Archives & Library

The Leicester Galleries and its Exhibition Catalogues

The Leicester Galleries was a commercial art gallery that operated in central London between 1902 and 1977. It was particularly known for exhibiting British and French artists’ work and for promoting the work of leading modernist painters and sculptors. The Centre’s Library holds one-third of the gallery’s entire output of 1,400 exhibition catalogues, donated by Peter and Renate Nahum in January 2020. The collection is fully catalogued and available for research. This spotlight feature highlights some of the key artists and themes promoted by the gallery and illustrates some of the catalogues in the Library’s holdings.

Matisse

The first of these exhibitions, held in 1919 (283), was on the work of Henri Matisse, which was exhibited alongside some terracottas by the sculptor Aristide Maillol. The exhibition, like the others listed above, was a product of a change in the gallery’s perspective. At the end of the war, its management had realised that their audience and its interests had changed. They therefore decided to try to exhibit French art and, on the suggestion of the publisher and collector Michael Sadleir, they borrowed a small collection of works by Matisse. The artist contributed some more pictures and the exhibition became an important event with Matisse himself visiting many times. The artist himself was surprised that some expensive pictures were sold, with sales totalling over £5,000. The press had been very critical of Matisse at the time of his 1910 and 1912 Grafton Gallery exhibitions, but this time reviews were very positive. Oliver Brown noted that “during and after the Matisse exhibition, we realised that the Leicester Galleries had become a very lively place and a centre for the art world such as London had not previously possessed”. The success of the show encouraged the gallery to pursue exhibitions of other French artists.

Many of the catalogues for these exhibitions are unillustrated, apart from a frontispiece portrait of the artist. The ten-page Matisse and Maillol catalogue contains a portrait of Matisse but contains no other images. It lists thirty-six works by Matisse including woodcuts and lithographs.