From Henry Moore to Damien Hirst

Bretton Hall
Bretton Hall

The Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP) was set up some 43 years ago by Peter Murray, a lecturer at Bretton Hall further education college, which was housed in a former stately home and had a strong emphasis on fine art. 

The college’s estate included some impressive landscaped gardens which surrounded the former Georgian mansion. In 1977 Murray had the bright idea of mounting a sculptural exhibition in the gardens. There were only a dozen exhibits, none of them any household names, but this modest show attracted huge interest. Not everyone was keen and there was a lot of public opposition, the local papers published angry letters from indignant members of the public decrying these “metal girders and scrap iron as an insult to the taxpaying public”. However, the vast majority of visitors were enthusiastic. They wanted to see more and the Yorkshire sculpture park was born.

At the time some artists were not sure whether it was a good idea. Henry Moore, whose Hulking bronzes now stood in the rolling fields outside Wakefield was a fan, but Anthony Caro preferred to show his more intricate pieces in a “very controlled environment” – in other words, indoors and away from sheep.

Damien Hirst Charity 2002-2003
Damien Hirst Charity 2002-2003

The YSP has long since won over the doubters and was crowned museum of the year in 2014 by the Art fund prize. As Peter Murray said, “There was not a great deal of support from the art world and a lot of public opposition to the idea of putting rusty bits of metal and such like in an 18th-century park.” The irony is that it’s thanks to the rusty metal that the park has now been pieced back together into its original Capability Brown inspired form, having been parcelled up following the second world war. 

Damien Hirst The Virgin Mother 2005-2006
Damien Hirst The Virgin Mother 2005-2006

Over the years Murray has bought 230 acres with a Lottery grant, done deals with farmers and other private landowners to take over the management of some more land, previously owned by the council. Now the Sculpture park has 500 acres to play with and features five indoor galleries.

My visit to the park was all too brief and I think to fully appreciate all of the works and vistas, two days is required. Luckily, no entrance fee is payable – only your parking. We parked up at the Weston car park and entered the YSP via The Weston, which contains a nice cafe and restaurant. The view over the Yorkshire landscape is wonderful, and would be breathtaking in the spring/summer.       

The Weston
The Weston

We walked eastwards, passing four major Damien Hirst sculptures which are on display until April 1st 2022. These include Charity (2002-2003), Myth (2010) The hat makes the man (2004-2007) and the Virgin mother (2005-2006). They are all on a monumental scale. I just wonder if they will have the longevity of the two Henry Moore sculptures we later came across on the walk near the edge of the Lower lake. 

Henry Moore Large Totem Head 1968
Henry Moore Large Totem Head 1968
Henry Moore Reclining Figure: Arch Figure 1969-1970
Henry Moore Reclining Figure: Arch Figure 1969-1970

These were exquisite and have lasted the test of time. We then walked back along the edge of the Lower lake towards the Weston, as time was running short. But a return visit is an absolute must as there was so much we did not see and discover. Make sure to visit on a fine day and wear walking shoes.

The YSP is open every day except Christmas eve and Christmas Day.

Damien Hirst The Hat Makes the Man 2004-2007
Damien Hirst The Hat Makes the Man 2004-2007

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