I last visited the Pallant House Gallery many years ago, just after the new extension, and I had forgotten what an excellent modern art gallery it is – a surprising and pleasant find in Chichester where you don’t expect to find such an excellent gallery of modern art in a historic town, most famous for its Cathedral and market cross.
Only a short walk from the main street that runs through the city, the fine Queen Anne-style Pallant House in Chichester, built in 1712 for a wine merchant and his wife, retains many of its original interiors, in particular the fine timber staircase, which were restored when the building became the Pallant House Gallery in 1982 with, in 2006, a new modern wing designed by Sir Colin Wilson and Long & Kentish. The new wing sits alongside the original building and connects into it with, appropriately, with its own feature staircase which has been artistically and colourfully transformed by the artist Lothar Gotz, with a Barbara Hepworth sculpture at the top, while the fine historic staircase has been decorated with monumental classical images by the artist Pablo Bronstein. The new project won the Gulbenkian Prize in 2007 for this connectivity between historic and modern architecture.
The Gallery has a fine collection of modern British art, a sample of which is on show alongside a series of special exhibitions, one of the best currently being by the sculptor Cathie Pilkington who has taken over the historic upstairs rooms with her installations ‘Working from Home’ to explore the relationship between personal collections and public display, part of programme celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Royal Academy of Arts which results in all sorts of unexpected juxtapositions and proves that modern art and historic architecture can work together. You feel that, as a visitor, you should tiptoe carefully here as you are intruding into something unique, intimate and personal.