Lucy Wertheim at Towner

A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group, until Sept 25

Phelan Gibb, Three Muses, 1911

The Towner is looking stunning after its ground floor redesign, and there’s a powerful new exhibition taking up both galleries on the top floor.

Or, technically speaking, two interconnected exhibitions. A Life in Art and Reuniting the Twenties Group both centre around the pioneering efforts of gallerist/collector Lucy Wertheim, who championed emerging and struggling Modern British artists in the 1930s. She was a patron and collector of the likes of Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis and Phelan Gibb, whose work she exhibited in her purpose-designed Mayfair gallery.

She also formed a group of artists who hadn’t yet reached the age of thirty, named The Twenties Group, who she supported and exhibited, thus kick-starting the careers of Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth and many others.

There are over 150 paintings in the two shows, about a third from those bequeathed to Towner in 1971 by Wertheim. Particularly striking is one wall dedicated to Christopher Wood, who Wertheim befriended in the last year of his life. Next to it are a series of paintings by Phelan Gibb, whose career she revived after it had stalled in the 1920s. Gibb had produced some stunning work in Paris pre-WW1, where he worked and played alongside Picasso, Modigliani and the rest of the Montparnasse Modernist crew: his Three Graces (1911) is a high point of the show. 

There are also numerous works by artists whose names you won’t have heard of, who later drifted off the scene, many of them women who sacrificed their careers to bring up families, as was expected by society at the time.

Eileen Mayo continues to be shown on the ground floor until July 3. The beginning of this exhibition consists of several portraits of the artist as a young muse – before she left England for a life Down Under – by the likes of Dod Procter and Laura and Henry Knight, which are a good fit with the magnificent show upstairs.