams largely comprises watercolours and drawings. However, in 1966 a sum of money bequeathed by Dr Pye-Smith enabled the gallery to commission works by Peter Brook, Carel Victor Morlais Weight, Sheila Mary Fell and Alan Lowndes, and in the same year Huddersfield County Borough commissioned Laurence Stephen Lowry to produce a view of the town for the gallery collection.
The Collection has continued to benefit from continued membership of the Contemporary Art Society, and this has enabled the collection to grow during periods of pressure on resources, complementing existing holdings and introducing works that might otherwise have been considered too problematic or lacking in links to the Collection to be the subject of purchases. Works by artists as varied as John Keith Vaughan, Jack Smith, Stephen Buckley, Albert Irvin, Amikam Toren, Graham Sutherland, Mary Potter and John Bellany have been acquired in this way. Both Huddersfield and Batley Art Galleries have been longstanding members of the Contemporary Art Society; in the case of Huddersfield since 1928.
In more recent years, Huddersfield Art Gallery has supported through its purchases a number of artists based locally or having strong connections with Kirklees. It has also received generous donations from artists such as Arturo Di Stefano, Melvyn Noble, Denis Bowen, Trevor Stubley, Peter Brook and Tom Wood. A regular source of funding has been the Victoria & Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund and the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, which has enabled us to stretch our limited purchase funds to acquire work by Jack Butler Yeats, Malcolm Drummond, Frank Auerbach, Balraj Khanna, Sonia Lawson, David Tindle and Alan Davie. It has also enabled us to acquire a group of works by the nineteenth-century Huddersfield genre painter William Henry Midwood, and a panoramic view of Huddersfield by William Cowen commissioned by the Ramsden family in 1849.
Since 2000, the Collection has benefited from a number of works presented to the gallery in memory of the late Jonathan Drake, Head of Cultural Services (1997–2003), including paintings by Trevor Bell, Arturo Di Stefano, Jake Attree and Bruce Tippett. As this catalogue goes to press it looks as if in future the Collection will be included in the new Huddersfield Art Gallery planned as part of the Queensgate development in the town centre, due to open in 2012.
Robert Hall, Principal Arts Officer
Text source: PCF / Kirklees Museums and Galleries
This description was originally written for a catalogue.
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