Compiled in Henry Moore’s name and in his home city, it is the preeminent collection of sculpture anywhere outside London, and its curators paused yesterday to wonder what their patron might have made of it.
Some 200 works selected from the Leeds Sculpture Collection will go on display tomorrow to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Henry Moore Institute and the reopening of the city Art Gallery next door.
The Institute is a part of the Henry Moore Foundation, set up by the sculptor to encourage appreciation of the visual arts.
It is the biggest exhibition of its kind yet mounted, and encompasses the enormous Kiss, by Francis Morland, standing 6ft high, alongside tiny models and works created on paper.
“For a municipal art gallery collection it’s highly significant – over 1,000 pieces and growing all the time, said Dr Jon Wood, one of a team of curators.
“It’s roughly on a par with the Arts Council’s collection, and that’s a national one.”
That collection is also in Yorkshire, at the Longside Gallery in the Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
The Leeds inventory, which has taken four decades to put together, takes in work from the 19th century to the present, and focuses on sculptors who, said Dr Wood, “may have been in the shadow of artists like Moore and who tell a fuller, much richer story of sculpture in Britain”.
The man who produced Kiss in the 1960s is a case in point. Morland was one of the “new generation” of creative types that included Peter Blake and Bradford’s David Hockney, but he squandered a privileged life of skiing trips with Princess Margaret for that of a drug smuggler, eventually serving time with one of the Kray twins.
Kiss was one of several modernist pieces he fashioned from entwined tubes of welded steel and fibreglass.
Dr Wood said: “I’d love to think that if Henry Moore walked in and saw the work we are displaying, he would be blown away by the different kinds of contemporary imaginations at work, and how people have been freed up to explore sculpture in new and exciting ways beyond the genres and materials he had access to during his lifetime.”
The presence of the county name in its title has made the Yorkshire Sculpture Park – the other point of the region’s so-called Sculpture Triangle – the go-to venue for many visitors.
Dr Wood said: “A lot of our work is indoors which gives it slightly less visibility. I wouldn’t say it was one of the country’s best kept secrets but it’s certainly an incredible collection for Leeds and Yorkshire to have, and these new displays sing some incredible songs for sculpture generally.”
Sarah Brown, keeper of the Leeds Art Gallery, said the exhibition would “enchant art lovers and newcomers alike”.
“We hope people who have never visited a gallery before will come and see what their city’s collection has to offer,” she said