Iconic images of the British landscape evoke adventure and discovery at Mottisfont

February 28, 2017

Iconic images of the British landscape, including some local scenes, go on show at the National Trust’s Mottisfont this summer.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 11.07.03

Invoking a spirit of escape and adventure, posters commissioned by Shell from the 1920s – 1950s featured historic landmarks and inspiring scenes of British countryside, brought vividly to life by artists such as Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland, Rex Whistler and Vanessa Bell.

Discovering Britain: the Shell Heritage Art Collection at Mottisfont, in Hampshire, includes more than thirty posters and original artworks. Other material commissioned by Shell, including wall charts, film and travel guides, will also be on show.

This is a new and unique exhibition, on loan from the Shell Heritage Art Collection based at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu.

The Shell Heritage Art Collection is one of the most important collections of commercial art in Britain, spanning years of advertising campaigns. Mottisfont’s exhibition focuses on the early twentieth-century period, when Shell’s advertising was driven by ideas of travel and discovery, featuring the slogans ‘See Britain First’ and ‘Visit Britain’s Landmarks’. Exquisite artwork depicting quirky and interesting places encouraged drivers to get on the road and explore the British Isles.

Mottisfont’s exhibition features a number of recognisable local scenes. Edward McKnight Kauffer created an evocative winter landscape of the New Forest, with dramatic tree branches reaching up against a moody sky. Both the poster and Kauffer’s original artwork will be on show.

There are famous Dorset landmarks, from Dominique Charles Fouqueray’s Lulworth Cove to Kimmeridge Folly, beautifully depicted by Paul Nash, with rays of sunshine and a seaweed-strewn shore. There’s a bold, colourful depiction of the Great Globe at Swanage from Graham Sutherland, while the Cerne Abbas Giant from Frank Dobson is delicately dressed in cloud.

National Trust land and properties are another prominent feature of the exhibition. Vanessa Bell created a shimmering view of Alfriston; the Clergy House here was the first property acquired by the Trust in 1896. Other National Trust landmarks include a stunning rendition of Giant’s Causeway by John Roland Barker, and a sweeping scene of Box Hill in Surrey by Charles Mozley.

The works on show reflect a diversity of artistic styles emerging in Britain after the First World War. Jack Beddington, Shell’s publicity manager in the 1930s, selected and commissioned these then up-and-coming artists to produce designs for this campaign, as he did later for the Lyon’s Teashop lithographs, previously exhibited in Mottisfont’s gallery. Some of these artists went on to become famous names in British contemporary art.

A number of the artists included in the exhibition also feature in Mottisfont’s own collection of twentieth-century art, donated to the property by artist Derek Hill in honour of his friendship with the Russells, Mottisfont’s last owners.Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 11.07.15

Maud Russell made Mottisfont into a vibrant hub of artistic activity from the 1930s onwards. Many Modern British artists, critics and designers spent long weekends of creative conversation here, and Maud herself sat for and commissioned works of art. Perhaps most well-known of these is Mottisfont’s drawing room, designed and painted by Rex Whistler. One of Whistler’s works features in the exhibition – his depiction of the Vale of Aylesbury includes a subtle self-portrait.

As well as posters, Shell encouraged travel around Britain by producing guides and short travel documentaries. John Betjeman both edited the Shell County guides and presented the short films, examples of which will be on display as part of Mottisfont’s exhibition. In keeping with Shell’s other commissions, innovative writers, artists, designers and academics contributed to these materials, again fostering a love for Britain’s heritage and encouraging romantic ideas of exploration.

A small selection of Shell’s Valentine cards will also be on show. Also designed by up-and-coming artists of the period, Shell sent these often humorous cards to its female customers from the late 1930s up until 1975.

The whole exhibition showcases an astonishing breadth of work produced by a company that was enlightened in commissioning leading artists to create stunning visuals for promotional campaigns, encouraging a love of landscape, heritage and discovery.

Discovering Britain: the Shell Heritage Art Collection runs from 6 May to 2 July. Mottisfont’s gallery opens at 11am and closes at 5pm. Normal property admission price only. For visitors unable to access the second floor gallery, we have digital versions of exhibitions on iPads which are available on lower levels.

For more information about the exhibition, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont/features/discovering-britain-exhibition-at-mottisfont. For more information about Mottisfont visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/mottisfont or call 01794 340757.