Leeds Art Gallery
The Headrow, Leeds, United Kingdom
0113 247 8256
Leeds Art Gallery Reviews
Leeds Art Gallery and Public Library Mar 23, 2014
The Leeds Art Gallery and Library is glorious, neo-classical Victoriana. It should be dominating some fancy plaza somewhere, but this being Britain, it looms over a busy road next to the equally glorious, equally neo-classical town hall, looking just a bit like it somehow shuffled into the wrong part of town. It houses some fantastic sculpture and some of the finest “modernist” (that is, just about the time of world war 1) art in the UK.
The gallery opened as a purpose built gallery in 1888, paid for by public subscription (an early form of crowd funding), attached to what were town hall buildings and are now the public library. The two are linked by the astonishingly beautiful Tiled Hall, with its blue-green ceramic walls and stained glass vaulted ceiling. As entrance is free, it’s worth popping in to see that alone; it is a tea room now. The rest of the gallery is light and airy. The library, on the other hand, is high gothic; mosaic floors, carved heraldic animals on the staircases, and a general lay out more like an Escher diagram than a public space. I was constantly fighting the impression I was wandering into a private area. That said, it’s worth popping into the library to admire the staircase and the Leeds Tapestry, which was made by community groups for the year 2000 and is quite pretty.
Architecture and tapestry aside, the gallery has a great many works by Henry Moore, some interesting sculpture by other artists (including a gorgeous Epstein and some Hepworths), a display of beautiful night time paintings by various artists, some rather jingoistic Victorian paintings of how great the empire was (I skipped these) and a very interesting collection of art by the Official War Artists from World War 1. It’s the world war 1 paintings that, for me, make the visit. Still astonishingly powerful after 100 years, they marked a real watershed in British art and attitudes to war. The contrast between the charging, cheering red coats of the Victorian gallery and the exhausted men, mud coloured palettes, shattered landscapes and pained faces is astonishing; there’s a painting of a grieving woman I could barely look away from. Even the paintings of the immediate post-war era show blank faced people and threatening, looming landscapes. It’s well worth a trip for them alone.
Entrance is free (donations welcomed). Disabled access is clearly important to the council, who run it; there’s a long explanation of accessibility on the gallery website. There are some activity sheets for children, two cafes, and the inevitable gift shop (which almost uniquely is tucked away downstairs, not on the way to the exit). This is well worth a side visit in Leeds, for both fans of art and history
Part of the UK 2014 travel blog
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