York Art Gallery

An 1886 photograph of the exhibition building by Tempest Anderson (c) CYC Imagine York

The York Art Gallery building was originally constructed in 1879 to house the second Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition.  Such exhibitions were popular in Victorian England -  the 1879 event in York attracted more than half a million visitors and made a profit of £12,000.

The exhibition building was designed by the York architect Edward Taylor and the square in front, Exhibition Square, was created at the same time. The front of the building was described in the exhibition catalogue as 'in the Italian style of Architecture'.

The building continued in use from 1880 onwards as the Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Institution until in 1892 it was purchased by the City Council.

The original building was about twice the size of the present Gallery, having a 'Great Exhibition Hall' built at the rear of it.  The Great Hall was six times the floor area of the current Main Gallery.  It was an all-purpose space - a venue for boxing matches and cock fighting as well as exhibitions.  The Exhibition Hall was hit by bombs during WWII and the hall was demolished in 1942.

The Collection

The Gallery's collection really began in 1882 when a retired horse dealer, John Burton, left his collection of paintings to the city.  Burton,  who lived in nearby Poppleton, had been on the organising committees for the 1866 and 1879 exhibitions.  He had to be persuaded to leave his collection to the citizens of York rather than his first choice, the National Gallery.

In 1905 a local docter and collector, W A Evelyn, promoted an exhibition in the Gallery called York Views and Worthies.  In 1934 he presented a vast array of pictures of the city to the Gallery.  Many of these images are used to illustrate the History of York website.

The collection continued to grow after WWII.  Between 1948 and 1963 the Dean of York Minster, Eric Milner-White, gave a total of 35 British paintings to the city gallery.  And in 1955 another worthy, Lycett Green, presented his entire collection of Old Master paintings.

The Gallery has occaisionally commissioned art.  Between 1950 and 1962  every year an artist was paid £50 to produce a picture of York.  The well known Lowry painting of Clifford's Tower was one of the results.


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