Chalk, Wood and Water at Pallant House Gallery

JMW Turner – Chichester Canal, oil on canvas, c. 1828 © Tate 2022

As Pallant House Gallery celebrates its 40th anniversary I am returning to its current exhibition Chalk, Wood and Water.

Sussex with her distinctive chalk-cliff coastline, Weald, and the rolling lees and valleys of the ancient South Downs, is as much an idea as a place.

This beautiful, expansive, textural exhibition seeks to articulate how the Sussex landscape has inspired, and continues to inspire writers, musicians and artists lending a distinctive voice to Englishness. The exhibition charts the ways in which Sussex has been a place of creativity, exploration and retreat in the context of so many artists’ lives.

This processional show begins with Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), journeys through the 20th century and ends with the contemporary and Andy Goldsworthy (b.1956).

It is the first time that JMW Turner’s oil, Chichester Canal, has returned to the city since it was painted in 1828. On the horizon the Cathedral spire, a ship and trees are outlined against the luminous sky. The artist had strong associations with Sussex through his patron and friend the 3rd Earl of Egremont at Petworth who had invested heavily in the Chichester Canal. The canal was part of a network which drew a line through town and country connecting Portsmouth and London.

Turner embraced a new vocabulary in his art to describe his modern age. It is easy to forget that it was a vocabulary which many of his contemporaries found shocking.

Andy Goldsworthy’s 2002 installation Chalk in the Pallant H

The contemporary artist Andy Goldsworthy was commissioned by Pallant House Gallery to produce the work Chalk in 2002. This fabulous installation was made from locally quarried chalk. The naturally weathered grey outer surface has been etched by the artist using a flint to reveal the white chalk beneath. Speaking about the sculpture Andy Goldsworthy said ‘Dig a hole up North and its black and stony and earthy. So to dig a hole in Sussex and to find chalk so absolutely pristine and pure and white…was like finding the sky in the ground.’

For me the luminous, pure white line in Andy Goldsworthy’s Chalk has an invitational quality to it reminiscent of being a pilgrim in the Sussex landscape, processional like this exhibition and life.

These two works capture in very different ways what is at the heart of this exceptional exhibition – the inspiration Sussex and her landscape has given and continues to give to so many of our nation’s leading artists.

Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water runs at Pallant House Gallery Chichester until 23rd April 2023.

Cezanne at Tate

Paul Cezanne – Mont Sainte-Victoire, c.1902-6 © Philadelphia Museum of Art

Tate Modern’s current exhibition Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) shows the breadth of this artist’s remarkable talent as he embraced post-impressionism and gave a new and unique voice to the modern. The juxtaposition of angular lines and the richness of his palette are remarkable.

The exhibition provides a chronological perspective on his life and oeuvre. With more than eighty works on display it allows us to grasp the sheer audacity of this seminal artist.

The exhibition reveals that all that Cezanne paints – the trees and landscape outside his studio in Aix, his family and those close to him, the fruit in his still lifes, the towering Mont Sainte-Victoire across the valley and even his late bathers – are painted in the context of Provence. Provence, as much an idea as a place, has gathered diverse peoples in her remarkable landscape over millennia. And they in turn, like Cezanne and his art, have been shaped by this remarkable place.

Cezanne is regarded by many as the father of modern art. His work foreshadows Cubism and Fauvism.

In Mont Sainte-Victoire the constructed painterly forms in the abstracted landscape gives voice to the artist’s emotional engagement with the rhythms in nature and the landscape. The painting is one of a group of landscapes taken from Les Lauves heights near the spot where Cezanne had a studio built for himself. In this scene our gaze is presented with a mosaic of differently coloured touches of paint. Green transitions into blues on the mountain face which rise harmoniously reaching for the sky. In the foreground the terracotta roof with the neighbouring green of the trees contrasts with the yellow sunlit walls; the shadows described in blue.

