Towner Art Gallery Lecture Series

Sussex is a county in which many of the leading writers, artists, composers, photographers, architects and patrons of British Modernism lived at key moments of their lives: Eric Gill and David Jones at Ditchling; Virginia and Leonard Woolf at Rodmell, near Lewes; Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant at Charleston, near Firle; Roland Penrose and Lee Miller at Farley Farm, Muddles Green; W. B. Yeats and Ezra Pound at Stone Cross; Jacob Epstein near Hastings; Henry James at Lamb House in Rye; Edward James at West Dean; Eric Ravilious at Eastbourne; and Peggy Guggenheim at South Harting, near Chichester. Malcolm Lowry, author of Under the Volcano and some of the most striking modernist fiction of the inter-war and post-war period, spent three years in Rye as a creative writing pupil of the American writer Conrad Aiken and died, after decades in Mexico and Canada, in Ripe. The painters Paul Nash, John Piper, Edward Burra, Keith Vaughan, Ivon Hitchens and John Banting all had long and close connections with Sussex.

In a series of lectures in association with the Towner Gallery, scholars from the Centre for Modernist Studies at Sussex and from the University of Brighton explored the creative relationships between some of these fascinating figures. Two lectures paid close attention to ‘museum houses’ with a focus on Charleston Farmhouse and Farley Farmhouse, remarkable homes created in keeping with distinctive and very different aesthetic principles.

We celebrated the centenary of the settling of the Bloomsbury Group at Charleston in 1916 and we explored how at Farley Farm in 1949 two leading figures of surrealism established a surrealist home in the Sussex country-side which drew many of the greatest European painters and writers of the second half of the twentieth century.

Two lectures paid attention to place: to the Arts and Crafts village of Ditchling, where Eric Gill founded his own Art and Crafts community and to Rye, where Malcolm Lowry and Edward Burra spent periods of their lives, even if their inspiration often came from other cultures and continents.

The lectures explored the extraordinary richness, diversity and inter-connectedness of modernist writing, painting and photography produced by modernist writers and artists in Sussex in the twentieth century and promoted an understanding of the living legacy of English and European modernism in our midst.

Wednesday May 4th, 2:30pm:

Hope Wolf (University of Sussex):  Sussex Modernism and Charleston

The first lecture discussed the settling of the Bloomsbury Group of artists, writers and intellectuals, including Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, at Charleston in the centenary year of their arrival. The lecture compared the artistic and domestic experiments at Charleston with those of other modernist communities in Sussex.

Wednesday May 11th, 2:30pm:

Alistair Davies (University of Sussex): Sussex Modernism and Farley Farm

Farley Farm, Muddles Green, near Hailsham was the home of the surrealist painter Roland Penrose and his wife, the American photographer Lee Miller. The lecture explored the importance of Penrose and Miller as leading figures in British and European surrealism.

Wednesday May 18th, 2:30pm:

Hope Wolf (University of Sussex): Sussex Modernism and Ditchling

This lecture focused on the village of Ditchling, home to Eric Gill, David Jones, Ethel Mairet and other major proponents of Art and Craft in the modern era. Focusing on work of those who lived there in the early twentieth century, the lecture explored the relationship between modernism and craft.

 Wednesday May 25th, 2:30pm:

Nigel Foxcroft (University of Brighton): Malcolm Lowry, Edward Burra: Surrealism in Rye

Nigel Foxcroft gave a talk on Modernism in Rye, the village where Malcolm Lowry, author of Under the Volcano, and painter Edward Burra spent significant periods of their lives. The lecture explored their relationship and their indebtedness to surrealism and to the cultures of Mexico and Spain.

Please see the Towner Art Gallery website for further information:

Image credit: Rowan Collins

(Image subject to creative commons license)