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.

The donation

In January 2020, a large collection of Leicester Galleries exhibition catalogues was donated to the Paul Mellon Centre Library by Peter and Renate Nahum.

Consisting of 450 titles, many of which are annotated, the collection amounts to approximately one-third of the total output of the gallery.

This generous gift followed on from another donation to the Library of thousands of books, exhibition catalogues, and journals on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British art and artists, given by the Nahums in 2012.

The Library also has some Leicester Galleries catalogues in its main collection, either purchased over the years or received as part of other donations.

This collection has been fully catalogued on our Library and Photographic Archive catalogue. It is part of the Library Special Collections.

The Leicester Galleries

The Leicester Galleries, a commercial art gallery based in Leicester Square and two subsequent venues in central London, traded from 1902–1977. The gallery’s first exhibition took place in 1903, and the last in July 1975.

Over its lifetime, the gallery held over 1,400 exhibitions of mainly British and French paintings, watercolours, drawings, book illustrations, prints, and sculpture.

The exhibition catalogues

Every exhibition at the gallery was accompanied by a numbered catalogue, many with prefaces by prominent writers. The catalogue numbers appear in this text in brackets.

The catalogues for the first fifty years are almost all the same size at 151 x 12 cm—small enough to fit easily in the pocket. The design is fairly uniform, with the majority consisting of a plain cover, and a dozen or so stapled pages. They would normally include a short preface and a simple list of works. Before the 1960s, few of them are illustrated, but those that are have a few black and white plates. From the 1960s onwards, the format of the gallery’s catalogues became larger, and they typically featured not only colour plates, but also some colour illustrations within the text itself.