Writing to a friend in the 1890s Cézanne would declare “Art is a harmony parallel with nature.” Cezanne himself insisted that he painted from nature in response to his sensations.

Paul Cezanne – Still Life with Plaster Cupid, c.1895 © The Courtauld, Londo

Also in the exhibition is Still Life with Plaster Cupid, one of Cezanne’s most complex later still lifes. There is an ambiguity in the arrangement of the objects. The Cupid stands on the table in the foreground whilst the floor appears to slope in an unnatural way; the green apple too large in the far corner. These paradoxes appear to heighten the sense of artificiality in the composition.

In Cezanne we glimpse the emerging modern.

Paul Cezanne (1839-1906) is a remarkable exhibition and the first in a generation to examine this seminal artist’s work. It runs at Tate Modern until 12th March 2023.

Art Inspired by the Sussex Landscape at Pallant

Duncan Grant (1866-1934) – Landscape, Sussex, oil on canvas, 1920 © Tate

For more than a thousand years Sussex has drawn artists to her rolling Downland landscape and exciting coastline. Artists such as JMW Turner and John Constable, William Blake and Samuel Palmer were all inspired by, and worked in, Sussex and are represented in this exhibition. The 20th Century saw a revival of this ancient tradition with many of the leading Modern British artists living and working in the county.

Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water at Pallant House Gallery eloquently describes Sussex as a creative centre for artists and writers. But at its heart this beautifully narrated five star exhibition examines how the particular qualities of the Sussex landscape have inspired artists across the centuries.

Work by JMW Turner are accompanied by contemporary artists like Pippa Blake, Jeremy Gardiner and Andy Goldsworthy.

And at its heart is a roll-call of many of the leading Modern British artists of the 20th century including William Nicholson, Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Eric Ravilious, Ivon Hitchens and Edward Burra. Camden Town, Vorticists, Surrealists and Abstract artists are all represented.

Eric Ravilious (1903-1942) – Detail of the Chalk Paths, watercolour, 1935 © Bridgeman Images

Eric Ravilious’ watercolour from 1935, The Chalk Paths leaves space for us as viewers to enter and occupy the landscape or scene in our imaginations.

The distance of the ancient, undulating chalk paths is emphasised by the barbed wire fence and the play of the breeze is discernable in the grassy hillsides painted in muted tones.

It was Vanessa Bell’s love for Duncan Grant and her sister Virginia Woolf which brought her to Sussex during the First World War. Her sister, the author, Virginia Woolf, wrote to her in the May of 1916 from Rodmell extolling the virtues and potential of Charleston house near Firle in East Sussex.

Duncan Grant’s Landscape, Sussex was painted in oils in 1920 and depicts the pond at Charleston. The curve of the pond’s edge echoes the enfolding Sussex Downland landscape.

Both paintings describe the inspiration and influence of the Sussex landscape on artists across the centuries.

We are a processional nation. We confidently embrace the modern and the new but always with one eye to the past. It is wonderful to see the modern and contemporary united in their narrative with works by JMW Turner and others from the 19th century. The exceptional exhibition catalogue is a must, too, and can be purchased from Pallant House Book Shop or online at Sussex Landscape – Chalk, Wood and Water runs at Pallant House Gallery Chichester until 23rd April 2023

Unflinching Exploration, Walter Sickert at Tate

Walter Sickert - Brighton Pierrots © Tate
Walter Sickert – Brighton Pierrots © Tate

Tate Britain’s summer exhibition focuses on the controversial and influential British artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) who bridged the influence of Paris and Post-Impressionist painting to Britain.

Sickert had studied at the Slade in 1881 under Whistler who had a great influence on him. In 1883 he found himself in Paris where he encountered Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet and Pierre Bonnard. The exhibition has works by Degas and Manet illustrating the affect they had on his work.

