George Dannatt (1915-2009) was an outstanding and inspirational figure in the story of the later St Ives School. He represented a rare breed of cultural polymath: musician, critic, practising artist, connoisseur, and collector of modern art. He also belonged to a small group of patron collectors who practised what they preached. Dannatt produced a solid oeuvre of abstract painting inspired by, and in concert with, the St Ives Modernists whose work he so admired.
George Dannatt’s long career as an artist spanned more than 50 years. An artist in all media, he was a respected member of a group of artists impressed by the qualities of the English countryside and coastline, including Terry Frost, John Wells, Bryan Winter and Dennis Mitchell, all of whom were alive to the unique visual appeal of the south and west of England.
Dannatt’s earliest ventures into the art world coincided with his leaving The News Chronicle in 1956. He was a keen photographer and often incorporated found objects and ephemera in his work. His life-long interest in the geometry of nature, together with his virtuosity with colour, texture, tone, and balance, are the hallmarks of his style. Viewers will notice a more relaxed and informal abstract manner in these works, in contrast to Dannatt’s more recognised precise geometric work, which emerges in future years. Several paintings bear the names of the Dorset and Cornish landscape and others offer the immediacy of visual environment observed, glimpsed, or framed by in the environs of the Wiltshire home that George and his wife Ann Dannatt (1919-2019) acquired in 1957, which would become their permanent residence from 1981. An architect friend, John Shaw was a frequent visitor to Wilshire and designed the conversion which included a spacious studio.
In the early 1980’s George and Ann’s minds were turning to posterity. They took the decision to establish a legal framework ‘for the purposes of advancing the education of the public in the visual arts’ and in so doing to distribute the benefits of their activities to others. On its establishment in 1986, the George Dannatt Trust became the legal guardian of the Collection as well as an instrument for providing future opportunities for young artists to participate meaningfully in the visual arts. In their later years, the Dannatt’s extended their collecting to European artists in both figurative and abstract art, including Picasso, Laurencin, Gris, Arp, Soulages, Heliôn and Chillida. At this time, George Dannatt began to establish a career as an artist in his own right, exhibiting alongside many of the artists he knew and admired.
Over many years Dannatt collected the work of, among others, John Wells, Terry Frost, Denis Mitchell, Alexander Mackenzie, Patrick Heron and Roy Conn. Many choice items from this second wave of Cornish Modernism have been donated to Pallant House in Chichester and a smaller group of works to Southampton Art Gallery, together with good examples of Dannatt’s own work.
A Viewing Room: George Dannatt: A Travel Monologue will be available from 7th-12th May 2021.
Further information about George Dannatt and the George Dannatt Trust can be found at www.georgedannatttrust.org
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