Pallant House Gallery shows off a collection of prints that offers a fascinating insight into the values of the woman who collected them
Many of the artworks in the collection of Pallant House Gallery come from the bequests of private individuals, with one of the most recent arriving courtesy of the late criminologist and journalist Elizabeth Burney (1934 – 2018).
And like the most personal collections put together beyond the realms of investment or public display, Burney’s reflects not only her tastes but also her values.
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As a criminologist, journalist and academic she was fascinated by humanity and had a strong aversion to injustice – values that are strongly mirrored in her choice of artworks. The collection includes etchings by Samuel Palmer, Camille Pissarro and Käthe Kollwitz, as well as woodcuts by the Japanese master Hiroshige and drawings by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Christopher Wood.
Throughout her life Burney tackled social inequality, through her work as a journalist for the Economist and New Society Magazine and later through her position at the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge. She was also the author of several books on criminality and society.
Given this background, one of the key works she acquired has to be Käthe Kollwitz’s etching of a woman looking down. The German artist’s portraits are renowned for the way they reflect the harsh social conditions found in Germany during the late 19th and early 20th centuries and the lives of the working class.
According to her son, Will Parker, the art Burney bought “offered a consolatory echo of the more visceral and painful aspects of the human condition” – qualities that are manifest in Kollwitz’s searing portraits, which mined working class dissolution and her own sense of political despair in a period tainted by the tragedies of the First and Second World Wars and the rise of fascism.
Elsewhere the collection also offers solace in the shape of some restful interiors such as the mezzotints Girl Sitting at a Table (1909) and In the Garden Doorway (1913) by Danish artist Peter Illsted (the brother in law of Vilhelm Hammershoi).
Burney was also fond of pastoral depictions and Pallant has acquired some apposite additions to their collection with Samuel Palmer’s etching The Rising Moon or An English Pastoral, (1857) and Camille Pissarro’s drypoint etching and aquatint Côte Sainte Catherine, à Rouen, 1883.
As her son adds “her appreciation of art was of an intimate character, sensual and emotional – in contrast to the analytical and sometimes polemic nature of her work in the public domain.”
Yet other works reflect the interests of her husband, the financial journalist Alan Parker whose interest in Tibetan Buddhism inspired the purchase of three woodblock prints by the Japanese master Hiroshige from the celebrated series Fifty-three Stations of the Tôkaidô Road, (1833-1834).
Burney, who was a descendant of the musicologist Charles Burney and Georgian novelist and diarist Fanny Burney, offered her collection to the gallery after an inspirational tour led by one of Pallant’s knowledgeable volunteers. The unpaid guide has facilitated several important new additions to a collection already renowned for stimulating new thinking about 20th century British art, with prints by Marc Chagall and Palmer filling significant gaps while drawings by Matthew Smith, Leon Underwood and Christopher Wood complement the existing collection.
“Elizabeth Burney’s generous bequest of over 20 works on paper is a significant addition to Pallant House Gallery’s collection of collections,” says Pallant House Gallery Director Simon Martin. “Not least because she was a female collector whose tastes and interests were reflected in the artworks with which she chose to surround herself. It is a collection which has much to tell us about humanity.”
From Pissarro to Kollwitz: The Elizabeth Burney Bequest is on display in the Print Room at Pallant House Gallery until June 23 2019. Admission is free.
Pallant House Gallery
Chichester, West Sussex
Pallant House Gallery is a unique combination of a Grade 1 listed Queen Anne townhouse and an award-winning contemporary extension. It is based in the heart of Chichester and holds one of the best collections of Modern British art in the country. There is an extensive temporary exhibition programme including…