The beauty of a line

Jeremy Mus­son en­joys a se­lect ex­hi­bi­tion of English nude stud­ies and por­trait draw­ings from an as­ton­ish­ingly rich re­gional col­lec­tion

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

In 1949, when the Ce­cil Hig­gins Art Gallery opened in Bed­ford, it might have re­mained a col­lec­tion of ceram­ics and ob­jets d’art dat­ing prin­ci­pally from the 18th cen­tury, but Hig­gins, the phil­an­thropic brewer who founded it, wanted the col­lec­tion to have a life of its own and so he wisely left a trust fund specif­i­cally for the fur­ther ac­qui­si­tion of works of art. In 1951, the gallery’s board de­cided to spe­cialise in English wa­ter­colours and works on pa­per, ad­vised by Gra­ham Reynolds of the V&A (Hig­gins’s will spec­i­fied some­body from a ‘recog­nised artis­tic author­ity’).

From 1955, Reynolds was suc­ceeded as ad­viser by two ex­perts, Ed­ward Croft-mur­ray of the Bri­tish Mu­seum, who ad­vised on pre1850 art, and Ron­ald Al­ley of the Tate, ad­vis­ing on art af­ter 1850. They both kept an alert eye on the mar­ket and nom­i­nated the artists whose works should be col­lected and the type of work that should be rep­re­sented (deal­ers would send pos­si­bil­i­ties up by train for ap­proval). Their knowl­edge and in­ter­est in draw­ings—which were es­pe­cially af­ford­able in the 1950s and 1960s—meant that the gallery bought many im­por­tant works by most English mas­ters of note.

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