The New Art Gallery Walsall is the home of the distinguished Garman Ryan Collection, which was donated to the Borough in 1972 by Lady Kathleen Epstein (née Garman).
"Two remarkable women created this collection: Kathleen Garman, lover and later wife of artist Jacob Epstein, and her life-long friend Sally Ryan, a talented sculptor." "Kathleen was originally from Wednesbury and, although had spent much of her life in London, wanted to give something back to the Black Country where she had grown up. She had formed this important collection with her close friend, Sally Ryan, granddaughter of an American tycoon and talented sculptor in her own right, following the death of Epstein in 1959." "Together, they formed an art collection that is intimate, adventurous and eclectic, reflecting their wide-ranging tastes."
They "collected 365 important works, including those by renowned artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, Constable, Picasso, Degas and Matisse, as well as by friends and family members, such as Epstein, Matthew Smith, Theo Garman and Lucian Freud, alongside artefacts from many cultures around the world. Works are displayed in the thematic groupings proscribed by Kathleen on her donation, which allows the opportunity to make unexpected links and comparisons across different cultures and centuries."
The Collection "consists of three hundred and sixty-five works of art, over a third of them being three-dimensional works from many different cultures and periods around the world. It also contains a wide-ranging body of the work of Sir Jacob Epstein and many significant works by European artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, Turner, Corot, Renoir and Constable represented in prints, sketches and drawings as well as paintings and sculptures." "The galleries chart the long, productive and often controversial career of Jacob Epstein, and serve as a memorial to the Epsteins extraordinary circle of family and friends - Augustus John, Modigliani, Gaudier-Brzeska and Epsteins one-time son-in-law Lucian Freud."
"Jacob Epstein grew up in the ghettos of New York; his parents emigrated there to escape the anti-Semitism and poverty of Poland. As a young man, Epstein delighted in his vibrant, multi-cultural surroundings. His creative talents were evident early on, but his father disapproved of his chosen profession. In 1901, Epstein received his first commission to illustrate Hutchins Hapgood's Spirit of the Ghetto. The money he earned enabled him to study in Paris. The excitement that Epstein felt is reflected in his self-portrait: staring defiantly at the viewer, he presents himself as unconventional and rebellious. His hair is unkempt and his shirt unbuttoned, he appears dynamic and oozing with confidence. After only a few years in Paris, he relocated to England. Mixing with artists and intellectuals, Epstein soon integrated himself into the London art scene. After a brief association with the Vorticists - during which time he created his monumental Rock Drill (1915) - he remained independent of any movements. He caused a great deal of controversy throughout his career - his Tomb for Oscar Wilde (1912) caused such an outcry that the French authorities tried to have it banned. He was fascinated by so-called 'primitive art' from Africa, Asia and Oceania and collected many art objects, some of which are on display in the gallery. He was also a skilled portraitist and many busts and sketches can also be seen in the Garman Ryan galleries. The Garman Ryan Collection is a visual guide to Epstein's life, career and artistic interests."
"Epstein was a man of intense feeling who did not hold back from injecting his passion into his religious works. Although ... much of Epstein's public had difficulty accepting the novelty of his work, some contemporaries did grasp the significant transformational potential of Epstein's art ... Epstein's original interpretations were recognized as bringing new life to a religious art that had become moribund."
Additionally, the Garman Ryan Epstein Collection "contains over 100 art works by artists closely related to the Garman Ryan Collection, in particular works by Sir Jacob Epstein, which have been purchased, bequeathed or donated to The New Art Gallery Walsall." Throughout 2016 the Gallery will display some of the newest acquisitions to its Permanent Collection, in the lead up to its 125th anniversary next year. Part 1 looks at People and Artistic Connections. It premieres two works by Frank Auerbach which were the Gallery's first acquisitions through HM Government's Accepted in Lieu Scheme, and belonged to his great friend, Lucian Freud. They are also showcasing The Garman Ryan Shroud by Birmingham based artist Sarah Taylor Silverwood, the resulting commission following her residency in their Studio in 2014.
The Garman Ryan Collection includes many parallels with works from Tate's extensive collections of British and European art and, as part of a three year partnership with Tate, 16 Tate artworks have been paired with related works in The Garman Ryan Collection, linked either by artist, subject or theme. Included are key examples of work by Eric Gill, Cedric Morris, John Nash, Picasso and Rodin.
The Gallery is also hosting "the prestigious John Ruskin Prize, which is now in its third year as an open exhibition inviting artists, both emerging and established from across the UK, to respond to the theme, Recording Britain Now: Society."
Its other current temporary exhibitions are:
- Jan Vanriet: The Music Boy - Much of Vanriet's work "is rooted in his family history. His parents met in the Mauthausen concentration camp and their stories and memories of the Second World War and its aftermath continues to influence his paintings. Themes of love, loss, identity, destiny and disappearance pervade his work. Yet there is also an inherent playfulness and lightness of touch and an evident mastery of the medium of paint. The Music Boy is a polyptych of four paintings depicting his grandmother and uncle - his mother's twin brother - playing accordion as a boy before the war."
- "Laura Lancaster is a painter who draws inspiration from forgotten and discarded photographs and home movies, found in flea markets, charity shops and through ebay. Once precious and significant to someone, they are now detached from their original contexts and instead, they become animated through Laura's luscious, gestural and expressive application of paint. These lost and dislocated souls, caught in the ambiguous space between figuration and abstraction, compel us to reflect on time, memory and loss."
Mavis Staples - Tomorrow.