Leeds University Library

Sir Michael Sadler (1861-1943)

Sir Michael Sadler

Vice-Chancellor of the University, 1911-1923

Honorary DLitt, 1924

When Michael Sadler, born in Barnsley, returned to Yorkshire in 1911 to take the post of Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leeds, he had already begun to develop the diverse artistic interests that would make him a notable figure in the history of modern art in Britain. His passionate desire to spread the benefits of a progressive education had been established earlier in his career, at Oxford and Manchester Universities, and Leeds offered Sadler the ideal opportunity to put his principles into practice, at a time when the former Yorkshire College numbered 980 students.

Sadler felt that a student's education was greatly enhanced by a cultured and harmonious environment. He set about creating such an environment through the public display of pictures from his collection. In addition to promoting the physical expansion of the University campus, Sadler encouraged a growth in the curriculum, being instrumental in establishing a chair in Russian Language and Literature in 1916.

He introduced a series of public events on a wide variety of topics, many arts-related, including talks on literature, daytime music recitals and a Saturday concert series. His desire to increase contact between the University and the wider community led him to organise an open day. The event was pioneered in 1923 and attracted between 10,000 and 12,000 visitors.

Sadler was seconded during his time at Leeds to head a commission to investigate the state of Indian education, and in 1919 was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India (KCSI). After leaving Leeds in 1923, Sadler served as Master of University College, Oxford, until 1934. He continued to pursue his interests, writing on the interrelationships between art, education and society, up until his death in 1943.

The generous gift of artworks from his own collection, which he gave to the University in 1923, forms the basis of today's University art collection. His legacy also includes the commission of the Eric Gill war memorial sculpture, which remains on campus. The Sadler papers held in Special Collections and the University Archive further document his time in Leeds. The papers illustrate some of the many aspects of his forward-thinking contribution to the city's cultural life, such as his involvement with the Leeds Arts Club and his support for local artists, notably Jacob Kramer.