The Wakefield Permanent Art Collection was founded in 1923, and housed in Wakefield Art Gallery from 1932. Shortly after, Alfred Carr at Wakefield Council stated that the purpose of the collection was ‘to keep in touch with modern art, in its relation to modern life’.
In its first decades, the collection acquired works of art by important British artists of the early twentieth century who had championed art as a reflection of contemporary experience. These included critic and painter Roger Fry and artists of the Camden Town Group who celebrated ordinary people and everyday events.
The collection supported emerging local artists Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, acquiring their work early in their careers along with that of painter Ben Nicholson.
Nicholson and Hepworth, who married in 1938, had formed a new avant-garde in the 1930s that fused geometric abstraction and utopian ideals, which they took to St. Ives during the Second World War. Paintings created in response to the devastation of the war were acquired by Wakefield through the War Artists Advisory Committee in the late 1940s, providing local audiences with a reflection of the hardships they and their fellow countrymen faced.
In post-war Britain, Wakefield continued to host exhibitions of contemporary artists and collect their works. Alan Davie had his first solo exhibition at Wakefield Art Gallery in 1958 under the directorship of Helen Kapp, and a number of his paintings were subsequently acquired.
Gifts have played an important part in the development of the collection. As the new building of The Hepworth Wakefield was in development, Sir Alan Bowness, Barbara Hepworth’s son-in-law, donated a group of paintings through the Art Fund. These included works by Alan Davie and significant abstract artists of the 1960s and 70s such as John Golding and John Hoyland.
Since opening in 2011, The Hepworth Wakefield has continued Wakefield’s tradition of supporting contemporary artists through exhibitions and acquisitions. Its inaugural exhibition was of new work by Eva Rothschild, whose sculpture Wandering Palm was subsequently acquired. Some artists who have exhibited at the gallery have generously given works to the collection, such as Matthew Darbyshire’s Untitled (Shelf), which allows the collection to remain contemporary.