Seaside and the South Downs, that’s Sussex. Think that Sussex is all cream teas and ‘Kiss Me Quick’ hats, then think again during the first half of the last century lots of artists decamped to Sussex and they didn’t paint twee landscapes. Sussex modernism: Retreat and Rebellion (to give the exhibition its full title) tells the tale of how a clutch painters, writers, sculptors and photographers ran away from the City and reinvented their art forms. That the exhibition should be in the splendidly Victorian setting of Two Temple Place adds to the shock of all that newness.
This Henry Moore sculpture stood in the garden of Farleys Farmhouse, home to photographer Lee Miller and artist Roland Penrose. On display is a picture that Lee Miller took of Henry Moore embracing the statue. The sculptor Eric Gill was also a frequent visitor, he carved these rather wonderful garden rollers. . I covet both the rollers and the kind of flat lawn that they imply.
Charleston Farmhouse just a little further toward the sea was home to Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. They set about decorating their new home not with lavish drapes and or plain paint. Every surface is decorated, the walls adorned with not only their paintings but also those of their friends. I really like this lampstand and shade, a collaboration between the two. I’m quite tempted to acquire an old lampbase and start painting.
Right at the centre of the Two Temple Place is an incredible staircase. All wooden panelled and topped off a huge stained glass skylight. The whole thing is a hymn to ‘The Three Musketeers’ with figures of the main characters on the newel posts. For this exhibition it is home to the famous Salvador Dali red lips sofa, I’ve seen lots of reproductions of this rendition of Mae West’s lips but didn’t realise, until now, that it was co-designed by Edward James and lived in his Sussex house. As you climb the stairs snatches of music and the spoken word float around in a sound sculpture made from the work of Sussex Modernist composers and writers.
All of the items on display in Sussex Modernism: Retreat and Rebellion come from one of nine houses and galleries in Sussex. Two Temple Place itself is only open for three months each year, it is an extraordinary building and deserves to be visited just for its own sake, there is also a rather fine café.
SUSSEX MODERNISM: RETREAT AND REBELLION
Two Temple Place, London WC2R 3BD
28 January 2017 – 23 April 2017
Open: Monday, Wednesday – Saturday 10am – 4.30 pm (9pm on Wednesdays)
Sunday 11am – 4.30pm