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We start with Leeds Art Gallery. To get there, you need to turn left out of Leeds Train Station and head north for 8 minutes. Being set back from the road – and with a Henry Moore bronzework Reclining Woman: Elbow lounging by the entrance – you know that this is a class act even before you get through the doors. It’s worth noting that entry to this gallery free (same as all of the others mentioned in this piece) – although, they will gladly accept a donation.
Leeds Art Gallery grew out of the municipality’s desire for an art collection befitting the industrial powerhouse that it had become. The council’s money was rapidly replaced by what has become the Leeds Art Fund – an independent organisation that shifted the gallery’s focus towards Henry Moore and other leading 20th-century British artists. Rather than the creaking collections of comparable city galleries, here you get the dynamic spark of works by Bonnard, Barbara Hepworth (more of her later), Stanley Spencer and Paula Rego.
In 2017 the gallery reopened after a 2-year closure and refurb that gifted it some startling new works: the kaleidoscopic mural Xanadu by Lothar Götz
and Alison Wilding’s Arena (below) that sits beneath a newly uncovered, glazed and barrel-vaulted roof. The formerly hidden roof was discovered during the refurbishment and streams light onto Wilding’s work.
As well as the brave new world reflected in the modern artworks, Leeds Art Gallery also has 8,000 other works including the rousing Scotland for Ever.
After your wander around the gallery head back to the station and your onward trip – we’re off to Huddersfield.
The train journey between Leeds and Huddersfield is 17-minutes nonstop through the Kirklees and the gallery is just a 7-minute stroll from Huddersfield Train Station. While it’s not huge, it does punch above its weight. The biggie here is Fallen Warrior (below), another incredible sculpture by Henry Moore. It’s an almost full-size reclining male figure with his shield by his head. With other versions of the sculpture residing in the Hakone Open-Air Museum, Japan and The Hirshhorn in Washington DC (among others) this is an internationally renowned work, and it’s having a lie down right above Huddersfield Library. Find out more about the sculpture’s creation and it’s incredible reception from the Tate’s catalogue notes.
Other works at the gallery include paintings by Lowry, Bacon, the Camden Town Group and more besides, giving you a great snapshot of brilliant 20th century art. As we say, it’s not a huge place, but with its proximity to the station and also some great cafés to be found on the way back, this is a lovely town to both see some art and munch some sarnies. Then it’s a 30-minutes non-stop train to Manchester and a trip under the Pennines through Standedge Tunnel, the fifth longest rail tunnel in the UK.
We love Manchester Art Gallery and the exhibitions are always breathtaking. Comprising one new building that locks together a pair that have been here since the 1830s, it’s like a Jenga masterpiece and its standing collection bears repeat visits. Here you’ll find the Goth-like Sappho by Mengin, a wonderful Girl with Beret by Lucien Freud as well as 13,000 objects dating from 1,100BC to the present. There’s plenty here, with a great cafe (right now they do Bury black pudding and fried egg with an oven bottom muffin) and shop, it’s a haven from the busy Manchester streets right outside the door.
Whichever way you do the trip, if you are taking a circular journey you could add a bonus gallery to your trip in the Hepworth Wakefield. Opened in 2011, this has been a boost to the town. The gallery is a starkly beautiful brutalist building on the banks of the Calder just 20 minutes walk from Wakefield Westgate station and 7 minutes from Wakefield Kirkgate Train Station. Here you’ll find exhibitions of loan art as well as works taken from Wakefield’s extensive collections and, of course, there are also galleries dedicated to Barbara Hepworth’s work and methods. This place is attracting overseas visitors as the new jewel in the north’s art crown, so maybe it’s time you took a look. So head to the main website and book a train ticket today.