The Alfred East Art Gallery

One of Kettering’s best-known buildings, The Alfred East Art Gallery was built in 1913 to a design by local architect John Alfred Gotch. The main South, façade enjoys a classically modelled Roman entrance flanked by stone pillars. The gallery was purpose built as an exhibition space, with entirely overhead lighting, and so no windows break up any of the facades. Prior to the 2021/22 redevelopments, there were two main picture galleries, East and West, and a corridor gallery that connects with the Carnegie library next door.

Less than a decade after it opened, the open space in front of the gallery was redeveloped to accommodate a cenotaph style war memorial, also by J. A. Gotch, and engraved stone panels were added to the façade commemorating the town’s fallen in both wars.

The building was funded by public subscription following Alfred East’s knighthood, and election to the Royal Academy. He was determined that the town should have an art gallery … and he donated of a collection of his paintings. The money was raised very quickly, and the gallery was formally opened on July 31st 1913 by the then Lord Lieutenant, Earl Spencer of Althorp.

The collection has expanded considerably over the years, hence the need to refurbish and expand the space given over to house it. However it still centres on the key Kettering artists: Thomas Cooper Gotch, Walter Bonner Gash and Sir Alfred East. Today there are more than 900 works in the collection, including oils, watercolours, etchings, prints, photographs and sculpture by local, regional and national artists.

The collection was expanded in the 1950s and 60s by the shrewd purchasing of contemporary works, balancing the works that Sir Alfred East left as a core for the collection. Many have a special connection to Kettering and Northamptonshire. The Alfred East collection comprises 97 works, and there is also a significant number of works by Thomas Cooper Gotch. Other local artists, who feature in the Permanent Collection, include Ralph Hartley, Harry Dorr, George Harrison, John Nettleship, Wilfred Hawthorn and Walter Bonner Gash.

Many of these local artists were members of Kettering and District Art Society (KDAS), who have regularly held exhibitions at the Gallery. The contemporary pieces include paintings and prints by Alan Davie, Joan Eardley, Howard Hodgkin, Terry Frost, John Hoyland, William Scott and Eduardo Paolozzi.

On 28th September 1913, barely months after the gallery opened, Alfred East died, aged of 69, at his home Belsize Park.

Outside, most recent amongst the war commemoration plaques, is a memorial to William Mills, who was lost on the famous ‘cockleshell’ raid into occupied France (Operation Frankton), and who was executed in early 1943 as a saboteur. It was unveiled in March 2013.

Researched by Phil Steele

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