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Modern Art in Sussex - Paintings and sculpture, artists and houses

The heart – and homes – of English modernism and the Romantic revival.

Artistic houses, magical gardens and the charismatic personalities who created them.

Exceptional collections of modernist art in award-winning galleries and museums.

Monica Bohm-Duchen is an expert on 20th-century art and the historical events that influenced this artistically productive period.

  • Hastings, Pelham Crescent, steel engraving c. 1850.
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The light and topography of Sussex have drawn artists to the area since the start of the eighteenth century. Turner made his first sketch at Petworth in 1809, while Constable, spurred to the coast by efforts to relieve his wife’s tuberculosis in the 1820s, found the sea, towns and landscapes a source of rich inspiration – although Brighton he called ‘Piccadilly by the sea’.

A century later, in autumn 1916, the artist Vanessa Bell, seeking a new rural retreat from Bloomsbury, was struck by ‘the extraordinary peace and beauty’ of a spot beyond Lewes, and by ‘the very warm, most lovely browns & warm greys and reds’ of the countryside, combined with ‘the chalk everywhere giving that odd kind of softness’.

She was not alone. The diverse and attractive natural environment of east and west Sussex drew a number of painters, sculptors, architects and writers in the mid-twentieth century. Free from urban constraints and ideological and moral judgements, they formed communities – formal and informal – in which social experiment was a stimulating impetus. The flowering artistic output that ensued emanated from Eric Gill’s arts and crafts guild at Ditchling; Roland Penrose and Lee Miller’s Surrealist farmhouse hub near Chiddingly; and from Eric Ravilious and John Piper’s regular sojourns at Furlongs cottage on the Downs, near Firle. And, of course, best known of all, from Charleston, the Bloomsbury ‘escape’ of Vanessa Bell, Duncan Grant, Roger Fry et al.

Shared artistic and intellectual interests, coupled with turbulent events in Europe, propelled many Continental and transatlantic personalities to join them; Picasso, for example, was one of many art-world greats who paid visits to Farley Farm. The exuberant legacy – both collaboratively and individually – of this creative vortex is celebrated in a number of first-class collections viewed on this tour, as well as in the unique homes, gardens, churches and public institutions created and enhanced by these artists.

Day 1

Woking, Chichester. The coach leaves Woking Railway Station at 11.00am. The Lightbox is a prize-winning museum and gallery, established in 2008. Highlights include the Ingram Collection of Modern British Art as well as the Joan Hurst Sculpture Collection. At the magnificent Gothic Cathedral in Chichester, the focus is on modern artworks by John Piper, Chagall, Sutherland and others. First of two nights in Chichester.


Day 2

West Sussex. The Cass Sculpture Foundation, founded in 1992 by Wilfred and Jeannette Cass, shows in an open-air setting changing displays of work by modern and contemporary artists. West Dean Gardens includes the Dalí-inspired Artichoke House. Pallant House Gallery in Chichester holds one of the finest collections of modern British art in the country. A large part was bequeathed by the collector and architect Sandy Wilson (British Library), whose final project was the sensitive modernisation of this gallery in its Queen Anne building. Some free time to explore Chichester.


Day 3

East Sussex. In 1920 Eric Gill, Hilary Peplar and Desmond Chute founded a Roman Catholic art colony, the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, on Ditchling Common. A permanent collection of work by its members and other artists from the community is housed at the award-winning Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s modest 17th-century country retreat, Monk’s House, was occupied by the couple from 1919. Nearby, St Peter’s Church in Firle has a John Piper stained-glass window, and Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant are buried in the graveyard. Charleston Farmhouse, the country residence of Bell and Grant, has almost every surface decorated by them, and the same pair painted murals at St Michael’s, Berwick, in the early 1940s. First of two nights in Lewes.


Day 4

East Sussex. Farleys House & Gallery is the former home of Surrealist artist and activist Roland Penrose and photographer Lee Miller, with works of art by them and their famous friends adorning the walls. In Bexhill-on-Sea, the once controversial, now iconic De La Warr Pavilion was designed in the mid-1930s by émigré architects Serge Chermayeff and Erich Mendelsohn. The Jerwood Gallery in Hastings opened in 2012 to house the fast-growing Jerwood Collection of Modern British Art.


Day 5

East Sussex, Tudeley. Designed by Rick Mather, the refurbishment of Towner Gallery in Eastbourne opened in 2009. Highlights of its permanent collection include work by Eric Ravilious, Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and Edward Burra. All Saints in the village of Tudeley is the only church in the world to have all its windows designed by Marc Chagall – nothing short of a revelation. The tour ends at Tonbridge Railway Station by 4.00pm. The starting and finishing points of some UK tours are railway stations because it is quicker to travel through London by train than by coach.

Price, per person

Two sharing: £1,460. Single occupancy: £1,700.

Included: hotel accommodation; breakfasts and three dinners with wine, water and coffee; transport by private coach; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.


Harbour Hotel, Chichester. A smart, boutique hotel in the centre of town. This 4-star hotel is within walking distance of the Cathedral and Pallant Gallery. Pelham House Hotel, Lewes. Housed in an old court house, now a characterful 4-star hotel on the high street with delightful gardens. Single rooms are doubles for sole use throughout.

How strenuous?

Unavoidably there is quite a lot of walking on this tour and it would not be suitable for anyone with difficulties with everyday walking and stair-climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 53 miles.

Are you fit enough to join the tour?

Group size

Between 10 and 22 participants.