The Day Collection
History of the collection
The Day Collection was began in the late 1950's by Harold Day, with the shared enthusiasm of his mother, Ethel M.Day. She was born an Ingamells, suggesting her family was of Dutch descent. Ethel was the daughter of a Lincolnshire farmer from near Boston, an area of strong Flemish influence. Harold Day trained and qualified as an engineer and went on to become a teacher, but he left London in the 1950's to start a smallholding in Essex. The farm specialised in Landrace pig breeding and growing fruit for Tiptree at Witham and Britvic at Chelmsford. It was at this time, whilst attending livestock markets and shows in Norwich and Ipswich, that he first noticed the fine artists of the area, so it was not long before he was avidly collecting their works. This was probably the ideal time as all but the top names were largely overlooked. It is amusing to note from his old account books that the price for a picture was often the same price as a good pig!
Harold was instrumental in discovering works by Claude, Gainsborough and other Old Masters, which he had authenticated and successfully sold to supplement the farm income and to support picture buying for the Collection. With his wife Sheila’s support, the pictures were purchased for the Collection, primarily of Norwich School and Ipswich artists. Research was undertaken, culminating in the writing and publication of the ‘East Anglian Painters’ series of books from 1965. The volume recording Suffolk School artists in 1967 was the first to be published which gathered together the County’s gifted sons ranging in date from Gainsborough in the 18th century to George Rope, who died in 1929.
The subsequent volumes covered the Norwich School and were equally well received, expanding knowledge of the artists. In 1975 ‘Constable Drawings’ was written and published, the first book to examine in detail the Master’s works on paper. At one time the drawings in the Day Collection represented the largest privately owned group of Constable drawings. A significant number were sold from the Collection in the 1960’s to the Mellon Collection at Yale. Other international collections have acquired works including the National Gallery of Art in Washington, this sale being negotiated by John Day. The drawings that were retained, and added since, represent a cross section of the artist’s subjects, with an emphasis on illustrating his working techniques.
By the 1990’s the Collection was condensed as Harold Day spent more time in Australia, where he maintained an interest in East Anglian Art. Several of the paintings purchased in this period were published in his later books, written whilst he was in Australia. Since his death in 2010 his son John has taken over the running of the Collection, which is still evolving.
Two recent Exhibitions, firstly Constable’s ‘Aspire’ in 2015 at Christchurch Mansion and then ‘Life through the Eyes of East Anglian Artists’ at Stowmarket Museum, have provided an opportunity to loan works. The Constable drawings loaned from John Day’s Collection to the Aspire Exhibition give an important insight into Constable’s working practices. We look forward to making further loans of pictures from the Collection to forthcoming public exhibitions.