The Leeds gallery that’s renting out classical paintings

Theodore Wilkins assistant curator at Leeds Art Gallery with the painting called The Outward Bound: 1912 by Frederick Cayley-Robinson. The painting was commissioned by the Musicians Union following the death of Wallace Hartley and his band on the Titanic 100 years ago.
Theodore Wilkins assistant curator at Leeds Art Gallery with the painting called The Outward Bound: 1912 by Frederick Cayley-Robinson. The painting was commissioned by the Musicians Union following the death of Wallace Hartley and his band on the Titanic 100 years ago.
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If you’ve ever fancied hanging a classical painting on your wall, now you could.Gwyneira Parry and Neil Hudson report

Fancy a Matisse on your mantelpiece? Would your sitting room suit a Sutherland? Maybe your lounge would love a Lowry? Or do you fancy a Hepworth for your hallway?

Such works are usually reserved for galleries and stately homes but now, thanks to a scheme being run by Leeds Art Gallery, businesses, GP’s surgeries and even the homes of ordinary members of the public can rent a masterpiece.

The scheme, which goes under the name The Picture Library, has actually been running since 1961 but was rebranded in summer last year with dramatic effect.

Theodore Wilkins, assistant curator of fine art at Leeds Art Gallery, said individuals were able to rent art works for just £48 a year.

“The scheme has been running a long time and I think there has been an impression that it’s just open to businesses but it’s now open to anyone who lives in Yorkshire, which means people who want to hang a painting in their home can do so. Perhaps they have a party coming up or a special occasion and they want a talking point.”

There are several pricing tiers for those looking to invest - albeit temporarily - in a great work of art, the most affordable being for individuals, with prices starting at £48 a year. For that, you can take out one painting but if you decide you want to swap it within the year, you can.

Theodore said: “We have a number of ‘selection days’ throughout the year but there’s no limit on the number of swaps. The scheme has become incredibly popular and since rebranding it [it was previously called The Picture Lending Library], we’ve had a great response, especially in terms of feedback, with some people even taking selfies with the artwork they have rented.”

Whether you’re into landscapes or abstracts, historic or contemporary art, crazy about Matisse or passionate about Moore, there is a work of art for everyone to enjoy. From oils, watercolours and drawings to photographs and original prints you can select your favourite and borrow it for a whole year.

In the last four years the amount of members involved in the scheme has increased, leading to a rise in the volume of works shared going from 600 to 1,000.

In previous years Sheffield, Wakefield and Bradford had their own hiring schemes and the Leeds version was limited to people in that city but because those schemes have disappeared, the decision was taken to open it up to anyone with a Yorkshire postcode.

For corporate organisations it is £800 a year, which includes eight works for the year, all of which can be swapped on the four selection days each year. A second pricing tier caters for places like GP practices or care homes and comes in at £300 a year for five works of art.

Theodore added: “We have legal firms, financial advisors and banking firms that hire our art work, but this isn’t something we’ve necessarily marketed. At the moment we have six corporate accounts all in the LS6 area.

“Some companies come to the selection day using it as a team building exercise, sending different groups down into the events and taking it in turns to choose the pieces of art to go up in their offices. This gives the employees a chance to take ownership of their office and be proud of it. Other organisations have the directors come down to the event to pick pieces for their boardrooms.

“In the last five years we have been investing a lot of energy into the scheme, into both growing the collection and trying to make it a much larger attraction. Part of that was the name change and we are also using platforms like twitter, which people have embraced.

“It’s one of those things which a lot of people find hard to believe - that you could have a Matisse on your mantelpiece. I think people have a different relationship with this kind of art when they rent it because when you visit a gallery, you typically only spend a short amount of time with a painting before moving on to the next.

“When you take a piece of art and put it in your home, I think it can change the way you feel about your home, because you don’t have to move on and there’s no other distraction, so you come to look at it in a different way.”

Helen Peyton, the Yorkshire-based printmaker whose work is offered in the scheme, said: “It’s something I can enjoy from both sides – as a borrower and a lending artist. In museums and galleries, I can spend hours wandering but only minutes looking at each piece, but at home I can study it; you can have a closer relationship with the art and the artists, I feel I get a better insight into the work and my appreciation of it. It’s easy to be inspired if there’s an Ackroyd or a Frink hanging in your home.

“It becomes a talking point, people visiting will be mesmerized by the fact that you have a Paolozzi or a Hogarth. The fact my work is loaned and placed within people’s homes is an absolute privilege.”

Sheel Douglas, administrator at the gallery said of the most recent selection day in January was very busy with nine people taking the works away before they were even open.

The scheme currently has 435 works of art out on loan and during the past 12 months 370 members of the public, 31 primary schools and six organisations, from both the private and public sector have borrowed art from the scheme.