Visual Arts: A Tale of two Cities

"Views of London and Sheffield", which has just opened at Phillips Auctioneers in New Bond Street, is an exhibition of 20th-century British pictures selected from the collection of Sheffield's Graves Art Gallery. It's not a very inspiring theme for an exhibition - it all sounds a bit dry and dowdy - but don't be dissuaded. In and among the smoking chimneys there are some fine things.

It's the sort of exhibition which throws up unusual juxtapositions such as two apparently very different painters of Camden Town - Harold Gilman and Frank Auerbach, above - separated by 60 years, who are perhaps not so far removed as they first appear. There's good work, too, by Prunella Clough and Keith Vaughan, an unusual Stanley Spencer of a Helter Skelter on Hampstead Heath, and, from the original Graves bequest, two paintings of Chelsea by the inimitable Paul Maitland, most subtle of the so-called London Impressionists.

The Graves Art Gallery takes its name from Alderman J G Graves, founding father of the mail-order business and a voracious and eclectic collector. He had a sophisticated eye and, happily for Sheffield, he was also a keen philanthropist, gifting the city a library and several parks as well as the pick of his collection. The latter opened in 1934 with an initial selection of some 700 pictures chosen by the gallery's first director, John Rothenstein, later of the Tate.

I'm not sure that they really needed the London/Sheffield excuse to gather a group of the Graves Art Gallery's pictures together. In the wake of the Royal Academy's triumphant "Art Treasures of England", audiences are well aware of the wealth of great work which lies outside the M25, and the quality of the collection alone is reason enough for an exhibition. A show without a prescribed theme might also have included such gems as Christopher Wood's Hotel Ty Mad or William Nicholson's Devil's Flight. Still, you can always go and see them in Sheffield.

`Views of London and Sheffield', Phillips Auctioneers, 101 New Bond Street, W1 (0171-629 6602) to 26 Aug

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