on July 29, 2009
Housing one of the finest collections of modern British art outside of London, Pallant House Gallery is situated in Chichester, close to the cathedral and main shopping centre. Coming myself from a larger city in which I am sure it would be difficult to see the work of a major artist, I was quite astounded to find the Pallant Gallery tucked away in a little side street, yet boasting the ownership of works by Richard Hamilton, Peter Blake, Patrick Caulfield, Eduardo Paolozzi and Frank Auerbach amongst others. This is a gem of a gallery, and it is no surprise that it was awarded the Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year in 2007. At the time of my visit the gallery was holding a temporary exhibition (running until 8th June 2008) centring around Colin St John Wilson, a collector and architect, and another entitled The Artist at Work: William Coldstream and Michael Andrews, which finishes on 11th May, 2008. The connection between the two is that Colin St John Wilson wrote a book based on his experiences of sitting for a portrait by both Coldstream and Andrews. Wilson, who died in May 2007, was essentially an architect, and it was fascinating to see his plans and model for the first phase of the British Library, a building that I have not yet visited but certainly wish to, having seen this exhibition. One large photograph of the interior of the library could be seen from two rooms away through two open doorways; I must have toured a good few art galleries in my life, but I have never seen anything quite so cleverly thought out as this. Equally striking were sketches and a colour photograph of a library that Wilson designed for a primary school in memory of his father. Its design is based on that of a mausoleum, and whilst this may sound somewhat morbid, what first caught my eye were the vivid primary colours used in the interior which made me feel that it must be a pleasure to spend time in this library, especially for young children.I particularly liked the feel of the gallery in terms of its small scale that gave an intimacy with the works of art. The individual rooms have quite low ceilings, and several of them are no bigger than the rooms of a house. There were quite a few visitors, yet I never had to wait long to be able to stand right in front of a particular work and enjoy the details of it without being jostled by other viewers. In one room there was even a small window, allowing not only a view on the outside world but also the opportunity to see a piece of sculpture and a painting with the natural light of day falling upon them, as you might if you owned them yourself. It was also fascinating to see sketches, plans and preliminary drawings alongside finished works of art, a feature that is usually missing from grander galleries such as the Tate. The modern art is displayed on Level 2, but from Level 1 there is access to the Historic Collections in the older part of the building. Somehow an Andy Goldsworthy sculpture has found its way into one of the fireplaces here, so you never know quite what to expect. Those who prefer traditional art to contemporary sculpture and painting will feel more at home in this part of the gallery.Later this year, from 21st June until 12th October 2008, the work of Colin Self will feature in an exhibition entitled Art in the Nuclear Age. This will be the first major retrospective of the British exponent of the Pop Art movement. On 25th October 2008, an exhibition dedicated to the work of Eileen Agar will open, running until 15th March 2009. Her paintings show the influence of Cubism, abstraction and British Romanticism.Tours of the gallery are offered, and one was in fact in progress as we entered Room 10 that Saturday afternoon. This room focusses mainly on Pop Art by artists such as Peter Blake (designer of the sleeve for the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper album) and Richard Hamilton. I have never been a fan of guided tours, and I was a little dismayed to hear the guide refer to Mick Jagger as 'one of the Beatles', but I'm sure this was a slip of the tongue and that she genuinely knows her stuff! There is no extra cost for guided tours, and they take place on Thursdays at 6pm and on Saturdays at 3pm. On the final Saturday of each month, a British Sign Language Interpreter accompanies the tour. There are also occasional tours of temporary exhibitions on weekdays; there is an extra charge for these, ranging from £4 to £6 (with a discount for students), but either morning coffee, afternoon tea or a glass of wine in the case of an evening tour are included in the price.Talks take place on Thursday evenings at a cost of £7 (half price for students) which includes a glass of wine. These are given by distinguished speakers such as art historian and author William Feaver and M J Long, partner and wife of Colin St John Wilson. There is also a talk by a gallery guide at 11am on the last Wednesday of the month on an individual work of art; attendance for this is free once you have a ticket for the gallery. A workshop follows the Wednesday morning talk, during which participants are encourage to 'respond creatively to works under guidance from an experienced arts educator'. ( A quote from the gallery's leaflet.) It costs £6 to take part in each workshop and you have to bring your own art materials.Another opportunity to develop your artistic skills if you already have some experience is offered on some (but not all) Sunday afternoons in the Art Masterclass starting at either 1pm or 2pm and running until 4pm. These classes are given by artists experienced in various fields such as printmaking, life drawing, experimental drawing, watercolour or acrylic painting. Such classes must be booked well in advance. The current fee is £9, and there may be an additional charge for materials and, in the case of life drawing, for the model. You do, however, need to bring your own basic materials.Children are not ignored by the gallery, although I didn't see signs of any during my visit that Saturday afternoon. Workshops for children can be booked in advance for Saturday mornings from 10am until 12noon; the cost is £6 per child (next to nothing compared to costs for private tuition). Each workshop is aimed at a particular age group, for instance 5-8 year olds, 9-12 year olds or 13-16 year olds, so you need to check on suitability for your child when you book. Themes range from flowers and pods for the youngest age group through forms in nature or a miniature art gallery for 9-12s to buildings in mixed media or drawing the gallery itself for the teenagers. Pallant House does offer some free workshops led by artists during school holiday periods for children between 5 and 16; each lasts for two hours. There is no need to book in advance for these workshops, but places are limited so it is advisable to attend early for a 10am start or 1pm for the afternoon session.The bookshop, on your immediate left as you enter the gallery, has an excellent stock of art books, prints, greetings cards, postcards and one or two art materials as well as a small number of books on the local area. Also on the ground floor is the Pallant Restaurant.The admission fee for Pallant House Gallery is a fairly hefty £6.50, but this does cover any special exhibitions in addition to the permanent collection. You can, however, enter for half price all day Tuesday or on Thursday evenings between 5 and 8 pm. There are discounts for children, students and Art Fund members, whilst the unemployed do not have to pay. A family ticket costs £15 for two adults and up to four children.The gallery is open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am until 5pm, with an extension on Thursday until 8pm; Sunday and Bank Holiday opening hours are from 12.30pm to 5pm. Pallant House is closed on Mondays. The main collection and exhibitions are displayed in the upper levels, but there is a lift as well as stairs. I would encourage anyone with an interest in art who is either visiting the area or who lives near enough to make a day trip to Chichester to visit Pallant House Gallery. It is only about half a mile from the railway station, and even closer to the bus station, for those like myself travelling by public transport. Parking is available on South Pallant just a few yards away.
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