Dennis Creffield and the Gregory Fellowships

To coincide with the launch of Richard Cork's book Dennis Creffield: Art and Life and the opening of an exhibition at the Portland Gallery, London, Lund Humphries Managing Director Lucy Myers writes about Dennis Creffield’s time as a Gregory Fellow at the University of Leeds in the mid-1960s and his place in a pioneering scheme of post-war artistic patronage initiated by Lund Humphries Chairman Peter Gregory. 

Exhibition poster for the Gregory Fellows exhibition,1966

In 1964, 33-year-old Dennis Creffield was appointed as the 5th Gregory Fellow in Painting at the University of Leeds. It was to prove an important moment in the artist’s long, prolific and unconventional career.

Interviewed in 2005, Creffield said of the Fellowship: ‘I remain immensely grateful to Herbert Read for giving it to me. I shall never know why he did. Perhaps he confused me with someone else - he was very old and I was the rank outsider.’ [1]

Read had obviously spotted his potential. In 1964, Creffield was just three years out of art school, having arrived at the Slade as a mature student. But he was already being noticed by critics and collectors: Keble College Oxford had acquired a painting from him a few years earlier, he’d been a prize-winner at the John Moores Exhibition in Liverpool in 1961, and critic David Sylvester had singled out Creffield’s work in a review of the 1959 Royal Society of British Artists Exhibition in The Listener – the weekly BBC magazine to which Read had regularly contributed art criticism in the 1930s.

It's likely also that Read had a clear sense of what he was looking for in a Gregory Fellow when he nominated Creffield, and Creffield was at the right stage of his career both to benefit from the scheme and to contribute to it.

Although Herbert Read had played a central part in the inauguration of the Gregory Fellowships, and continued as a member of the Fellowships Advisory Committee until his death in 1968, the original vision and funding for them had come from E.C. ('Peter') Gregory, Chairman of Lund Humphries, arts patron and collector. As early as 1943, Gregory had offered to finance a series of fellowships in the creative arts at the University of Leeds, and his scheme eventually got underway in 1949, with the first Gregory Fellows appointed in 1950. When Gregory died suddenly in 1959, the University of Leeds agreed to provide the funding for the Fellowships, and they continued until 1980.

It was a strikingly ambitious project to emerge in the immediate post-war period, and almost certainly the first of its kind.  Gregory’s vision was for Fellows from across the arts to be appointed in parallel positions, although his primary focus was on Poetry, Painting and Sculpture. Music got short shrift, with just two Music Fellows appointed during the scheme’s 30-year duration: Kenneth Leighton in 1953-56, and Peter Nash in 1976-78.

The role of the Advisory Committee (which included Henry Moore and T.S. Eliot alongside Gregory, Read and representatives from the University) was to nominate candidates for the Fellowships, an informal process which often took place over lunch or dinner in Gregory’s London flat. Read resolved never to relax standards: ‘it must be an artist of some presence and substance, or the whole purpose of the scheme is frustrated’, he wrote in 1949 to fellow committee-member Bonamy Dobrée, Professor of English Literature at the University.[2]

As an act of artistic patronage, the Fellowships had broad, idealistic aims which reflected Gregory’s personal interest in fostering connections between the arts, promoting contemporary art and artists, and creating a constructive relationship between art and society. In his own words, the objectives of the scheme were:

‘(i) to bring our younger artists into close touch with the youth of the country so that they may influence it; and (ii) at the same time to keep artists in close touch with the needs of the community. At present there is too great a gap between art and society, and it is hoped that this scheme would constitute a small step towards closing it.’[3]

Though not a formal requirement, it was understood that the ‘younger artists’ were to be representatives of innovative artistic practice – the channels through which the ideas of the Modern Movement would be transmitted into wider society.

Dennis Creffield, Leeds from the Roof of the University, 1965, oil on canvas, 101 x 126.3 cm, Ferens Art Gallery, Kingston Upon Hull

Thirty-four Gregory Fellows were appointed between 1950 and 1980.[4] The Fellows were attached to the University, and the presence of creative artists was intended to encourage artistic and literary activity across the campus. On a practical level, the artist Fellows gave talks to student societies, received students into their studios, and exhibited their own work within the university. They also contributed to the artistic life of the city in other ways, creating ‘a buzz of interest in and excitement about modern art’.[5]

For the Fellows, their time in Leeds provided a breathing space, free of commercial pressures. In Creffield’s case, the three-year Fellowship brought him financial stability - ‘a small stipend’ - and the freedom to explore ideas. He taught one day a week at Leeds School of Art and went drinking with the Gregory Fellow in Poetry, Peter Redgrove. He painted the architecture of the city, enjoying gazing down on Leeds from the roof of the University. In 1966 Leeds City Art Gallery gave him his first solo exhibition and acquired one of his Leeds paintings. His work started to show a new confidence and energy, and when he moved to Brighton in 1968 he had no problem quickly obtaining a regular teaching position at Brighton College of Art. As Richard Cork writes, Creffield had been ‘released as an artist by his fortuitous appointment as a Gregory Fellow’.  

Dennis Creffield, Leeds from the Roof of the University, 1965, oil on canvas, 91.4 x 101.6 cm, Leeds Art Gallery, Leeds Museums and Galleries 

 [1] Dennis Creffield, interview with Lynda Morris, in Dennis Creffield: A Retrospective, Flowers East, London 2005, p.9. Quoted in Richard Cork, Dennis Creffield: Art and Life, Lund Humphries 2022, p.45.

[2] Quoted in Hilary Diaper, ‘The Gregory Fellowships’, in Benedict Read and David Thistlewood (eds), Herbert Read: A British Vision of World Art, Leeds City Art Galleries in association with The Henry Moore Foundation and Lund Humphries 1993, p.134.

[3] Minutes of Senate, 30 June 1943 (University of Leeds Archive). Quoted in Marian Williams, ‘A Measure of Leaven: The Early Gregory Fellowships at the University of Leeds’, in Margaret Garlake (ed.), Artists and Patrons in Post-War Britain, Ashgate Publishing 2001, reissued Routledge 2018, p.57.

[4] For a full list of Fellows, see

[5] Hilary Diaper, op.cit., p.139.



Find out more about the book and order your copy HERE.

The Portland Gallery are holding a special exhibition of the work of Dennis Creffield, to celebrate the publication of the monograph by Richard Cork. The exhibition, which includes many of those works illustrated in the book, will be a timely reminder of the artist’s extraordinary talents.

The exhibition is on show at the Portland Gallery, 3 Bennet Street, London, SW1A 1RP, from 5th – 20th May.