York Art Gallery acquires significant works by four female 20th century artists

Men And Barges, oil on canvas, by Prunella Clough. Copyright: Estate of Prunella Clough

YORK Art Gallery has acquired four 20th century works by female artists after a successful application to Derbyshire School Library Service, whose doors were closed in 2018.

The paintings by the influential British artist Prunella Clough (1919-1999), Margaret Mellis (1914-2009), Marion Grace Hocken (1922-1987) and Daphne Fedarb (1912-1992) will go on display in York next year.

Following the closure, 90 works were chosen by the closest museum authority, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery, while a further 315 were offered to other galleries across the country, to ensure they were kept in public collections for visitors to enjoy. This was made possible through funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Collections Fund.

Tropical Birds, oil on canvas, by Daphne Fedarb. Estate of Daphne Fedarb

Becky Gee, York Art Gallery’s curator of Fine Art, says: “We are thrilled to have acquired these fantastic works for York’s permanent collection. All four are by brilliant women artists who have played a significant role in shaping their respective areas of the modern British art scene.

“We are particularly pleased to acquire our first Clough: an artist who was so influential in her depiction of the post-war British landscape in the 1950s. Men And Barges combines Clough’s focus on working men and women with her later abstract compositions and we look forward to sharing this striking painting with our audiences.” 

Councillor Barry Lewis, Derbyshire County Council leader and cabinet member for strategic leadership, culture and tourism, says: “This is part of an exciting and pioneering project for Derbyshire County Council and we welcome the confidence the Museums Association has placed in us to get this right.

My Room, St Ives, Cornwall, oil on board, by Marion Grace Hocken

“For a long time, museums have been nervous about the disposal of objects, so this is an innovative project that will see items being re-homed in a transparent way, considering what is the best place for the object while ensuring it is not lost to the public where possible.”

Coun Lewis adds: “Across the country, pictures of great interest and in some cases great worth, are kept in storage or in private collections. One of the aims of this project is to try to ensure that doesn’t happen with the items in these collections. We are very pleased that York Art Gallery is able to receive these pictures and to exhibit them in its galleries.”

Clough’s Men And Barges will be joined on York Art Gallery’s walls by Daphne Fedarb’s painting Tropical Birds, Marion Grace Hocken’s My Room, St Ives, Cornwall and Margaret Mellis’s Vence Landscape (South Of France). 

Vence Landscape (South Of France), oil on canvas,  by Margaret Mellis. Copyright: The Margaret Mellis Estate, courtesy of The Redfern Gallery

Fedarb’s work makes a key addition to the Exhibition Square gallery’s small number of works by lesser-known British artists associated with the Surrealist movement, also complementing works by fellow London Group members Mary Fedden and Stanislawa De Karlowska. 

Margaret Mellis was part of an influential group of abstract artists that worked in St Ives at the outbreak of the Second World War. Her early figurative landscape,  Vence Landscape (South Of France), helps to tell the story of her turn to abstraction through her use of block colours and simplified forms.

Mellis had a varied and exciting circle of artist friends, many already represented in the York Art Gallery collection, as are works by her sister, Anne Stokes, in the gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) collections.

Marion Grace Hocken likewise based herself in St Ives and her work, My Room, St Ives, Cornwall, complements other St Ives School artists in the gallery’s collection, such as Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, with whom Hocken established the Penwith Society of Arts. Hocken also was close to Bernard Leach, who is represented by 72 ceramics in the CoCA collections.