Situated above the Central Library, the Graves Gallery has been enjoyed by the people of Sheffield for almost 100 years, thanks to the generosity of city benefactor J G Graves.
The Central Library and Graves Gallery was officially opened in July 1934 and was dedicated to ‘the service of knowledge and art’. It was a state of the art facility fitted with ‘heating…by invisible panel system’, ‘artificial ventilation’, ‘synchronised electric clocks’ and five different lifts.
The building was partly funded by local businessman John George Graves (1866-1945). Graves established one of the country’s first mail order companies and his many generous gifts to the city include Graves Park and Concord Park, as well securing the future of Ecclesall Woods.
In 1929 he offered £30,000 to Sheffield specifying that £20,000 should be spent on an art gallery, with the rest going towards the Library. Originally, the Library and Gallery were to form one side of a large new civic square in the city centre, however the rest of the scheme was abandoned after the Second World War. As a result, the magnificent Art Deco frontage of the building is not easy to view from the distance originally intended.
J G Graves was a passionate art collector and donated over 1000 paintings to Sheffield’s collection. His tastes in art were wide ranging and his main criteria for buying a work was whether he liked it or not. This led to a diverse collection, which included many significant works. Today, Graves’ purchases can regularly be seen in the displays at the Graves and at Weston Park Museum.
Visitors to the Graves often say how they enjoy the calm and contemplative space of the Gallery, transporting them away from the bustle of the street below. Here, they’re able to immersive themselves in the city’s visual art collection, showcased through displays bringing together painting, photography, sculpture and works on paper. Like the Millennium Gallery just across the road, the Graves also presents a vibrant programme of changing exhibitions.
In 2021, the Graves Gallery unveiled new displays and improvements as part of a five-year series of changes generously supported by the Ampersand Foundation.