Gallery goes back to 1951

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Chichester’s Pallant House Gallery turns the clock back 60 years to look again at the 1951 Festival of Britain

A new exhibition entitled A Tonic To The Nation runs at the Gallery until May 8, as gallery spokeswoman Emma Robertson explains.

“Inspired by the Great Exhibition of 1851, the Festival of Britain followed the austerity of the war years when much of the country still lay in ruins.

“Described as a tonic to the nation, it was intended as an attempt to give Britons a feeling of recovery and progress and to promote better-quality design in the rebuilding of British towns and cities.

“To mark the 60th anniversary of the Festival, this exhibition in the De’ Longhi Print Room explores the iconic imagery which came out of the Festival through a collection of souvenirs and memorabilia.”

The Festival of Britain took place between May and September during 1951. Conceived as a celebration of the British people and their achievements, it represented a uniquely-British form of post-war modernity based around an integration of art, architecture and design.

“For the visiting public it was the first glimpse of a post-austerity Britain and understood as a moment of light relief and a kind of national village fete,” Emma said.

“The main events were focused around the formerly bomb-damaged site on the south bank of the River Thames. Constructed as a series of temporary pavilions, they featured murals and designs by artists including Edward Bawden, Ben Nicholson, John Tunnard and Victor Pasmore.

“The futuristic architecture of the site, such as the Skylon sculpture designed by Powell and Moya, inspired children’s cut-out models, Biro pen holders and featured in numerous postcards and images. Events also happened around the UK, which were commemorated by a multitude of ephemera ranging from printed guides to amateur snapshot photographs.”

Official souvenirs were selected by committee to bear the emblem of the Festival, designed by Abram Games, which incorporated Britannia, a compass and festive bunting in the

colours of the national flag.

“Intentionally ephemeral, the physical environment (apart from the Festival Hall) was destroyed immediately after the events, effectively drawing a line under the project so the

souvenirs associated with the Festival represent something that have literally disappeared from view.

“A Tonic To The Nation features memorabilia selected from the comprehensive collection of the design historians Paul and Karen Rennie sought out from auctions, antique and junk

shops over the past two decades, many of which are now extremely rare.”