The Waddington Galleries was founded by Victor Waddington, a renowned, long-standing Dublin art dealer, with his son Leslie Waddington. The gallery opened in March 1958 at 2 Cork Street, in the heart of London’s Mayfair, with an exhibition of late works by Jack B. Yeats, who Victor Waddington had represented in Ireland. Through the years, the gallery would become predominant in Cork Street and the Waddington name synonymous with it.
The new London gallery continued a tradition, exhibiting paintings and drawings by Yeats and smaller works from the School of Paris, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, while also introducing the work of British artists emerging from St Ives, Patrick Heron, Terry Frost and Roger Hilton, and painters and sculptors such as Ivon Hitchens, Elisabeth Frink and William Turnbull.
In February 1965, The Waddington Galleries opened a second gallery space at 25 Cork Street, opposite No.2. The following year, Victor Waddington moved to this new address, setting up the Victor Waddington gallery, while Leslie Waddington remained at 2 Cork Street and established his own, separate business, keeping the Waddington Galleries name.
Under Leslie Waddington, Waddington Galleries increased its focus on contemporary British artists, in particular those featured in Bryan Robertson’s ‘New Generation’ exhibitions, held at the Whitechapel Gallery in the mid-60s, such as David Annesley and Michael Bolus. In November 1968, Leslie opened the Leslie Waddington Gallery round the corner at 8 Vigo Street, specialising in prints. This gallery became Waddington Graphics, located at 31 Cork Street and also later in adjacent Clifford Street, at No.16. Waddington Graphics closed in January 1995, becoming Alan Cristea Gallery under the ownership of the previous gallery director.
On 4 December 1969, Waddington Galleries announced the opening of two further galleries at 34 Cork Street, named Waddington Galleries II and III, with No.2 being Waddington Galleries I. The gallery became instrumental in the promotion of post-war American art in Britain. From 1969 and throughout the 1970s, exhibitions were held of work by American Color Field painters, including Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. As a precursor, the influential work of master colourist, Milton Avery, had been first exhibited at the gallery in 1962.
As well as exhibiting recent work by international contemporary artists, there were shows of European masters, such as Fernand Léger, Matisse and Picasso. British artists, Patrick Caulfield and Peter Blake, were given their first exhibitions at the gallery in 1971 and 1972 respectively, and Ben Nicholson in 1976. In the summer of 1972, the first Jean Dubuffet exhibition was held. In collaboration with Dubuffet, the extensive show was displayed in all three Waddington Galleries’ spaces and at Victor Waddington.
For two years, Waddington joined forces with Arthur Tooth & Sons, of Bruton Street, a long-established London gallery dating back to the mid-19th century. The inaugural exhibition of Waddington and Tooth Galleries opened on 30 November 1976. At the time, the merger created one of the largest modern art dealerships in Europe and the association lasted until the autumn of 1978.
The 1980s brought new artists to the gallery, including Michael Craig-Martin, Dan Flavin, Donald Judd, Mimmo Paladino and Julian Schnabel. Barry Flanagan, who had met Leslie Waddington in 1976, had his first show at Waddington Galleries in 1980. In 1982, Waddington Galleries opened a fourth gallery at 4 Cork Street. This exhibition space was in use until the end of 1983, when the main gallery moved to 11 Cork Street, newly-designed by British architect John Pawson. By the end of the ’80s, two additional Waddington galleries had been opened at 5 & 12 Cork Street.
A number of younger artists joined the gallery in the ’90s, including Ian Davenport, Michael Landy and Fiona Rae, all graduates of Goldsmiths College, London, who had been taught by Michael Craig-Martin. The group exhibition ‘From Here’, in 1995, celebrated this new generation of artists. Spanish artist, Antoni Tàpies, had his first show at the gallery in 1991 and his major exhibition, ‘A Summer’s Work’, in 1994, was the last that included the gallery space at No.5. The gallery took on representation of The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in 1996. By the end of the decade, after the closure of No.34 in 1998, Waddington Galleries was consolidated at 11 & 12 Cork Street, with the incorporation and re-design of the two galleries into one large exhibition space.