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Our story

Discover how the 18th century Pallant House became a 21st century art gallery.

A sculpture of a man sat on a bench bending over his knees to work on a mathematical instrument on the floor, in the middle of an art gallery.

We are one of Britain's most distinctive modern art museums.

Our world-class collection tells the story of Modern British art from 1900 to now, held within the unique setting of a Grade I listed 18th century townhouse and a 21st century contemporary extension.

Read on to discover how we evolved – and what we have planned for the future.

The brilliance of Pallant House Gallery lies not only in its thoughtful and intelligent curation but in the warmth and welcome of the building. The way this fine collection is displayed is intimate yet with space for reflection and tranquillity.

Francine Stock, broadcaster and novelist

Our origins

The Queen Anne Townhouse

[18th century)

Image of a red brick Georgian townhouse joined to a contemporary extension on a sunny day.

Pallant House Gallery, Chichester

The original Pallant House is considered to be one of the most important 18th century townhouses in England.

It was originally built in around 1712 for Henry ‘Lisbon’ Peckham and his new wife Elizabeth Albery. Henry was an ambitious yet disreputable 27 year old wine merchant and Elizabeth was a widow in her early forties who had recently inherited a large fortune from her brother. The marriage lasted for just over five years and ended acrimoniously with a lawsuit that dragged on until 1720 as both parties argued the financial settlement, with much of the dispute concerning the final cost of building Pallant House which cost in the region of £3,000 – just under double the original estimate.

Built on the site of an old malt house and near the City market, Pallant House swiftly rose above the low, timber-framed Tudor buildings in the surrounding streets. The solid brick front and higher roof-line made it a distinct landmark that was designed to impress. Regarded at the time as very modern, Pallant House was a source of great pride in Chichester as it was the first of its style seen in the city. It remains one of very few Queen Anne townhouses open to the public and contains 17th and 18th century furniture by cabinet makers such as Thomas Chippendale and George Hepplewhite, providing a nod to the domestic history of the building.

Perhaps the most memorable feature of the house to many locals is the two stone birds perched above the original entrance. They were intended to resemble ostriches, the adopted crest of the Peckham family. Probably carved by a stonemason who had likely never seen an ostrich, the birds are often said to more closely resemble dodos, leading to Pallant House being given the nickname ‘the Dodo House’ by locals.

Two stone sculptures of birds resembling a cross between and ostrich and a dodo stand on a plinth in front of a red brick building

Our founding collection

The Walter Hussey Bequest

[20th century)

A woman seen through a mirror looking around a domestic room with modern British art on the walls

By the early 20th century Pallant House had been acquired by the District Council and was used as council offices from 1919 until 1979. An ambitious restoration project began when the then Dean of Chichester Cathedral, Walter Hussey (1909-85), offered his private collection of Modern British art to the city of Chichester on the condition that it would be displayed in the domestic setting of Pallant House.

Discover the Walter Hussey Bequest

In 1982, Pallant House opened as a gallery of modern art with displays showcasing works by Ceri Richards, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and more. It was a unique setting, showcasing masterpieces of Modern British art in a domestic setting and proving visitors with a surprisingly intimate experience.

However by the 1990s, it was clear that the  Gallery’s collections had outgrown the townhouse and more space was needed to ensure that as much of the collection as possible could be displayed.

The contemporary wing

An ambitious new building

[21st century)

A woman walks into the red brick contemporary entrance of Pallant House Gallery.

Pallant House Gallery © Christopher Ison

When Professor Sir Colin St John Wilson, the architect of the British Library, and his wife, the architect MJ Long offered their extensive personal collection of Modern British art in the 1990s it provided the final incentive to create a much larger space in which to display the collections as well as exhibitions.

After much consultation and many planning applications for a contemporary extension to the Grade I listed building sited in a conservation area of a city centre in the heart of the historic Pallants, planning consent for the new gallery was finally granted in 2002. One year later, in August 2003, Pallant House Gallery closed to the public to commence the major refurbishment and build project required to fulfil this ambition.

Discover the Wilson Gift and Loan

Part of a portrait of a man looking sternly over his glasses on teh right side and on the left, a wooden panel and narrow window.

The Architects by Kitaj in Pallant House Gallery’s Contemporary Wing © Airey Spaces

The contemporary wing is a truly unique example of significant architects designing a gallery to house their own collection. Featuring light and open gallery spaces, it was designed by Long & Kentish in association with Colin St John Wilson. Opening in July 2006, it was the final completed project before his death in June 2007.

In 2007, the Gallery won the Royal Institute of British Architects Award.

[Pallant House Gallery] offers a satisfying rebuff to the usual fogeys and sceptics who continue to doubt the feasibility of inserting modern architecture into historic settings; its stunning collection also helps reinforce the role of provincial towns in reducing the artistic dominance of London.

RIBA Jury Report, 2007

The future

The Coach House

A red brick Georgia town house in the background with a newer red brick building in the foreground.

Rear of Gallery Photograph Airey Spaces

In order to improve our facilities for collection care, interpretation and increase access to the collection for the public and staff alike, in 2017 we purchased the original 18th century coach house at the rear of the Gallery.

Over the next few years we will begin a new capital building project to create a new Collections Centre coupled with an ambitious new programme of outreach and engagement.