John Piper, The Head of Christ, 1966, Watercolour and gouache on paper Pallant House Gallery (Chichester District Council, purchased with support of the V&A Purchase Grant Fund, 1985) © The Piper Estate
The Second World War presented the Church of England with a spiritual crisis. Dr George Bell, Bishop of Chichester (1929–58) believed that culture was the key to re-establishing civilised values and commissioned artists to decorate churches in his diocese. One such artist was Hans Feibusch, an exiled German Jew who had learnt mural painting in Frankfurt.
Walter Hussey (1909–1985), the Vicar of St Matthew’s in Northampton from 1938–55 adopted a more radical approach to Church patronage of the arts. In 1944 he asked Henry Moore to sculpt a Madonna and Child. This fuelled a debate about the role of modern art in the Church but it paved the way for projects such as Coventry Cathedral. Hussey subsequently commissioned Graham Sutherland to paint a Crucifixion for the church.
In 1955 Bishop Bell offered Hussey the position of Dean at Chichester. Hussey subsequently commissioned a number of major modern artists to produce work for the Cathedral. These included the altarpiece ‘Christ appearing to Mary Magdalen’ (1961) by Graham Sutherland, the magnificent altar tapestry by John Piper, a lectern and pulpit by the sculptor Geoffrey Clarke, a set of copes by Ceri Richards, a stained glass window by Marc Chagall and the Chichester Psalms by the composer Leonard Bernstein. The Hussey Bequest to Pallant House Gallery includes a number of studies for some of these important examples of modern religious art.
Key works include: 'The Head of Christ' (1966) by John Piper and 'Portrait of Walter Hussey' (1965) by Graham Sutherland.