VIDEO: The new Petworth House exhibition - a conversation with Phil Hewitt/SussexWorld

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The National Trust’s Petworth House is hosting the Royal Academy of Art’s Explorations in Paint exhibition (March 6-September 24).

The exhibition, which explores the material possibilities of paint and its expressive potential, brings together nine artworks by current and recent Royal Academicians – practising artists elected by their peers in recognition of their work, to lead the Royal Academy. The show includes works not previously lent by the institution, and a new work that has never been exhibited by Rebecca Salter, the academy’s first female president.

The exhibition was inspired by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Studio Experiments canvases, one of which is included in the display. Reynolds (1723-1792), the founding president of the Royal Academy, was fascinated by the physical properties of paint, and often experimented with different mixtures in his studio. 2023 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth.

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Explorations in Paint has been curated for the National Trust by Lois Oliver and the Royal Academy Collections team. Many of the artworks on display hold special significance for the artists, as the Diploma Works that they chose to present to the Royal Academy following their election as Royal Academicians.

View over the lake towards the house at Petworth - ©National Trust Images/John MillerView over the lake towards the house at Petworth - ©National Trust Images/John Miller
View over the lake towards the house at Petworth - ©National Trust Images/John Miller

The artists and their artworks include:

Rebecca Salter’s JB26 is a diptych in ink and gouache creating a conversation and sense of equilibrium. Salter has described her practice as ‘involved with the attempt to capture stillness in movement, a stillness with potential, not a passive quiet.’

Colour and form merge in Salix, a boldly textured painting by Gillian Ayres.

The artist developed her work instinctively, often using her hands loaded with paint. The artist’s gestures are traced by trails left by fingers and brush.

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Another bold work, As in Alberto by Frank Bowling, is on loan from the artist and has never been exhibited outside London before.

It was made using a technique that he originally pioneered in the 1970s, using acrylic paint, liquefied with ammonia, water and acrylic gel, here poured over canvas printed with computer-generated striped colours. As Spencer Richards, Bowling’s New York studio manager describes: ‘Frank danced on the stripes, layering painterly gestures on top.’

The show also features artworks by Royal Academicians Ian McKeever, Barbara Rae, Sean Scully, Tess Jaray and John Hoyland.

Rebecca Lyons, director of collections and learning at the Royal Academy of Arts, said: “We are delighted to bring this display of works by contemporary Royal Academicians and from the RA Collections to Petworth.

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"Sir Joshua Reynolds advocated for art and art education, while also constantly looking and learning from the artists around him, both historic and contemporary.

"It is this spirit of exploration and enquiry that we bring to the beautiful location of Petworth, a place with strong links to the RA, both past and present.”

“The exhibition forms part of a wider programme at Petworth House and across the National Trust celebrating the legacy of Joshua Reynolds in the 300th anniversary year of his birth.

"Visitors to Petworth, which houses one of the National Trust’s finest art collections, can explore some of the twelve paintings by Reynolds in its care and learn about recent Reynolds conservation projects.”

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National Trust curator Rebecca Wallis: “We are delighted to be working with the Royal Academy to host this exhibition. George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont and Petworth’s great art collector, was sketched by Reynolds in the 1760s and 70s, who is thought to have visited Petworth in 1789.

"The 3rd Earl was actively involved, as a patron and collector, with the RA and his collection includes significant artworks by Reynolds and other Royal Academicians, such as J M W Turner, John Flaxman and Angelika Kauffmann.’’

2023 is also a celebration of colour at Petworth, with a full programme of activities and events under an overarching colour theme. Drawing on Petworth’s famous art collection and celebrating nature’s changing colours in Petworth Park and the Pleasure Garden there will be new ways to experience the property. More details from Petworth House.

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