Bradford textile baron whose forgotten art hoard is a snapshot of old Yorkshire

He was friend and patron to the famous and the forgotten, and the art he collected captured a snapshot of a Yorkshire that is lost to the ages.

George Hopkinson built up a vast collection of paintings centred on his native Yorkshire. Picture: Charlotte Graham
George Hopkinson built up a vast collection of paintings centred on his native Yorkshire. Picture: Charlotte Graham

Yet George Hopkinson’s name is almost absent from the creative annals of the West Riding. Only the journal he briefly edited before the war stirs a flicker of recognition.

Many of the paintings be acquired have been unseen publicly for decades. Some may never have been shown at all, having passed from artist to aficionado and remained in private hands ever since.

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That all changes next weekend with the auction in the Dales of 70 paintings and drawings from Hopkinson’s hoard. They include landscapes of industrial and rural Yorkshire – many of them idiosyncratic and exquisitely detailed – by such 20th century artists as Fred Lawson, Fred Cecil Jones and Jacob Kramer.

George Hopkinson. Picture: Tennants of Leyburn

Upon Hopkinson’s death in 1969, they were passed to his son, Gary, who died last year.

“It’s rare to see such lovely examples of work by these artists – Fred Cecil Jones especially,” said Francesca Young, picture specialist at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn.

Jones – known in art circles as Detail Jones because of the amount of it he crammed into his work – is sought after by collectors in the North, in whose backdrops he specialised.

“But he’s not widely known,” said Ms Young. “Some specialist London galleries do sell him but his popularity is mainly in Yorkshire.”

Fred Lawson's 'Leyburn Market Place'. Picture: Tennants of Leyburn

Hopkinson, however, is little known outside his native Bradford – and even then more for his dying business, Hopkinson and Shore of Brighouse, than for his art.

Colin Neville, curator of Not Just Hockney, a website devoted to lesser-known artists from the city, had not heard the name, though he knew of The Heaton Review, the “Northern miscellany of art and literature” which Hopkinson edited from 1929 to 1934. “That was a well respected literary journal in its day,” he said.

Hopkinson used it to promote culture in Bradford, inviting contributions from such literati as George Bernard Shaw, Kenneth Grahame, Hugh Walpole and the city’s own son, JB Priestley. He was also vocal in his support for the creation of a university in Bradford.

But it was his relationship with some of the leading Northern artists of the period that spawned his collection.

Fred Cecil Jones, 'Scarborough'. Picture: Tennants of Leyburn

“He was their friend and patron, and he was extremely passionate about their work,” Ms Young said. “Some of the works are dedicated to him by the artists and it’s lovely to see so many of them together.

“Some of the Joneses in particular are the best you’re ever going to see.”

A few were briefly seen during Hopkinson’s lifetime. In 1963, as president of Bradford Arts Club, he hosted an exhibition which he called his Collection of a Wanderlust in Art, which included 140 paintings and drawings – including three by an up-and-coming local painter named David Hockney.

However, the interest for next weekend’s sale will be centred on Jones’s remarkably intricate picture of tourists in 1950 climbing the stairs from the funicular tramway station on Scarborough’s South Bay. It is expected to fetch up to £3,000.

Jones, a reconnaissance artist on the Western Front during the First World War, also painted precisely detailed scenes of Huddersfield, York and Wakefield, which are expected to sell for up to £800 each.

Other works under the hammer include several of Leyburn’s market place – half a mile from the auction house – by the Yeadon-born artist Fred Lawson.

Hopkinson’s acquaintances were not drawn exclusively from art circles. In 1931, with his textile executive’s hat on, he met Mahatma Gandhi during his tour of Northern textile mills, and asked him to sign a drawing of himself by the Leeds artist, Jacob Kramer.

Hopkinson later asked Gandhi to contribute to his arts journal, The Heaton Review – but by that time he was imprisoned in Poona and replied that he was forbidden correspondence with the press.

A Yorkshire View, the sale of Hopkinson’s collection takes place online and by phone next Saturday.

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