We love you, Yorkshire! The time between Christmas and New Year was perfect for a few days exploring the North of England (while trying to stay out of the floods), where one of us comes from. Leeds Art Gallery was one of our stops, home at the time to the British Art Show, which meant it was almost completely full of contemporary installations. We did put in an [early] appearance in the creative children’s section, as you may be able to tell…
And made sure we took a look at the one room which remains constant amid the changing exhibitions; home to Renaissance and Victorian works by a range of artists, The Temptation of Sir Percival was one which caught our eye. Painted by Arthur Hacker in 1894, it depicts Percival, one of the Round Table knights, being tempted in his piety by a beautiful, predatory maiden. Excalibur of course features in the painting, as the counterfoil to her advances, and we particularly liked the use of colour and emotion in a classical scene.
On an entirely different note, though, the installation below captured our attention too. Called the ‘Necropolitan Line‘, at first glance this exhibition was a train platform, benches, the occasional loudspeaker announcement, and its own newspaper. But upon further investigation this was a representation of a fascinating true story. (Don’t mind us; we’re just on a little London transport detour – one of our favourite topics). The exhibition was put on by the Henry Moore Institute, which is based next to the Leeds Art Gallery, and their exhibition notes read as follows:
“The starting points for Palmer’s exhibition … are the Cross Bones Graveyard in Borough and the London Necropolis Railway, which once linked Waterloo rail station to Brookwood Cemetery, Western Europe’s largest necropolis. The former was a medieval unconsecrated burial ground for women that closed in 1853, by which time it had become a paupers’ graveyard and had far exceeded its capacity. The latter was established in 1854 as a solution to the poor conditions and overcrowding of the capital’s cemeteries, such as seen at Cross Bones, and remained in use until 1941…
Like all platforms, this is a site for departures, beginnings and endings that draw on stories of romantic goodbyes and abandonments, as well as expectation and anticipation. The Necropolitan Line offers a promise of a journey that unravels themes of death and decay, the body and the dispersal of matter.”
As the notes suggest, this is a depiction of a real life train line, set up to take bodies out of London for burial. But most fascinating are a few quirky, undoubtedly Victorian aspects of the whole plan (which perhaps Palmer could have drawn out a little more in her work) – not only were there literally two stations on this branch, one for Anglicans and one for Nonconformists, but the trains were also divided into First, Second and Third Class. The London Necropolis Railway Company ran until the Second World War, when a German bomb took out the station and it was decided that it shouldn’t be rebuilt; demand for the service was strangely lessening, and from then on regular services were used.
As an installation, it was a fascinating if tantalising starting point to a true story we then went away and found out more about. However, perhaps Palmer could have delved a little more deeply into a topic which, understandably, captured her artistic imagination.
We then explored the rest of the Art Gallery, and Library, in a little more detail (someone was enjoying the many Yorkshire white roses quite a bit, and feeling rather patriotic):
And then, of course, went for a cup of tea in the café [as always…]. Although I was told it rivalled the V&A’s incredible café (and I’m not quite sure it did), it was still pretty impressive [the café was hidden away behind false walls and ceilings until very recently when it was restored to its former glory!]
Have you visited Leeds Art Gallery? What did you think? It’s currently closed while they make repairs to the roof, but the café is open, or do check back when it’s next open to the public!