Eric Gill and others in Drawn from Ditchling at the Ditchling Museum

By Ed Sexton | 06 August 2009
A picture of a drawing of a young man in profile

John Nye by Eric Gill. Picture courtesy Ditchling Museum

Exhibition: Drawn from Ditchling, Portraits from a Sussex Village, Ditchling Museum, Ditchling, until December 13 2009

Ditchling is no stranger to the descriptive portrait, having featured in BBC4 series A Very English Village, a documentary of the life and changes in the village showing as part of Ditchling Museum's latest exhibition.

This year's exhibition, Drawn from Ditchling, celebrates the people who have lived in the village and the artists who have painted them.

The multi-disciplinary show explores the idea of the portrait, from painting and drawing to photography, particularly the double meaning of the word portrait as both a likeness of a person and a verbal description. This is reflected through the entertaining descriptions of various professions provided by Hilary Pepler displayed alongside etchings by Mary Dudley Short.

It features a range of pieces from the artists who made up the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, established by Eric Gill alongside other artists who made Ditchling their home.

One of Gill's first pieces is of Ditchling resident John Nye, who died from injuries he sustained during the Battle of the Somme. The pair met at social events held by the Guild on Ditchling Common, and it is possible that Gill completed the portrait of his friend whilst cutting his memorial.

A picture of a thick black drawing of a woman in profile

Mrs Williams of Ditchling by Eric Gill (circa 1923). Picture courtesy Ditchling Museum

Various members of the Guild are clearly portrayed. There are series of portraits of David Jones, a wood engraver in the Guild who produced a number of pieces for their publication, The Game.

The series show Jones at different ages, both as a young man fresh to the Guild and as a slightly weather-beaten looking figure in his old age, offering multiple viewpoints of the Guild member.

The personal and professional relationships of both the Guild and the village residents are also visited through the exhibition, with descriptions of the portraits demonstrating how all the subjects are in some way intertwined.

Edgar Holloway was invited to join the Guild in 1949 by established member Phillip Hagreen, who then passed on skills to the younger member. Holloway's picture of a 95-year-old Hagreen shows him as an almost God-like figure with a flowing beard and wise face.

The tightly-knit personal relationships within the Guild can be seen through characters such as Daisy Hawkins, whose portrait features in the exhibition. She had a two-year affair with Gill, went on to work for Betty Gill and then married Edgar Holloway.

A picture of a painting of a woman

Portrait of Mary (circa 1920) by Louis Ginnett. Picture courtesy Ditchling Museum

The impact the Guild had on the art world is well recognised, but Drawn from Ditchling reveals that the village had a rich art scene beyond the Guild.

There are a string of portraits by Ditchling resident Louis Ginnett, who taught at the Brighton School of Art with fellow Ditchling resident Charles Knight. The images are all of his family, including a striking portrait of his daughter Mary, complete with angelic looks and a classic 1920s bob, that appears on the publicity for the show.

One of the sisters who founded the museum was Hilary Bourne, who features in both solo portraits and in a photographic portrait with her sister Joanne. Hilary was a professional weaver who produced the fabric for the Royal Festival Hall, as well as Charlton Heston's costume in Ben Hur.

It is not just the artists who are famous - sitter Jay Sinden, sister of actors Donald and Leon, sat for one portrait, and her image can also be found in murals in the Rockefeller Centre in New York.

Award-winning children's author Raymond Briggs, who created characters such as Fungus the Bogeyman and The Snowman, is also the subject of photographic portraits by Sim Canetty-Clarke.

Drawn from Ditchling offers a fascinating insight into the art scene of this picturesque Sussex village and the artists who have captured its residents.

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