by Liz Walker
Graham Sutherland, Portrait of Walter Hussey, begun 1965, Oil on canvas Pallant House Gallery (Hussey Bequest, Chichester District Council, 1985)
Hussey was a remarkable man. At the very core of his being was the belief that the church needed to revive its role as patron of the arts by commissioning works from contemporary artists. This he did, to enormous effect, with both St. Matthew's Northampton and Chichester Cathedral benefiting from his discerning judgement.
Lord Clark described him as “the last great patron of art in the Church of England”. His natural sympathy with artists resulted in many becoming his personal friends and giving him works of art. These he added to his existing private collection that he had begun as a young curate in London - a collection that was to be the foundation stone of Pallant House Gallery.
One of those artists who received not one, but two commissions, was Graham Sutherland (1903 – 1980), who became a close personal friend. In 1960 he wrote to Hussey: "You have been such an understanding and wise patron - bringing into the world again the old relationship of patron and painter, to say nothing of offering me work". Surely, these sentiments are reflected in this portrait of Hussey.
Sutherland's approach to portraiture was very individual. He liked to make a series of studies of his subject - mostly as drawings, sometimes as paintings, until he got the 'measure' of the sitter. It was, he said, 'paraphrasing' the essence - in order to display more vividly the inner life of the subject. He felt he had to be as “absorbent as blotting paper and watchful as a cat”. Then, away from his subject, he would paint the portrait.
This portrait is, in fact, unfinished and was given to Hussey by Sutherland's widow Kathleen after the artist's death in 1980. We shall never know whether Sutherland had planned further studies but what we do have is the essence of Walter Hussey- a visionary, a man of extraordinary determination and conviction, who believed passionately in excellence and the value of art in the Church.