A treasure trove of prints and drawings showing Yorkshire in all its glory has gone on display at a Harrogate art gallery. Sarah Freeman offers a graphic account.
For the best part of a century, successive generations of curators at Harrogate Art Gallery have been quietly amassing an unrivalled collection of drawings and prints of the county. In the very early days, the gallery occupied just a single room within the town’s library, but as the collection grew, so did the ambitions of those who ran it.
Later renamed the Mercer Art Gallery, acquisitions were made, the work of many local artists was amassed for future generations and while the gallery regularly changes the work on display, much of the collection lies for the most part unseen. However, two years ago, the gallery was awarded £200,000 by Arts Council England to fund research into the work held in its stores, which is how art historian Alex Kidson came to find himself uncovering a treasure trove of drawings and prints capturing not just Harrogate, but a clutch of familiar Yorkshire scenes.
The result of that research is a book, Yorkshire People and Places, and an exhibition called In Graphic Detail, which features a range of work from large abstract prints to delicate Victorian watercolours, each reflecting the age in which it was created.
“Prints and drawings account for by far the largest part of the Mercer Art Gallery’s collection, as they do with most British art galleries,” says Kidson. “There are many reasons why curators have traditionally favoured them: they are relatively cheap to acquire, they are easier to look after than paintings and sculpture; and even their most familiar disadvantage, that they fade or discolour with exposure to light, can be turned to positive effect in a gallery committed to regularly changing displays.
“However, arguably their biggest drawback is that, although they are relatively affordable to acquire, unless they are by a celebrity artist like David Hockney, they seldom have the buzz factor that other types of art do.”
Kidson’s challenge was in part to prove that prints and drawings are equal to sculptures and paintings and he found within the collection an embarrassment of riches, with works capturing the county’s rural and urban beauty.
“Several factors have conditioned Harrogate’s commitment to local art. The first is Yorkshire’s richness as a hunting ground for artists; the county does rural beauty, marine life, medieval antiquities, the Industrial Revolution as well as any other and better than most.”
• In Graphic Detail continues at the Mercer Art Gallery until June 21. Yorkshire People and Places: Prints and Drawing from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection, priced £9.95, is available from Harrogate Arts and Museum. 01423 556188, www.harrogate.gov.uk