All adventures begin with the first step, and so it does for Horsham Museum and Art Gallery’s new journey creating a regionally important collection of artistic masterpieces in watercolours.
Housed in the museum’s late 17th century panelled room, the Watercolour Gallery will showcase an ever-changing display of watercolours recently acquired by the Friends of Horsham Museum. The gallery opens with two watercolours by the ‘father of watercolours’ - Francis Nicholson. One of these is of Knaresborough Rocks, which is where Francis Nicholson lived in the 1790s before moving to London. In this, he used the radical technique of ‘scratching out’ to portray falling water. Nicholson later moved to London where he was awarded 20 guineas by the Society of Arts for devising a new method of painting: he stopped out his light areas with a beeswax solution, allowing him to add wash after wash to create deep shadows - then, by removing the wax, he could apply brilliant washes in different areas, giving him control over light and dark.
The celebrated artist Peter De Wint also has two watercolours featuring in the new opening display, including a rare sketch of shrubbery which is both signed and dated by him. Most of De Wint’s paintings are left unsigned, relying on authorities to recognise his work, or paintings that have a clear provenance, such as Aysgarth Force, which came from his studio sale following his death.
The Friends of Horsham Museum were able to buy the works through the Frank Chasemore bequest. Two paintings on display have been given to us by Toovey’s, the Washington based auction house, including the painting Arundel Castle from the Downs by Gerald Ackerman, a London born artist who grew up in Eastbourne before moving back to London and then Norfolk. His landscapes painted by broad brushes give a strong impression of the countryside he loved, and are highly sought after.
Another painting on display is by Walter Fryer Stocks, an artist little known today but thought highly of by the Victoria and Albert Museum who included one of his works in a tour of China to showcase the English tradition of watercolours. You can see why in the watercolour bought for the museum’s collections by John and Hilary Steele of a stone arch through which a group of late Victorians enjoy the garden. Stocks used at least 12 different colours to create the stone effect - such was his skill with the pallet and composition.
It is only through the generosity of public and company donations as well as the Frank Chasemore bequest, that the Friends of Horsham Museum can build a collection that does justice to the aspirations of the town. This opening display shows what is possible and is an important first step in building a significant collection.