Works on display here show a selection of the museum’s growing collection of modern art featuring works by major artists of the 20th century. It charts a period when representational or figurative art was challenged by artists experimenting in abstract art.
Cows at Cookham, a pastoral oil by Stanley Spencer is set, as are so many of his paintings, in his beloved home village on the banks of the Thames in Berkshire and is a delightful study of innocence with toddlers staggering to blow at dandelion clocks, oblivious to the cows lumbering past. Paul Nash, a fellow student of Spencer at the Slade, who served as a war artist in both world wars is represented in the gallery by the brooding Gloucestershire Landscape with a summer storm gathering over a recently harvested cornfield. This was completed in the summer of the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 giving the painting added meaning and poignancy.
At the opposite end of the gallery are works from the Modernist movement including the monolithic wooden piece by Barbara Hepworth, River Form, which dominates this end of the room. Nearby hangs the colourful abstract June Landscape by John Piper reflecting the artist’s stained-glass projects of the 1950s and 1960s with its strongly defined blocks of colour.
Two central cases of the gallery display small-scale sculptures by artists including Dame Elisabeth Frink and Sir Henry Moore. Drawers below the cabinets contain a changing selection of prints and drawings from the period. A portrait by Carel Weight of Orovida Pissarro, grand-daughter of the Impressionist Camille Pissarro, hangs in one corner. She and her mother gave the Ashmolean a large quantity of work by Camille and his son Lucien, some of which can be seen in Gallery 65. She commissioned this striking portrait to accompany the bequest. Contemporary ceramics and silverwork are displayed in the corridor outside the gallery.