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York Art Gallery in York, England is a public art gallery with a collection of paintings from 14th-century to contemporary, prints, watercolours, drawings, and ceramics. It closed for major redevelopment in 2013, reopening in summer of 2015. The building is a Grade II listed building.[2] and is managed by York Museums Trust.

York Art Gallery
York Art Gallery.jpg
York Art Gallery and statue of William Etty
Established1882 (1882)
LocationYork, England
Coordinates53°57′46″N 1°05′11″W / 53.962873°N 1.086278°W / 53.962873; -1.086278Coordinates: 53°57′46″N 1°05′11″W / 53.962873°N 1.086278°W / 53.962873; -1.086278
TypeArt museum
Key holdingsBritish Studio Pottery, Views of York, William Etty
CollectionsWestern European paintings, British paintings, prints, watercolours, drawings, ceramics
Visitors81,402 (2018-2019)[1]
OwnerYork Museums Trust


Foundation and developmentEdit

The gallery was created to provide a permanent building as the core space for the second Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition of 1879, the first in 1866 occupied a temporary chalet in the grounds of Bootham Asylum. The 1866 exhibition, which ran from 24 July to 31 October 1866 was attended by over 400,000 people and yielded a net profit for the organising committee of £1,866. A meeting of this committee in April 1867 committed to "applying this surplus in providing some permanent building to be devoted to the encouragement of Art and Industry".[3]

The result was the development of a second exhibition, housed in a newly constructed building designed by a York architect named Edward Taylor; a series of 189 drawings, watercolours and sketches for the proposed gallery were produced by Taylor in the period 1874-1878. The architectural plan for the building changed considerably during this time, from an 'Elizabethan' style to an 'Italian' style - neither were fully realised in the final design. The building first opened on 7 May 1879.[3]

The site for the 1879 exhibition was an area in the grounds of the medieval St Mary's Abbey known as 'Bearparks Garden'. It is fronted by what became Exhibition Square which was cleared by the demolition of a house and the former Bird in Hand Hotel. The art gallery consisted of an entrance hall, central hall, north and south galleries and on the upper floor a Grand Picture Saloon. Its intended grand classical façade decorated with 18 stone figures, a carved tympanum and 14 mosaics was not done for financial reasons and it was decorated instead with two tiled panels representing 'Leonardo expiring in the arms of Francis I', and 'Michaelangelo showing his Moses', together with four ceramic roundels depicting York artists William Etty (painter), John Carr (architect), John Camidge (musician), and John Flaxman (sculptor). To the rear of the building was a large temporary exhibition hall with machinery annex; the exhibition hall remained in use for meetings, concerts and other functions until 1909 and was not demolished until the Second World War.

Following the 1879 exhibition the renamed Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Institution aimed to create a permanent art exhibition. It was given a major boost by the bequest of York collector John Burton (1799–1882) of more than one hundred 19th-century paintings, supplemented by gifts and in the early years two major temporary loan collections. In 1888 the north galleries were leased to York School of Art, which moved there in 1890 from Minster Yard.[4][5]

York City Council purchased the buildings and collection in 1892. Temporary summer exhibitions ceased in 1903 but a major exhibition of the work of York artist William Etty was held in 1911 when his statue by local sculptor George Walker Milburn was erected outside.[6]

In 1888 the north wing was leased to York Art School which added a further storey in 1905, and after that wing was vacated by the school it housed the city archives from 1977 to 2012.[4][7]

Second World WarEdit

The period up to the commencement of the Second World War was one of modest growth, the major event being purchase of the William Arthur Evelyn collection of prints, drawings and watercolours of York in 1931. The building was requisitioned for military purposes at the outbreak of the Second World War and closed, suffering bomb damage during the Baedeker Blitz on 29 April 1942.[4][5][6]


Portrait of Giovanni Battista Agucchi by his friend Domenichino, 1615–1620

The gallery reopened in 1948 with a small temporary exhibition before a major restoration in 1951–52 after which began a major revival of fortune under the direction of Hans Hess. He made important acquisitions with the assistance of the York Art Collection Society founded in 1948 (later Friends of York Art Gallery) and the National Art Collections Fund, and then in 1955 the donation of FD Lycett Green's collection of more than one hundred continental Old Master paintings. As a result of the systematic build up under Hess and his successors, the gallery has a British collection especially of late-19th-century and early-20th-century works with some French works representative of influential styles.[5][6]

In 1963 the gallery was given Eric Milner-White's collection of studio pottery.

