Modern British Painting Abounds: The Hepworth Wakefield Summer 2016 Exhibition Roundup

Hepworth Wakefield

At The Hepworth Wakefield, large light-filled gallery spaces more familiar with the wieldy steel sculpture of Anthony Caro or the oozing metamorphic wax and crystalline works of Lynda Bengalis, are this summer playing host to a series exhibitions and displays celebrating some of the best of twentieth century British painting. With the likes of David Hockney, Prunella Clough, Stanley Spencer, Alfred Wallis and Ben Nicholson sharing gallery space, this is a real summer art treat.

Marking the 125th anniversary of the birth of Stanley Spencer, Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt – Spencer’s first major UK exhibition in fifteen years – provides the headliner for The Hepworth’s summer programme. Thematically structured across the entire spectrum of Spencer’s life and artistic oeuvre, the exhibition presents works dedicated to a variety of subjects including self-portraiture, gardens and nature, and religion and industry. Particularly sensitive curating has been devoted to the display of the religious works, as curator Eleanor Clayton has sought to draw out the influence of the Early Italian Renaissance. Alongside books on Renaissance art owned by Spencer and selections from his own personal writings, Clayton secured the loan of Sandro Botticelli’s Three Miracles of Saint Zenobius (c. 1500) from the National Gallery, the first time the painting has ever been loaned to a UK venue outside of London. Now the painting is displayed alongside Spencer’s own ‘visionary’ work Zacharias and Elizabeth (1913), demonstrating his technique of placing miraculous subject matter within recognisable ordinary scenes of life, learned from these so-called ‘Italian Primitives’. The influence of the Renaissance also extended to Spencer’s non-religious work, most notably the Shipbuilding at Clyde series of the 1940s, his commission from the War Arts Advisory Committee. Four of the completed eight mural-like paintings have been brought together for the exhibition, where, supported by a selection of preliminary sketches and compositional drawings, they demonstrate Spencer’s vision for the series to be displayed together as its own secular modern day ‘altarpiece’.

British painting is similarly a highlight of the Kettle’s Yard at The Hepworth Wakefield exhibition, with striking solo displays devoted to Ben Nicholson and Alfred Wallis, shown alongside works of other contemporaries including William Scott, Christopher Wood and Winifred Nicholson. Kettle’s Yard, the creation and home of H.S. ‘Jim’ Ede and his wife, Helen, was developed by Ede in 1957 to display his collection of European and British modernist art in ‘a domestic setting, where young people could be at home…[and] an informality might infuse an underlying formality’. With Kettle’s Yard itself currently closed for a major building project, its contents are now on tour, allowing a new young generation to experience its stunning collection. The Hepworth’s presentation has recreated a vignette from the house, where works of art are combined with found objects and furniture.  Seated on a woollen Causcian rug, overlooked by Henry Gaudier-Brzeska’s sculptures perched atop an oak dresser and a large wooden tree stump, local Yorkshire school children are able to experience for themselves the ‘welcome’ and ‘refuge of peace’ Ede dreamed of. 

 Ede hoped that Kettle’s Yard might prompt ‘other ventures of this sort’ to ‘spring’ and significantly The Tim Sayer Bequest: A Private Collection Revealed,(Top Photo) is both an exhibition and collection that draws upon this.  Sayer, a retired BBC Radio 4 news writer, has been collecting art for over fifty years, displaying his collection across almost every surface of his three-bed roomed terrace house in North London, inspired by the example of Kettle’s Yard. Like Ede, Sayer’s impressive collection of 20th century British, European and American art includes painting, printmaking, drawing, sculpture and ceramics. Following a visit to The Hepworth Wakefield in 2015, Sayer decided to leave his entire collection – over 400 works – to the gallery. The current exhibition, the collection’s first ever public display, and part of The Hepworth’s 5th anniversary programme, displays a curated selection of approximately 100 of these pieces. Abandoning the usual single hang of the white cube gallery, the exhibition instead presents works hung together in dense clusters, referencing the domestic context of their home location. A walk through these ‘clusters’ provides a lesson in twentieth century art history in itself, as names including Alexander Calder, Henry Moore, Louise Bourgeois, Antony Gormley and Robert Motherwell rub shoulders.

Closer to home, The Hepworth maintains its loyalty to home-grown Yorkshire talent, both past and present, with the display Yorkshire: Hepworth, Moore and the Landscape, featuring paintings from Moore’s less well-known student friends Edna Ginesi and Raymond Coxon, alongside work by other Yorkshire painters including David Hockney. A Tender Tumult: The Art of David Storey similarly introduces the little known artwork of the Wakefield-born acclaimed playwright, who prior to his literary career studied at the Slade School of Art, there himself meeting both Spencer and Moore. Finally, Storey’s 1969 play The Contractor forms the starting point for a new commission by the Yorkshire video artist Stephen Sutcliffe in The Calder, The Hepworth’s contemporary art venue. With such an extensive and quality programme it is clear that The Hepworth Wakefield is a must visit for art lovers this summer.    

Words: Clare Nadal © artlyst 2016

Image credits:

2. Installation shot of Kettle’s Yard at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Jonte Wilde. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield/ 

3. Installation shot of Kettle’s Yard at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Jonte Wilde. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield/ 

4. Installation shot of Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Jonte Wilde. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield/ 

4. Installation shot of Stanley Spencer: Of Angels and Dirt at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Jonte Wilde. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield/ 

 Top: Visitor takes first look at The Tim Sayer Bequest: A Private Collection Revealed at The Hepworth Wakefield. Photo © Jonte Wilde. Courtesy The Hepworth Wakefield/ 



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