Notorious Colony Room Featured In New Pallant House Gallery Exhibition

Colony Room

The Colony Room: Masterpieces from Pallant House Gallery, is a major new exhibition, chronicling the life and times of the legendary Colony Room, haunt for artists, musicians, and street-life. It is to be held at Bonhams in London from 2 to 11 October over the Frieze Week period.

The show will try and tell the story of the famous Soho drinking club through paintings by artists such as Lucian Freud, Frank Auerbach and Richard Hamilton from the renowned Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex.

Opened in 1948 by the sharp-tongued and imperious Muriel Belcher – initially as a way of evading the strict licensing hours – the Colony Room became a magnet for artists, musicians, and writers eager to escape the gloom of post-war London and its social and moral conventions. The painter Francis Bacon called it, “an oasis where the inhibitions of sex and class are dissolved”.

Many of the great names of British post-war creative life such as Francis Bacon, Peter Blake, Dylan Thomas, Lucian Freud and Frank Auerbach were habitués long before they gained the international fame they now enjoy. The Colony Room also attracted dedicated bohemians such as the jazz singer and raconteur George Melly, the actor Peter O’Toole and the writer Jeffrey Bernard whose dissipated life was immortalised in the one-man play Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell which gave O’Toole his last major stage success.

Sophie Parkin, the author of The Colony Room Club 1948-2008: A History of Bohemian Soho, recounts the story of the legendary watering hole in Bonhams Magazine. As she describes it, “Throughout its 60 years, The Colony Room remained the one place in the West End where you could feel uninhibited and unjudged, celebrated and loved.”

Even after Belcher’s death in 1979, The Colony Room retained its popularity, attracting a new crowd of artists and celebrities. The Young British Artists held court there with Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin and Sarah Lucas among the regulars, as did Kate Moss, Will Self and Alex James of Blur.

Works from Pallant House Gallery on display at Bonhams include:

Lucian Freud’s Self-Portrait with Hyacinth in Pot from 1947-48, an introspective and reflective work depicting a young artist shortly after the culmination of WWII.

Frank Auerbach’s Oxford Street Building Site 1960 which shows evidence of the many building sites around London as the city try to reshape and rebuild itself following the devastation of war.

Michael Andrews’ Colony Room I from 1962 capturing the atmosphere of a typical evening in the Club with a cast of characters including Jeffrey Bernard, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, and Muriel Belcher.

Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London ’67 created in 1968 – an important counter-culture image from the late 1960s showing the art dealer Robert Fraser and rock star Mick Jagger in the back of a police car after their arrest for drug offences.

Bonhams Department Director of Post-War and Contemporary Art, Gareth Williams, said, “Pallant House Gallery has one of the greatest collections of 20th-century British art, especially of painters who came to prominence in the 1950s and ’60s. This exhibition at Bonhams is a rare opportunity to explore the world in which they moved and the history of the famous – some might say infamous – Colony Room where boundaries were there to be broken.”

Simon Martin, the Artistic Director of Pallant House Gallery said, “It is a key part of the mission of Pallant House Gallery to engage audiences with the best of Modern British Art. We welcome this opportunity to showcase some of our very finest work at Bonhams during Frieze week when the international art community flocks to London.”

The exhibition, The Colony Room: Masterpieces from Pallant House Gallery, will be in the main saleroom of Bonhams, 101 New Bond Street, London W1, from Sunday 2 October to Tuesday 11 October. Opening hours are 9.30am – 4.30pm. Closed on Saturdays and Sunday 9 October. Admission free.

Located in the heart of historic Chichester on the south coast, Pallant House Gallery houses one of the most significant collections of Modern British art in the country, described by the Financial Times’ art critic Jackie Wullschlager as a ‘revelation’. Opened in 1982, the core of the gallery is the significant modern art collection bequeathed by Walter Hussey, Dean of Chichester Cathedral, a patron of the arts who actively promoted contemporary visual artists. Since the Hussey Bequest, the Gallery has attracted several subsequent donations of modern and contemporary art, becoming ‘a collection of collections’ generously gifted by arts patrons. Widely acclaimed for its innovative temporary exhibitions and exemplary Learning and Community programme which has inclusion at its heart, the Gallery has won numerous awards since re-opening in 2006.


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