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EXHIBITIONS: ‘Spanish Civil War: Conscience and Conflict’ at Pallant House

With a loyal dedication primarily towards British artists, the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex has been described as “one of the most important galleries for British modern art in the country” (The Times’ culture writer, Adrian Tahourdin). Its buildings portray a remarkable contrast in architecture, between the 300-year-old townhouse and contemporary wing, which is only exaggerated inside through the numerous works that represent a vast range of genres. While in one room you could be viewing a surrealist Bacon (that’s Francis btw, not some funky plate of breakfast magic), in the next you may be faced with a variety of textiles, self-portraits, or modern sculpture.

The current exhibition ‘Spanish Civil War: Conscience and Conflict’, fits perfectly with this continuum. The range of pieces collected for the exhibition represent in a microcosm the artistic responses to the Fascist movement making its way across Europe during the 1930s – in spite of Britain’s officially ‘neutral’ standing. While the literary response was (and continues to be) well referenced – Hemingway himself immortalised the conflict in For Whom The Bell Tolls, and describing the 1936 Spanish War as the “dress rehearsal for the inevitable European War” – the response amongst visual artists (particularly those hailing from Britain) is barely documented.

However, in the 75th year since the conflict in Spain, Pallant House is doing a great job of changing that. While Picasso’s Weeping Woman (1937) and legendary Guernica (1938 – which has been recreated by local artists and hangs in the gallery’s foyer) are instantly recognisable by their Picassan quintessence, it’s the responses of the British artists – Moore, Armstrong, and Lewis, amongst others – that are perhaps the most surprising. Banners, paintings and posters made by such artists before, during and after the war, adorn the walls of the exhibition, each one equally epitomising the strong theme of protest.

Aside from the more politically charged pieces, a wide variety of sketches, photographs and films poignantly illustrate the views and interpretations of visual artists throughout Britain. One piece in particular, Walter Nessler’s Premonition (1937) stands out in the exhibition, its striking beauty and surrealism referring a sort of eerily accurate prelude to the events that were to follow during the Blitz in the UK in 1940. Upon first glance, you would be forgiven for comparing its vivid, almost pop-art-like colouring to something from the Marvel Universe – though what a marvel it is.

Students with even the slightest affinity to art and history will enjoy this exhibition, and Chichester is more than worth venturing out of Brighton for. Do make sure you stop in the Pallant Kitchen to try some gnocchi, though!

‘Conscience and Conflict: British Artists and the Spanish Civil War’ runs at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, until 15 February 2015. All year round, there is reduced entry to the temporary exhibitions from 5-8pm on Thursday evenings, when you can also view the acclaimed permanent collection of Modern British art completely for free. In addition, students of Brighton University can enjoy a 2 for 1 offer on all admission tickets until 31 January 2015 by showing their NUS cards.

Written by Nammie Livermore

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