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Roland Penrose, Unsleeping Beauty, 1946, oil on canvas. Roland Penrose © Lee Miller Archives, England 2022. All rights reserved.
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When Dreams Confront Reality: The Sherwin Collection

11 March 2022 - 8 January 2023

With support from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

This exhibition is drawn from the Sherwin Collection, arguably the most important privately-owned collection of British Surrealism. The collection has now found a permanent home at The Hepworth Wakefield, greatly enhancing Wakefield’s holdings of Surrealist art.

In 1986, an exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery was Jeffrey Sherwin’s first encounter with British Surrealism which, in his own words, ‘made me return and look again and again’. For Jeffrey and his wife Ruth, it inspired a lifetime of collecting Surrealist works of art and related archive material.

Surrealism originated in Paris in 1924 with poet André Breton announcing his Surrealist Manifesto, ‘I believe in the future resolution of these two states, dream and reality, which are seemingly so contradictory into a kind of absolute reality, a surreality.’ During the 1920s, British artists such as Eileen Agar, Roland Penrose, and John Banting spent time in Paris, meeting Surrealist artists and developing their own unique Surrealist style. Surrealist exhibitions appeared in Britain from the early 1930s, and in 1936 the first International Surrealist Exhibition was held in London with Henry Moore as part of the organising committee and a poster designed by Max Ernst. Fractured by the start of the Second World War, British Surrealism became a loose network of artists.

The exhibition will feature paintings, collage, works on paper, ceramics and sculpture by artists including Eileen Agar, John Banting, Max Ernst, Henry Moore and Roland Penrose. Works on display will reflect the collection’s strengths in holdings by British Surrealists such as Conroy Maddox, and Desmond Morris, who brought Surrealism into the 21st century, as well as female surrealists who are only now receiving much-deserved recognition such as Leonora Carrington, Ithell Colquhoun and Edith Rimmington. The show will also highlight key aspects of British Surrealism; the engagement with tumultuous political events, and fantastical visual explorations of subconscious desires.

The exhibition title is taken from a quote by George Melly, jazz musician and Surrealist, with which Jeffrey opened his 2014 book, British Surrealism Opened Up. Jeffrey’s own words on his collection will be incorporated within the gallery interpretation to convey the passion with which this remarkable collection was built. The show will be arranged to reflect the densely hung Surrealist exhibitions of the 1930s and 40s, as well as the salon-style manner in which Jeffrey and Ruth installed their collection in their Yorkshire home.

‘We are so delighted to be working closely with the Sherwin family to look after and make available their important collection to a broad and diverse audience here at The Hepworth Wakefield. We regularly borrowed works from Jeffrey during his lifetime and our staff have fond memories of benefitting from Jeffrey’s deep and engaged knowledge of this exciting period in art history. When Surrealism was at its height in Britain, Barbara Hepworth was creating her earliest abstract carvings and Henry Moore was very much part the movement, so the Sherwin collection is a wonderfully rich resource that adds an important new dimension to our core story of Modern British art.’ Simon Wallis, Director, The Hepworth Wakefield.

Dr Jeffrey Sherwin

Dr Jeffrey Sherwin (1936-2018) championed visual arts in the north of England throughout his life, starting out as a collector while a junior doctor. As a Leeds city councillor, Sherwin was instrumental in developing the Henry Moore Institute of which Moore himself laid the foundation stone in April 1980. Sherwin was a much-loved general practitioner in Leeds for 40 years and contributed significantly to the civic and cultural life of the city. An honorary Alderman, Sherwin was also executive chairman of the Yorkshire Arts Association and founder executive member of the Leeds Civic Trust. In 2014 Sherwin wrote British Surrealism Opened Up, in the words of the author, an ‘everyman guide’ to British Surrealism.