The Radev Collection at Pallant House Gallery tells remarkable tale of three art lovers

By Nick Owen | 22 September 2011
Two Male Nudes, 1930
Keith Vaughan, Two Male Nudes (1930)© The Keith Vaughan Estate/DACs
Exhibition: The Radev Collection: Bloomsbury and Beyond, Pallant House Gallery, Chichester, October 1 2011 - January 22 2012

An art collection as remarkable its collectors' shared biography is about to go on show to the public for the first time.

The Radev Collection will be available to view online from this weekend (September 23 2011) before a selection of the works go on display at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester.

The collection, containing more than 800 works by artists including Amedeo Modigliani, Alfred Wallis and Graham Sutherland, mirrors an incredible story of love, friendship and gay flings which could be mistaken for the plot of an Evelyn Waugh novel.

Named after Mattei Radev, a Bulgarian émigré and a star of the Bloomsbury set, the collection was bequeathed to him in 1991 by his friend Eardley Knollys, who had in turn inherited it from Eddy Sackville-West in 1965.

EM Forster with Mattei Radev
EM Forster with Mattei Radev
© Eardley Knollys
Fleeing communist Bulgaria, Radev arrived in London in 1950 as a stowaway on a Glasgow-bound cargo ship.

After working in a series of dead-end jobs, a fortunate meeting with the eye surgeon and gay-rights activist Patrick Trevor-Roper opened Radev to a world of possibilities, where he discovered the art of picture framing.

It was around this time that Radev met Eardley Knollys, owner of the Storran Gallery in London, with whom he began a fleetingly sexual relationship.

Knollys would regularly invite Radev to Critchel House, a Dorset retreat which hosted a male salon, attracting figures including Raymond Mortimer and Desmond Shawe-Taylor.

During one of his weekends at Critchel, in 1960, Radev met EM Forster and, despite their 46-year age difference, began a secret love affair.

During their time together, Forster gave Radev Two Male Nudes by Keith Vaughan, which was in turn given to him by Christopher Isherwood and remains in the collection.

Knollys shared his Critchel Retreat with the distinguished music critic Eddy Sackville-West, whom he had met during his time at Christ Church, Oxford.
Carbis Bay by Ben Nicholson (1945)
Ben Nicholson, Carbis Bay (1945)© Angela Verren-Taunt
Like Knollys's relationship with Radev, their friendship, which would last until Eddy’s death in 1965, was forged from a sexual encounter.   

It was from Knollys's gallery that Sackville-West furnished his collection, which Knolly in turn inherited in 1965.

Each of the three men added to the collection of 800 works, and the final selection mirrors their differing tastes: Knollys for French artists and Sackville-West for Modernist pieces.

Radev's additions followed in 1991 – most notably works by Robert Medley – when he inherited the collection from Knollys.

Despite most of the collection being drawn from Knollys and Sackville-Smith’s private collections, Radev’s greatest gift was to keep it intact.

Highlights of the collection include Gaudier-Brzeska’s sinuous dancing youth Bronze Dancer, Ben Nicholson’s Carbis Bay and a group of works associated with the Camden Town School such as Spencer Gore’s Mornington Crescent.

After the collection’s unveiling online and its installation in Pallant House, the exhibition will tour the country to Lincoln, Bath, Falmouth and Kendal in 2012.

  • Open 10am-5pm (8pm Thursday, 11am-5pm Sunday, closed Monday.) Admission £2.30-£8.25 (free for unwaged, half-price Aall day Tuesday, free Thursday 5pm-8pm, family ticket £17-£18.70).
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