Showcase for Art Nouveau treasure chest

IAN COLLINS A fabulous collection of Art Nouveau - among the most enduringly popular of artistic styles - is set for a new show in the revamped Sainsbury Centre.

IAN COLLINS

A fabulous collection of Art Nouveau - among the most enduringly popular of artistic styles - is set for a new show in the revamped Sainsbury Centre.

Jewellery, furniture, glassware and metalwork, created in fluid curves and vivid colours, will be on view in the University of East Anglia treasure house from late January to mid-June.

These domestic objects and ornaments, dating from the late 19th century and hailing from both sides of the Atlantic, have been lodged in Norfolk since 1978.

Now selections are to be displayed with a fresh focus every three years, in an ongoing tribute to personal taste and the generosity of donors Sir Colin and Lady Anderson.

Sir Colin hired leading artists to decorate ocean liners for his family's Orient Shipping Line in the 1930s. After the war he became a close friend of Sir Robert Sainsbury and a kindred champion of modern art.

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At the same time the Andersons were passionate about Art Nouveau - buying items cheaply in Aldeburgh junkshops and expensively in international galleries and auction houses.

The wealthy collector had known the Suffolk coast from childhood, being the grandson of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson - the first woman in Britain to qualify as both a doctor and town mayor (in Aldeburgh).

He likened his passion for gathering beautiful things to searches for stones on the beach as a boy - surely knowing that, from the Edwardian era, Arthur Gaskin and his wife Georgie had used finds of Southwold cornelians in the gorgeous Art Nouveau jewels they produced in Birmingham.

The Andersons amassed top-quality works in their chosen field - lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany in America, furniture and vases by Emile Gallé and jewellery by René Lalique in Paris, pictures by Alphonse Mucha in Prague (itself an Art Nouveau city). And all manner of marvels made for Liberty & Co of London.

Rejection of stuffy and stodgy Victorian decoration was especially strong in Glasgow, thanks to the influence of architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret Macdonald.

Ironically, a backlash against their ideas drove the couple from Scotland to Walberswick in 1914, and spurred them into staying on when everyone else was leaving with the advent of the first world war.

In Suffolk they produced 40 exquisite ink and watercolour flower drawings before Mackintosh was arrested as a suspected spy and expelled from the eastern counties.

That brought flight to London and finally to France, where Scotland's greatest artist died a defeated figure in 1928.

How wonderful that, 50 years later, the Andersons should have identified a very different East Anglia as a haven for their consummate collection.

Highlights of the Anderson Collection of Art Nouveau are at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts from January 30 to June 17 (alongside a show of paintings by émigré German artist Martin Bloch). Entry is free. www.scva.org.uk

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