Marble centaurs to join city’s collection

Two marble sculptures, currently on display at York Art Gallery, could be formally added to York’s museum collection if members agree to proposals at a meeting later this month (29 August).
The pair of statues, Young Centaur (tempted by love) and Old Centaur (bound by love), both probably carved by Bartolomeo Cavaceppi (1716-1799) in Rome in around 1755, were bought by the city council in the 1940s from Wentworth Woodhouse when the estate was split up, specifically to be displayed in the Assembly Rooms.

The centaurs were loaned to York Art Gallery in the 1970s, and were later put into storage. Following York Conservation Trust’s purchase of the Assembly Rooms, uncertainty arose about the ownership of the centaurs.

Following discussions, York Conservation Trust’s board has agreed that it would be willing to transfer the sculptures to the city’s museum collection. These collections are owned by the council, and managed by York Museums’ Trust under a long-term loan and management agreement.

Members of the council’s Executive will be asked whether they would agree to move the centaurs into the city’s museum collections. Doing so would ensure that the statues remain as part of the city’s cultural legacy, are accessible to York residents for perpetuity, and will confirm their ownership.

The statues currently form part of The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019 at York Art Gallery from 13 July – 22 September 2019. They are among a number of works inspired by the classical ideals of ancient art and complement Nicolas Poussin’s The Triumph of Pan, one of the National Gallery’s most significant works, which is the exhibition’s centrepiece this summer.

Councillor Darryl Smalley, Executive Member for Culture, Leisure and Communities, City of York Council, said: “Acquired by the city and for the city, it’s important that these historic assets can continue to be cared for and displayed for the benefit of York residents.

“I’m delighted that all three organisations are working together to confirm the statues’ future in the city’s museum collections. We should all be proud of the fantastic art and history in our city’s collection, and this decision highlights our commitment its future.”

Reyahn King, chief executive officer of YMT, said: “We are delighted to have been working alongside City of York Council and York Conservation Trust to ensure that these stunning marble centaurs remain in the public collections.

“Not only are they an exquisite example of Bartolomeo Cavaceppi’s work, but having been commissioned by the Marquis of Rockingham in the 18th Century and later showcased in the Assembly Rooms, their connections to the City of York are fascinating. As artworks, the pair embody a number of themes central to York Art Gallery’s collection policy which includes flesh, mythologies, and the inspiration of past masters.

“It is a testament to the city’s culture that three organisations have worked together to ensure that these important and beautiful sculptures, with such strong links to the city, are permanently housed in our public collections to benefit York’s residents and its visitors.”

Jonathan Bryant, of York Conversation Trust, said: “In 1949 our founder, Dr John Bowes Morrell, twice Lord Mayor of York, was instrumental in acquiring these exceptional items for the city.

“We are delighted that 70 years later they are to be formally accessioned into the city’s museum collection under the long-term custodianship of York Museums Trust.”