Collecting the Past, Present & Future: Highlights of British Art From Turner to Freud
13 July - 27 October 2007
This summer Abbot Hall celebrates forty-five years of collecting by staging the most comprehensive exhibition of its own collection since the gallery opened in 1962. Although perhaps best known for its temporary exhibition programme, Abbot Hall Art Gallery has also been one of the most active galleries collecting British art in recent years, acquiring important works ranging from a Turner watercolour of Windermere to portraits by Stanley Spencer and Frank Auerbach, and abstract paintings by Bridget Riley and Sean Scully. Through its wide contacts with private collectors, the gallery has also secured somes pectacular long term loans, including the largest collection of Lucian Freud etchings to be found in a public gallery.
The whole building will be given over to displaying more than one hundred works which have been selected to reveal the best of British art, enabling the true breadth of the collection to be shown. The exhibition will also include several works on loan that Abbot Hall is in the process of acquiring; revealing a collection that is continually evolving 45 years after it was started from scratch.
The exhibition will begin on the ground floor with two rooms focusing on George Romney, the locally-born painter who served his apprenticeship in Kendal and went on to become one of the most sought-after portrait painters of his age. Works from throughout his career will tell the story of Romney’s struggles for success and his desire to break free from portraiture and paint ‘serious’ themes. Ranging from his early portraits to his 1776 masterpiece, The Gower Children, the exhibition will also include his striking oil sketch of Emma Hart as Miranda, on long term loan from a private collection, and a pastel drawing of the Romantic poet Mrs Charlotte Smith, recently bequeathed to the gallery.
The eighteenth century saw the emergence of the Lake District as a destination for tourists and artists on the Picturesque tour, and a specially extended display will show works by some of the greatest 18th and 19th century English watercolourists, including Cozens, Cox, De Wint, Cotman, Glover, Varley and Lear.
Abbot Hall possesses one of the most comprehensive collections of John Ruskin’s drawings and watercolours in the country and a whole gallery will be dedicated to works by Turner and Ruskin. Turner’s magnificent 1803-4 watercolour The Passage of Mount St. Gothard will be seen alongside his 1821 watercolour of Windermere, as well as two important alpine scenes on long term loan from a private collection and displayed for the first time.
After Ruskin the focus of the collection moves into the twentieth century. Modern landscape paintings and works on paper by Gillies, Piper, Sutherland, Lanyon, Nicholson and Lowry. The experience of landscape and place is also important in the abstract work of St. Ives artists collected in the early 1960s.
Portraiture and the human figure form another key strand of the exhibition, reflecting the eighteenth century portraits which form the historical core of Abbot Hall’s collection. The gallery has a particularly strong collection of 20th century portraits, with works by Stanley Spencer, David Bomberg, Frank Auerbach, Lucian Freud, Tony Bevan and Paula Rego. Together these works reveal the enduring power of painting to capture the physicality and psychology of human existence. Abbot Hall has just purchased a Celia Paul painting, My Mother and the Cross (2001), and is in the process of raising funds for another new contemporary work – a small portrait head, Poet (2006), by R B Kitaj - and both pictures will be on view for the duration of the exhibition.
Finally, there will be a display of 20th century sculpture and graphic art selected from Abbot Hall’s growing print collection, including etchings by David Hockney, Paula Rego and Lucian Freud, lithographs by Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Henry Moore and aquatints by Sean Scully. The exhibition will be accompanied by a full colour publication and review copies will be available on request.