Celebrating the best collections of British modern art: Sussex comes to London.
In 1916, the Bloomsbury Group established an outpost in Sussex when Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant moved to Charleston near Lewes, with Virginia Woolf and her husband taking over the nearby Monk’s House in 1919 and, a little later, Lee Miller and Roland Penrose moving to Farley’s House near Chiddingley in 1949.
Southern Rail and the trade unions seem determined to stop people travelling to Sussex, so Sussex has come to London with an exhibition at Two Temple Place of 20th century British art and design from nine art collections and museums across Sussex, in addition to a major exhibition of over 100 of Vanessa Bell’s works at the Dulwich Picture Gallery.
Was it the clear light, the green and undulating landscape, the balance of peaceful countryside with relatively convenient access to London that made Sussex such a creative centre of art, design and thought at this time?
The collections in these houses, museums and galleries across Sussex celebrate the 20th century artists, writers and designers who lived, worked and collaborated there, including Virginia Woolf, Eric Gill, John Piper, Duncan Grant, Edward Wadsworth, and even Salvador Dali. A small selection is on show in the late 19th century mansion built by William Waldorf Astor on the Embankment in London to highlight the nine houses, galleries and museums which have come together as “Sussex Modern”.
From Hastings to Chichester, the collections are housed in a microcosm of Sussex architecture from the traditional buildings at Charleston House, the interior of which Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant reworked as a work of art, and Farley’s House and Gallery, in which Picasso stayed in 1950.
Perhaps the most historic building is West Dean College. The estate is mentioned in the Doomsday Book with the Jacobean manor house being substantially extended and remodelled by William Dodge James from 1891. His son Edward Dodge supported many Surrealist artists at the early stages of their careers including Salvador Dali and René Magritte, establishing the Edward Dodge Foundation in 1964 and thence West Dean College in 1971, with alterations to the buildings for its new educational and training uses carried out by the architect John Warren, keeping the essential character of the buildings.
The Pallant House Gallery in Chichester occupies both the fine Queen Anne Pallant House of 1712 and its unashamedly modern extension, designed by Sir Colin Wilson and Long & Kentish and opened in 2006, while the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery’s building was originally designed as a tennis court for the Royal Pavilion estate in the Pavilion’s unique eclectic style, becoming a museum and gallery use in 1902, with a major refurbishment of the museum and art gallery in 2002. The traditional buildings of the Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft were given a new life in 2013 with contemporary additions integrated into the traditional buildings by Adam Richards Architects.
In addition to modern extensions to historic buildings, there are new buildings. The most iconic modern building is undoubtedly the De La Ware Pavilion in Bexhill designed in the International Style by Erich Mendelsohn and Serge Chermayeff and opened in 1935. More recently, the Towner Gallery by Rick Mather Architects opened in 2009, relocating the museum and gallery from the an 18th century manor house in Manor Gardens, and the Jerwood Gallery opened in 2012, designed by Hana Loftus and Tom Grieve from HAT Projects.
A variety of houses, museums and galleries, one artistically different to another, but together housing the largest collection of modern British art in the world. Definitely somewhere to visit this year, but not by train – that would be madness!
(No photographs allowed inside the exhibition, so pictures from the web)