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“Part of the Furniture” unveiled at exhibition launch

The Treasures of the Brotherton gallery celebrates a new exhibition and the life and legacy of John Bedford. 

'Part of the Furniture: the library of John Bedford’ charts the evolution of furniture design though the extensive and unique library of book collector and antiques dealer, John Bedford. The exhibition in the Treasures of the Brotherton Gallery is open to the public with free entry until 21 December 2024.

At the launch event on Tuesday, guests and the public gathered to hear about the remarkable collection and were treated to insights from the curators of the exhibition.

Dr Mark Westgarth, Associate Professor, Art History and Museum Studies and Director of the Centre for the Study of the Art & Antiques Market, said:

“John’s extraordinary gift and library of books have been transformative on Special Collections at the University Library. John spent 45 years assembling his remarkable library – and it has certainly landed in the right place”.

The exhibition celebrates Bedford’s life including his vast knowledge and his generous legacy to the University of Leeds. His legacy enabled the extension and refurbishment of The Brotherton Research Centre on campus, and the establishment of The John Bedford Fellowship, in addition to the donation of his library collection.

An image from the Part of the Furniture exhibition launch event. A speaker is stood at a microphone speaking to a group of people.


Rhiannon Lawrence-Francis, Special Collections Curator and exhibition co-curator commented: “I only met John once, when I visited his home in Guernsey to survey his library, but I will never forget his kindness, enthusiasm and genuine delight at sharing his favourite books with me. He understood the importance of not letting his library remain hidden, and his Trustees saw to it that once it was transferred to Leeds, significant resource was made available to catalogue the collection, allowing anyone to explore its riches online. John’s foresight and generosity also enabled us to build a brand-new flexible teaching space – his gift has been utterly transformational.”

John began his career in the world of antiques with a stall in a Kensington antiques market in the 1960s, and went on to dominate the trade in London. The knowledge he accumulated through buying and selling antique furniture, and building his library, helped to shape the study of furniture history. On his death in February 2019, Bedford left his fine collection of rare books, manuscripts, artworks and objects to the University of Leeds, where it joined the renowned Art and Antiques Market Collections.

Dr Rachel Eckersley, Rare Book Specialist and co-curator explained, “As one of the project team I had the pleasure of cataloguing John’s rarest and most precious printed books. We are now in a position to share the riches of John’s collection with the widest possible audience, fulfilling his wish that anyone interested in furniture history should be able to use and enjoy his library.”

Find out when the gallery is open and how to get to the Treasures of the Brotherton exhibition on the Galleries website.