Brief history of the Graves Gallery
The Central Library and Graves Gallery (on the 3rd floor of the building) was officially opened in July 1934 and was dedicated to ‘the service of knowledge and art’. It was a state of the art facility fitted with ‘heating…by invisible panel system’, ‘artificial ventilation’, ‘synchronised electric clocks’ and five different lifts.
John George Graves
The building was partly funded by local businessman John George Graves (1866-1945). He established one of the country’s first mail order companies and gave generously to the city. In 1929 he offered £30,000 to Sheffield specifying that £20,000 should be spent on an art gallery, with the rest going towards the Library. Originally, the Library and Gallery were to form one side of a large new civic square in the city centre, however the rest of the scheme was abandoned after the Second World War. As a result, the magnificent Art Deco frontage of the building is not easy to view from the distance originally intended.
J G Graves was a passionate art collector and donated nearly 700 paintings to Sheffield’s collection. His tastes in art were wide ranging and his main criteria for buying a work was whether he liked it or not. This led to a very diverse collection and many of his purchases are still on display at the Graves today.
A haven in the heart of the city
Visitors to the Graves appreciate the soothing, contemplative ambience of the Gallery – a creative haven away from the bustle of the street below. Though the Millennium Gallery a short distance away now receives larger exhibitions, the Graves still plays an important role both as the primary home of Sheffield’s visual art collection and as host to significant touring shows. Exhibition highlights over the years have included William Blake, Leonardo da Vinci, and photography from Angus McBain, Robert Mapplethorpe and Tom Hunter.
The Gallery currently welcomes around 50,000 visitors each year.