The Towner Collection began in 1920 with Alderman John Chisholm Towner’s bequest of 20 paintings to the people of Eastbourne. The bequest included Victorian paintings of landscapes, animals and children by popular artists of the day; including Henry Dawson, Thomas Sydney Cooper and William Strutt.
At first, the Collection grew through acquisitions of Sussex landscape paintings “in order to provide the visitor with a complete review of this beautiful county.”
The collecting policy was then extended to allow pictures by Sussex artists regardless of subject matter. It was later widened again to include paintings by non-Sussex artists.
The abstract painter William Gear (1915–1997) was curator of the Towner Art Gallery in the 1950s and 60s. During this time, he acquired abstract works by his contemporaries, as well as some of his own works, for the Towner Collection.
The Contemporary Art Society (CAS) Special Collections Scheme helped a number of works enter the Towner Collection in the 1990s. In 2007, Towner was awarded a significant sum from Art Fund International for the purchase of international contemporary art, and has since worked closely with the Art Fund to expand our collection of moving image works.
From the 1920s through to the present day, generous individuals, collectors and artists, as well as Eastbourne Arts Circle, have donated works to the Towner Collection.
The Collection now features a cross-section of important 20th Century British artists including: Christopher Wood, Edward Bawden, Tirzah Garwood, Frances Hodgkins, Paul Nash, Victor Pasmore, Alfred Wallis, Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant. It also boasts a major body of work by Eric Ravilious. Contemporary artists represented in the Towner Collection include: John Akomfrah, Laurence Abu Hamdan, Tacita Dean, Olafur Eliasson, Omer Fast, Anya Gallaccio, Julian Opie, David Nash, Grayson Perry, Wolfgang Tillmans, Dineo Seshee Bopape and Rachel Jones.
We do our best to ensure our Collection is, as Alderman Towner envisioned, a public resource for all. Currently you can see many works on the ArtUK website and we regularly showcase works from our Collection on our blog and social media. In the coming years we plan to make our Collection accessible in full online via this website.
In partnership with the University of Sussex, and to coincide with our 2023 centenary, Towner is hosting a three-year, AHRC/CHASE-funded doctoral research project that seeks to rebalance the inequities of gender representation within its permanent collections.
Beginning in October 2020, Towner is undertaking a critical analysis of its repositories to illuminate the critical roles women have played in the museum’s collecting and exhibition history. This research — led by doctoral student, Haley Moyse Fenning — will bring attention to the important legacy of donor support from women, such as the fifty works collector and gallerist Lucy Wertheim donated to the museum in 1971. The ongoing gender imbalances present across the Collection despite Wertheim’s generous gift underlines the need to interrogate and dismantle a systemic devaluing of the contributions of women, both as artists and patrons of artistic practice.
The Ravilious Gallery and Collection Library, supported by Eastbourne Arts Circle, is a room in Gallery 1 presenting changing exhibitions of works by Eric Ravilious selected from Towner’s collection of his work. The current exhibition presents highlights from the Towner Collection, featuring works by Eric Ravilious and Tirzah Garwood, alongside Frances Hodgkins, Vanessa Bell, Edward Burra, Patrick Heron, Grayson Perry and more.
Go behind the scenes and enjoy a fascinating introduction to our impressive Collection of over 5000 works in our bespoke art store. Starting with the original Victorian bequest, your tour will then cover works by artists such as Eric Ravilious, Duncan Grant, Sandra Blow, Alfred Wallis, Alice Neel and Tacita Dean. Combine with a visit to our café and our new shop to make a day of it. We also offer gift vouchers for Private Art Store Tours at a time of your choice.
Sundays, 2.00pm to 3.00pm.
£10/£9 concession & Towner Members.