A supermarket supremo, a Leeds family of tailors and a Tudor historian have all contributed to the treasure trove of art at British universities. While university galleries are closed you can browse their collections on Art UK.

University Entrance

University Entrance 2001

Stephen Chaplin (b.1934)

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

Many of the 20,000 works at campuses around the UK were gifted by generous benefactors. Notable collections can be found at nearly all universities so, like a sixth former applying for a degree course, I have limited my choices to just five.

While this is a personal selection, with an emphasis on educational themes, the Art UK website offers plenty of scope for alternative lists.

University of Leeds

Starting from nothing, Montague Burton built one of the world's largest tailoring chains. It was later partly managed by his son Stanley who, with wife Audrey, amassed an impressive collection of art some of which is housed in a gallery named after them at Leeds University.

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery has more than 400 works including The Art Class by Stanley Spencer.

The Art Class

The Art Class (left outer panel from the 'Empire Marketing Board' series) 1929

Stanley Spencer (1891–1959)

The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery, University of Leeds

University of Hull Art Collection

Students of Tudor history will be familiar with the name A. G. Dickens, who wrote a standard work on the English Reformation. For many years he was Professor of History at Hull, the city of his birth. When he moved to London he took advantage of the capital's galleries and auction rooms to build a collection of British art, much of which he bequeathed to his old university, including Girl Reading by Adrian Allinson.

Girl Reading

Girl Reading 1933

Adrian Paul Allinson (1890–1959)

University of Hull Art Collection

The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London

The fabulous Courtauld collection, part of the University of London, was largely funded by the manufacture of rayon, a substitute for silk. The art critic and painter Roger Fry (1866–1934) advised industrialist Samuel Courtauld to invest in Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art. This he did with gusto. In 1932 he founded the Courtauld Institute which, after the war, came under the direction of the Soviet spy Anthony Blunt. This work by Paul Cézanne reminds me of my own experience of university although I probably wasted more time on darts than cards.

The Card Players

The Card Players 1892–1896

Paul Cézanne (1839–1906)

The Courtauld, London (Samuel Courtauld Trust)

Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

At the start of its life, Kettle's Yard was the home of Jim and Helen Ede as well as an art gallery. A former curator at the Tate, Jim Ede had befriended many artists whose works form the basis of the collection. Students were encouraged to borrow pieces by the likes of Alfred Wallis, Christopher Wood, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore. While those days have gone, the original house remains intact while the gallery has been extended. Thankfully, whoever last borrowed this abstract by Ben Nicholson had the good grace to return it.

1934 (relief)

1934 (relief) 1934

Ben Nicholson (1894–1982)

Kettle's Yard, University of Cambridge

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia

Thanks to the family supermarket business, Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury were able to put some great works of art into their shopping basket. What's more, they also had the foresight to commission a young –and then relatively unknown – architect called Norman Foster to design the space to show them off. The Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia now contains an international collection of several hundred works but perhaps pride of place should go to portraits, by Francis Bacon, of its benefactors.

Robert J. Sainsbury

Robert J. Sainsbury 1955

Francis Bacon (1909–1992)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts


Lisa 1956

Francis Bacon (1909–1992)

Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts

This selection only scratches the surface. Outside England, there's plenty to rival my chosen five with universities often favouring homegrown artists. The Hunterian at Glasgow University, for example, has a spectacular collection of Scottish colourists including this example by Francis Cadell.

Still Life and Rosechatel

Still Life and Rosechatel 1924

Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell (1883–1937)

The Hunterian, University of Glasgow

Bangor University has some canvasses by the quintessentially Welsh painter Kyffin Williams.

Farmer on the Mountains

Farmer on the Mountains

Kyffin Williams (1918–2006)

Bangor University

And at the Queen's University in Belfast, there's work by the notable Irish landscape painter Paul Henry.

The Road to Coomasharn, County Kerry

The Road to Coomasharn, County Kerry

Paul Henry (1876–1958)

Queen's University Belfast

So when universities fully reopen there will nearly always be the opportunity to put down a book, take a short stroll and enjoy a great work of art – in the flesh as well as virtually.

James Trollope, author and columnist