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Art historian Alex Kidson's new book on Yorkshire People And Places linked to Harrogate exhibition

PUBLISHED: 00:00 26 March 2015

Lilian Hocknells glorious painting of The Royal Hall Gardens

Lilian Hocknells glorious painting of The Royal Hall Gardens

Simon Miles Photography

A treasure trove of fascinating new information about the contents of the Harrogate Fine Art Collection has been uncovered by internationally-respected art historian Alex Kidson.

Harrogate Art Market in French Week, captured beautifully by Janet RawlinsHarrogate Art Market in French Week, captured beautifully by Janet Rawlins

His explorations among the town’s artworks, which range from large abstracts to highly-finished Victorian watercolours, are the focus of a new exhibition, In Graphic Detail, which runs at the Mercer Art Gallery until June 21st, and a new book, Yorkshire People And Places, written by Alex.

The work on show is striking in its diversity, including a large scale expressionist colour print by John Hoyland, ink drawings by Victoria Brookland, watercolour views of Nidderdale by David Rose, architectural drawings of a Harrogate that never was and Bernard Evans’ richly-coloured studies of Yorkshire abbeys.

It’s also an opportunity to view recent additions such as watercolour studies and a new painting by London-based artist Sarah Pickstone, winner of the 2012 John Moores painting prize, acquired with the support of the Contemporary Art Society.

Among the other strong threads woven into the exhibition are Harrogate’s spa history, the picturesque appeal of Knaresborough and the work of the outstanding Harrogate printmaker, teacher and collector, Oliver Pemsel, whose portfolio includes etchings of Brimham Rocks and Gordale Scar.

Herbert Pickard Templars wonderfully evocative piece Early Arrivals At The Sulphur WellHerbert Pickard Templars wonderfully evocative piece Early Arrivals At The Sulphur Well

‘Several factors have conditioned Harrogate’s commitment to local art,’ said Alex. ‘The first is Yorkshire’s richness as a hunting ground for artists in the first place; the county does rural beauty, marine life, medieval antiquities, the Industrial Revolution (and many other themes) as well as any other and better than most.’

Mercer Art Gallery in Swan Road, Harrogate, is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am-5pm and from 2-5pm on Sunday. For further information, call 01423 556188 or visit harrogate.gov.uk/mercerartgallery

The people and places of Harrogate

An excerpt from Alex Kidson’s new book…

Harrogate The Day After VE Day by Bernard BowermanHarrogate The Day After VE Day by Bernard Bowerman

Unsurprisingly, images of Yorkshire people and places in the Mercer’s collection are dominated by depictions of Harrogate itself. These are not only traditional views of the town, its buildings and its personalities, but also, more uniquely, social documents: satirical sketches done for magazines, architectural drawings of the town and artwork for the travel posters that brought in the visitors, lifeblood of the local economy.

Harrogate was never a historic, picturesque town in the way that its neighbours York, Ripon and Knaresborough were, and its attractions for artists were quite different from theirs. Its development from the twin hamlets of High and Low Harrogate was halting, and for two centuries after its discovery by William Slingsby in 1571 the original mineral well, the Tewit spring, was little more than a hole in the ground by a crossroads in the middle of nowhere. It was the 18th century fashion for ‘taking the waters’ that transformed Harrogate’s fortunes, and the key elements of that fashion were its ‘normalisation’ of sickness, and the different rules that applied to social life from the rules at home, offering scope for a freer mixing of classes, passing intrigue and romance, a suspension of reality.

The art of Harrogate centres on this melting pot of people, and not, as in towns of picturesque or antiquarian appeal, the topography or the buildings. Architectural development in Harrogate, impressive as it became in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, can be viewed as a direct expression of the town’s growing but, as the 20th century progressed, increasingly fragile aspirations as a fashionable resort of European reputation.

Book offer

Yorkshire Life readers can get a copy of Yorkshire People And Places at the special price of £8.95. Purchase either in person at the Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate, with the relevant magazine issue or post a cheque made out to Harrogate Borough Council for £8.95 plus £5 post & packing (total £13.95) YORKS LIFE Book Offer, Mercer Art Gallery, 31 Swan Road, Harrogate HG1 2SA, including your name and delivery address.

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