The Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne

The art gallery in the seaside town of Eastbourne has an interesting collection of Victorian art by mainly minor genre painters. John Chisholm Towner (1840-1920) was a local benefactor who, on his death, left a score of paintings from his private collection, and 5000 for building an art gallery, to the people of Eastbourne. In the event, the local council purchased an 18th Century manor house, and converted this to form the art gallery. It was opened as the Towner Art Gallery in 1923.

The paintings of the original Towner Bequest, all of which are on display, include several by well-known artists. Frederick Goodall has a Gypsy Encampment (1848), a deliberate composition of poor folk huddled by a tent, which is a characteristic example of his early work before he turned to Egyptian themes in the late 1850s. The Temple of Theseus (1830) by William James Mueller is a serious collection of figures and ruins by this artist. Thomas Sidney Cooper has a typical Cattle and Sheep (1850). There is a bright clifftop scene by Thomas James Lloyd (1849-1910) called Milk for the Calves (1881), and a worthy Auction (1874) by George Smith (1829-1901), containing lots of people, trophies, pictures stacked up - a picture with a story to tell in a Frithian sort of way.

John Frederick Herring Sr is represented by two brown-toned rustic scenes, and James Orrock (1829-1913) has two works. Among other artists represented are William Lee Hankey, William Strutt, Thomas Bush Hardy, and David Murray. Also worth a mention is the single foreign picture - an interior with figures by the Italian artist Lorenzo Cecconi (1863-1947) - the rabbit is especially good.

The rest of the Towner Art Gallery contains a variety of temporary local exhibitions, and a local history museum about Eastbourne and the museum itself. As mentioned, the museum building originated in the latter part of the 18th Century, and there are portraits of the first residents - Revd Henry Lushington and his wife Mary Lushington - by John Hamilton Mortimer (1740-79). Representative but wooden. From the 19th Century, there is a full length portrait of the first Mayor of Eastbourne, George Ambrose Wallis, by Henry Gales, and a not very profound scene Resting at Plough by Herring Sr (see above) together with John F Tennant (1796-1872). Later work includes another David Murray, a William Nicholson, and a room devoted to the war artist and illustrator Eric Ravilious (1903-42), a pupil of John Nash.

Eastbourne itself was developed as a resort by the William Lord Burlington, seventh Lord Cavendish. The London-Brighton and South Coast Railway was extended to Eastbourne in 1849, the Burlington Hotel was put up there in 1851, and the town was laid out mostly in the 1860s and 1870s. Much of the building was supervised by Wallis, mentioned above, who was agent of the 7th Duke and a civil engineer by training.

Eastbourne's statue of the 7th Lord Cavendish, by W. Goscombe John

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Victorian art in Britain

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