Chichester gallery celebrates the work of Hans Feibusch

The work of Hans Feibusch, whose murals appear in churches across Sussex, is explored in a major new exhibition at the University of Chichester’s Otter Gallery (until January 15).

Hans Feibusch: The Influence of Europe is a celebration of Feibusch’s prolific career as a muralist, painter and sculptor, explains Catharine Russell, Otter Gallery assistant.

“Between 1937 and 1970 the artist painted 30 church murals in Sussex and beyond, including those at Chichester Cathedral and St Mary’s Church, Goring.

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“The Otter Gallery’s own Feibusch drawing of Two Angels is presented in the context of other preparatory sketches for murals, alongside loans from Pallant House Gallery, who hold the artist’s studio archive, and work from Chichester Cathedral and private collections.

“The exhibition explores a range of themes, inspirations and subjects in Feibusch’s work, including portraits, landscapes, still life, figure studies and sculpture.

“It provides a glimpse into the many worlds that the artist inhabited: his in-depth knowledge of the Bible, especially the Old Testament; his familiarity with Greek and Roman mythology; his love of the natural world; his determination to resolve compositional challenges; his gratitude for being granted a safe country and community within which to live.” Hans Feibusch (1898-1998) was born in Germany of Jewish parents. He served his country in the First World War and set out to study medicine before adopting a career as an artist. He was awarded the German Grand State Prize for Painters in 1930 but three years later emigrated to England to escape Nazi persecution and to find greater artistic freedom.

As Catharine explains: “In 1940, Feibusch began an association with the Church of England when he met George Bell, Bishop of Chichester. Bell believed that the Church should resume its mission as a patron of the arts, a role abandoned at the Reformation. Paintings at St Elisabeth’s Church, Eastbourne (1944) and St Wilfrid’s, Brighton (1941, now lost) followed and in the 1950s Feibusch painted the Baptism of Christ in Chichester Cathedral and Ascension in the chapel of the Bishop’s Palace, Chichester.

“He also painted a canvas of the Prodigal Son for All Saints Church, Iden, and murals for St Mary’s Church, Goring, and for many churches beyond Sussex. His work is held in the Tate Collection and at the National Portrait Gallery.”

Gaynor Williams, an adviser to the exhibition and an authority on Feibusch, explained: “Hans Feibusch was a formidable figure in 20th century church art. He revived the art of mural painting in England’s churches,”

“He was a master of narrative painting and a master of composition. He was also acutely aware of human frailty - especially his own - and a lover of the natural world, be it trees or flowers, land formation, cloud formation, shape and form, form and shadow. He was a visionary, but not in a whimsical, capricious way – more in a solid, Germanic way.”

Among the pictures and sculpture going on display are preparatory drawings for murals, portraits, classical scenes, still life and landscapes loaned from Pallant House Gallery, Chichester Cathedral and private collections. They include Narcissus, a celebrated work from Pallant House Gallery’s collection, and three studies from St Mary’s Church, Goring.

There will also be a newly-discovered still life oil painting – on loan from a private collector - being shown in public for the first time.

The exhibition will feature essays specially commissioned to interpret and shed new light on the artist in the context of Europe and its influences, and there will be a number of talks and workshops around the exhibition in the Otter Gallery.