Towner Eastbourne is pleased to announce a pair of major exhibitions opening in summer 2022 that shine a light on the pioneering female gallerist, Lucy Wertheim and the celebrated young artists she supported in her gallery from its opening in 1930 until its closure at the outbreak of World War II in September 1939. Tickets are now on sale.
A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group - two complementary shows that will be presented simultaneously across Towner Eastbourne’s top floor galleries – will showcase Wertheim’s vast contribution to mid-20th century modern art, reuniting works from her collection and telling her own story and of the artists that she fervently championed. Over 150 works will be shown across both exhibitions.
Born in Manchester to a family of cotton merchants, Lucy Wertheim (1883-1971) lived in the North of England with her husband, a Dutch consul, Paul Wertheim and their three children before opening her first gallery. Encouraged by the artists Frances Hodgkins and Christopher Wood, Wertheim opened the Wertheim Gallery in London in 1930 and in doing so challenged the established art scene conventions. Without any formal art or business training, Wertheim relied on her intuition and was driven by a belief that young British artists should have the same opportunities as their European counterparts. She was inspired to do so, in her words, as ‘I sometimes say I was goaded into opening my gallery in London. Having maintained, with fervour to my Dutch in-laws and to many cosmopolitan friends, that Young Art in England was in a healthy state and could hold its own with that of other countries, I was often asked “Where could this work be seen?”’
Wertheim was embedded in the interwar art scene; she surrounded herself with artists such as Edward Wadsworth, Frances Hodgkins, Christopher Wood, Helmut Kolle, Phelan Gibb and Henry Moore and sought out young and unknown talent to show at her gallery in central London, at the heart of Mayfair, a site still regarded as the hub of the commercial gallery world. Wertheim showed little interest in becoming a gallerist for popular, easily sellable work and was inspired by her deeply personal enthusiasm for her artists, such as the hitherto unknown Louis Vivin, a 70-year-old sorting clerk in the French Post Office, and Henry Stockley, a bus driver who painted on old pillow slips. Wertheim also generously supported many public galleries, schools and other institutions, whether through gifts or exhibition loans and opened further galleries in Brighton, Manchester and Derbyshire. It was whilst in Brighton in the 1960s that she cultivated her friendship with David Galer, the curator of Towner Art Gallery (as it was then known) and exhibited her works on several occasions at Towner. In her later life, Wertheim lived in Brighton and was cared for by one of her Twenties Group artists, Kathleen Walne.
Her dedication to ‘her’ artists spanned five decades, during which she amassed a significant collection of paintings and drawings, mounted hundreds of exhibitions, loaned new works to schools, and made many gifts to galleries and museums both nationally and internationally. Her own instinctive taste was reflected in the bold, vibrant, ‘naïve’ style that characterised the work of many of the artists she exhibited and supported. Reuniting the Twenties Group will feature early works from artists including Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton, Victor Pasmore, Robert Medley, Nan Youngman, Mervyn Peake and Edna Ginesi alongside lesser known artists, all of whom were in their twenties when they first exhibited at the Wertheim Gallery in the 1930s. Frustrated that only established British artists were being shown in commercial galleries at the time, Wertheim created the Twenties Group as a forum for ‘painters of the future’. The group had several exhibitions before the gallery was requisitioned as an air raid shelter at the start of World War II.
Though Wertheim is well-known among specialist gallerists and collectors, she is relatively unknown by the broader public as a figure in art history, although people may be familiar with many of the artists she represented. Paintings, drawings and sculptures from her dispersed collection will be brought together again for the first time in 50 years alongside works exhibited in the Wertheim Gallery in A Life in Art: Lucy Wertheim - Patron, Collector, Gallerist, which will illustrate the significance of the close relationships she developed with her artists and the impact of her patronage on their careers. The exhibition will be drawn from Wertheim’s own vivid recollections from her 1939 memoir – Adventure in Art – first published in 1947. The new 2022 edition of Adventure in Art, published by Unicorn Publishing to coincide with the exhibition, will include essays by art historians, Frances Spalding and Ariane Bankes, and exhibition curator, Karen Taylor, alongside unseen ephemera, letters and photographs.
Wertheim bequeathed over 50 works to the Towner Collection following her association with the gallery and friendship with David Galer. A Life in Art: Lucy Wertheim - Patron, Collector, Gallerist will feature many of these works by artists such as Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, Cedric Morris and Frances Hodgkins, alongside Edward Wadsworth, Walter Sickert, Matthew Smith and Henry Moore and lesser-known artists such as Kathleen Walne, Suzanne Cooper, Kenneth Hall, Basil Rakoczi and Henry Stockley to reveal the significance of Lucy Wertheim’s hidden legacy within public collections. The exhibition marks 50 years since Wertheim’s gift to Towner, and therefore an opportune moment to celebrate this pioneering female gallerist.
The exhibitions coincide with the summer opening of Towner’s newly developed ground floor foyer and studio spaces and a special curated programme of events that will take place alongside these exhibitions. Obscure Secure artists, Hayley Field and Jacqueline Utley will work in residence at Towner Eastbourne to share their research on the artist Kathleen Walne and explore other women artists in the Wertheim exhibitions as well as host a workshop, book group and discussion day.