Hull has recently been declared City of Culture 2017. It is a long time since I was last there so I decided it was time to remedy that. Top of the list of places to visit was the Ferens Art Gallery in a splendid classical building in Queen Victoria Square in the centre of Hull. It doesn’t look very big from outside but is like the Tardis inside with large galleries displaying works from the European Old Masters to the present day.
I’ll hold my hands up at the start and admit that I don’t particularly like oil paintings, preferring water colours and it is nearly all oil paintings. Rather than trying to see everything in one go, I think it may be better to make several short visits just viewing one or two galleries.
The first two galleries concentrate on the European Old Masters with portraits and landscapes. None of them immediately grabbed my attention and I have to confess I missed Frans Hals masterpiece ‘Portrait of a Young Girl’. I did however like the beautiful alabaster polychrome and gilt carving of the resurrection of Christ from about 1450. This shows Christ carrying the banner of redemption stepping out of the open sepulchre with soldiers looking ‘dazzled and awed’ around him. There was also a delightful small triptych from 1482 which probably came from a private altar with Christ in the centre and John the Baptist and St Benedict on either side.
Gallery 3 contains 18thC works including Canalettos ‘A view of the Grand Canal’. I also managed to miss the cloud study attributed to John Constable. Many of the paintings had a nautical theme and I did like the two rather nice small paintings of Robert Thew of the dock gates and Queen’s dock with sailing ships. The ‘Coastal Scene near Picardy’ also caught my eye with a boat pulled up on the beach and being unloaded onto pack horses.
Gallery 5 has a mixture of 18th and 19thC work. As I entered my eye was caught by the 19thC ‘Girls shrimping’ by Philip Wilson Steer. However this is better seen from a distance as close too it loses detail and looks blurred. It reminded me why I don’t like oil paintings.
Gallery 6 is 19thC Edwardian Art. Favourites here were ‘Sussex Farm’ by Henry Herbert La Thonge with hens being fed.
Gallery 7 seemed to be modern photographs which were probably technically very good, but not to my taste.
Gallery 9 had a temporary exhibition ending January entitled ‘Going Dutch’ looking at the shared culture between Hull and the coastal regions of north west Europe. This looked more like a display of artefacts with a lot of written material.
Upstairs, Gallery 10 contains the Children’s gallery which “enables children to develop skills and confidence to understand and enjoy art.” There were different interactive exhibits. Perhaps I ought to return with Grandson and improve my skills and understanding?
Round the walls were maps and prints of Old Hull, including a marvellous one of the Barton Ferry dated 1804 with a small flat bottomed rowing boat. It was very interesting comparing this with the 1922 painting of Hull Pier with the Hull new Holland Ferry, now a larger steam vessel. There are also several seascapes including a rather nice one dated 1875 by Henry Redmore of ‘Boats off Whitby’ with sailing ships contending with very rough seas below Whitby Abbey. Another from 1945 by Norman Wilkinson of ‘The Pilot’ has a small rowing boat going to meet a large steamer which is appearing through the mist. There were some delightfully detailed paintings of the old part of Hull.
Gallery 11 was entitled Hull through the eyes of artists and contains 20thC art. This did nothing for me. Some felt pretentious, others just ugly (OK, OK, I’m a heathen!)
The shop downstairs has a good selection of cards and postcards as well as gifts including candles, jewellery, glass vases and picture frames. There was a small selection of books and the usual range of cheap items aimed at children.
The Loggia cafe had a selection of scones, pastries, Victoria sponge cake and slices of chocolate cake. There were no prices and no menus that I could see. I didn’t investigate.
The Ferens Art Gallery is reckoned to be one of the better provincial galleries with a good range of painting. Entry is free, toilets adequate and there is disabled access. The paintings are well displayed with plenty of space and have a detailed written description for each one.
I find it quite difficult to give a star rating for this as art is such a personal taste. A lot of the paintings didn’t appeal to me. Others may disagree. Go and see for yourself.