Custodians of city’s art collection unite

Nino Vella, Frances Guy,Gordon Watson and James Hamilton at the Hepworth Gallery.''Picture by Simon Hulme
Nino Vella, Frances Guy,Gordon Watson and James Hamilton at the Hepworth Gallery.''Picture by Simon Hulme
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PAST CUSTODIANS of an art collection containing thousands of pieces, including work by Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and L S Lowry, have been reunited at the £40m gallery which now houses it.

Three leading figures who helped shape Wakefield’s art collection over the last 40 years shared their memories at the city’s Hepworth gallery last night, part of events to celebrate the current exhibition, Making a Modern Collection.

Nino Vella is pictured with the portrait of Charlie Abrew by Maggi Hambling , at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890b..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Nino Vella is pictured with the portrait of Charlie Abrew by Maggi Hambling , at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890b..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Nino Vella, a curator at The Hepworth’s predecessor, Wakefield Art Gallery, for over 20 years; Gordon Watson Museums and Arts Manager during the 1990s and James Hamilton, who was appointed Keeper of Art in 1974 joined Frances Guy, the Hepworth Wakefield’s Head of Collection and Exhibitions to give their unique perspectives on the development of the city’s collection, which began prior to the opening of the gallery on Wentworth Terrace in 1934.

It contains more than 6,000 pieces, and the old gallery was only able to show around 5 per cent of the city’s art at any one time.

Mr Vello, who was the last curator at Wakefield Art Gallery, which closed to make way for the opening of the Hepworth in May 2011, said: “To be in the fortuitous position to become keeper of the collection in my mid-20s, and the legacy that goes with it, was a real responsibility. But to have such a wonderful collection and not be able to display it properly was frustrating.

“For a city of Wakefield’s size to amass such a significant collection is unprecedented. Now it has the Hepworth, it has national standing, and is able to be shown in its true light.”

James Hamilton pictured with the painting Gwen John in Paris by Pat Douthwaite, at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890e..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

James Hamilton pictured with the painting Gwen John in Paris by Pat Douthwaite, at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890e..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Two pieces from the collection have always stood out to him, Henry Moore’s Reclining Figure and David Hockney’s 1973 self-portrait, Homage to Picasso, which Mr Vello helped to acquire for the collection in 1992.

For Mr Watson, who is now chief executive of Lakeland Arts Trust, it was a sketch by Henry Moore of pit boys at Castleford’s Wheldale Colliery and the 1,200 piece Gott Collection from the 19th century that were most memorable.

“It was a great collection that struggled to look its best in a Victorian house, “ he said. “Now it’s somewhere it deserves.”

When putting together the current collection, the gallery had two aims - to show pieces that are rarely on display and also show people what it takes to build such a collection, and preserve it, Ms Guy said. Since opening, it has already added to the collection with the purchase of an Eva Rothschild piece that featured in The Hepworth’s opening exhibition.

James Hamilton pictured sculptures by Barbara Hepworth,at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890k..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

James Hamilton pictured sculptures by Barbara Hepworth,at the Hepworth Gallery, Wakefield....1001890k..18th September 2014 ..Picture by Simon Hulme

Ms Guy said. “We have have the chance, a legacy of Wakefield Art Gallery, to not only produce ambitious programming but also to build on the collection and buy contemporary art.

“But a collection like this requires constant attention. We must look after it to ensure it grows and is there for future generations to enjoy.”

Making a Modern Collection is open until summer 2015.