Explore the life of the man behind the Ferens

Published: Wednesday 18th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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Everyone knows the Ferens Art Gallery, which last week reopened its doors after a 15-month renovation costing £5.2 million. But do you know anything about the man behind the venue, Mr Ferens himself?

A politician and industrialist, Thomas Robinson Ferens (1847-1930) is best remembered in Hull as a philanthropist. Gifting large amounts of land to the city, including the area that became the 16-acre boating lake in East Park, Ferens also donated £250,000 for the establishment of what is now the University of Hull.

In 1917, Ferens purchased the site where his gallery now stands, giving it to the city along with £35,000 for building work. Ten years later, which was ninety years ago this month, the Ferens Art Gallery opened to the public.

Since then, the venue has changed somewhat. In 1964 the fountain in the Centre Court was removed, and 1989 saw major extension works, linking the building to Princes Quay.

What has always remained constant is the gallery’s status as a jewel in the crown of Hull, a place that encourages people to discover, question and celebrate art. Without T.R. Ferens, the UK City of Culture would be missing a major player in its yearlong programme of activity.

To celebrate the man, his vision and the gallery, an exhibition is running on its upper level until 31 December. An excellent opportunity to see a space that was relatively quiet before the renovation, it showcases works gifted by Ferens himself and Friends of the gallery.

Next to the entrance hangs a portrait of T.R. Ferens by Sir Frank Dicksee (above). Ferens commissioned and purchased the piece from the artist, which set a precedent that the gallery still follows today. In fact, working directly with contemporary artists is an important part of the venue’s Collection Policy.

Another piece that has direct historic relevance to its surroundings is a watercolour by A.T. Nash. Showing the Centre Court in 1932, it shares a scene that is both familiar and filled with nostalgia.

This piece was rescued at a local house clearance only a few years ago, and gifted to the gallery after skilled conservation work.

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The long wall of the gallery space showcases art works that were gifted between 1927 and 2017.

One of these is Portrait of Gertrude Kingston by Sydney Starr, which has been in the city’s possession since 1939. It portrays the London-born actress the year before her stage debut, in all her bold and confident glory.

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Whilst there any numerous other pieces on display, The First Born is one that has been with the gallery from the start. Purchased by T.R. Ferens in 1913, it is an extremely popular painting by Beverley artist Frederick William Elwell.

Depicting a man perched on the corner of the bed, with his wife cradling their new baby, it is a beautifully bright scene filled with love and hope.

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The Ferens Art Gallery is located in Queen Victoria Square. It is free to enter and open 10am-5pm Mon-Wed, 10am-7pm Thursday, 10am-5pm Fri-Sat, and 11am-4:30pm Sunday.

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Published: Wednesday 18th January 2017 by Rich Sutherland

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