The idea to fund a public library with a museum and art gallery in Beverley, East Riding, was first put forward in 1902 when John Edward Champney (1846–1929), a native of Beverley, approached the town council. The public library with a ‘picture gallery’ for temporary displays opened in 1906, and the museum and art gallery opened four years later. Champney funded a sizeable extension to the building in 1928, and on his death bequeathed the majority of his picture collection and his substantial and impressive library to Beverley.
Champney had secured his fortune in the textile mills of Halifax before moving to Chelsea in 1900. He became actively involved with the Fine Art Society on New Bond Street, where his brother-in-law, Marcus Bourne Huish, was Managing Director. Undoubtedly guided by Huish, Champney developed a taste for contemporary British art, and although he did not buy exclusively at the Fine Art Society, the Society was central to the formation of his collection. The ‘Champney Bequest’ at Beverley features paintings by leading exhibitors at the Fine Art Society including Helen Allingham, Samuel John Lamorna Birch, Alfred East, William Russell Flint and Albert Goodwin.
Since 1906 the gallery has been amassing portraits of East Riding dignitaries as well as topographical views that reflect the distinctive landscape of the region. However, Beverley Art Gallery is renowned for its collection of Elwells. Following his death in 1958, Frederick William Elwell bequeathed a considerable number of his pictures, together with a selection of paintings by his wife Mary, and the gallery continues to add to this collection.
Elwell was involved in exhibitions at the gallery from the outset. Furthermore, he acted in an advisory capacity for many years; he restored paintings and, in all probability, made recommendations regarding acquisitions. Following his death, the picture collection at Beverley appears to have grown somewhat indiscriminately but in more recent years acquisitions have followed more purposeful lines.
Dr Gerardine Mulcahy-Parker, Curator, Beverley Art Gallery