A new location for Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, now called the Danum Gallery, Library and Museum – after Doncaster’s Roman name – opened to the public in May 2021, 111 years after its original foundation. It now enables the venue to put on touring exhibitions from other museums and galleries for the first time, whilst also being able to highlight parts of Doncaster’s own collection not always on view.
Double Take Connecting the Arts Council Collection with Heritage Doncaster, Danum Gallery, Library and Museum, Doncaster, 22 January – 16 April 2022 is the current one-room display of this kind, supported by the Weston Loan Programme (Garfield Weston Foundation) with Art Fund. It is showing a selection of Arts Council Collection works by, amongst others, Eduardo Paolozzi, Augustus and Gwen John and Henry Moore with bronzes by his studio assistant, the relatively-unknown but wonderful Doncaster-born sculptor Malcolm Woodward (1943-2014), from its own collection.
Over the years the Contemporary Art Society has donated nearly 100 artworks to Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery, a third of which were given in 1963 to celebrate the opening of the previous new museum, an optimistic post-War modernist building, now sadly derelict down the road. The museum has recently renewed its membership with the CAS and will receive another new work in 2022.
The first donation to the gallery by the Contemporary Art Society was in 1952 with two watercolours by Graham Sutherland. They were from the collection of the Sir Kenneth Clark (1903-1983), who had gifted them to the CAS in 1951 whilst he was on the CAS Executive Committee. Sutherland was a lifelong friend who Clark had employed as an official war artist when he was head of the War Artists’ Advisory Committee. Clark had previously been Director of the National Gallery (1932-45) and was to become the Chairman of the Arts Council (1953-60), influencing its acquisitions for over a decade.
Gifts that followed were works on paper by the Vorticist artist William Roberts, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and John Nash, whose botanical study Buddleia and Red Hot Pokers, undated, features in this exhibition, beside his brother Paul’s watercolour and ink evocative Night Landscape, 1911. These had been in the collection of Sir Edward Marsh (1872-1953) whose bequest to the Contemporary Art Society of over 200 works of what are now famous household names of modern British art still remains one of its largest to date. His portrait bust by Frank Dobson is in the Danum’s collection. As well as being Winston Churchill’s private secretary from 1924, for 23 years, he had been on the Executive Committee of the Contemporary Art Society since 1917 and its Chairman from 1937, during which time he gifted over 100 works and purchased nearly 50 as a designated CAS buyer which were distributed to public museums throughout the UK and Commonwealth. He was not particularly wealthy but was a descendant of Spencer Perceval, the Prime Minister who was assassinated in the House of Commons in 1812 and he and his family continued to receive compensation. Although he kept most of his purchases during his lifetime, he always had it in mind to give the ‘murder money’ back to the nation by championing young living artists and donating their art.
Eddie, as he was known, had originally been a collector of older English art, mostly watercolours, but began purchasing avant-garde art, often associated with the Bloomsbury Group and the Slade School of Fine Art. His first contemporary acquisition was Parrot Tulips, 1911 by Duncan Grant which is now in Southampton City Art Gallery. As he wrote in his memoirs: “To buy an old picture did nobody any good except the dealer; whereas to buy a new one gave pleasure, encouragement and help to a man of talent, perhaps of genius.”
Also in this exhibition is a set of 5 coloured screenprints: Coalfire, Lampshade, Small Window, Two Jugs and Wineglasses by Patrick Caulfield of 1965 which were purchased at the Waddington Galleries by the CAS dedicated buyer David Thompson (1929-2019) in 1969 for £32 each and presented to Doncaster in 1972. They are displayed here alongside the b/w screenprint Pipe and Jug, 1973 from the Arts Council collection.
Two Black Birds and Tunisian Figure, 1980s by the emigré Polish artist Josef Herman were from the important 21st century bequest to the CAS by Tom Bendhem (1928-2002), also a member of the Executive Committee (1984-1992) and CAS buyer in 1988. He gave the series of prints of Nine London Birds from the Byam Shaw School of Art Portfolio, 1994 by Norman Ackroyd, Craigie Aitchison, John Bellany, Jeffery Camp, Patrick Caulfield, Prunella Clough, Barry Flanagan, Maggi Hambling and Paula Rego – Duck by Patrick Caulfield and Heron by Maggi Hambling are on display here.
A spontaneous watercolour landscape by the latter, Sunrise, Orwell, Suffolk, dated 17 July 1991, of her home county was bequeathed by Michael Culme-Seymour, 5th Baronet (1909-1999) to the Contemporary Art Society, who had joined the CAS committee in 1986 and was donated to Doncaster the following year also features.
Ukrainian-born Bernard Meninsky – who studied at Liverpool School of Art in 1906 and the Slade School of Fine Art before the First World War – has three tender watercolour half-length portraits of his second wife the dancer Nora Barczinsky (1890-1989) on display. They married in 1937, and according to her, for her legs – not shown! She bequeathed the remainder of Bernard’s works in her possession to the Contemporary Art Society, and these were donated to Doncaster in 2002.
At a relatively early date in the artist’s output a drawing of a Seated Nude, 1932by Henry Moore was purchased for the Contemporary Art Society from the Leicester Galleries by Peter Meyer (-2007) (for £70.17/ 6d) and later presented to Doncaster Museum & Art Gallery in 1959 is exhibited here but the outstanding piece of the show is Moore’s bronze Working Model for Reclining Figure: Internal/External Form, 1951, created at the time of the Festival of Britain. It is teamed up with the lovely Girl on a Chair, 1988 by his assistant Malcolm Woodward. Their styles differ vastly in appearance; the latter refers to a ‘Metropolis’-like art deco period from the turn of the century, almost denying his master’s previous avant-garde modernism.
This succinct exhibition at the Danum delightfully brings together key British artists of the 20th century. It encapsulates the simultaneous double-take notions of modernism and post-modernism, as shown by the small but judicious selection of artworks here in its new venue – which itself has wrapped an old Victorian building in glass:
“We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” .Marshall McLuhan