Later 20th CenturyEdit

In the 1990s and 2000s the collection was supplemented by other major donations and loans, most notably those of WA Ismay and Henry Rothschild (1913–2009).[8]

1999 RobberyEdit

In January 1999 the gallery was victim of an armed robbery, during which staff were tied up and threatened, and over £700,000 of paintings were stolen.[9] At closing time, four members of staff were threatened by two men bearing pistols and wearing ski masks. They took a watercolour by J. M. W. Turner from a display case and 19 other paintings from the walls, cutting some of those from their frames.[10]

The main perpetrator, Craig Townsend, was arrested by armed police when he, and another man, arrived at an arranged meeting with an art dealer to sell the stolen paintings.[11] He was sentenced to 14 years in jail at York Crown Court in February 2000 for the robbery.[12]

21st centuryEdit

The gallery underwent a £445,000 refurbishment in 2005, reopening on 19 March. This development was supported by a £272,700 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and £85,000 from the City of York Council.[13]

A restoration in 2013–15 cost £8 million and was undertaken to increase display space by some 60%, including reincorporation of the north wing, an upper floor extension to the south wing, and reorganisation of the internal space for exhibition and storage. The development enabled the area to the rear of the building to be restored to public use as part of the Museum Gardens. The reopened gallery houses the British Studio Ceramics on the upper floor.[14][15][16] The gallery reopened on 1 August 2015, charging an admission fee for the first time since 2002.[16] The first year after the gallery reopened with a new charging structure saw visitor numbers fall by over 120,000 to 91,896 compared to the year 2011-2012 when there was no admission charge.[17]

Artist's GardenEdit

The Artist's Garden is an outdoor exhibition space behind the Art Gallery, within the York Museum Gardens. Sculptural exhibitions have been displayed in this open air space since 2016.[18] Exhibitions have included:

  • Foundation Myths by Charles Holland (2016–2017) was the first exhibition in the Artist's Garden.[19]
  • Leisureland Golf by Doug Fishbourne (June-September 2017) was a fully playable crazy-golf course and sculptural installation.[20]
  • The Pollinarium (27 September - 6 October 2018) was a timber structure, covered with flowering plants and shown as part of the York Mediale.[21]
  • Michael Lyons: Ancient and Modern (25 May 2019 – May 2020) is a series of sculptures by Michael Lyons. It is the first time such a large exhibition of outdoor sculpture has been displayed in York.[22]



The gallery has more than 1,000 paintings. Western European paintings include 14th-century Italian altarpieces, 17th-century Dutch morality works, and 19th-century works by French artists who were predecessors and contemporaries of the Impressionists. British paintings date from the 16th-century onward, with 17th and 18th-century portraits and paintings of Giambattista Pittoni and vedutas by Bernardo Bellotto, Victorian morality works and early 20th-century work by the Camden Town Group associated with Walter Sickert being particularly strong. Among the contemporaries, Paul Nash, L. S. Lowry and Ben Nicholson and the Swiss-born Luigi Pericle. Amongst York born artists the gallery has the largest collection of works by William Etty and good paintings by Albert Moore. Henry Keyworth Raine, the great nephew of William Powell Frith, gifted various works, including a portrait of George Kirby (1845–1937), the First Curator of York Art gallery.[23][6][24]

Studio potteryEdit

The gallery holds a collection of British studio ceramics with more than 5,000 pieces.[25] They include works by Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, William Staite Murray, Michael Cardew, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Jim Malone and Michael Casson.[8]

Works on paperEdit

The collection of more than 17,000 drawings, watercolours and prints is particularly strong in views of York with more than 4,000 examples, largely watercolours and drawings, some by local artists such as Henry Cave, John Harper, John Browne and Patrick Hall. Watercolour artists represented include Thomas Rowlandson, John Varley, Thomas Girtin, J. M. W. Turner, and 20th century painters Edward Burra, John Piper and Julian Trevelyan. The gallery holds the William Etty archive.[26][6]

Decorative artsEdit

There are more than 3,000 decorative objects particularly from Yorkshire potteries from the 16th-century to the early 20th-century, Chinese and Korean pottery from the 18th and 19th-century, and glassware.[27]

Curators and directorsEdit

Curators of York Art Gallery
Name Title Dates in Post Reference
George Kirby Curator 1879-1931 [28]
Hans Hess Curator 1947–1967
Peter Tomory Assistant Curator 1950-1956 [29]
John Ingamells Curator 1967–1977 [30]
Richard Green Curator 1977–2003 [31]
Caroline Worthington Curator of Art 2003–2008 [32]
Laura Turner Curator of Art 2008–?2017 [33]
Vera Pavlova Senior Curator of York Art Gallery 2017-2018 [34]
Beatrice Bertram Senior Curator of York Art Gallery 2018 - current [35]


  • Visit York Tourism Awards: Visitor Attraction of the Year 2016 (Over 50,000 Visitors category) (winner).[36]
  • Art Fund: Museum of the Year 2016 (finalist).[37]
  • Kids in Museums: Family Friendly Museum Award 2016 (winner).[38]
  • European Museum Forum: European Museum of the Year 2017 (nominated).[39] Special commendation received.[40]


