York Art Gallery

Lockdown here in the UK has seen many of the wonderful museums, galleries and country houses change drastically in the way we, the public, can access them. Many have embraced the new normal and by putting in precautions to keep us and staff safe, the wonders inside can still be enjoyed. One such place is the York Art Gallery (operated by The York Museum Trust), I visited this site a couple of weeks ago, for those planning a visit I will address the new rules of entry and visiting at the end of the piece.

The building that houses the gallery has a rich history, it is Grade II listed, it first opened its doors in 1879 for the second Yorkshire Fine Art and Industrial Exhibition and in 1892 it formally became the City Art Gallery. The building stands in exhibition square, a stunning part of York adjacent to Kings Manor (owned by the university of York), and overlooking York Theatre Royal. A major redevelopment project took place in 2015. The building is extremely beautiful and a very fitting place to hold stunning works of art. The lower galleries are spacious and easily accommodate large paintings and sculptures, after this level you are swept upstairs on a magnificent staircase with portraits adorning the walls and then the main focus of the upper level is ceramics, with another gallery off this area.

Clifford's Tower, York by Laurence Stephen Lowry
PHOTOGRAPH BY Helen Brazier

The main exhibitions at the time of my visit were ‘Chosen by You’ and ‘Views of York and Yorkshire’. Chosen by You is works from the collection held by the gallery voted for by the public to be displayed. Some wonderful pieces made it into this exhibition and seeing that influence from the public makes the experience seem very open and its lovely to see works that others have been inspired by. It gives a different insight and feel to the gallery as it is not just internal choice. The second exhibition focusing on York and Yorkshire is close to my heart as I was born and raised in Yorkshire and have lived in or around York for many years (including studying at both universities in the city). One piece I am very familiar with that made it into the exhibition is Lowry’s depiction of Clifford’s Tower. This piece came to the gallery I worked at in Harrogate when the York refurbishment was being undertaken and the collection was sent on tour, so it was lovely to see it again in its permanent home. These lower galleries always seem to take on a quiet, almost reverent atmosphere from the visiting public, maybe it is the magnificence of the works, but the louder more free flowing of the upper spaces doesn’t seem to occur here, I have visited many times and this always seems to be the case, in the same building the difference spaces provoke different behaviours and reactions from the public. Perhaps the bright airiness of the ceramics area shows a change to the visitor, it certainly does to me. It is clear you are in for a totally different visual and physical experience as you pass room to room and gallery to gallery.

I can’t leave out writing about a stunning work by one of my very favourite artists John Atkinson Grimshaw that features in the exhibition. The painting displayed is ‘Liverpool Docks at Night’, during my visit I saw this out of the corner of my eye and got far too excited! Grimshaw’s works never fail to provoke this reaction in me, my favourite being ‘Scarborough Lights’, I can really feel his works and its almost like I can walk into the scenes he depicts. I was delighted to get to see one of his great pieces in the flesh again.

‘Liverpool Docks at Night’ by John Atkinson Grimshaw
PHOTOGRAPH BY Helen Brazier

I strongly recommend this gallery for a visit and if you are thinking of doing so please see the following on how to visit during these times. All visits must be pre booked, entry is currently free but there is an option to make a donation to the gallery upon doing so. The café and shop are open, as are the toilets on the ground floor, these are single cubicle, and the website states extra cleaning measures are in place. As is the law in the UK as it is an indoor venue, face coverings must be worn unless exempt. The gallery is disability accessible, the facilities include ramps, lifts and accessible toilet, full accessibility statement can be viewed on the YMT website.

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Helen Brazier

I am currently studying a masters in Eighteenth Century Studies at the University of York, my dissertation focus is on crime. I have an undergraduate degree in History from York St John University. I have worked in different museums for many years and it is where my career passion lies. I enjoy visiting museums, galleries and heritage sites in my spare time.