Manchester Art Gallery

Everything’s Inevitable: Featuring Works Selected by Des Hughes

A display of works that brought together sculpture, painting and watercolour chosen by contemporary sculptor Des Hughes.

Manchester Art Gallery
Tuesday 1 May 2012–Sunday 5 May 2013


This display was comprised of around 20 landscape, portraiture and still life pieces from the 16th century to the mid 20th century.

This exhibition provided a chance to see some of our most popular works, such as paintings by William Blake, Alberto Giacometti and Paul Nash and sculpture by Jacob Epstein and Barbara Hepworth. Some of the lesser known works by artists such as Edward Middleditch and Elizabethan court painter, George Gower, had rarely been seen out of storage before.

It also featured one of Hughes’ most recent works In a Brown Study 2011 which the gallery will acquire for the collection.

The exhibition presented a fantastic opportunity to see Stanley Spencer’s masterpiece The Garage, on loan from The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.

This evocative depiction of the motoring world is a fascinating study of both the social and technological aspects of the industry in the late 1920s. It had never been shown in the city before.

Hughes also filled a cabinet with ancient and intriguing objects from the gallery’s collection, including some Roman nails, a spoon from the 5th century and a birch porridge stirrer (known as a thible) from the 19th century. He mingled these with pieces from his ongoing series of small sculptures Thems.

In the artist’s own words

The artist described his experience of being invited to select things from our collection and how he arrived at the enigmatic title:

‘When I first looked through the collection I planned to select works in a logical way by grouping work by certain themes that I had noticed. Because it is such a vast collection I was overwhelmed, a pleasurable experience in itself, but the idea of ‘selecting ‘ works involves making sense, using a system. To search the collection thoroughly I felt that every work should have a fair audition based on this system. ‘Beards’, ‘hair’, ‘holes’, ‘abstract sculpture in paintings made before abstract sculpture was invented’ were just some of the themes that seemed to suggest themselves. By grouping works small and probably irrelevant details might connect random and distant painting and sculpture and become important, and in doing so reveal something to myself and others how I might use them in my sculpture.

But every time I went through the collection completely different exhibitions would surface and particular works would keep distracting me from these schemes. I noticed that it was exactly the way in which I would view exhibitions, and in fact the way I view everything, scrolling through until a single anecdotal element lights up. Whatever and whenever it is, it suddenly feels vital and current and needs to be made. It connects with past works or particular material or technique, image or gesture and somehow becomes ‘inevitable’. An element of every painting, sculpture and particularly the modest items of decorative arts in this selection has become a part of this raw material of future works.‘

Included works from the collection

Garage 1929

Stanley Spencer 1891-1959

Oil on canvas

Spencer was given a commission by the Empire Marketing Board to create a series of paintings depicting aspects of British industry. The artist had recently bought a car in order to travel from Cookham to the chapel at Burghclere where he was working on murals commemorating the First World War. This is a rather rare depiction of a car in British modern art. In the end the paintings were not reproduced as posters as Spencer used the wrong format.

On loan from The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation.

Drapery Study for the oil painting, The Last Watch of Hero c.1887

Frederick, Lord Leighton 1830-1896

Black and white chalks on grey paper

Presented by the artist 1887.15

A Rock Tomb, Lycia c.1843-4

William James Müller 1812-1845

Oil on canvas

Along with David Roberts, Bristol born Müller was an artist who studied the archaeological sites of Egypt and Turkey. Lycia is in Turkey and, inspired by a recommendation from archaeologist, Sir Charles Fellows, Müller travelled to Constantinople and on to Xanthus, the ancient capital of Lycia. Here he studied the ruins making excursions to Tlos where he drew the rock tombs. This and other paintings were made on his return to England in 1844.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1896.3

Head of a Baby 1902-4

Jacob Epstein 1880-1959


This is one of foremost British modernist sculptor, Epstein’s earliest works made while he was a student studying in Paris. He made numerous studies of children and babies during his illustrious career. In his autobiography he wrote:
‘I have always been attracted to children as models for plastic work. I feel that the life of children has hardly been touched in sculpture’

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1925.330

Doves 1927

Barbara Hepworth 1903-1975

Parian marble

Along with Henry Moore Hepworth pioneered ‘direct carving’ in 20th Century British art. The artist would reveal the form within the block without recourse to first making a model in clay. This is one of Hepworth’s earliest works and was studied directly from the birds she kept in her aviary.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1942.91

Black Pyramids 1942

John Armstrong 1893-1973

Tempera on hardboard

John Armstrong was a British Surrealist painter who also worked as a stage designer. He was a member of the group Unit One along with Paul Nash. Unit One pioneered abstraction but Armstrong combined figurative and abstract elements in works such as this. Enigmatic forms in a landscape setting was a device which distinguished English Surrealism under the influence of Paul Nash.

Mrs. C.L. Rutherston gift 1943.7

A Cotswold Farm

Joseph Barnard Davis 1861-1943

Oil on canvas

Davis studied art at the Westminster School of Art in the evenings after finishing his day job in a bank. Eventually he was able to become a full-time illustrator for magazines such as The Ladies’ Pictorial and Black and White. Later in life he gave up graphic work and devoted himself to oil and watercolour work exhibiting at the Royal Academy.

Presented by the artist’s executors 1943.52

Landscape 1941

Josselin Bodley 1893-1974

Oil on canvas

Although a British artist Bodley was born and educated in France where he also exhibited at the Paris Salon throughout the 1920s. He served in both World Wars in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and in 1918 was awarded the Military Cross.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1947.191

Crater 1941

Richard Murry 1902-1984

Oil on canvas

Murry studied typography and bookbinding at the Central School of Arts and Crafts and then studied draughtsmanship at the Slade under Henry Tonks. He taught art at a school in Surbiton during the 1930s until the Second World War when he joined the Royal Naval Film Unit.