Sickert lived in and near Dieppe in the early 1900s. He returned to London in 1905 where he rented two studios. On Saturday afternoons he would keep his studio open to a group of artists which gave rise to the birth of the Fitzroy Street Group. As they were joined by a series of other artists their work came to be described as Camden Town painting. The paintings are often intimate in scale depicting the working class in humble scenes with figurative interiors including nudes as well as townscapes. These themes are readily apparent in the breadth of Sickert’s work. Sickert led the group with an unflinching exploration and depiction of his subjects. In different works throughout the show the artist captures despair, hardship and beauty.

In contrast to Whistler’s slightness of tone and form Sickert employed an increasingly contrasting palette which included deep opaque colours that lend a monumental character to his work. These qualities are apparent in Brighton Pierrots painted in 1915. It is highly original in its composition and use of warm, vivid colours. Unusually Sickert produced two versions of the picture. We view the scene from the side of the stage separated from the audience and the performers. This perspective lends an ambiguity to the painting – the fading daylight broken by the glare of the stage lights. The empty deck chairs allude to losses at the front during the Great War. The sense of the desolation of war pervades.

Walter Sickert – The Front at Hove (Turpe Senex Miles Turpe Senilis Amor), detail, © Tate

The Front at Hove was painted in 1930. Although lighter in palette and tone, the picture is also filled with metaphors which relate to age and decline. The aged figures chatting on a promenade bench are reflected and framed by the crumbling facades of the Regency townhouses in Adelaide Crescent, Hove.

Tate’s exhibition is as unflinching in its exploration of Walter Sickert and his work as the artist was in his exploration and depiction of the world he lived in. Walter Sickert at Tate Britain runs until 8th September. To book tickets and to find out more visit

International Surrealism at Tate Unites London and Sussex

Salvador Dalí Lobster Telephone, c.1938, Tate © Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation/DACS, London 2022

A major exhibition exploring the international Surrealist art movement is the subject of an ambitious and expansive exhibition at Tate Modern. Surrealism Beyond Borders explores how, from its beginnings in Paris in the 1920s, Surrealism evolved into the 1970s becoming an interconnected global movement.

Two of the most iconic works in the show associated with the revolutionary idea of Surrealism, Salvador Dalí’s Lobster Telephone and René Magritte’s Time Transfixed, have connections with the patron Edward James whose Sussex home was West Dean, now the famous college. Edward James encountered and embraced Surrealism through his friendship with Magritte.

Tate’s exhibition has been curated in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art in New York. It examines how Surrealism came into being in Paris around 1924 generating poetic and humorous works as artists set out to de-familiarise the familiar. Inspired by Sigmund Freud they looked to dreams to unlock the unconscious mind. It also explores an international, evolving narrative of how Surrealism continues to be embraced by artists across the world to promote political, social and personal freedoms, often providing a voice for change.

I first encountered Salvador Dalí’s playful Lobster Telephone at West Dean. Dalí produced it to contrast with the formal grandeur of Edward James’s Wimpole Street, London home where sober rooms were theatrically transformed.

It was the critic Herbert Read, and writer and Surrealist artist Roland Penrose who, through the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London, first introduced the concept to the British public.

René Magritte Time Transfixed, c.1938, The Art Institute of Chicago © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022

Edward James invited Magritte to paint a number of works for his ballroom in London. Time Transfixed was the result. The viewer cannot fail to be delighted by the contrast of Magritte’s precise realism and the surprising juxtapositions and scale of seemingly unrelated elements. The artist would later explain ‘I decided to paint the image of a locomotive…In order for its mystery to be evoked, another immediately familiar image without mystery—the image of a dining room fireplace—was joined.’ I am always captivated by the subtle conceits of this painting: the smoke rises from the locomotive up the chimney as though it is emerging from a tunnel and only one candlestick has a reflection in the mirror.

Magritte hoped it would hang on the staircase to ‘transfix’ visitors but Edward James hung it above one of his own fireplaces.

This Surrealist exhibition has the power to transfix and runs at Tate Modern until 29th August 2022. To find out more and to book tickets visit