THE Friends of York Art Gallery has pledged more than £600,000 since the charity was founded 70 years ago, aiding the acquisition of more than 150 works for the gallery’s collections.

Those works span paintings, drawings, photography, film, sculpture and ceramics, and among them are artworks by York artist Albert Moore, Bradford's David Hockney and Wakefield's Barbara Hepworth, and contemporary pieces by Grayson Perry, Sarah Lucas and the York art world of today, Ed Kluz and Emily Sutton.

To mark the anniversary, the Friends have picked favourite works that have been acquired or restored thanks to their invaluable financial support for an exhibition in the ground-floor Madsen Three Gallery, complemented by a series of talks about the artists, the subjects of their works and the benefit of this collection to the public.

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Project manager Karen Southworth with Vessels For Dark Air (2003) by Gordon Baldwin. Picture: Frank Dwyer

Showing her appreciation for the Friends' unstinting work, senior curator Vera Pavlova says: "For 70 years, the Friends have been extremely generous in their support of York Art Gallery. Their financial contributions have made a significant impact on the gallery’s collections, helping us to acquire internationally known artists, as well as those which have a strong connection to the city. Their lively programme of events and talks as well as their enthusiasm and knowledge have been vital to the gallery’s success.

"We are deeply grateful for their continued support and are delighted to be working with them on an exhibition which offers a glimpse of the scale and breadth of the works they have helped us to buy."

Founded in 1948, the Friends made their first contribution to the gallery in 1949 when Pieter Claesz Soutman's 1642 work Samson And Delilah was purchased for £160. Yes, you read that right, £160. Take a look at the work, prominently placed in the room nearest the entrance, and you will say "value for money"!

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View Of Exhibition Square, York (2012) by Ed Kluz 

"It was one of four works they were looking at, but they had an elaborate voting system to decide which one, and so Soutman's work was the only one they could all conclusively agree on buying," says Friends chairman Peter Gibbard.

Such information was brought together by Peter, who poured eight months of research into the anniversary exhibition, delving into 70 years of minutes from Friends meetings, stored in York Explore's archives, along with copies of Premium, published by Hans Hens, York Art Gallery's progressive inaugural curator from 1947 to 1967.

"On the surface, Hans Hess was an extraordinary appointment: a German Jewish Marxist, who came from a philanthropic German family" says Friends president Peter Miller, but it turned out to be an inspired decision. "To set up a Friends organisation when there were very gallery Friends' groups was an important move, with him initially getting the great county families of North Yorkshire involved, along with Sir Herbert Read, who became the first president."

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Silver Dollar Bar, by Edward Burra, acquired in 1982

In 1967, the Friends asked Hans Hess's widow to recommend an artist's work to acquire in his memory. She suggested Lyonel Feininger, the German-American Expressionist painter, whose definitive biography had been written by Hess. Feininger's widow duly provided his 1919 woodcut, Cathedral Of Socialism, the frontispiece to the Bauhaus Manifesto in 1919, acquired for £1,400 and now a highlight of the 70th anniversary show.

The Friends played their part under the equally influential curatorships of John Ingamells and Richard Green and continue to do so now. "It used to be the Friends that would choose a work to purchase, but in order to prevent the 'wrong' type of art being acquired, it became the remit of the curator to choose works, though we can still say 'No, we don't to help to acquire that work," says committee member Charles Martindale, although the Friends prefer to be supportive more often than not.

Among the favourite purchases is Edward Burra's Silver Dollar Bar, acquired in 1982. "There was a selling exhibition of Burra's work, and I remember Richard Green saying, 'you have to make up your mind this evening or otherwise Cliff Richard will buy it'," says Peter Miller. The £16,000 purchase was promptly made.

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Self-portrait In Painting Room, York, circa 1837, by Mary Ellen Best

Look out too for such outstanding works as A Face in the Audience by Albert Moore, Flickering Grid II by Oliver Bevan and The Trail Of War by Carline Sydney, and say thank you to the Friends of York Art Gallery for 70 Years of Giving Art.

70 Years of Giving Art, a celebration of the 70th anniversary the Friends of York Art Gallery, runs until September 2. Gallery opening hours are 10am to 5pm, Monday to Sunday; last admission at 4.30pm.

Did you know?

Much of the Friends of York Art Gallery’s funding comes from bequests left by Friends and those in the community who want to help ensure the gallery's future. Significant sources of revenue include annual membership subscriptions and profits from the Gallery Dines Out luncheons, tours and lectures.