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.

By the end of the Second World War, the Leicester Galleries had become a familiar, if somewhat conservative, fixture of the London art scene.

According to Evelyn Silber,

During the post-1945 phase of the gallery’s existence, the Leicester Galleries had become an institution, perceived as a distinguished but no longer a vanguard gallery, even something of a time-warp experience with its turnstile and varied programme involving large numbers of artists.

It continued to have large numbers of annual exhibitions and showed many new artists in the post-war period, although increasing numbers of new galleries emerged who had the means to buy works outright. Over time, many of the gallery’s artists left to go to other institutions. In 1963, the gallery moved to 4 Audley Square and then, in 1968, it moved to 22 Cork Street before closing its doors in 1975.

The New Year exhibition in 1963 (1252) was the first to be held at the new Audley Square gallery. It contained a huge range of drawings, watercolours, paintings, and sculpture from artists of all periods and styles. It included many of the artists the galleries had made famous, such as Henri Matisse, C.R.W. Nevinson, Jacob Epstein, and Henry Moore.

The unillustrated catalogue has a colour wrap-around cover. It is the first to be published with the new larger format that became a feature of the gallery’s catalogues from this point onwards. This shows the new gallery on the front cover and the old gallery in Leicester Square on the back. It is therefore a fitting image with which to conclude this account of the gallery’s history during its life in Leicester Square.

Catalogue of the New Year Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture by Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Artists

Ernest Brown & Phillips (1963), Catalogue of the New Year Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture by Nineteenth- and Twentieth-Century Artists, Exhibition catalogue. London: Ernest Brown & Phillips, The Leicester Galleries (Exhibition, 1252).