W.A. Evelyn Collection

The Evelyn Collection is comprised solely of prints, drawings, and watercolours of views of York. The Collection features over 4,000 works (expanded from the initial purchase of 1,500 works from Evelyn) which illustrate changing perceptions of York, notably featuring the city’s iconic Minster.

Dr William Arthur Evelyn (1860 – 1935) conceived and assembled the Collection. Evelyn was a devotee of the city of York and was committed to its preservation. Alongside his membership of, and holding various roles within, the Yorkshire Philosophic Society (YPS) and the Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAS), Evelyn expressed this devotion through his collecting practices.1 Evelyn’s interest in building a collection even coincides with his ancestor, John Evelyn, who participated in antiquarian collecting of English landscapes.2 Described as his “life’s hobby” by Hugh Murray, Evelyn succeeded in building a collection that included views of the city produced over three centuries.3

In the twilight of his life, however, Evelyn searched for a future home for his collection. Two interested parties came forward: Yale University, under Head Librarian Andrew Keogh, and the Friends of the York Art Gallery. Perhaps due to the popularity of Evelyn’s exhibition of his prints, “Old York Views” in 1927, the Friends believed that “York is the right home for such a group of pictures”.4 In 1931, the Friends fundraised enough money via public subscription and a donation from the National Art Collection Fund to purchase the collection.5 Fortuitously, the Friends saved the collection from “being lost to America” and continued Evelyn’s project: maintaining the history of York within York itself.6

The strength of the collection, as A. Hamilton Thompson wrote, is that it constitutes “a historical and artistic record of York” as it changed over time.7 This strength has translated into several exhibitions hosted by York Art Gallery, such as “The Second City of England” in 1981 and “York through the Eyes of the Artist” in 1990. Likewise, the Gallery maintained the legacy of Evelyn’s love of collecting during the mid-century with the Evelyn Prize, given annually to an artist from 1950 until 1962 for their novel depiction of York.8 This year’s exhibition, ‘Views of York & Yorkshire’ likewise showcases several prints and watercolours assembled by Evelyn and subsequently acquired by the Gallery.

'Old York Views' exhibition at the York Art Gallery, unknown artist, c. 1927, photograph.
1Geoffrey Geddes. "Dr William Arthur Evelyn (1860-1935)", York Civic Trust, https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/dr-william-arthur-evelyn-1860-1935/. 2John Evelyn. The Diary of John Evelyn. Ed. Guy de la Bédoyère. Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 1995.3Hugh Murray. Dr Evelyn’s York. York, UK: William Sessions Limited - The Ebor Press, 1983, 5.4Evelyn Collection of Old York Views Appeal Committee, 24 June 1931. Letter. From York Museum Trust, York Art Gallery Archive. (Accessed November 20, 2019); Murray, 15-17. 5York Art Gallery Appeal Committee, 24 June 1931. 6 Ibid.7A. Hamilton Thompson. Letter to Yorkshire Herald, 1931. Article. From York Museum Trust, York Art Gallery Archive. (Accessed November 20, 2019).8Murray, 17.