Art in Sussex – Unveiling the Rich History

art in sussex

The history of art in Sussex can be traced back to the prehistoric times, when people left behind traces of their artistic expression in the form of cave paintings, stone circles, and carved chalk figures. Some of the most famous examples of these are the Long Man of Wilmington, a 69-metre-tall figure of a man on the South Downs, and the Uffington White Horse, a 110-metre-long horse on the Berkshire Downs.

In the medieval period, Sussex was known for its religious art, especially in the form of illuminated manuscripts, stained glass windows, and carved wooden screens. Some of the most notable examples of these are Chichester Cathedral, a 12th-century cathedral that has a remarkable collection of medieval art, including the Arundel Tomb, a stone monument that inspired a poem by Philip Larkin.

Historical significance of art in Sussex

The historical significance of art in Sussex is a fascinating topic that has been explored by many scholars and artists over the years. Sussex has a rich and diverse landscape, culture and history. It has attracted and inspired artists from different periods and styles, who have responded to its natural beauty, rural charm and historical heritage.

Some of the earliest examples of art in Sussex are the 12th century wall paintings at St. Botolph’s Church in Hardham, which are thought to be the earliest complete set of murals in England, they depict religious scenes in an Anglo-Norman style, such as the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Last Judgment. These paintings show the influence of Byzantine art and the Norman conquest on the local culture and religion.

18th and 19th Century

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Sussex became a popular destination for landscape painters, such as William Blake, J.M.W. Turner and John Constable. Blake lived in the coastal village of Felpham from 1800 to 1803, where he had visionary experiences that inspired his poems and illustrations. Turner visited Sussex several times and painted scenes of the Chichester Canal, the Arundel Castle and the Brighton Pavilion. Constable also stayed in Brighton for health reasons and sketched the sea, the cliffs and the town. These artists captured the changing light, colours and atmosphere of the Sussex coast and countryside.

Sussex and the Bloomsbury Group

In the 20th century, Sussex became a hub for modern and contemporary artists, who sought a retreat from the war, the city or the mainstream. The Bloomsbury Group, a circle of writers and artists, established a rural base at Charleston Farmhouse near Lewes, where they decorated the rooms and furniture with their own paintings and designs. Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant were the main artists of the group, who experimented with Post-Impressionism and abstraction. They also collaborated with other artists in the area, such as Eric Ravilious, who painted the chalk hills, the farms and the railways of Sussex in a distinctive style of watercolour.

Sussex and Surrealism

Sussex also attracted Surrealist artists, such as Edward Burra, Paul Nash and Lee Miller, who explored the uncanny and the subconscious aspects of the landscape. Burra painted the dark and sinister side of Sussex, such as the marshes, the cemeteries and the pubs. Nash was fascinated by the ancient monuments and the natural forms of Sussex, such as the Wittenham Clumps, the Ditchling Beacon and the Devil’s Dyke. Miller moved to Farley Farm House near Chiddingly, where she lived with her husband Roland Penrose, a painter and a curator. They hosted many famous artists, such as Pablo Picasso, Man Ray and Max Ernst, and created a collection of art and photography.


In the 21st century, Sussex continues to inspire and challenge artists, who use various media and techniques to express their views and feelings. Some of the contemporary artists who have worked in or about Sussex are Tania Kovats, who created a sculpture of the chalk cliffs of Beachy Head for the London 2012 Olympics: Wolfgang Tillmans, who photographed the sea and the sky of Sussex in a series of abstract images; and Jem Southam, who documented the changes and the cycles of the Sussex landscape in his photographs.

Art in Sussex Today

Sussex is a county that has a vibrant and diverse art scene that spans from the past to the present, from the indoors to the outdoors, and from the local to the global. The county has been home to many artists who have created and displayed their works in various forms and styles, such as painting, sculpture, photography, collage, and more. The county has also been a place of inspiration and refuge for artists who have challenged the norms and expressed their views on social and political issues, such as humanism, feminism, and environmentalism.

The county offers a range of art festivals and events throughout the year that showcase the work of local and international artists, as well as celebrate the themes of diversity, equality, and love. The county also has many art institutions, museums, and galleries that preserve, promote, and develop the art and culture of Sussex, as well as offer educational and recreational opportunities for the public.

The county has many outdoor art installations and sculptures that are displayed in the natural and historic settings of Sussex, such as gardens, estates, and parks. These outdoor artworks enhance the beauty and biodiversity of the landscape, as well as invite the viewers to interact and engage with the art and the environment.

The art scene in Sussex is a vibrant and dynamic one that reflects the spirit and identity of the county and its people. It is a scene that welcomes and embraces everyone, regardless of their background, preferences, or abilities. It is a scene that invites and encourages everyone to explore, discover, and enjoy the art and culture of Sussex. It is a scene that inspires and challenges everyone to create, express, and share their own art and culture with Sussex and the world.

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