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20th Century Art & Design

Visitor in gallery.

Our ground-breaking displays celebrate design innovations in furniture, ceramics, silver and glass. Our exhibits demonstrate exquisite craft skills and the influence of technology and mass market production on modern living.

We have been a pioneer in collecting modern design since the 1960s and today, our collection of furniture, metalwork, ceramics and glass is recognised to be of national significance.

It includes key pieces from every decade of the 20th century. These showcase new forms, materials and technical innovations, while also emphasising the importance of craft skills.

Visitor in gallery.
Vase and other exhibits in case.

From Aestheticism to the Post-war Era

Our displays are arranged chronologically, tracing the evolution in style from Aestheticism and the Arts & Crafts movement, through Art Nouveau and Art Deco to Modernism, Surrealism and Post-war and Contemporary design. Walking through this spacious gallery, you’ll find many glorious items on open display.

Artists and designers from around the world are represented, including Charles Rennie Mackintosh, René Lalique, Charles Eames and Grayson Perry. Their work is complemented by displays of ceramics by Clarice Cliff, Eric Ravilious and Pablo Picasso, as well as beautiful work in silver and glass.

Throughout the 20th century, professionally designed furniture became available to a wider public, and design trends became more visible in daily life. Tucked away at the far end of the gallery, you’ll find the glorious lift panels designed in the 1920s by French artist Edgar Brandt for Selfridge’s flagship London store. Their complex metalwork design, shimmering surfaces and Art Deco motifs brought luxury, glamour and style into a public space.

Contrasting styles

Other gallery highlights include Salvador Dali’s voluptuous Mae West Lips Sofa, designed in 1938 under the patronage of Sussex resident Edward James. From a similar period but very different in style is Marcel Breuer’s iconic Long Chair. Breuer was inspired by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, who pioneered the use of bent plywood in furniture design and whose Armchair 41 is also featured in the gallery.

Vase and other exhibits in case.