The Merchant Adventurers’ Hall is a unique building in the heart of historic York. The timber-framed building was constructed by a guild made up of York citizens to provide a base for charity, worship, and business.

The Hall has remarkable collections including silver, furniture and art which provide a glimpse into the its history and the people associated with it. A portrait of a Queen sits next to one of a Lord Mayor whilst a medieval ‘evidence chest’ is older than the Hall itself.

Art Unlocked is an online talk series by Art UK in collaboration with Bloomberg Philanthropies. This Curation is based on a talk by Lauren Marshall, Museum Director on 27th September 2023. You can watch a recording of the talk on Art UK's YouTube channel.

6 artworks
  • This vibrant watercolour depicts Old Ouse Bridge in York. The medieval bridge was crowded with buildings including houses, shops, a council chamber, a jail and a chapel. In 1724 the author Daniel Defoe described the bridge as, “… vastly strong, and has one arch, which they tell me, was near 70 feet in diameter, it is, without exception, the greatest in England, some say it’s as large as the Rialto at Venice, though I think not.” 50 years later, Joseph Farington’s painting of Old Ouse Bridge was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1784 where Farington was told that he “might leave this picture as his monument”. Not fit for modern day use; the bridge was demolished in 1810 and replaced with a newer if somewhat featureless bridge in 1821.

    Old Ouse Bridge, York 1784
    Joseph Farington (1747–1821)
    Oil on canvas
    H 100 x W 149 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    Old Ouse Bridge, York
    Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

  • William Robinson was one of the most successful merchants in Elizabethan York and was painted by an unknown artist c.1590. He was a Member of Parliament, Sheriff of York and twice Lord Mayor as well as being the Governor of the Merchant Adventurers on three occasions. His influence on the Company and their Hall can still be seen today. In 1558 he joined the Company of Merchant Adventurers and would remain a Member for 58 years. Just over ten years later he was in dispute with the Lord Mayor for refusing to buy and wear a “crimson gown” in his capacity as Sheriff. He only relented when he was threatened with the closure of his shop and a fine of £20. He must have got used to his red gown though, as he is wearing one in his panel portrait!

    William Robinson c.1590
    Marcus Gheeraerts the younger (1561/1562–1635/1636) (follower of)
    Oil on jointed quarter oak panel
    H 88 x W 69 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    William Robinson
    Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

  • Queen Henrietta Maria was the youngest daughter of King Henry IV of France, born in 1609 at the Palais du Louvre, part of the famous Louvre Museum. She married King Charles I in a proxy marriage in 1625 at 15. This portrait is an early 18th century copy of a painting by Anthony Van Dyck. It is one of five copies of an original full-length portrait which was once on display at Warwick Castle, now in a private collection. It shows a pregnant Queen cradling her abdomen with a crown on the table beside her, signifying her rank. The painting was added to the collection to commemorate a visit in 1642 during the English Civil War. Queen Henrietta Maria observed the squalid conditions of Parliamentarian prisoners and gave money for their rank.

    Queen Henrietta Maria early 18th C
    Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) (after)
    Oil on canvas
    H 107 x W 81 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    Queen Henrietta Maria
    Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

  • A past time of the great and good of York was to promenade. In 1730 a promenade route was constructed by the River Ouse lined with trees and named ‘A New Walk’. This view of the New Walk which is a 19th century watercolour copy of a famous 1756 painting by Nathan Drake depicts a group of well-dressed York residents promenading whilst sailing ships sail down the river. A local newspaper described it as..." one of the most agreeable public walks in the Kingdom for its great neatness, beautiful town and situation which is so advantageously seen in its prospect as to render it not unlike nor inferior to any of the views in Venice.”

    The New Terrace Walk, York 19th C
    unknown artist
    Watercolour on paper
    H 38.5 x W 60 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    The New Terrace Walk, York
    Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

  • Joseph Terry was Lord Mayor on four occasions and was also Governor of the Merchant Adventurers. The portrait was painted whilst he was Lord Mayor of York, likely in his final stint by Irish artist, Emily Lawton Barnard. Sir Joseph was well liked amongst York residents arranging citywide galas, picnics and church services at York Minster. York City Council wrote that his name “appeared at the head of every charitable subscription list” and that he was widely recognised as ‘magnificently bearded’. By 1886, around the time this portrait of Sir Joseph Terry was painted, Terry’s had become a sole chocolate manufacturer and Joseph was at the helm when the now commonplace chocolate box assortment was invented – named Britannia.

    Sir Joseph Terry (1828–1898) 1888
    Emily Lawton Barnard (1840–1911)
    H 74.5 x W 59.5 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    Sir Joseph Terry (1828–1898)
    Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall

  • In this gouache on paper by railway artist, Fred Taylor; York Minster looms large over the city with a busy scene depicted below. Created sometime between 1925 and 1935 as an advert for the railways; a military parade is crossing over Lendal Bridge whilst several rowing boats on the River Ouse pass under the bridge and people in fashionable clothing make their way in the direction of the Minster. In the early 20th century, tourism in York boomed as increasing wealth and improvements in transport, particularly in the railways, brought more people to the city.

    York Minster and Lendal Bridge 1925–1935
    Fred Taylor (1875–1963)
    Gouache on paper
    H 75 x W 120 cm
    Merchant Adventurers’ Hall
    York Minster and Lendal Bridge
    © the copyright holder. Image credit: Merchant Adventurers’ Hall