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Home » Sanctuary Revisited: An online exhibition in collaboration with Liss Llewellyn » Sanctuary Revisited: An Introduction

Sanctuary Revisited: An Introduction

In the spring we opened Sanctuary: Artist-Gardeners 1919 – 39, an exhibition in partnership with Liss-Llewellyn. It told the story of how in the period between the wars an exceptional number of British artists turned to gardens as inspirations to their work. Gardens were also personal sanctuaries: many, but not all, had experienced the First World War.

Lockdown cut short Sanctuary but it was so popular when transferred to our website that Liss Llewellyn have curated a second exhibition on the theme: this exhibition, I underline, is on-line only.

The works are for you to enjoy browsing on your screen. But if you want to buy a picture, a commission of up to 50% goes directly to the Museum, at a time when our survival depends on donations by Friends and followers.

Through three decades of serious research and inspired rediscoveries, Liss Llewellyn have redefined the reputations of a generation of artists, such as Charles Mahoney, Evelyn Dunbar, Douglas Bliss and Harry Epworth Allen. Why did so many turn to gardens? As Sacha Llewellyn has pointed out, it was a generation taught botany at school: John Nash, represented here, took botany classes in order to get out of playing cricket. And art school tutors in the early part of the century, such as Henry Tonks at The Slade, continued to believe in Nature as a fellow instructor in design.

Charles Mahoney, Greenhouse Interior. Image courtesy of Liss Llewellyn.

The First World War did throw soldiers back on memories of the English countryside: so many soldiers confronted by the sight of treeless, featureless mud and stagnancy dreamed of Downs and meadow. But there was another dream: of an enclosed, safe, and cultivated space – a garden. As Ford Madox Ford’s protagonist in his novel ‘No Enemy: A Tale of Reconstruction’ (1929) fantasies from the trench:

Percy Horton, View of Houses Through a Gap in Trees. Image courtesy of Liss Llewellyn.

‘not quite a landscape; a nook rather, the full extent of the view about one hundrede seventy yards by two hundred seventy – the closed of a valley; closed up by trees… with  little stream, just a trickle, level with the grass of the bottom. You understand the idea – sanctuary’.

Not a landscape. A garden.

This second exhibition has been an opportunity to re-visit the work of interwar artist-gardeners but Liss Llewellyn have also given glimpses of artists who continue the themes later in the century, such as Kenneth Rowntree, David Evans, and Carolyn Sergeant.

Very few of these works have ever been exhibited. We are grateful to Liss Llewellyn for curating this exhibition in support of our emergency Appeal in response to the Covid-19 crisis.


Christopher Woodward