Celebrating the York City Art Gallery donation.... with more art!

Stephen Town continues his Night Shelf donations with a bumper collection of titles from the history of art.

Last week we welcomed York City Art Gallery staff and the Friends of the Gallery to a reception celebrating the donation of the Art Gallery’s book collection to the University Library. This has already been reflected in previous blog posts, but it has provided me with the opportunity to continue my own donations through a gift of five art history works from my own collection.

Photo: University of York reception to celebrate the donation
of the York City Art Gallery book collection to the Library (picture credit Paul Shields).
I hope that the books I am donating this week will supplement, in a small way, the acquisition of this substantial and rich Art Gallery stock. I accept that this is not really night shelf material, but Christmas calls for something special and personal, and for a combined gift to cover the weeks until I return in January.

One of the perceived difficulties for a relatively young University is to amass collections of the depth and breadth of more longstanding foundations. This is particularly true in the history of art field, in which, as Professor Prettejohn pointed out in the reception, physical books have a particular importance and weight, especially those with illustrations. The Art Gallery gift is therefore of great significance and value to the University’s academic work, as well as providing a new link to the wider York community. So I'd like to reiterate my thanks to the York City Art Gallery and all involved in the donation.

As a serious librarian, with at least some basic skills remaining, I did think to test the unique worth of my gifts against our own collections, including the York City donated collections, and also the national COPAC catalogue of seventy research university and specialist institutions. Fortunately all turn out to be unique additions to York.

Old Master Paintings from the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection - exhibition catalogue

More than twenty-five years ago I was invited to a reception at the Royal Academy to view a collection of Old Masters from the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection. The invitation came through a potential library computer system supplier; this firm being part of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Group of companies. Similar opportunities rarely arise these days as modern day procurement rules quite rightly frown on such generosities. (As it turns out, we didn't buy that library system in the end!)

Old Master Paintings - exhibition catalogue
The collection was created by successive Barons Thyssen, and at that time in 1988 was probably the second largest private collection in the world after the Queen’s. Now exhibited in its own gallery near the Prado in Madrid, the collection is particularly strong in landscapes and portraits, and includes Holbein’s striking depiction of Henry VIII. The Library also has a similar exhibition catalogue of modern masters from the same collection but this is a personal reminder of a wonderful evening, and a period when buying a library system was an exciting adventure requiring visits to exotic locations.

Masterpieces of the world’s great museums

Masterpieces of the World's
Great Museums, 1988
ISBN: 0600559149
The Prado Museum is one of those featured in this coffee table style book, among others including the British Museum, Louvre and Metropolitan Museum of Art. The book contains good quality images of many of the western world’s most celebrated artworks, as well as plans of the museums as they displayed their collections in the late eighties (at the time of publication). Displaying these dispersed collections together not only provides a comprehensive introduction for those not already acquainted with the museums, but also gives those who have been fortunate enough to visit, an opportunity for contextualisation and re-evaluation.


Spanish painting – András Székely

Continuing the Spanish theme, this item is a real rarity, as there appear to be only four other locations of this work in the UK. The colour plates have been painstakingly added after the text printing. Coverage is from Mozarabic miniatures through to Miro and the Picasso works featured are from the Barcelona Museo; the most emotionally affecting collection I have personally experienced.

Myth and ceremony in Islamic painting

exhibition catalogue

Myth and ceremony in Islamic
painting - exhibition catalogue
This apparently insignificant item covers an exhibition which I remember viewing, although I have no recollection of where and when. The national research libraries catalogue is as confused as I am; no-one wants to commit to a firm date or location for the exhibition, and there is no other copy of this catalogue in research libraries in the north of England. An almost throw-away attribution links it to J.M. Rogers, now Honorary Curator of the Khalili Collection of Islamic Art and first holder of the Khalili Chair of Islamic Art at SOAS. Although the catalogue contains no images from the exhibition, it does give an interesting account of the history and development of Islamic art and its influencers.

La Dame à la Licorne

Paris is full of museums and art galleries, and one might be forgiven for tiring before reaching the Musee du Moyen Age at Cluny, the treasury of medieval art in Paris. The sumptuous and mysterious six tapestry panels of the Lady and the Unicorn are its bewitching and unforgettable centrepiece.

Photo: The Lady and the Unicorn by Terretta
Reproduced under a Creative Commons licence
One of the most famous tapestries in the world, this book guides the reader through each element before offering a more in depth study of the piece's significance. Interpretations of its meaning are debatable, but enjoyment of the five senses, together with a rejection of those passions generated by ill-control of sensory pleasure, as conveyed in the six panels, might be a salutary message for Christmas celebrations.



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