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.

Van Gogh

According to Pamela Fletcher and Anne Helmreich, in The Rise of the Modern Art Market in London, 1850–1939,

By the 1920s [Roger] Fry had succeeded in giving Post-Impressionism a canonical status. The solo exhibitions of Van Gogh (1923), Gauguin (1924) and Cézanne (1925) at the Leicester Galleries, and the promotion of Post-Impressionist art at the Lefevre Gallery catered to collectors like [Samuel] Courtauld.

In 1923, Oliver Brown contacted the family of Theodore Van Gogh, Vincent’s brother, to ask if the gallery could mount the first exhibition of Van Gogh’s work in England. At the time, the artist’s paintings were stacked up all over the home of Theodore’s son. These included many of the artist’s most famous works and most of it was for sale. Although there had been a number of Van Gogh paintings in the Post-Impressionist exhibition in 1912, this was the artist’s first solo show.

It was a great success: “The exhibition caused such a stir in London that I considered how we could ever rival it”, said Oliver Brown. Prices were modest and two of the pictures in the exhibition, The Chair and The Sunflowers, ended up in Tate Gallery. There were forty objects on display: thirteen drawings in the Entrance Gallery and twenty-six paintings in the Hogarth Room.

The catalogue (363) is illustrated with plates and a self-portrait frontispiece of the artist. The Introduction is by Sir Michael Sadler, the father of the man who helped bring Matisse to the gallery, and there are descriptions attached to the list of objects on show. The cover design and internal format is the same as it is for many of the subsequent catalogues of European artists in the 1920s, for example, Gauguin (376) and Cézanne (395).