The Wilson Collection
This major gift makes our collection of British Pop art one of the best in the world.
The Wilson Collection was formed by British architect Prof Sir Colin St John Wilson RA (1922 – 2007) and his wife, renowned American architect MJ Long, Lady Wilson, OBE (1939 – 2018), who are best-known as the architects of the British Library and their 2006 extension to Pallant House Gallery. Together they formed one of the most significant collections of post-war British art, reflecting their close friendships with the leading artists of the period.
In 2006, the couple designed the Gallery contemporary wing to house part of their collection, which they generously donated to the Gallery (part permanent gift through the Art Fund and part extended loan). In 2021, the MJ Long Acquisition, a further group of 175 modern and contemporary British paintings, prints and sculptures from the collection were allocated to Pallant House Gallery from the estate of the architect MJ Long via the Acceptance in Lieu (AIL) scheme, run by the Arts Council.
Together these acts of philanthropy mean that Pallant House Gallery now has one of the most significant international public collections of British Pop art. The majority of the artists represented in the Wilson collection were personal friends of the couple and can be seen as embodying an approach to artistic patronage that spanned connections between art, architecture, literature and philosophy.
Wilson (known to friends as ‘Sandy’) began the collection prior to his marriage to his second wife MJ Long in 1972, though from that point onwards she played an integral role, designing numerous studios for artists including R.B. Kitaj, Frank Auerbach, Sir Peter Blake, Paul Huxley and Gordon House.
The couple were memorably painted by the American artist Kitaj in a family portrait, The Architects (1981), which depicts the couple with their children Harry and Sal in the studio Long had designed for the artist. The red background and lamp were a reference to Vincent van Gogh’s The Night Café (1888) in the collection of Yale University where the couple had met.
The interior of the family home in Cambridge (designed by Wilson) was depicted by Sir Howard Hodgkin in his vibrant painting Grantchester Road (1973-75) in which the mezzanine and fireplace are depicted amidst swirls of expressive colour.
Together with Richard Hamilton, Nigel Henderson and Eduardo Paolozzi, Wilson had been a member of the radical ‘Independent Group’, a precursor to the development of British Pop art, which met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in the 1950s to discuss architecture, art, design and advertising.
Wilson collected early works by these artists including Hamilton’s early abstract painting Respective (1951), Man Walking (after Muybridge) (1953) and the Rotary Disc from his celebrated ‘fun house’ in the seminal exhibition ‘This is Tomorrow’ held at Whitechapel Gallery in 1956. He also acquired Paolozzi’s ink drawings Picador (c.1947), and Head (The Early Head) (1953), together with early screenprints and posters for his exhibitions, and the large aluminium sculpture Artificial Sun (1964)
These artists were to become key figures in the British Pop movement and the collection
also includes Hamilton’s etching, aquatint and collage Swingeing London (1967) depicting Mick Jagger and the art dealer Robert Fraser in the back of a police van outside Chichester Magistrates Court following a conviction for drugs possession.
Other examples of British Pop include David Hockney’s Kaisarion with all his Beauty (1961); 65 prints by R.B. Kitaj, his major painting Junta (1962) and collage The Republic of the Southern Cross (1965), along with works by Sir Peter Blake, Allen Jones, Mark Lancaster, Colin Self, Joe Tilson and the Swedish-American artist Claes Oldenburg. Patrick Caulfield’s well-known Coloured Still Life (1967) is accompanied by his later painting Kellerbar (1997) along with twelve preparatory drawings and seven screenprints that provide a fascinating insight into the artist’s working methods.
The Wilson Collection also traces a lineage of figurative art from Impressionist artists such as Édouard Manet through to Modern British artists including David Bomberg and Frank Auerbach. In 2021, the new acquisition included Manet’s etching of Olympia (1864), a group of five etchings by Walter Sickert, a significant group of drawings and paintings representing each key period of Bomberg’s work, as well as an early painting by Auerbach, Reclining Model in the Studio I (1963) a pivotal depiction of the model on a bed that looks back to the example of Sickert.
An alternative Slade tradition of figuration is represented by a group of paintings including Michael Andrews’ Study for a Head for a Group of Figures (1967), Colin Self’s At the Party (Hunt Ball) (1962), and Victor Willing’s Swing (1978) and Stepladder (1976).
A watercolour by Prunella Clough, a sculpture by Anthony Caro, 12 drawings by Outsider artist Scottie Wilson, and a group of sculptures by Indian artist Dhruva Mistry RA, who Wilson commissioned to create work for the British Library are also included in the collection.
Michael Andrews, Thames Painting: The Estuary (1994-5)
Michael Andrews, Thames Painting: The Estuary (1994-5), Oil and mixed media on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © The Estate of Michael Andrews, courtesy of James Hyman Gallery, London
William Coldstream, Portrait of Colin St John Wilson (1982-3)
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Family Loan, 2006) © The Estate of Sir William Coldstream
Patrick Caulfield, Portrait of Juan Gris (1963)
Patrick Caulfield, Portrait of Juan Gris, 1963, Alkyd housepaint on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Janet Nathan Caulfield
Richard Hamilton, Adonis in Y-Fronts (1963)
Richard Hamilton, Adonis in Y-Fronts, 1963, Screenprint on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Loan 2006) © The Estate of the Artist
Jann Haworth, Cowboy (1964)
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006)
Peter Blake, Girls with their Hero, 1959 (oil on hardboard)
Peter Blake, Girls with their Hero, 1959-62, Cryla on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020
Peter Blake, The Beatles (1962)
Peter Blake, The Beatles, 1962, Acrylic emulsion on hardboard, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © Peter Blake. All rights reserved, DACS 2020
Edouard Manet, Olympia (1867)
Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1867, Etching and aquatint on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Accepted in lieu of Inheritance Tax by HM Government from the estate of MJ Long / Wilson and allocated to Pallant House Gallery, 2021) © Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, UK
Walter Sickert, Jack Ashore (1912-13)
Walter Sickert, Jack Ashore, 1912-13, Oil on canvas, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through the Art Fund 2006)
Jann Haworth, Mae West Dressing Table (1965)
Jann Haworth, Mae West Dressing Table, 1965, Mixed media, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Family Loan, 2006) © Courtesy of the artist
Joe Tilson, 1-5 The Senses (1963)
Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Loan, 2006) © Joe Tilson All Rights Reserved DACS
Lucian Freud, Self-Portrait with a Hyacinth Pot © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images
Lucian Freud, Self-Portrait with a Hyacinth Pot, 1947-8, Black, white and yellow crayon on paper, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester (Wilson Gift through The Art Fund, 2006) © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images
David Bomberg, Last Self-Portrait (1956)
David Bomberg, Last Self-Portrait (1956) Pallant House Gallery (The Wilson Gift through the Art Fund, 2004) © The Wilson Family