StrayArt with Johnny Messum: The role of patronage


Last updated Dec 11, 2020

StrayArt is a monthly column written by Johnny Messum, Director and Founder of art gallery and centre, Messum’s Wiltshire, London and Harrogate. Johnny’s passion is for contemporary art and sculpture.

Each month he will look at art, exhibitions and events across Yorkshire and sometimes further afield with the aim of guiding and inspiring us.


We must all be patrons of the arts and that means taking part as well as supporting artists. There is a vital capacity to art that brings people together and I think we will see this become increasingly important as the high street and the reasons we find for getting together continue to be questioned and asked to adapt. At the core of this narrative is the relationship that the process of making creates between the maker and the viewer. Art is the greatest of story tellers and objects – however formed  – define  capacity of human beings to connect to each other through inanimate objects.

Our role as a gallery is to help artists with a platform on which to create, your role is to take part, whether going to visit, commenting on an artists page, buying works of art or joining in a conversation. Our face to face talks and now online talks with artists and makers allow people to connect with them and to understand what frames their thinking. They are hugely popular because we are fascinated by a fellow human being’s capabilities. Who knows you may find your own object of significance and discover an eco system of creativity that enriches your life in more ways than one.

Patronage as the name suggests is about more than collecting, it is about discerning input into the artist’s career.

A collection of art at Chatsworth House. Credit: Chatsworth House Trust

In Yorkshire there are many examples of discerning patrons – the great English painter JMW Turner found sympathetic patrons in two Yorkshire men – Walter Fawkes at Farnley Hall and Edward Lascelles at Harewood House – whose support and friendship fostered his creative genius. Edward Lascelles also enjoyed a special relationship with another great man, the extraordinary furniture maker Thomas Chippendale from Otley, who received the largest commission of his career furnishing the newly built Harewood House in 1767. The present Earl and Countess commission artists and craftsman today continuing the family tradition of supporting living artists, and in their Biennale focusing on Why Craft Matters Chippendale’s creations were juxtaposed with contemporary furniture, aware as they are that one generation of artists inspires the next.

As I drove back down to London passing through Derbyshire, I passed the sign for Chatsworth House, the seat of the Dukes of Devonshire, where 16 generations of the Cavendish family have collected contemporary art from Elizabethan times to now. The current Duke and Duchess continue the tradition today, and the potter Edmund de Vaal’s vessels are exhibited next to a garniture of Chinese vessels to demonstrate both continuity and difference.

When the current restrictions lift, and these great houses re-open I urge you to visit them and reflect on the many gifted men and women who thanks to the enlightened patronage of their owners have been able to shine and pay their bills and be an inspiration to the next generation of artists and craftsmen, and revitalise us as we look at what they have made.

As you open your parcels on 25 December and find that someone has chosen to give you a beautifully made piece, spare a thought for the person or people who made it, and the ideas, imagination, skills and sensibility that lie within it. Patronage or supporting the arts is not just for Dukes and Duchesses, it is for us all to help bring objects and moments of significance together when ever we choose a hand made piece over factory made items.

Next month I shall be talking about plein air painting, the artists, who like Monet and his fellow Impressionists choose to work primarily, not in their studios, but out of doors.

Messums Yorkshire, 4-6 James Street, Harrogate is open Thursdays to Saturdays from 10am – 5pm. The current exhibition of the leading landscape environmental artist Kurt Jackson continues until 2 January. Two new exhibitions of of Australian artists Daniel Agdag and Atong Atem open on 7 January.  The displays of glass artist Dante Marioni and artist Charles Poulsen continue to 30 January.

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