Abbot Hall at Fifty

Abbot Hall at Fifty

I can’t believe that we only discovered this superb gallery, an hour’s drive away,  a month ago. I came across it by accident when exploring the Art Guide app I’d installed on my iPad just after Easter and discovered they were holding an exhibition of watercolours by Turner and his contemporaries. That was coming to the end of it’s run and while we were there I found out about the next exhibition being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Gallery’s opening consisting of of works from their collection selected by members of the public, artists and supporters.

The Abbot’s collection has quite a different emphasis to that of most galleries in the region. The great municipal galleries in cities such as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds were opened during the Victorian age and, as a consequence the core of their collections consists of examples of art from that period. They started with a collection and built their Galleries to accommodate them. The Abbot, however, started with a building that had been restored and converted into a gallery and then had to collect works to fill it. So they began to collect contemporary works, some donated, some purchased, and paintings from the Georgian period, including works by local lad George Romney, who became a fashionable portrait painter. They also have a collection of 18th & 19th Century Watercolours, many Lakeland landscapes, and works by John Ruskin, who lived in the Lake District at Brantwood on Lake Coniston, at the end of his life.

Their collection of modern and contemporary works is excellent. They have paintings, drawings, prints and a few sculptures by the likes of Frank Aurbach, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Elizabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth,  Patrick Heron, David Hockney, Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Bridget Riley, Stanley Spencer, Sean Scully and many others, some well known, some less so.

2012-04-12 11.38.20

Oval Form, Trezion (1962-3) by Barbara Hepworth – on the lawn in front of the gallery entrance

So we had to go back and have a look at the exhibition and took the opportunity last week when I was having a few days off work. Unfortunately the gallery do not allow photographs to be taken, but they do have a resource on their website here where selected works can be viewed.

The first works were being displayed in the entrance hall. An attractive painting by Winifred Nicholson Candle at a Window (1960) was hung by the side of the cash desk where you pay your entrance fee and facing it was a still life by the Scottish Colourist, John Peploe Still Life with Tulips and Oranges (1925). In many ways they were quite similar – colourful still lives painted in an impressionistic style. To the right of the cash desk there was a print by Picasso and at the end of the hall there was a small bronze sculpture by Elizabeth Frink, Harbinger Bird II (c. 1963).

Abbot Hall at Fifty

Image source ; Abbot Hall gallery

The bulk of the exhibits were in the three of the main rooms on the first floor. The first room contained portraits. They included some from the Georgian period and others from the Modern collection.  I particularly liked Modesty (c 1781) by the Swiss-Austrian female painter, Angelica Kauffman, the Portrait of Jimmy Newmark (1943) by David Bomberg and Portrait of Marjorie Gertler (c 1925) by Mark Gertler.

In the second room there were Modern works including pictures by St Ives artists Bryan Winter, Patrick Heron, Roger Hilton and Terry Frost. There was a large painting by Tony Bevan Horizon (1998) which presents an unusual view of a couple of heads – looking up their nostrils! He’s only used one colour of paint – red – and charcoal. I thought it was very effective. The Gallery have used it in their publicity for the exhibition (see top of post), but to appreciate it you really need to see it “in the flesh”.

Abbot Hall at Fifty

Image source ; Abbot Hall gallery

The third room contained landscape paintings by artists including Turner,  Lowry and Edward Lear (born 200 years ago on 12 June), who, although most well known as a writer of nonsense verse was principally an accomplished artist.

Windermere From Wansfell (1850) by Edward Lear Source: Abbot Hall Gallery

I was also impressed by the four photographs of a snow and ice sculpture created by Andy Goldsworthy – Slits Cut into Frozen Snow, Stormy… Blencathra, Cumbria, 12 February 1988. They were all taken within a few hours of each other, yet create very different moods as the light and weather conditions had changed during the course of the day (as is not untypical for the Lake District). The photos formed a permanent record of a very transient work

There were very few other works from the exhibition in another one of the rooms upstairs, including a painting by Sean Scully and a print by Henry Moore.

Abbot Hall at Fifty

Image source ; Abbot Hall gallery

There were very few works in the exhibition I didn’t like. Their collection, although it doesn’t contain many “masterpieces” shows what can be achieved with some commitment, determination and imagination.

Other modern works were on display in the other couple of rooms on the first floor. On the ground floor the Gallery were showing their collection of watercolours by John Ruskin and paintings by George Rowley and other Georgian artists were hung in the two restored period rooms. The Great Picture a large scale triptych, was also on display. It was commissioned by Lady Anne Clifford in 1646 who counted Appleby Hall amongst her many other possessions. It’s a remarkable example of Elizabethan art.

It was another very enjoyable visit. We’ll definitely be going back soon. I’m particularly looking forward to the exhibition of works by Hughie O’Donoghue that they’re holding later this year (28 September – 22 December 2012).

7 thoughts on “Abbot Hall at Fifty

    • It is definitely worth a visit John. A real treasure trove of modern British art and a good programme of exhibitions

  1. We don’t go there as often as we ought to, with it being on the doorstep. You might be interested in the Silverdale and Arnside Arts Trail
    If the sun shines you can combine a nice walk, a cup of tea and a slice of cake and an interesting selection of local art and crafts, some of it very good. All accessible by train from Wigan.

    • Thanks for the tip. That looks interesting. I’ll try to get allong. A good opportunity to combine a bit of culture with a walk.

  2. Thanks for the post. It reminds me to make another visit. I think the last time I was there was for the Sean Scully exhibition. Hard to believe that was 2005! (Needless to say it was excellent).

  3. Pingback: A Small Reflection and A Big Thank You | notes to the milkman

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