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Capturing Life: A Century of the New English Art Club

Opening on 21 January at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, Capturing Life: A Century of the New English Art Club will showcase work by past and present members of the New English Art Club, an elected society of contemporary painters inspired by the visual world. The exhibition runs until 11 April 2023.

The New English Art Club was founded in 1886 by a group of rebellious young artists protesting against their repeated rejection by the Royal Academy. Their aim was to exhibit “really good modern painting”. In 1937 the art historian and museum curator Mary Chamot described the Club as “unquestionably the most vital artistic movement in English painting of the last half century”.

The exhibition will feature more than 40 works by current Club members, all of which will be for sale. Also on show will be major paintings by former exhibitors including Gwen John, Winifred Nicholson, John Singer Sargent, Stanley Spencer, Walter Sickert, Augustus John, Dod Procter and Paul Nash.

Kevin Guy, Leader of Bath & North East Somerset Council, said: “The Gallery has a long association with the New English Art Club, having hosted six exhibitions of members’ work between 1907 and 1947. Key past members Lord Methuen and Walter Sickert lived locally, as does the Club’s current President, Peter Brown. We’re delighted that exhibition-goers will once again have a chance to see the best of the New English Art Club here in Bath.”

Gwen John is represented by Bust of a girl with a bow before a pink background, on loan from the Arts Council Collection. In 1900, two years after completing her studies at the Slade School of Art, John exhibited her work for the very first time. The forum in which she chose to do so was the New English Art Club. She continued to exhibit with the Club until 1911.

John Singer Sargent’s At Torre Galli: Ladies in a Garden of 1910, on loan from the Royal Academy, exhibits all the Impressionist flair one would expect from a close friend of Claude Monet. After moving to London in 1885-86, Sargent quickly found a sympathetic exhibiting arena with the New English Art Club, with whom he shared an abiding love of modern French art. He served on the committee of the Club in 1887 and 1889 and, despite his American origins, he extended the association into the twentieth century.

Sir Stanley Spencer was one of the most distinguished artists associated with the New English Art Club, having been elected a member in the 1920s. His important portrait of his second wife to be, the painter Patricia Preece, dates from 1933 and is on loan from Southampton Art Gallery. The artwork documents not only the two artists’ fateful relationship, but also their joint connections with the New English Art Club.

Walter Sickert was one of the most consistent New English Art Club exhibitors, showing over 130 paintings between 1888 and 1939. His portrait of Celia, Lady Brunel dates from about 1906 and typically defies any expectations of the sitter that her attractive features would be emphasized. Instead, he remained committed to subdued lighting and spontaneity. The sitter, who later lived in Bath’s Royal Crescent, was the granddaughter of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

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