Britten and Pears' art collection contains around 1,200 works - a selection of which are on display in the House, library and Kitchen Gallery.
The eclectic range of pieces reflects a combination of their personal tastes, their working relationships with artists, and their friends at the heart of the UK’s art scene in the mid-20th century. While landscapes and figurative subjects dominate, there are also a small number of important abstracts.
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 wide-ranging, 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 significant holdings of works by John Piper, Sidney Nolan, Christian Rohlfs, Georg Ehrlich and Mary Potter.
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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.
There are paintings by 19th-century artists such as Constable, Lear and Sickert, but most of the collection of painted works dates from the 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 large number of embroideries by East Anglian artist John Craske make an unusual and significant addition to the 19th-century needlework and appliqué pictures.