People say you get what you pay for. But that’s not always, strictly the case. At Yale University’s Center for British Art, it’s most definitely not the case. An hour and a half’s drive from New York City will deliver you to New Haven, home of the ivy-clad heart of America’s ivy league. In the center of the city campus, sits the largest collection of British art outside of England. Admission is free – like most public museums in the UK and unlike many galleries in the US.
In addition to Yale’s most well-known graduate schools specialising in law, medicine and drama; there is great prestige in possessing an architectural degree from the university … exemplified in the recently restored space housing it’s famous British art collection. Who better to lead the $33M project, than George Knight, a local architect and Yale grad? More than a decade, yes, a decade, of research, on the history of the design, construction and renovation drove the designs.
Concrete, glass, marble, oak and linen greet visitors upon entering. What may seem like competing materials, complement to create a modern, open environment. Light spills from high windows encouraging exploration, and illuminating hidden spaces. The concrete and marble form a circular staircase that winds up to the fourth floor. Sun light from above casts intricate, mesmerising shadows, guiding one on the ascent.
Named one of the top 50 art galleries in the world, the rooms feel intimate and cut off from the world. Windows are placed to maximise daylight. Artificial light is saved for only very overcast days. The result is the opposite of what one experiences in traditional galleries, where the enclosed spaces can feel rather confining.
Then, there is the art. Paul Mellon, the only son of Andrew W. Mellon and his English wife Nora McMullen, donated the collection of British art and rare books and manuscripts to Mellon’s alma mater, along with funds for both the building and its support. The permanent collection begins at the top – from the fourth floor. One can imagine the conversations started over some of the pictures. For example, in the Long Gallery, more than 200 works of paintings and sculpture are presented in seven bays. One is devoted to chaos and conviviality. Another is family. Kew Gardens is represented in paintings from 1762, 1815 and 1981. Each one exhibits a different period of painting looking at the same view.
The third floor is devoted to special exhibitions, a library court, a study room and reference library attracting experts from around the world.
Constable, Reynolds and others are among the greats on display, from early periods to contemporary. A visit to the center is a two-for for art and architecture enthusiasts, and for those who adore Hockney, Turner or Gainsborough, it’s a far better deal than even the cheapest transatlantic flight.
Yale Center for British Art http://britishart.yale.edu/