The original Huddersfield Library and Art Gallery was founded in 1898 by the County Borough of Huddersfield. It initially held exhibitions of loans from local collectors and the work of members of the Huddersfield Art Society (formed in 1890).
Accommodated in the same building as the town library, the building, designed by the architect E.H. Ashburner, was opened in 1940, commissioned by Huddersfield County Borough to replace an earlier Library and Art Gallery but the gallery was initially used as a hospital durung WW2 and hosted a few loan exhibitions. It was officially launched finally in 1946 which coincided with the large exhibition Two Hundred Years of British Art opened by the art historian and Contemporary Art Society Committee member, Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983) who had been the Director of the National Gallery (1934-45).
The collection is primarily of British art from the 19th-century to the present, with some earlier works of 18th-century watercolours and drawings, Japanese prints and local views. It includes a significant number of works by members of the Camden Town Group and paintings by British artists including LS Lowry, Frank Auerbach, Trevor Bell, Terry Frost, David Bomberg, Roger Hilton and Ivon Hitchens. Figure Study II (Study for the Magdalen), 1945-6 by Francis Bacon was the first of the artist's work to enter a UK public collection in 1952.
There is a small selection of sculpture, including works by Henry Moore, Carl Plackman, Jacob Epstein and a more recent purchase from Stefan Gec. In recent years Huddersfield has acquired contemporary paintings by Amikam Toren, Arturo Di Stefano, Tom Wood and Chris Gollon. In developing the craft collection over the years, the curators have focused on ceramics by the Yorkshire potters. There are an additional number of smaller collections of jewellery, textiles and carved wood. Works from the permanent collection are featured in a series of themed exhibitions throughout the year.
Up until 2020, the grand building was home to the Kirklees Museums and Galleries art collections which was formed in 1974 as a result of local government reorganisation, which brought together the museum and art gallery collections of Huddersfield, Dewsbury, Batley and a number of small authorities and town councils that constituted Kirklees Metropolitan Council. In 2022 Huddersfield will have a significant regeneration programme which will result in a new space for the art gallery.