Seventy-five years old this year, The British Council has earned a worldwide reputation for promoting excellence in visual arts from Britain. The spectrum of the Council's Collection is broad, encompassing painting, sculpture, graphics, multiples and photography along with artworks that embrace new technologies.
Interest in the crafts began during the Council's formative years in the 1940s and 50s. The craft specialist, Muriel Rose, who joined the British Council in 1940, cultivated the Council’s curiosity. Soon a collection began to take shape and incomparable work was acquired from leading practitioners such as Bernard Leach (1887-1979), now known as the father of studio pottery. Michael Cardew (1901-1983) was also a prominent figure in pottery, whose vitality and influence soon spread at home and abroad. Unlike Leach and Cardew, Hans Coper (1920-1981) is highly regarded for his sculptural work in clay. Indeed he is thought by many to be the most original ceramic artist of the period. Lucie Rie (1902-1995) continued to produce outstanding functional pottery throughout her long life. Known for their deceptive simplicity, her pots display delicacy, whilst forming a unique metropolitan style.
In 1957, Muriel Rose retired, leaving the Council bereft of a curator for the crafts. This situation brought a long halt to craft acquisitions. Sadly, this was during the 1960s and 70s, when young craftspeople in Britain were breaking with the past and taking pivotal strides with their work. But later, the craft collection began to grow again acquiring innovative work in wood, glass, textiles, paper, jewellery and studio pottery, of course.
Along with the above artists, we have the privilege of adding more recent work from the Collection, such as Elizabeth Fritsch’s hand-built vessel forms that are structured by ideas, influenced by formulae and her love of music. Sara Radstone’s dynamic expressions, wrought with sensitivity and depth, bridge stability and vulnerability, while Angus Suttie (1946-1993) broke away from conventions in pottery and turned to witty, exuberant sculptural pieces, which retain a degree of function. Edmund de Waal’s unique work in Limoges porcelain stands out for sublimity, catching the eye with unlikely compositions of quiet beauty and raw function.
The British Council Collection is a resource for touring over the world. Many artworks are then frequently tied up in exhibitions or on long-term loan, so our selection for this project offers a rare glimpse of just some of the masterpieces of a Collection constantly on the move. The exhibition is curated by Ralph Turner.
Originated by Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in collaboration with the British Council