The Brynmor Jones Art Collection is located on the ground floor of the Brynmor Jones Library and is free to all, whether student, staff, or member of the public. Please check the opening times.
The gallery includes an exhibition space for temporary exhibits.
The University of Hull Art Collection
A collection of breathtaking quality — Fred Hohler (Chairman, Public Catalogue Foundation)
The University Art Collection is unusual
- It was started from scratch by the University (rather than with the gift of an already formed private collection).
- It specialises in just 50 years of art in Britain (1890-1940).
- It was formed from an endowment of just £300 a year.
Mark Fisher in his book Britain’s Best Museums and Art Galleries starts his entry on the Art Collection (starred as, ‘good collection, well worth a detour’):
'Only the foolhardy, the brave or the divinely inspired would try to create a serious collection of early-20th-century English art with an endowment of £300 a year. But the University of Hull has done it.'
Collecting on £300
It all began in 1963 when the University decided to form a collection to bring our students into contact with real works of art. With the available resources it was realised that this could only be done, ‘by concentrating on the unfashionable and inexpensive’. They decided to specialise in the then largely neglected area of art in Britain from 1890 to 1940. The remarkable man responsible for this bold initiative was Dr Malcolm Easton, the first Honorary Curator. A bequest from the local philanthropist, Thomas Robinson Ferens, provided the £300 a year to buy works. In the early years the collection was displayed on the first floor of the Brynmor Jones Library. Easton was tireless in raising funds and obtaining gifts and by 1967 the Collection numbered some 70 works and moved into two purpose-built galleries in the basement of Sir Leslie Martin’s newly built Middleton Hall. In 2015 the Collection (now amounting to over 420 works) returned to its original home to be displayed in a new, bigger and better gallery on the ground floor of a massively refurbished Brynmor Jones Library.
50 Years of Art in Britain (1890-1940)
What originally seemed a very risky venture has proved a triumphant success and we now have a collection that has achieved national importance and an international reputation [included in Helen Langdon’s Art Galleries of the World]. Today the Art Collection remains small but outstanding. It includes works by Augustus John, Aubrey Beardsley, Philip Wilson Steer, Samuel Peploe, Stanley Spencer, Wyndham Lewis and Ben Nicholson.
The great strength of our collection is that it is so focused and coherent. We have resisted expanding the period, feeling it would dilute these qualities, and it enables us to represent less well-known artists alongside the major figures. We also display drawings, prints, cartoons and costume designs produced in the period, which tend to be neglected in other galleries. We have defined our Collection as ‘Art in Britain’ rather than ‘British Art’ because we have always taken the view that it should include the work of foreign artists who, while working in Britain, made a significant contribution to the national school. Among such artists we have examples of the work of Lucien Pissarro and Théodore Roussel. Indeed Pissarro’s Blossom, Sun and Mist: Chipperfield was the first work acquired by Easton for the Collection.
Strength in Groups
The Collection is particularly strong in works by the Camden Town Group, who flourished in the early 1910s and centred around Walter Sickert (from whom we have two fine oil paintings). The group is represented by paintings and drawings by Harold Gilman, Charles Ginner, Spencer Gore, J.B. Manson, Lucien Pissarro and two very rare works by John Doman Turner. The group evolved into the more diverse and longer lasting London Group which is represented by a host of different artists.
The Bloomsbury Group of artists and writers is another area of strength and artists represented include Vanessa Bell, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant.
The Collection’s star pieces are perhaps Sir Stanley Spencer’s Villagers and Saints, originally painted for a chapel project in his native Cookham, and Samuel John Peploe’s Interior with Japanese Print, our sole work by a Scottish Colourist.
Our most reproduced work is probably Vanessa Bell’s Conversation Piece, portraying some of the leading literary figures of the Bloomsbury Group.
Our most borrowed work for major exhibitions is Christopher Nevinson’s He Gained a Fortune But He Gave a Son, depicting a war profiteer, modelled by the Sitwell’s celebrated butler Mr Moat.
The Collection also displays an exceptional representation of sculpture, including works by Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska, Henry Moore and Frank Dobson’s most important work, Cornucopia.
Donors and Friends
The Collection has benefited from the generous support of bodies like the Gulbenkian Foundation, the Government's Grant-in-aid system long administered by the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Art Collections Fund, and the Contemporary Art Society. However most important has been the generosity of numerous private individuals, particularly, in the early days, the artists themselves or their relatives who were sympathetic to the faith we were showing in this period of British art. Lady Kathleen Epstein, wife of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, was outstandingly generous, as was Pamela Diamand, daughter of the Bloomsbury Group artist and writer, Roger Fry.
A large gift came in 1980 from Professor A.G. Dickens, a distinguished Reformation Historian, who came from Hull and became a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University. While at Hull University, he had been inspired by the Collection and started collecting in that period himself. When his wife died he presented two dozen of his best works to the Collection in memory of her. In 1992 the writer Dr Philippa Burrell entrusted to us some 70 works by her mother Louie Burrell, a remarkable woman whom Philippa wrote movingly about. More recently a former student George Holt (1945-2009) bequeathed over fifty works to the Collection including 25 works by Keith Vaughan the leading Neo-Romantic artist. We also owe much to the contributions of the Friends of the Hull University Art Collection, established in 1988. They provide essential support for both purchases and special projects.
Our display also benefits enormously from some important long loans from private individuals and the Arts Council Collection which fill gaps in our coverage of our period.
A large exhibition gallery adjacent to the Art Collection enables us to provide a programme of loan exhibitions. More information about the exhibition space and our current exhibition.
John G Bernasconi