Tuesday October 8 2019

The Foundation received an extraordinary gift in early September. Gillian Collymore donated a portrait by the artist Mary Potter to the collection which has been in her possession for several decades. The half-length portrait dates from 1958, a period at which Gill was a relatively frequent visitor to Aldeburgh, and captures her in a pensive mood, sitting with her shadow cast against a wall.

Mary Potter, Portrait of Gillian Collymore, 1958.

Mary Potter, Portrait of Gillian Collymore, 1958.

Mary Potter exchanged houses with Britten and Pears in 1957, setting up home in their former Crag Path address until 1963. She then moved back permanently to Golf Lane into the Red Studio, the house Gill’s late brother Peter designed for her. Mary lived and worked in the Studio until her death in 1981.

Gill’s family connection with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears extends back many years. The daughter of Lancing College Physics Master Eric Collymore, she met both men when she was a child, growing up in Sussex. Lancing was Pears’ secondary school, a place that inspired particularly fond memories for him. In July 1948 Lancing’s chapel was the scene for the premiere of Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, composed to commemorate the school’s centenary. Britten conducted the concert and Pears was tenor soloist.

Gillian Collymore, to the left of Benjamin Britten, in the composer’s Rolls Royce, Lancing, Sussex, July 1948. Photograph: Eric Collymore.

Gillian Collymore, to the left of Benjamin Britten, in the composer’s Rolls Royce, Lancing, Sussex, July 1948. Photograph: Eric Collymore.

The Collymores’ association with Britten and Pears had been established well before. Peter recalled their rehearsing as part of the work they undertook for the Council for the Encouragement of Music and the Arts at Marlborough College where he studied during the Second World War. Passionate about music, Peter grew up listening to Britten’s work, and later went on to design several buildings for The Red House site. Part of Gill’s gift includes plans Peter made for Britten and Pears’ Library, as well as photographs he took of the finished room, all dating from the 1960s. Peter, who remained in touch with the Foundation until ill health prevented him from travelling to Suffolk in recent years, passed away in March.

Gill’s own link with Britten and Pears is more immediately musical. In the 1950s she sang soprano with The Purcell Singers, the chamber choir formed and directed by Imogen Holst that performed regularly during the Aldeburgh Festival. She eventually became editorial administrator for the Architectural Press. Gill has also maintained her contact with The Red House, her most recent visit was earlier this month to deposit her gift.

Mary Potter’s painting of Gill will take a special place in the Foundation’s art collection. Although we have a variety of other genres of her work, the number of Potter portraits is comparatively small. The quality of the painting, coupled with its rarity as a portrait, makes this an exciting new addition to the Archive and we are most grateful to Gill for her generosity.