Elizabeth Naydler

Founder of the Ashgate Gallery

Elizabeth Murray, gallery director: born Liverpool 3 March 1917; married Merton Naydler (died 1995; two sons, one daughter); died Oxford 6 August 2006.

In the early 1960s, Elizabeth Naydler opened the Ashgate Gallery at 19 South Street in Farnham, Surrey. The Ashgate was established with a board of trustees who administered the profits from sales to create prizes and scholarships, and for the purchase of paintings and sculpture for local and national museums. It was the first provincial gallery to show artists with an international reputation as well as supporting local talent.

From the beginning, Naydler put on one-man shows by a number of the best known artists of the period, such as John and Jean Bratby, Elisabeth Frink, Julian Trevelyan, Mary Fedden, Alistair Grant, Derrick Greaves, Sandra Blow, Peter Blake, Sonia Lawson and Willi Soukop, but she also had regular exhibitions of work by lesser-known artists - paintings and drawings by the staff of Farnham School of Art, for example, or one-man shows of young artists, one of whom, in 1961, was the writer of this article.

In July 1962, the gallery mounted an important and pioneering exhibition, "British Sculpture Today", with work by 23 leading sculptors, including Robert Adams, Ralph Brown, Anthony Caro, Lynn Chadwick, Elisabeth Frink, Henry Moore, Gertude Hermes, Barbara Hepworth and F.E. McWilliam; this was partly in the open air, in the grounds of the Bush Hotel, and partly in the gallery.

An exhibition of 74 works in a provincial town was a novelty at the period. Philip James, then chairman of the Arts Council, wrote in his foreword to the catalogue: "Exhibitions of sculpture in the open air are in this country a comparitively recent innovation" and further remarked that "exhibitions of this kind should not only give great pleasure and instruction to visitors but they should be an incentive to local authorities to exercise their responsibilities as patrons".

The gallery's enlightened policy was developed until Naydler moved it to larger and more attractive premises in a 17th-century brick-and-timber building in Wagon Yard. The New Ashgate Gallery continues there to this day, having built up an enduring national reputation as a major British gallery, and still providing the same focus of artistic activity and patronage; Elizabeth Naydler retired in 1975, and Elfriede Windsor took over as director; today the New Ashgate is under the direction of Joanne Barber.

Elizabeth was born in 1917 in Liverpool, daughter of Robert Murray, a Scottish doctor who had pioneered surgical treatment for cleft lip and palate. She went to school at Cheltenham Ladies College, and joined the WRAF during the Second World War, navigating Mosquito aircraft. She met her future husband Merton Naydler on a troop ship returning from Bombay. He became a solicitor with offices in Farnham, although by the Sixties he was mainly working in London, where many of his clients were artists (including David Hockney). It was in a modest suite of small rooms above his offices that the Ashgate Gallery was founded.

Elizabeth Naydler was a charming and kindly person, with a confident, humorous manner, and a constantly open mind to encourage young artists. She was a straightforward and efficient gallery director, with a definite idea of what she wanted, and with a warm enthusiasm for the works of art she showed. The Naydlers also together formed their own splendid collection of works of contemporary art.

Alan Windsor

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