Still Life in Britain explored in major new Chichester exhibition

Among the works: Edward Wadsworth, Bright Intervals, 1928, Tempera on canvas laid on panel, Museum & Art SwindonAmong the works: Edward Wadsworth, Bright Intervals, 1928, Tempera on canvas laid on panel, Museum & Art Swindon
Among the works: Edward Wadsworth, Bright Intervals, 1928, Tempera on canvas laid on panel, Museum & Art Swindon
The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain will take Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery into the summer with an exhibition running from May 11-October 20.

It is the first major exhibition to consider the enduring theme of still life in British art. A spokesman said: “Celebrating how still life has been at the heart of artistic experimentation in modern and contemporary British art, this exhibition will reveal how leading artists have used it as a vehicle to grapple with some of the most profound themes of the human condition. Charting the history of British art through the lens of still life, The Shape of Things will trace the genre’s crucial role in movements including post-impressionism, neo-romanticism, surrealism, abstraction, pop and conceptual art and examine its relevance to artists working in Britain today.

“From vibrant floral arrangements and tranquil domestic scenes to dark depictions of skulls and dream-like visions, the exhibition will explore themes such as life and death, beauty and decay, love and loss, identity and the subconscious, abundance and waste, biodiversity and climate change, migration and the legacies of colonialism and empire. It will present how geopolitical contexts surface within British still life, the role of women artists in expanding the possibilities of the genre and pushing against its traditional boundaries and the tremendous significance of international artists settling in Britain.”

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About 150 artworks will be on display by around 100 artists, including Hurvin Anderson, Vanessa Bell, Patrick Caulfield, Prunella Clough, Lucian Freud, Gluck, Mona Hatoum, Lubaina Himid, David Hockney, Lee Miller, Henry Moore, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, William Nicholson, Eric Ravilious, Anwar Jalal Shemza, Walter Sickert, Rachel Whiteread and Clare Woods. The exhibition will include several new works and will be complemented by a site-specific clay installation by Phoebe Cummings.

“The Shape of Things will begin with an introduction to still life, exploring the tradition of vanitas and memento mori, the reminder that all things that live come to pass, and recurring motifs including flowers, foodstuffs, and scientific and musical instruments. Touching on the genre’s origins in the Netherlands, as a by-product of the 17th-century Dutch merchant economy and global trade, this section will examine the beginnings of still life in Britain. Early works by Edwaert (later anglicised to Edward) Collier and Simon Verelst, both of whom moved from Holland to the UK, and Mary Moser, one of only two women founders of the Royal Academy of Arts, will be in dialogue with contemporary works by artists such as Bouke de Vries, Gordon Cheung and Lindsey Mendick.

“Next the exhibition will show the ways in which British artists at the beginning of the 20th century re-imagined still life for the modern period. Artists from movements including the Camden Town Group, the Bloomsbury Group and the Scottish Colourists looked to developments on the continent such as post-impressionism and fauvism. Their subjects were often humble, familiar and domestic with the focus moving from symbolism to composition, colour and form. On display in this section, The Mantelpiece (1914) by Duncan Grant shows the artist depicting early designs from the Omega Workshop while introducing collage into his work.”