They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder – and to judge by the numbers of you who signed up for our visits to Leeds Art Gallery our old friend on The Headrow is very much missed. The gallery has been closed now for a year to allow for major work to the roof and only very recently stopped being a ‘hard hat’ area, so our groups were privileged to be the very first members of the public to see what had been going on behind the barriers. And what a revelation!
Sarah Brown, Principle Keeper at the gallery, began our tour by showing us a letter, dated 1916, written by Frank Rutter (Director of Leeds City Art Gallery at the time) to the city council requesting £270 to repair the glazed roof and stop rain water coming in. One hundred years later and the council has agreed to the work at a cost of £3 million – generous support for culture in Leeds in these challenging financial times.
In the Ziff Gallery the bare walls are testimony to the many much-loved paintings which are presently on loan to other institutions while work is ongoing. Here we met Senior Technician Andrew Cole who was painstakingly restoring a huge gilded frame. We were fascinated to see the care and skill lavished on this often overshadowed part of an artwork.
On the upper floor a dark corridor has been removed to reveal a breath taking barrel-vaulted central gallery which is flooded with light from the newly revealed, hi-tech glazed roof. Old rain damage is still much in evidence and the walls are festooned with cables but they cannot detract from the beauty and grandeur of the space, reminiscent of many great buildings of Victorian England.
There is much to be done before the gallery re-opens in October with lighting and heating still to be tackled, but what a wonderful opportunity to re-think the galleries and the collections.
We wish Sarah and her team all the best for the hard work still to come, and look forward to the grand re-opening.