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Famous artists from the 20th century to feature in new touring exhibition

Philip Guston (1913–1980), Hooded, 1968, charcoal on cream paper. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Reproduced by permission of the artist’s estate.

Exhibition preview

WORKS of art by renowned artists from the past century will feature in the new British Museum touring exhibition Living with art: Picasso to Celmins, which reflects important artistic developments during this period in Europe and America.

Spanning almost one hundred years of modern art, this exhibition will showcase highlights from the wide-ranging collection of Alexander Walker (1930–2003), longstanding film critic for London’s Evening Standard newspaper, bequeathed to the British Museum in 2004.

Covering the period from 1908 until 2002, Living with art will include 30 prints and drawings by prominent artists ranging from Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse to Lucian Freud, Bridget Riley, David Hockney and Vija Celmins. This is the first exhibition in over ten years to focus on Walker’s collection, and many of the works of art included will be going on public display for the first time in thirteen years.

Beginning at the British Museum (January 14 to March 5, 2020), the exhibition will proceed to tour the UK between April 2020 and May 2021 as part of the Museum’s National Programmes, giving those outside of London the opportunity to view these rarely displayed artworks.

Themed sections ranging from early twentieth-century modernism and abstraction to relief printing and self-portraiture will demonstrate the astonishing quality and breadth of Walker’s collection. In addition, Living with art will focus on a running thread in the collection: transitional pieces that demonstrate well-known artists developing a new style, subject or technique.

Highlights of the exhibition include an early etching by David Hockney titled Jungle Boy, inspired by a friend who kept pet snakes and an indication of Hockney’s developing humorous style.

A further highlight is a charcoal drawing of a hooded figure by Philip Guston from 1968, an important transitional composition and early depiction of the Ku Klux Klan theme, and an oil pastel by the Irish/American artist Sean Scully, purchased by Walker after he encountered Scully’s work on his first visit to the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin.

In life, Walker surrounded himself with works from his collection on every inch of the rooms in his Maida Vale flat, including his kitchen and bathroom. A prolific collector of modern and contemporary prints and drawings, Walker generously left his collection of over 200 works on paper to the British Museum following his death, after developing an interest in the Prints and Drawing department.

The acquisition of these works has significantly expanded the Museum’s collection of modern and contemporary Western graphic art and is one of the most important bequests in recent years. The exhibition coincides with the publication of Living with Art: the Alexander Walker Collection, the first full catalogue of Walker’s gift.

Through displaying key pieces, the exhibition will demonstrate Walker’s interest in the working method of artists – he viewed the collection as a record of his own education in art history. Living with art will also demonstrate his own tastes, from the figurative to the abstract, and consider what motivates collectors like Walker, who bought for pleasure rather than financial gain, to surround themselves with works of art.

Catherine Daunt, Hamish Parker Curator of Modern and Contemporary Graphic Art said: “This exhibition reflects key moments in the history of art in Europe and America in the twentieth century. It also demonstrates the extraordinary range of the British Museum’s collection of modern and contemporary prints and drawings, which has developed largely due to the generosity of donors such as Alexander Walker.

“Walker had a wonderful eye and was able to assemble a remarkable collection despite his relatively modest budget. His collection gave him great pleasure during his life and it was his wish that it would be widely seen, studied and enjoyed by as many people as possible after his death.”

Following the dates at the British Museum, Living with art: Picasso to Celmins will be on display at Winchester Discovery Centre (April 4 to June 28), Doncaster Museum and Art Gallery (August 3 to October 4), F. E. McWilliam Gallery and Studio, Northern Ireland (October 17, 2020 to January 30, 2021) and National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (February 20 to May 30, 2021).

The exhibition is generously supported by the Dorset Foundation in memory of Harry M Weinrebe.

Image: Philip Guston (1913–1980). Hooded, 1968, charcoal on cream paper. © The Trustees of the British Museum. Reproduced by permission of the artist’s estate.