Jonathan Wilkinson, The Egg Box, 2007
© the artist
Jonathan Wilkinson's print The Egg Box records the design of this lost building, simplified and extracted from its surroundings and the people who used to work there. It can be seen on display in the Millenium Gallery, another new building by the Town Hall in the 'Heart of the City' redevelopment. The current exhibition, Picturing Sheffield, includes many such reminders of the city's vanishing architecture. Next to a painting and photograph of the Kelvin Flats - streets in the sky built in 1967 - there is a case containing artifacts retrieved before the building was pulled down, displayed like archaeological finds: keys, newspaper clippings, an old sign. Castle Market, subject of another Wilkinson print, as well as a painting called Elvis at Castle Fish Market, was still open but under threat when The New Ruins of Britain came out. 'The recession has given it a stay of execution likely to last a couple of years. Get there while you can: nothing like it will be built again.' It was demolished in 2013.
Henry Rushbury, Snig Hill from Angel Street, 1941
© the artist's estate
Derrick Greaves, Sheffield, 1953
© Derrick Greaves, courtesy James Hyman Gallery, London
This sense of constantly forging a new urban environment resonates with the image of a steel industry which began here in the eighteenth century, at around the same time as the first images of the city. However, alongside work with titles like Men Seated Around a Fire in a Grinding Shop and Rebuilding a Blast Furnace the exhibition includes several paintings where traces of industry are hard to discern. In early views Sheffield is still relatively small - in Turner's watercolour it could almost be a rural village, dominated by its church. In the nineteenth century it could still be painted as a rural idyll with green pastures flanking the river Don and cattle drinking from a pool at Hillsborough. But as the city grew it seems to have been harder to find vistas and scenes that would appeal to prevailing tastes. Bill Brandt's photograph Misty Evening in Sheffield is no more than an abstract detail, and its 'mist' is probably industrial fog.
J.M.W. Turner, View of Sheffield from Derbyshire Lane, 1797
© Guild of St George & Museums Sheffield
Is Sheffield Ugly? asked Harold Coop in his 1926 painting. Owen Hatherley argues that post-war architecture here made great use 'of the thing that makes Sheffield truly special - its landscape. Practically any view here provides you with a photogenic picture of either a cityscape or the Peak District.' Looking around this exhibition on my most recent trip to Sheffield I got a real sense of this - it would be hard for this city, framed by its green hills, to be 'ugly', even though Hatherley finds little to admire in its newer buildings. Back across the square from the Gallery, I looked out from our office over the city at the patterns of buildings stretching away beyond the Town Hall. On the distant high ground beyond, patches of snow shone in the afternoon sun.