Exhibition | The British Landscape Tradition

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on May 7, 2016

Press release from Pallant House:

The British Landscape Tradition: From Gainsborough to Nash
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, 11 May – 26 June 2016


Thomas Gainsborough, A Suffolk Lane, 1750–60 (Chichester: Pallant House Gallery)

A new exhibition at Pallant House Gallery showcases the Gallery’s significant but rarely-seen collection of historic works on paper from the 18th to 20th centuries. The exhibition forms a representative overview of depictions of the British landscape, beginning with early watercolours and drawings by Alexander Cozens, Thomas Gainsborough, and John Sell Cotman, to watercolours by 20th-century artists associated with ‘Neo-Romanticism’ in Britain in particular Ivon Hitchens, Paul Nash and Graham Sutherland. The exhibition will go on display in the De’Longhi Print Room at Pallant House Gallery from 11 May until 26 June 2016.

The majority of the Gallery’s collection of historic works on paper were donated by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral from 1956 to 1978. Best known for commissioning and collecting the work of modern artists such as Moore, Piper, and Sutherland, which formed the founding collection of the Gallery in 1982, Hussey also collected exquisite Old Master watercolours and drawings that are represented in this exhibition.

Although heavily influenced by Dutch landscape paintings, Thomas Gainsborough often travelled into the English countryside, sketching directly from nature in order to record scenes that he thought to be particularly picturesque, such as his drawing A Suffolk Lane (ca. 1750–60). For Gainsborough, landscapes were a relief from painting grand portraits and he wished “to take my viola da gamba and walk off to some sweet village where I can paint landskips and enjoy the fag end of life in quietness and ease.”

Born in Russia, Alexander Cozens is thought to have been the first English artist to work entirely with landscape subjects. Cozens was famous for inventing a ‘blot’ technique in the 1750s, which he developed as a teaching aid to liberate the mind of students, whom he felt spent too much time copying the work of others. His son John Robert Cozens was considered by John Constable to be “the greatest genius that ever touched landscape,” describing his work as “all poetry.” Cozens worked extensively in Italy but concentrated on English subjects in the last decade of his life.

A brilliant watercolourist, John Sell Cotman was one of the leading members of the Norwich School of Artists in the early 19th century. Born in Norwich, Cotman moved to London then toured widely in England and Wales before settling again in Norwich. His watercolour of Capel Curig (ca. 1802) was probably created during his second tour of Wales.

The Welsh countryside was also an inspiration for John Varley who made numerous sketching trips to Wales between 1798 and 1802. His sketches and memories of these trips were used in works he created until the end of his life and include Snowdon (With Lyn Padorn) (ca. 1809), which features in the exhibition.

Artists such as Varley and Cotman were an important point of reference for artists in the early 20th-century such as Paul Nash. Art historian John Rothenstein noted in 1957 that Nash “was too personal an artist to imitate an Old Master, but what he did was to assimilate something of the spirit of Girtin, Cotman and others, and to evolve a free contemporary version of traditional idioms.” In 1929 the critic R. H. Wilenski went so far as to call Nash ‘the John Sell Cotman’ of today.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Graham Sutherland produced a number of paintings based on the view of Sandy Lane in Pembrokeshire. The preliminary studies in the Gallery’s collection for the celebrated completed oil known as Entrance to a Lane in the Tate collection,  reveal  Sutherland’s process of ‘paraphrasing nature’, drawing on continental abstraction as a way of representing the Welsh landscape in a poetic and modern way.

Also included in the exhibition are several views of the Sussex landscape around Chichester. These include George Romney’s ink and wash view of Eartham Park, the home of his patron William Hayley—a rare example of landscape in his oeuvre. Also featured are watercolours of the South Downs by George Catt (1869–1920), who taught the young Eric Gill at Chichester College, and one of Ivon Hitchens’s earliest known works: Didling on the Downs (ca. 1920) featuring a pastoral scene before he had developed his abstract style of the 1930s onwards.

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