History of the Mercer Art Gallery

The Mercer Art Gallery opened in 1991 in the 200 year old Harrogate Promenade Rooms, one of Harrogate’s first purpose built spa buildings.

In the Georgian period, more and more visitors flocked to Harrogate to take the ‘Harrogate Cure’, drinking and bathing in the town’s mineral waters. The Promenade Rooms provided an indoor space where visitors could socialise, opening on the 16th June 1806 with ‘some select pieces of music on the organ’. Well-to-do visitors could see and be seen: chatting to fellow well-drinkers, showing off their fashionable clothing and perhaps even looking for romance.

In 1839 the Promenade Rooms was renamed the Victoria Reading Rooms and Library, and used for public meetings and lectures. In 1875 - 1900 it became a theatre, hosting many Victorian celebrities such as Lily Langtry, Sarah Bernhardt and Oscar Wilde. Later it became the Town Hall, and in the 1980s it was the rates and housing benefits office until it was reborn as the Mercer Art Gallery.

The Mercer replaced the first Harrogate Art Gallery that had opened in 1930 in a single room of a first-floor extension to Harrogate Library. As early as the 1950s there was talk of relocating the expanding art collection. A crisis point for the District’s art collection was reached in 1984 when several paintings from the collection were found lying in the flooded basement of the Royal Baths, so in 1985 work began on plans for a splendid new art gallery.

The gallery’s name comes from the water-colourist Sidney Agnew Mercer who lived most of his life in Yorkshire, whose sons gave £50,000 towards the new art gallery. Other magnificent funds came from the hard work of the Friends of the Mercer Art Gallery, English Heritage and Harrogate Borough Council.

Works from the Harrogate Fine Art Collection on Art UK, the online home for art from every public collection in the United Kingdom.

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