Gallery Oldham has received a significant bequest of paintings by celebrated local artist Helen Bradley.
The gift includes five major oil paintings, plus a revealing set of exhibition catalogues, letters from the artist and even Christmas cards.
The collection has been generously bequeathed by the late Derek and Elizabeth Jewell through the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity that every year helps hundreds of museums and galleries across the UK acquire works of art and objects for their collections. Derek and Elizabeth Jewell were avid collectors of Helen Bradley’s work and enjoyed an extended correspondence with the artist, commissioning several works directly from her. The letters give an intriguing insight into the relationship between an artist and collectors, but also reveal Bradley’s thoughts about her growing success and fame. These are now be housed in Oldham Local Studies and Archives where they can be viewed by researchers.
One of the five paintings bequeathed is ‘The Church Outing’, which features a crowd of people enjoying a celebration in Lees, where Helen Bradley was born and brought up. It features a procession with a banner which is displayed alongside a banner from our important historic collection. This is displayed in a permanent display of objects from Gallery Oldham’s collections.
All the paintings date from 1966 to 1971 but their subject matter is stories from Bradley’s Edwardian Childhood. As well as ‘The Church Outing’, there are three large-scale works showing scenes from Wakes Weeks holidays in Blackpool and New Brighton. The fifth painting is a small, rather unusual painting of a policeman and a young woman entitled ‘Miss, said the policeman, ‘and where be you going at this time of night.’
Helen Bradley was born in Lees in 1900 and although she always painted, her distinctive narrative style developed later in life when she wanted to show her grandchildren what life was like in her Edwardian childhood. Her paintings are inspired not only by nostalgia but also by the tradition of Turkish and Mughal Indian miniature painting.
Councillor Barbara Brownridge, Cabinet Member for Co-operatives and Community Development, said, “This is the largest bequest that Gallery Oldham has received for some time and we are absolutely delighted. It is wonderful to be able to give visitors even more insight into the works of such an important local artist.”
Dinah Winch, Senior Curator at Gallery Oldham, added, “These paintings are full of Helen Bradley’s characteristic charm and nostalgia and they are a wonderful addition to our existing collection of three works by the artist. We’re particularly pleased that ‘The Church Outing’ will be on permanent display in our new gallery space Oldham Stories.”
Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund Director said, “These charismatic paintings by Helen Bradley evoke much of the life and times in which she lived. We are grateful to Derek and Elizabeth Jewell for choosing to bequeath them to Gallery Oldham through the Art Fund.”
Gallery Oldham is already showing one of the new paintings, ‘A Summer Afternoon, Blackpool’ , as part of an exhibition of paintings called ‘Looking at Landscape: Pastoral to Present’. This exhibition also features another new acquisition, a major ceramic work by Ewen Henderson which was recently acquired with a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Collecting Cultures Scheme. This grant is supporting the development of Gallery Oldham’s studio pottery collection. The monumental vessel is made of layers of coloured and textured clays that reference the geology of the landscape and add a sculptural dimension to the exhibition.
Visitors to Gallery Oldham can also still see ‘Ocean’ by Natasha Daintry in our current exhibition Tradition: Historic and Modern Pots until March 16.
This significant work by a major contemporary ceramicist was acquired with grants from the Contemporary Art Society and the Art Fund. A joint acquisition with The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Tullie House, Touchstones Rochdale and Nottingham Museums, this work will tour other venues in the partnership over the next four years.