Back in the frame: the extraordinary artists Britain forgot

Back in the frame: the extraordinary artists Britain forgotOctober 9, 2020

Combing through musty studios and garrets has become a way of life for specialists Liss Llewellyn, whose Hidden Gems exhibition lays bare museum-grade works that have fallen into oblivion – more often than not by women

In the months before Britain declared war on Germany, mural artist Evelyn Dunbar sat painting in her aunt’s Sussex garden. She captured the light falling through white blossom and green leaf on to the brown earth of a vegetable patch and the lawn it bordered. She painted the garden hedge running across the small canvas, thereby planting you – the viewer – firmly inside it, safe under a cloudless sky. As garden paintings go, it is a delightful scene of domestic sanctuary. And this month, for the first time since it was completed in 1939, the painting is to be exhibited in public, as part of Liss Llewellyn’s Hidden Gems online exhibition series.

Over the past three decades, Sasha Llewellyn and Paul Liss have carved out a niche as champions of the artists that Britain forgot. Specialising in painting but also sculpture, drawing and prints from 1880-1980, they have spent the last 30-odd years working with museums and institutions, and private collections. They’ve visited hundreds of musty studios, combed through archives and ferreted around garrets to root out the work of artists who, though lauded in their day, have since fallen into oblivion: from erstwhile prize winners and residents of the British School at Rome to the shyer contemporaries of luminaries such as Henry Moore or Eric Ravilious. A lot of their research leads nowhere, but it is predicated on the fact that falling out of popularity has very little to do with the quality of the work. “We are a bit like archaeologists,” says Liss. “We clear the debris that’s built up around someone.”

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