The University of Reading has recently celebrated the 80th anniversary of its incorporation by Royal Charter in 1926, but as an institution can trace its origins to the late nineteenth century as a University Extension College with teaching in Letters, Science, Agriculture, Dairying, Horticulture, Fine Art and Music.
Supported by strong local patronage in the early years of the twentieth century, notably from members of the Palmer Family (of Huntley & Palmer’s of Reading) and Lady Wantage, it established new premises at London Road and began to build its first student halls of residence. By 1938–1939 the number of full-time students had risen to nearly 700 and the need for a larger site led to the purchase of Whiteknights Park, an estate of 300 acres south of London Road.
The University’s Art Collection reflects both its institutional history and the often idiosyncratic results of benefaction and intermittent acquisition initiatives over the years. Together these have created an eclectic mixture of paintings combining important pieces by internationally recognised artists with the work of former students and little known amateur artists.
Despite lacking a single unifying theme or focus other than to record important events and individuals in the University’s history, along with an endeavour to acquire and display art suitable to enhance its buildings, the University’s art collection is nevertheless distinguished by some outstanding portraits, landscapes and abstract works spanning more than 200 years, many of which highlight a significant link with the University. Unsurprisingly for a collection of this kind it includes a selection of formal portraiture, including fine works by Briton Riviere, John Bratby and Philip de László. But equally important are topographical and landscape paintings represented by works such as Willesden Junction, Early Morning (1962) by Leon Kossoff; a pair of eighteenth-century views depicting Whiteknights by Thomas Christopher Hofland and landscape and still life paintings of Max Weber, born in Bialystok, Poland, but who came to be considered one of America’s earliest Modernists. A striking Pre-Raphaelite painting of Pandora (1913), by John Dickson Batten, an external examiner for the department of Fine Art and acquired in 1918, is one of a number of interesting works in the University Library.
In more recent years, the Collection has been augmented by schemes to acquire work of former Fine Art students, loans from the Arts Council Collection, commissioned work for new buildings and additions to the University’s Fine Art Loan Scheme.
Kate Arnold-Forster, Head of University Museums & Special Collections Services
Text source: PCF / University of Reading Art Collection
This description was originally written for a catalogue.