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Home » ARTS AND CULTURE in CT » CONNECTICUT (all topics) » A Very British Art Scene
Some of the Amazing Artwork and Sculpture on Display at The Yale Centre for British Art
A Very British Art Scene

Part 1 - The Yale Centre for British Art, New Haven, CT

By Brian Scott-Smith | October 21, 2014

As you walk down Chapel Street in Downtown New Haven, Connecticut, you’re surrounded by art and architecture from the little boutique shops to the grandeur of the Yale University Campus.

The Yale Centre for British Art

And then you’re struck by an odd geometric building of concrete and reflective glass that seems out of place.

But even stranger is that the building is an award winning piece of architecture that houses the biggest collection of British Art outside of Great Britain - welcome to the Yale Center for British Art.

From the moment you walk through the doors, the one thing you realize about the center is the amount of light inside, and natural light at that.

Designed by architect Louis I Kahn, it really is a stark contrast to the Yale University Art Gallery across the road, with its imposing Gothic style architecture inspired by the old Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the UK.

The Natural Light Ceiling

So there seems to be a theme occurring here already, a very British theme, but why? Well it all started with the founder of the Center, Paul Mellon, son of Pittsburgh financier and industrialist Andrew W Mellon, and his English wife Nora McMullen.

Mellon spent his childhood summers in the English countryside which is where his lifelong love of British culture began.

He went on to study at Yale University in the class of 1929, as well as Cambridge University in England.   He began collecting books about hunting and racing which sparked a lifelong passion for collecting.

Then in 1936 Mellon purchased his first British painting by artist George Stubbs called Pumpkin with a Stable-lad, and with the encouragement of English art historian Basil Taylor, he went on to acquire many more works of art by British artists both well-known and under-appreciated.   This became the major collection that can be seen at the Center today.

But the interesting thing about the Yale Center is that it’s not a museum.   Notice the careful choice of words ‘Center’ and there’s a reason for that, it’s a gallery and also a research center for not only Yale students but for art enthusiasts and experts from around the world.

And its staff is as colorful and engaging as the building and the art collections themselves.

Angus Trumble is the Senior Curator of Paintings and Sculpture and comes from Melbourne, Australia. The six foot five, forty-seven year old has been with the center for eight years, and what he doesn’t know about British art isn’t worth worrying about. But how did this Aussie find his way to New Haven, Connecticut?

Angus Trumble - Senior Curator Paintings and Sculpture

“I worked for the Art Gallery of South Australia. And Australian art institutions are old, by world standards and imperial in character as they were established in the 19th century as fledgling copies of institutions of the British Mother-ship. As a result, I built up quite a body of British art, which led me directly to Yale, which sounds odd, but has its own inherent logic.”

Trumble is not what you would consider to be a typical curator, which he likes, he’s charismatic, engaging and funny and also passionate about art.

He’s self- deprecating, recalling his own failed attempts at being an artist in his younger days, noting that the Victorian College of the Arts declined his entry to their organization, which he says was “wise of them”. He then went on to study art history which led him to his current field of employment.

But what is it about British art that has allowed it to endure for so long in the US? Could it be that Yale is in the New England Stateswhich have a rich and checkered history with the British, dating back to the time of the first settlers?

Trumble believes that’s part of the equation but that it’s also to do with the University as well.

“Yale has always had a strong tradition in British studies from literature, history and philosophy and that extends back at least one hundred and fifty to two hundred years.”

In part two of this article, we find out about the center’s exhibitions as well as art going forward and how the Center is dealing with the digital age.


1080 Chapel Street, New Haven, CT 06520

(877) 274-8278


Opening Hours:

Tue - Sat: 10AM to 5PM Sun: noon to 5PM

The Center is closed on Mondays, and on January 1, July 4, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day.

Admission: FREE

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