February 6th

Sussex Modernism: Retreat & Rebellion

Sussex Modernism Exhibition: Two Temple Place, London

Sussex has been a famous destination and retreat for artists throughout the last century.  The most famous of the art collectives, is of course, the Bloomsbury Group.  But their work connected them to other unexpected networks of radical artists who were drawn to the rolling hills, seaside resorts and quaint villages.  This exhibition explores the draw of rural Sussex to these cosmopolitan artists in the unique and spectacular setting of Astor House.

Lee Miller

So, the theme examines why these artistic communities were created and the inspiration for artists in the region in the decades following.  Sussex occupies a unique position in the recent history of British thought, art, design and literature.  It has helped shape our modern world.  The alternative lifestyles of the early 20th century artists, writers and designers challenged the concept of traditional art.  This established new conventions in contemporary culture through their unique perspective on the rural landscape.

Contemporary themes…

There is a poignancy in elements of the exhibition which seem strangely contemporary; refugees settling in Sussex, although here escaping from the Nazi regime.  Remarkable now in their legacy which is such a feature of the county, such as the rising ocean liner of the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill, designed by Hungarian Bauhaus architect László Moholy-Nagy.

Duncan Grant – Venus and Adonis 1919

The exhibition is an exciting collection bringing together painting, film, sculpture, furniture, music and photography from the collections of over 30 lenders. Curated in blocks of ‘chapters’ by Dr Hope Wolf, of the University of Sussex – she has created an experience bound by themes of eerie word and music compositions.

Why Sussex?…

Speaking about the exhibition at the University of Sussex, Dr Wolf said: “Sussex is probably best known for its seaside resorts, rural retreats, woods, downs, picturesque towns and quaint villages, while modernism is usually thought of as a set of metropolitan and international movements. So why were modernists attracted to Sussex, and what were they doing there?

“Some modernists idealised Sussex, seeking an escape from the pressures of the city. Others sought refuge from scandal; some were driven there by war. Many created enclaves in which to live and work, bringing with them friends and influences from nearby London and from Europe. Some were émigrés, and the Sussex coast became a place to think about connections to the continent.

“Sussex landscapes and people influenced the artists differently, but the region afforded no rural idyll cut off from the world: their work expresses the realities of living in unsettled and uncertain times. “

De La Warr Pavilion – Bexhill.

Astor House…

But it would be a sin not to take this opportunity to also visit the stunning building – which is only open to the public during their exhibitions.  Two Temple Place is a spectacular neo-gothic mansion built as the London family appartments and offices of the Astor family and now managed by the Bulldog Trust.  An imposing building overlooking the Thames on the Victoria Embankment, Two Temple Place is just a stone’s throw from Blackfriars station.

The house was built to satisfy the taste of Lord Astor, at the time, the richest man in the world.  The interior is carved with intricate reliefs of Shakespeare’s plays and carvings of the the Three Musketeers. In contrast, the floor in the vestibule is laid with a geometric tapestry of marble, jasper, porphyry and onyx. Wherever you look is a visual treat and it provides a starkly contrasting backdrop to the clean imagery of the modernist exhibits.


Interior of Two Temple Place

The opulent carved interior and stained glass ceiling

Exhibition Information

Exhibition Dates:  Saturday 28th January – Sunday 23rd April 2017

Exhibition Opening Times: 

  • Monday, Thursday – Saturday:  10am – 4.30pm
  • Wednesday Late:  10am – 9pm. 
  • Sunday:  11am – 4.30pm.
  • Closed Tuesdays.

Website:  http://twotempleplace.org/exhibitions/2017-2/