Visiting my friend at Yale, I decided, like any respectable history of art student, to pay a trip to the Yale Center for British Art. Well acquainted with the British collections at the Tate and National Gallery in London, I was intrigued to see what the Americans had to offer. My first impression was the building itself, concrete clad with metal fittings, more akin to an ex-industrial loft turned contemporary art gallery in New York's Chelsea, than small town Connecticut art collection.But far from being an odd juxtaposition of old and new, the spacious gallery with its monumental concrete spiral staircase, livened up the collection bringing the artworks straight into the 21st century, whether it be an abstract Ben Nicholson or a majestic Richard Wilson.
Even though I had heard that the Yale Center was the biggest repository of British art outside the UK, I was still staggered by the quantity and quality of the art displayed. Every wall is covered with phenomenal masterpieces spanning the Middle Ages right up until the present day with newly acquired works by Damian Hirst and Rachel Whiteread. Their collection of portraits is particularly impressive, including the likes of Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and Thomas Lawrence. And unlike the major museums of London, overcrowded with tourists and a brief 10 second slot to see a painting, the Yale Center gives visitors the opportunity to soak up the coquettishly posed Mrs Abington by Reynolds and contemplate the stiffness and frustration of Vanessa Bell by Grant. If landscapes are more your thing, the gallery does not disappoint on that front either. The top floor is packed with paintings, notably by J. M. W. Turner (Staffa,Fingal's Cave was a particular favourite) and a stunning series of cloud studies by John Constable.
My advice is to start at the top of the building and work your way down, ending up in the gallery shop which is every anglophile's dream - London inspired Christmas decorations, union jack place mats and even Emma Bridgewater crockery. If you ever find yourself in New Haven or you're a British Yale student missing home, be sure to stop by this museum. It really is something of a marvel.