  1. ^ Trustees Reports and Financial Statements, Year Ended 31 March 2019 (PDF) (Report). York Museums Trust. 2019. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  2. ^ Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1257852)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 4 April 2015.
  3. ^ a b Taylor, Jeremy (1984). "The Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition Buildings 1879". Architectural History. 27: 356–367. doi:10.2307/1568477.
  4. ^ a b c Ingamells, John (January 1977). "The Elevation of the Masses". Preview. 30.
  5. ^ a b c Tillott, P.M., ed. (1961). A History of Yorkshire: The City of York. Dawson for The University of London Institute for Historical Research. pp. 536–7. ISBN 0 7129 1029 8.
  6. ^ a b c d e Green, Richard (1991). York City Art Gallery An Illustrated Guide. York City Council.
  7. ^ Pevsner, Nikolaus; Neave, David (1995). The Buildings of England – Yorkshire: York and the East Riding. Penguin Books. p. 196. ISBN 0140710612.
  8. ^ a b York Art Gallery. "Studio Pottery". York Museums Trust. Archived from the original on 29 May 2014. Retrieved 18 March 2014.
  9. ^ "Art gallery curator off to pastures new". York Press. 20 January 2003. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  10. ^ Martin Wainwright (25 January 1999). "£1m art robbery linked to money-laundering scam by drugs gangs". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  11. ^ "Life for York Art Gallery thief Craig William Townend". York Press. 17 September 2009. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  12. ^ "Armed art robber given 14 years". BBC News. 11 February 2000. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  13. ^ Ali, Safira (24 March 2005). "Refurbishment And Reflections: York Art Gallery Re-Opens". Culture24. Retrieved 29 October 2019.
  14. ^ York Art Gallery. "Redevelopment 2015". York Museums Trust. Archived from the original on 7 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  15. ^ "York Art Gallery shortlisted for international award". The Press. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  16. ^ a b "York Art Gallery reopens after £8m refurbishment". BBC News. 1 August 2015. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  17. ^ "Visitor numbers to York Art Gallery fall 100K below expectations in first year of charging". YorkMix. 17 August 2016. Retrieved 1 November 2019.
  18. ^ "Artists Garden". York Museums Trust. Retrieved 6 July 2019.
  19. ^ Sayer, J. (25 August 2016). "These surreal yellow ceramic stumps question one of architecture's founding myths". The Architect's Newspaper.
  20. ^ "Crazy idea? Doug Fishbone putts the politics into golf in Leisure Land course at York Art Gallery". York Press. 13 June 2017.
  21. ^ Flanagan, E. (30 August 2018). "Flowering art installation the setting for York Mediale workshops". The Northern Echo.
  22. ^ Laycock, M (25 May 2019). "Sculptures by artist Michael Lyons go on display at York Art Gallery". York Press.
  23. ^ York Art Gallery. "Paintings". York Museums Trust. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  24. ^ "Paintings held by York Museums Trust". Art UK. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  25. ^ "York Art Gallery". Art Fund. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  26. ^ York Art Gallery. "Works on Paper". York Museums Trust. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  27. ^ York Art Gallery. "Decorative Arts". York Museums Trust. Archived from the original on 17 March 2014. Retrieved 17 March 2014.
  28. ^ Morris, W. (2014). The Collected Letters of William Morris, Volume I: 1848-1880. Princeton University Press. p. 122.
  29. ^ "Peter Tomory: Distinguished Art Historian". The Independent. 28 May 2008. Retrieved 12 November 2019.
  30. ^ Mike Laycock (23 November 2013). "Former curator at York Art Gallery, John Ingamells, has died aged 78". The York Press. Retrieved 11 February 2014.
  31. ^ "Art gallery curator off to pastures new". York Press. 20 January 2003. Retrieved 7 October 2019.
  32. ^ Worthington, Caroline. "Refurbishment of York Art Gallery". Axis: the online directory for contemporary art. Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 3 June 2009.
  33. ^ "Curator's corner" (PDF). Friends of York Art Gallery Newsletter. January 2009. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 October 2013. Retrieved 3 June 2009. I've been now in post for six months
  34. ^ "Curator's Report" (PDF). Friends of York Art Gallery Newsletter. October 2017. p. 2. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  35. ^ "Curator's Report" (PDF). Friends of York Art Gallery Newsletter. July 2018. p. 1. Retrieved 20 January 2019.
  36. ^ "Winners of the Visit York Tourism Awards 2016". Visit York. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  37. ^ "Victoria and Albert Museum wins Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016". Art Fund. 6 July 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  38. ^ "Awards". Kids in Museums. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  39. ^ "EMYA 2017 Nominees". European Museum Forum. 1 December 2016. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  40. ^ "European Museum of the Year Award 2017 - Winner announced". Network of European Museum Organisations. 9 May 2017. Retrieved 8 October 2019.

External linksEdit