Modern Mercia

It is disappointing, but perhaps not surprising, that the best exhibition of postwar art and design from Coventry during City of Culture Year should be taking place in Leamington and not Coventry. But it looks to be a great exhibition and we encourage all members to find the time over the summer for a trip out of town. Paul Maddocks tells us more…

A major exhibition of post-war art in Coventry and Warwickshire between 1945 and 1970 is being shown at the Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum at the Royal Pump Rooms on the Parade in Leamington Spa.

The exhibition explores the rich variety of architecture, art and design produced in Coventry and Warwickshire after the Second World War.

The exhibition runs until 19th September 2021 and is free.

The exhibition has four key strands. The first covers the commissioning by the city architects, Donald Gibson and Arthur Ling, of a wide variety of public art during the rebuilding of Coventry after the war and the modern art and architecture created in other local towns such as Leamington Spa and Stratford Upon Avon.

The re-building of Coventry from severe bomb damage after the Second World War allowed for the wide scale implementation of new ideas of modern town planning that were taking hold across Britain. This focuses on the importance of a harmonious relationship between architecture and public art to create an inspirational place for people to live. The exhibition has material by artists such as Walter Ritchie, George Wagstaffe, Trevor Tennant, Alma Ramsey and Peter Laszlo Peri.

Photo: Sally L. Taylor. Walter Ritchie supervising the dismantling of the ‘Man’s Struggle’ statue from the Abbey End workshop, Kenilworth to be delivered to Coventry Precinct, around 1959.

The second strand explores the emphasis during the 1950s and 1960s in Britain on the importance of high-quality art in everyday life, particularly in the home and in schools, and the form this took in the Midlands. It is exciting that it includes a number of textiles and ceramics by the innovative designer Tibor Reich, whose Stratford based textile company, was internationally renowned and produced designs for the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Festival of Britain, Coventry Cathedral, the Royal Yacht Britannia and Concorde among others.

Tibor’s collection of die cast models is now located in the Coventry Transport Museum. I got to know him very well when setting up the various scenes and sets for the car models and had the pleasure of visiting his home which he had designed himself and had many of his textiles, tiles, pottery and various artworks within it.

The third strand explores the modern art commissioned for Coventry Cathedral and other local churches in this period and includes studies for sculptural murals, textiles and stained glass by leading artists of the period including John Piper, Graham Sutherland, John Hutton, Margaret Traherne and Geoffrey Clarke.

The last strand focuses on two prominent local artists in the period by whom we have many works in the collection. These artists are Dick Hosking, who was director of Coventry College of Art in this period, and his wife Alma Ramsey.

These themes are explored through the display of sculptures, maquettes, sketches, photographs, paintings and textiles. The exhibition contains a large number of loans, including from the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Warwick University, Leeds Museums and a number of private individuals and artists. The exhibition includes a number of sketches and sculptural maquettes which have rarely, if ever, been on display to the public.

Changing political priorities and the economic downturn of the 1970s saw the waning of the post-war optimism that had supported such a widespread programme of public art. In the following years, appreciation and understanding of the significance of the art and architecture produced in this period has lessened. Some of the public sculpture, particularly in Coventry, has fallen into disrepair and is under threat from re-development. This exhibition is intended to highlight the importance of the post-war architecture, art and design produced in this region and to encourage visitors to recognise and re-engage with the public art around them.

This exhibition has been organised by Warwick University and Leamington Art Gallery & Museum, and is supported by the Henry Moore Foundation.

The exhibition is free but you need to book a timed access ticket. You can book a morning (10am – 12pm), or afternoon (1pm – 3pm/4pm). Please note, the gallery is closed between 12noon and 1pm for cleaning.


*’Warwickshire Landscape’ by Hugh Richard ‘Dick’ Hosking, c. 1965

You can see see some of Coventry’s post-war pubic art on CovSoc website here.

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