Art collection

John Craxton, Boy in Fig Tree (1949). Courtesy of the Craxton Estate

The Britten Pears art collection reflects their personal tastes and working relationships with artists and friends at the heart of the UK’s artistic milieu in the mid-20th century. Both were regular visitors to galleries on their travels across the world. From the late 1940s through to the late 1960s Peter Pears was a regular visitor to London art dealers from the more traditional Arthur Tooth & Son to those specialising in contemporary art, like the Leicester Galleries. His tastes were eclectic, often favouring pictures with bright and contrasting colours. Britten’s tastes appear tonally more restrained. But friendship was the predominant influence – when they befriended artists, they often also supported them through purchases and commissions.

There are around 1,300 works in the art collection. Landscapes and figurative subjects dominate but there are a small number of important abstracts. There are significant holdings of works by John Piper, Sidney Nolan, Christian Rohlfs, Georg Ehrlich and Mary Potter.

H.K. Browne, Study for Paul Dombey, c.1848

Most of the collection comprises works on paper, ranging from the 18th-century visionary, William Blake to contemporary British artist, David Hockney. Works include 18th, 19th and 20th century drawings, watercolours, collages, prints and etchings by British and European artists as well as those from Asia, America, Australia and the Far East. Central are the costume and set designs for Britten’s stage works and performances by the English Opera Group.

Approximately 140 canvas and panel paintings in the collection are predominantly by British artists. There are works by 19th-century artists such as Constable, Lear and Sickert, but much of the collection is 20th century and includes works by Robert Colquhoun, Duncan Grant and Henry Lamb. Non-British 20th-century artists are represented most notably by German-born Max Ernst and Francis Newton Souza from Goa, India. The sculpture collection largely consists of bronzes by Austro-German and English sculptors with the addition of Rodin. A significant number of embroideries by East Anglian artist John Craske make a quirky addition to the 19th-century needlework and appliqué pictures.

A selection of the collection is on display in The Red House, Library and gallery. Click here for information about visiting.

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