Coastal Currents

Lucy Wertheim at the Towner Gallery


Installation view, A Life in Art: Lucy Wertheim, Patron, Collector, Gallerist. Photo by James Bellorini.

A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group

A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group — two exhibitions presented simultaneously across Towner Eastbourne’s top floor galleries — will showcase pioneering female gallerist Lucy Wertheim’s vast contribution to mid-20th century modern art, reuniting works from her collection and telling her own story and that of the artists that she fervently championed. Over 150 works will be shown across both exhibitions.

In 1930, Lucy Wertheim opened the Wertheim Gallery in London. Wertheim challenged the established art scene conventions; she was a woman without formal art training, driven by intuition and a belief that young British artists should have the same opportunities as their European counterparts.

Born in Manchester to a family of cotton merchants, Lucy Wertheim (1883-1971) lived in the North of England with her husband, a Dutch consul, Paul Wertheim and their three children before opening her first gallery. Encouraged by the artists Frances Hodgkins and Christopher Wood, Wertheim opened the Wertheim Gallery where unusually ‘pictures were displayed as in a private house’.

Though Wertheim is well-known among specialist gallerists and collectors, she is relatively unknown by the broader public as a figure in art history, although people may be familiar with many of the artists she represented. Paintings, drawings and sculptures from her dispersed collection will be brought together again for the first time in 50 years alongside works exhibited in the Wertheim Gallery in A Life in Art: Lucy Wertheim, Patron, Collector, Gallerist, which will illustrate the significance of the close relationships she developed with her artists and the impact of her patronage on their careers.

Wertheim’s dedication to her artists spanned five decades, during which she amassed a significant collection of paintings and drawings, mounted hundreds of exhibitions, loaned new works to schools, and made many gifts to galleries and museums both nationally and internationally. Her own instinctive taste was reflected in the bold, vibrant, naïve style that characterised the work of many of the artists she exhibited and supported.

Wertheim bequeathed over 50 works to the Towner Collection following her association with the gallery and friendship with David Galer. A Life in Art will feature many of these works by artists such as Christopher Wood, Alfred Wallis, Cedric Morris and Frances Hodgkins, alongside Edward Wadsworth, Walter Sickert, Matthew Smith and Henry Moore and lesser-known artists such as Kathleen Walne, Suzanne Cooper, Kenneth Hall, Basil Rakoczi and Henry Stockley, revealing the significance of Lucy Wertheim’s hidden legacy within public collections. The exhibition also marks half a century since Wertheim’s gift to Towner, and therefore an opportune moment to celebrate this pioneering female gallerist.

Reuniting the Twenties Group will feature early works from artists including Barbara Hepworth, Roger Hilton, Victor Pasmore, Robert Medley, Nan Youngman, Mervyn Peake and Edna Ginesi alongside many other artists, all of whom were in their twenties when they first exhibited at the Wertheim Gallery in the 1930s. Frustrated that only established British artists were being shown in commercial galleries at the time, Wertheim created the Twenties Group as a forum for ‘painters of the future’. The group had several exhibitions before the gallery was requisitioned as an air raid shelter at the start of the Second World War, and this exhibition will be the first time the Twenties Group has been shown together again since.

A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group coincides with the summer opening of Towner’s newly developed ground floor foyer and studio spaces and a specially curated programme of events that will take place alongside these exhibitions. Obscure Secure artists, Hayley Field and Jacqueline Utley will work in residence at Towner Eastbourne to share their research on the artist Kathleen Walne and explore other women artists in the Wertheim exhibitions as well as host a workshop, book group and discussion day.

A Life in Art & Reuniting the Twenties Group has reunited works from Lucy Wertheim’s collection and from the artists that she fervently championed for the first time in over fifty years. Towner Eastbourne is extremely grateful to the Lucy Wertheim Estate, donors, public collections and private collectors who have made it possible.

Supported by Lorna Gradden, the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, Alan Moses, The Golsoncott Foundation, the Finnis Scott Foundation and the donors of the Lucy Wertheim Exhibition Supporters Circle: John Duncalfe, Andrew and Lucy Ellis, Frestonian Gallery, Jeremy Greenwood and Alan Swerdlow, Edward Hutchison, Neil and Victoria Jennings, Jimmy Nelson, John Wheller and Richard Flin

This exhibition has been made possible as a result of the Government Indemnity Scheme. Towner would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity.


11/09/2022 – 25/09/2022


Towner Eastbourne, College Rd, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ, UK