A new exhibition at the Millennium Gallery, Sheffield looks at the eyes of the city through artists who have captured its changes over 250 years.
Curator Louisa Briggs has put together a fascinating collection of more than 90 paintings and photographs that come mostly from the city’s collections.
The paintings on show include JMW Turner’s 1797 View of Derbyshire Lane and many past and contemporary Sheffield painters are included. They include Joe Scarborough, Jonathan Wilkinson and Pete McKee.
She said: “It’s about the idea of Sheffield being a bit of a city of contradictions. It’s an industrial city and also known as one of the greenest in Britain and it’s the fifth largest place in the country and known as the biggest village in the world.”
The exhibition is split into four themes: identity, a question of beauty, lost and imagined places and making sense of the city.
Louisa said: “The identity section is looking at how the city grew to be huge and was affected by its geography.”
The city’s rivers were used to generate its early industrial power and this helped to shape how Sheffield grew.
One picture shows an early grinding workshop of the kind that were once seen all over the city. The painting was damaged in the 2007 floods and is on show again for the first time after its restoration.
In contrast, a picture by Derrick Greaves painted in the 1950s shows Sheffield’s heavy industry with a derelict factory in the foreground.
A painting called The Philadelphian, from the 1980s, depicts a strip mill and a steelworker stopping to quench his thirst.
Louisa said: “It’s right at the point where steelworks were in decline. The artist captured the dignity of the worker.”
The lost places sections includes a view of Janson Street on Attercliffe Common including Carbrook Infants School from the 1950s, with what Louisa described as “the iconic bye-law terraced houses that came into Sheffield. The law banned the building of back-to-backs and they started to build these.
“They’ve all been demolished and this is now a much wider road with houses on one side. It now looks completely different.”
One part of this section records places associated with Sheffield’s radical history.
Retro was involved in a recent event at Sheffield Cathedral, looking at the life of Victorian journalist, social reformer and hymnwriter James Montgomery. Her set up the Sheffield Iris newspaper and a picture of the Iris’s office at Hartshead is on display.
Another painting shows the Victoria Monument that now stands in Endcliffe Park when it was in Fargate. Louisa said that the statue was at one time Sheffield’s Speaker’s Corner, and was known as the ‘people’s university’, where crowds would gather to hear speakers.
Designer William Morris, who was also a leading socialist, was the first to speak there, said Louisa, who added that the statue was moved because the numbers gathering would often block the area.
The questions of beauty section commemorates John Ruskin’s famous quotation that Sheffield was a dirty picture in a golden frame and looks at how industrial areas can be considered beautiful in some eyes.
Jack Kettell’s work, showing the rebuilding of a blast furnace, is a case in point. He worked at Parkgate Steels and included a pheasant in the picture because he regularly saw them on his way there.
Modern-day Sheffield artist Mandy Payne sees beauty in Park Hill flats and her striking pictures, capturing geometric shapes and angles, are painted on concrete.
Pete Clarke lived in Kelvin Flats and his painting of them is part of the lost places section. Louisa interviewed a former resident of the flats about what it was like to live there in the 1980s.
Louisa said she told her that she moved into an empty flat and it was completely furnished within a week with the help of kind neighbours. She never thought of Kelvin as somewhere dangerous to live, despite its reputation.
However, when she moved into a house somewhere else in the city, she said no-one would talk to her because they saw her as ‘Kelvin scum’.
The film of the interview is being shown at the exhibition.
In another film, artist Pete McKee talks about his paintings and the way they show a nostalgia for the city of his childhood.
Picturing Sheffield opens on November 29 and runs until April 12, 2015. Entry is free.
Museums Sheffield have offered 10 lucky Retro Club members an invitation for them and a guest to the launch event for the exhibition, which takes place on Tuesday, December 2 from 6-8pm. Just email firstname.lastname@example.org and put Picturing Sheffield in the subject header. Or drop me a postcard: Julia Armstrong, Retro, The Star, York Street, S1 1PU. Closing date is next Friday, November 28.