A Decade of Gifts and Acquisitions

Thursday, June 1, 2017
Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Yale Center for British Art first opened to the public in April 1977. In celebration of this fortieth anniversary, a suite of exhibitions showcased the most recent additions to the Center’s exceptional collection of British art. Offering visitors a behind-the-scenes look at the growth and evolution of the collection, the displays featured several groupings of newly acquired works—some organized thematically, others focused on specific artists, such as the abstract painter John Golding, and some highlighting individual gifts to the Center, including from the institution’s founder, Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929).

Mr. Mellon’s final gifts to the Center were largely intimate, personal objects with which he and his wife Rachel Lambert Mellon enjoyed living, and many of which she possessed until her death in 2014. They ranged from James Seymour’s The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August 1750 (1750) to a group of eight paintings by the pre-eminent British modernist Ben Nicholson, which augmented the Center’s existing collection of eight works by the artist originally assembled by Mr. Mellon. Gifts from other significant donors, such as Joseph McCrindle and Brian Sewell, were also featured. Highlights from the McCrindle and Sewell bequests included paintings and drawings by Augustus John, fashionable society portraits by Sir William Orpen and Glyn Warren Philpot, and a number of works by the landscape and still-life painter Eliot Hodgkin.

Other exhibitions were thematic, focusing on childhood and education, war and conflict, and the natural world. The works here were chosen primarily from recent additions to the Center’s collection of rare books and manuscripts. Among the objects on display included an early map sampler (1806) by a nine-year-old girl; a manuscript by a French naval officer who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar (1805); a Second World War silk escape map; a rare early sciagraph (X-ray) of a lizard from a series of images of British reptiles (1897); and a number of works by contemporary artists, such as Barbara Ciurej and Lindsay Lochman, whose portfolio of cyanotype prints (Natural History, 2014) was inspired by the work of the nineteenth-century naturalist Anna Atkins.

A display of modern and contemporary prints featured two outstanding print portfolios shown in their entirety for the first time at the Center—Shadow IV (2011), by Anish Kapoor, and Thirty Pieces of Silver (2015), by Cornelia Parker, as well as prints by Richard Hamilton and other exponents of British pop art.

James Seymour, The Chaise Match Run on Newmarket Heath on Wednesday the 29th of August, 1750 (detail), 1750, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Some of the most important additions to the Center’s outstanding collection of historic British drawings, including masterpieces in watercolor by Thomas Girtin and David Cox, were showcased in another section.

Known as an outstanding teacher, writer, and curator, John Golding was first and foremost a painter. The display John Golding: From the Artist’s Estate drew extensively on the rich gift of his work to the Center that charts his journey from figurative art to abstraction.

Objects that document the experience of British India were also highlighted here. Works by both British and Indian artists provided a visual record of the subcontinent for British and continental audiences. 

Works in pastel have been a collecting focus of the Center in recent years. This exhibition brought together pastel portraits, with more unusual uses of the medium in landscape and in copying old master paintings. Other portraits, studies for portraits, and portrait miniatures in a variety of graphic media were on display, including works by Sir Peter Lely and Sir Thomas Lawrence.

Over the last decade, the Center’s photographic holdings have grown dramatically through gift and purchase. On view were works from pioneering British photographer Roger Fenton to twentieth-century photographers Bill Brandt, Cecil Beaton, Lewis Morley, and contemporary artist Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA).

A Decade of Gifts and Acquisitions was curated by Elisabeth Fairman, Chief Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts; Matthew Hargraves, Chief Curator of Art Collections; Lars Kokkonen, Assistant Curator of Paintings and Sculpture; and Sarah Welcome, Assistant Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts; under the direction of Scott Wilcox, Deputy Director for Collections.