German Expressionism and Richard III, King of England

Posted by Tory Historian Tuesday, February 16, 2010 , , ,

No, this is not one of those peculiar games people play in which one is supposed to put together the most unlikely concepts into one sentence but an account of Tory Historian’s jaunt to Leicester last week-end.

The pretext was an exhibition of what was billed, justifiably as it turned out, as the largest collection of German Expressionist art in the UK. In Leicester? Tory Historian was somewhat surprised but also fascinated by the tale behind the collection.

The exhibition was marking the beginning of that splendid collection: in 1944, a most unlikely moment in history, the then Director of the Museum, Trevor Thomas, put together an exhibition of German Expressionist art, having talked various German refugee collectors, whom the wise British Government of the day had interned, to lend the splendid works they had managed to bring out of their country.

The exhibition was, astonishingly, successful both with critics (the local newspapers were rather proud of having such an outstanding and imaginative art gallery director) and the public. The gallery collection was started by several painting purchased from the exhibition and continued to grow, becoming world famous, though not so very well known among British art visitors.

The most recent addition to it was a large and fascinating collection of German Expressionist works, particularly of prints, put together by a businessman who had been born in Leicester, Michael Brooks. Tory Historian is delighted to see that the old tradition of businessmen spending money on art or architecture to honour their own city is alive and well. One must tip one’s hat to Michael Brooks and the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery who appreciated the gift.

The rest of the day was taken up by walking round Leicester and seeing the Cathedral (a little disappointing) as well some superb churches, the most exciting of which was St Mary de Castro.

Possibly the most exciting part of that walk for Tory Historian was the discovery that the City and the good burghers of Leicester clearly never abandoned their loyalty to the one they call King of England, Richard III. He is supposed to have been buried somewhere in the City or, perhaps, thrown into the ditch just outside it in the charming way those Tudors behaved. The story is quite convoluted as this article explains and the truth remains unknown.

There are several memorials as well as streets and schools named after the last Plantagenet King. This statue shows him as a young (well, he was youngish though not for those days) and romantic hero with nary a sign of a hump. Eat your heart out, Will.

Near the remains of the castle there is a board, put up in 1985, at the 500th anniversary of the year when two kings visited Leicester. It is quite clear which one the city saw and still sees as the rightful one: Richard III is described as King of England who rode into Leicester some time before the fateful battle of Bosworth Field; Henry VII came to the city on the evening of August 22, after he had “vanquished” Richard and brought his body with him. One can imagine the sullen burghers of Leicester watching the arrogant invader as he rode in with the body of the rightful Kind in the baggage van.


  1. Simon Says:
  2. Dear Conservative History Journal,
    I am writing to thank you for your positive article on the visit to Leicester and the "Journey Out of Darkness" Exhibition, showcasing Leicester's outstanding collection of German Expressionist Art, the largest of its kind in the UK. We welcome visitors to the exhibition, which runs until May 3rd.

    Simon Lake, Senior Curator of Art, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

  3. Welcome, Simon. It was a grand exhibition.

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