Pallant House Gallery
by Adrian Tahourdin
Pallant House Gallery in Chichester was opened just thirty years ago yet it can rightly claim to be “one of the most important galleries for British modern art in the country”. The bulk of the collection is housed in a discreet and airy modern extension designed by the architects Long and Kentish together with Professor Colin St John Wilson, the subject of one of the portraits on display - by William Coldstream.
Pallant House itself, a beautiful Queen Anne town house, sits in the shadow of the cathedral and was built for Henry “Lisbon” Peckham, his nickname alluding to Peckham’s interests in the Portuguese wine trade. One room is given over to eighteenth-century works: porcelain and glass, a couple of works by George Romney. There is also a remarkable bronze bust of Charles I by Hubert Le Sueur, dating from c.1637; the bust was presented to the city during the reign of Charles II “in recognition of its role as a monarchist stronghold during the Civil War”.
The glory of the gallery undoubtedly lies in its twentieth-century British collection. Among the artists represented are Walter Sickert, Ivon Hitchens, David Bomberg, Patrick Caulfield, Henry Moore (a sombre 1942 watercolour-and-wax-crayon sketch of two people in a bomb shelter), Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, Peter de Francia, Barbara Hepworth, Mark Gertler, Wyndham Lewis . . . . A portrait by William Coldstream of one of the bishops of Chichester seems almost incongruous, although it’s near to a striking depiction by Eric Gill of “Christ the King” in Portland stone, dated c.1935.
A particular incentive to visit the gallery at the moment is the Keith Vaughan exhibition (on until June 10). Vaughan was born in the nearby fishing village of Selsey a hundred years ago. He committed suicide in 1977. Continental influences are palpable in his work, most obviously Cézanne and Picasso, while Cubism is transplanted to a “Village in Ireland”. There is an unsettling quality to it too - one particularly disturbing picture is inspired by Kafka’s The Trial. In the glass cabinets are book cover designs for Rimbaud’s “Season in Hell” among others.
The gallery leaflet describes Vaughan as “best known for his painterly depictions of the male nude in the landscape”, which are indeed amply represented in the exhibition. As Richard Dorment wrote, reviewing the show in the Daily Telegraph, the effect is not “overtly homoerotic” as Vaughan was “working at a time when the open expression of homosexuality in art was not possible”. But with hindsight the intentions are clear. Most eye-catching to me was the Redon-meets-de Chirico of the enigmatic “Night in the Streets of the City” (detail below), with its androgynous faces caught in an embrace.
With rain looking likely for the coming weeks, I can't think of a better interior to take shelter than this wonderful gallery. For good measure there are also small exhibitions on the art of Chichester Fesival Theatre and a photographic display by David Dawson, "Working with Lucian Freud".