Presented by H.M. Government War Artists’ Advisory Committee 1947.400

Press for Making Shells 1941

Graham Sutherland 1903-1980

Oil on hardboard

Sutherland was recruited as a War Artist by Kenneth Clark. Up to this point he had created primal and apocalyptic landscapes from the scenery of Wales. Decay and fertility were his major themes and these he reinvented via the blasted landscape of the Blitz or the fire and thunder of munitions factories as in this dramatic work.

Presented by H.M. Government War Artists’ Advisory Committee 1947.418

Nocturnal Landscape 1938

Paul Nash 1889-1946

Oil on canvas

Both Nash and Moore collected interesting and unusual stones, bones, fossils and pieces of driftwood for inspiration. Here Nash magnifies images of found flints and makes them come to life in the English landscape like primeval animals. Lit by a sickly moon the threatening rock figures loom large in the foreground whilst a bookshelf device from his paintings of the early 1930s appears on the left and the ancient megalith of the Men-an-Tol in Cornwall appears in the top right of the painting. Nash described this work as having ‘a character influenced by the condition of Dream’.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1948.134

Ruined Cottage, Tomen-y-Mur, North Wales 1943

John Piper 1903-1992

Oil on canvas

Nash went to paint the landscape of North Wales in 1943 with a commission to record the underground quarry of the Manod mountain where paintings from the National Gallery had been stored safely away from the Blitz. He stayed in Ffestiniog and toured the area of the ancient site of Tomen-y-Mur by bicycle. Piper’s early work was more Constructivist and abstract but by the War he was immersed in a rediscovery of the romantic landscape heavily influenced by the landscape painting of Samuel Palmer an example of which can be seen in Gallery 4.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1950.67

Mary Cornwallis

m. William Bourchier, Earl of Bath; marriage annulled before 1583; will proved 1627


George Gower c.1540-1596

Oil on panel

Mary Cornwallis was the youngest daughter of Sir Thomas Cornwallis of Brome, Suffolk who had been Comptroller of the Household to Queen Mary and Treasurer of Calais. She holds a fan with the arms of Cornwallis of Brome and the costume dates the picture to the early 1580s. Gower was descended from Yorkshire gentry and became one of the most fashionable portraitists of his day. In 1581 he was appointed Serjeant Painter to Queen Elizabeth I.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1953.112

Sheffield Weir 1954

Edward Middleditch 1923-1987

Oil on hardboard

Middleditch joined the army in 1942 aged 19 and fought in France, Germany and West Africa. He was severely wounded in the Ardennes campaign and awarded the Military Cross. On leaving the army in 1947 he studied art at the Royal College of Art on an ex-serviceman’s grant and was taught by John Minton. He represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 1956 along with John Bratby, Derrick Greaves and Jack Smith. At this period his work was associated with a kind of gritty realism which became known as Kitchen Sink Painting but he was more a landscape painter who employed a strong graphic sensibility.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1955.134

Head of a Cock 1958

Bernard Meadows 1915-2005


Meadows worked as assistant to his close friend, the sculptor, Henry Moore. His own work was mainly smaller in scale and ambition and featured expressive, almost tortured-looking animals. When he showed at the Venice Biennale in 1952 alongside the other new sculptors of his generation: Reg Butler, Lynn Chadwick, Kenneth Armitage and Eduardo Paolozzi, the critic, Herbert Read dubbed their work ‘the geometry of fear’.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery1992.12

Alonso de Ercilla y Zuñiga (1533-1594) Spanish poet c.1800

William Blake 1757-1827

Tempera on canvas

Blake painted the heads of eighteen poets for his patron,the gentleman poet William Hayley. They were commissioned for the library of his house at Felpham in Sussex. Hayley chose English and European poets, alongside classical writers such as Homer and Cicero.

In 1800, Blake moved to a cottage in Felpham. At first he worked alongside Hayley, grateful for the commissions that eased his money worries. Yet within a year, Hayley’s demands became irksome to him and he began to think of his patron as his spiritual enemy. By 1803 he had returned to London, irritated by Hayley’s ‘genteel ignorance and polite disapprobation’.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1885.12

François Marie Arouet de Voltaire (1694-1778) French writer and philosopher

William Blake 1757-1827

Tempera on canvas

More of Blake’s Heads can be seen in Gallery 4.

Purchased by Manchester Art Gallery 1885.13

Seated Woman 1949

Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966

Oil on canvas

Swiss-born Giacometti lived most of his life in Paris where he was famous for his sculptures of elongated figures. In the 1940s he began to paint regularly making near monochrome works which are more like drawings with paint. The artist worked at his images over and over again, each time he looked away from his subject his perception changed when he looked back. The dense net of lines which resulted gives the sense that the figure is trapped.

In 1986 the artist’s son, Bruno, identified the sitter as Elevezia Michel-Baldini.

The Gallery acquired this work as ‘The Artist’s Mother’.

Presented by the Contemporary Art Society 1952.277

In a Brown Study 2011

Des Hughes born 1970

Mixed media

In his house at 2 Willow Road, Hamspstead, renowned modernist architect, Erno Goldfinger displayed objects and images from his life in a ‘framed screen’ in changing combinations to create Surrealist associations. Des Hughes recreates this idea for his own work which is an exhibition in itself – a collection of diverse objects made by Hughes which draw inspiration from other works. In his other work as a sculptor Hughes engages with traditional sculptural materials in new and inventive ways: mixing bronze with organic material for instance. He is also fascinated by the strangeness of British art whether it be primitive art, strange craft objects or the reinvention of landscape and still life in British Surrealism.