30 August 2014
J D Fergusson and more at Pallant House Gallery
I've been to Chichester many many times, not least for my wedding, but it is not a town that I have ever explored, apart from some of the pubs. And so it was that it took me over thirty years to get around to visiting the Pallant House Gallery.
I first went to the second floor of the new extension (above). This was a typical modern gallery space with white walls and subtle artificial lighting.
The collection was varied in style and subject and among the busy collection there were quite a few things that I liked, such as the large painting on the far right which captured the violence of the Dorset sea brilliantly.
Most of the second floor was given over to an exhibition by John Duncan Fergusson (1874-1961) who was one of the pioneers of modern art in Britain. I know that now because I went to the exhibition, I had not heard of him previously.
Is art was very varied and very influenced, especially by French painters like Cézanne. Some of it meant absolutely nothing to me but two sets of paintings I liked a lot.
The exhibition was spread over half a dozen rooms, each covering a period of his life that was busy spent moving between Britain and France. Each period has its own style/s and so each room in the exhibition was quite different. I did not spend much time in the one full of portraits.
There were several bold pictures of health men and women enjoying the sun of the French Riviera. These had a simplicity of compositions that while focused on the figures also had interesting shapes in the background. I loved the simplicity, colour and serenity of these.
These were much smaller pictures too, around A4 size, and I had to stand quite close to them to appreciate them. They made nothing like the impact that the large portraits did.
And the large portrait that made the most impact was this one.
A lunchtime spent Googling for "nude woman" failed to find its name but may have hurt my career prospects. Strangely it did not appear when searching simply for images by Fergusson either so my posting it here may be something of an internet first. I find that odd as it was stunning, despite not being strictly anatomically accurate.
I found Fergusson very much hit and miss. That was fine as I could just walk past the misses and there were plenty of hits to keep me happy.
The other displays in the gallery were even more hit and miss. These were in the original Pallant House and part of the attraction was visiting the old rooms that were laid out in period style. These were quite small rooms (especially when compared to the new gallery extension) and so the displays were small too, often just three or four objects or paintings. It had something of the random feel that the V&A does so well.
One of the pleasant surprises was this drawing by Henry Moore. I did not even know that he had done drawings. I like the way that this picture has the simplicity of his famous statues but with the unexpected burst of detail in the faces. It was good to see drawings by the likes of John Piper too.
Another pleasant surprise was that the "no cameras" rule had been abandoned only the previous week. Discovering this I went back through the galleries quickly to add to the photos that I had taken guiltily earlier.
When on holiday I make a point of visiting modern art galleries and I am almost always delighted with what I discover. The Pallant House Gallery showed me that I can to that at home too.