7 amazing reasons to visit The Fry Art Gallery

7 amazing reasons to visit The Fry Art Gallery

26 May 2023

This gem of a gallery is dedicated to the work of pioneering Essex-based artists, from Eric Ravilious to Isabel Rawsthorne

The secluded entrance to Fry Art Gallery. Image: Diamond Geezer

Where can you find The Fry Art Gallery?

This lovely arts site is in the picturesque market town of Saffron Walden in Essex, home to many beautiful medieval buildings. The rather concealed entry is located at the street entrance to Bridge End Gardens. The easiest way to visit the gallery is to travel by car (the town is just 20 miles from Cambridge, and easily reached from London) or train, via the nearby Audley End station. 

Aesop’s Fables: An Old Crab and a Young by Edward Bawden (1903–89). Image: courtesy of Fry Art Gallery 

Why should you visit?

Open from April to October, The Fry Art Gallery houses over 3,000 paintings, illustrations, prints, drawings and wallpapers, all of which show an amalgam of art, design and craft. The gallery is small but perfectly formed; its building was instigated by banker and art collector Francis Gibson in 1856. It was then inherited by Bristol MP Lewis Fry, whose name the gallery now bears. His bust (sculpted by James Havard Thomas) sits in the highly decorated entrance hall. The gallery focuses on artists who lived or worked in north-west Essex from the 20th century onwards, including Eric Ravilious, Isabel Rawsthorne, John Bellany and Edward Bawden, whose work you see above.

The Hop Pickers, 1945, by John Minton (1917–57). Image: courtesy of The Ingram Collection © Estate of John Minton, All Rights Reserved, Bridgeman Images 2023

Which exhibits are a must-see?

Interwoven Lives: Marianne Straub, Great Bardfield and Friends is a new exhibition of works by Marianne Straub, showcasing the textiles she conceived during the 1950s–60s as the head of design at Warner & Sons in Braintree. This show will not only celebrate her much-loved textiles but her never-before-seen scrapbook, as well as the wider context of the artistic community that came together in Great Bardfield. It runs until 2 July. 

That will be followed by A World of Private Mystery: British Neo-Romantics (8 July–29 October). The Fry holds a collection of works by Neo-Romantic artists who lived and worked in north-west Essex, and is joining forces with The Ingram Collection of Modern British Art to explore this movement. Expect some 30 works by artists such as Graham Sutherland, John Piper, John Craxton and John Minton, whose work is seen above.

Whats on this month?

As the gallery reopens, be sure to check out a new display of British-led design drawn from the collection. It shows just how formative Essex artists were in shaping the mid-century modern aesthetic. 
Tea at Furlongs by Eric Ravilious (1903–42). Image: courtesy of Fry Art Galley 

Any special artistic connections? 

The gallerys collection of art by Great Bardfield residents Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden is perhaps its best known. The friends and artists were particularly skilled printmakers, who turned their hand to everything from London Underground posters and Wedgwood designs to images of World War II. Seen here is Ravilious’s Tea at Furlongs1939. Furlongs was the home of his friend, the designer Peggy Angus, and it was the subject of a number of his paintings. Beyond the collection itself, the gallerys shop has an excellent selection of books, prints and homeware celebrating the artists’ work. 
Two Women Sitting in a Garden by Eric Ravilious. Image: courtesy of Fry Art Gallery 

Make a day of it

On a day in May what can be better than a stroll around a garden? Shown here is Ravilious’s Two Women Sitting in a GardenIt pictures his wife, the talented printmaker Tirzah Garwood, and the painter, potter and teacher Charlotte Bawden, who was married to Edward Bawden. With works such as these, perhaps you’ll be inspired to take a stroll around Bridge End Garden, the Grade II listed site that Francis Gibson built along with the gallery. It features a sunken Dutch garden, a formal rose garden and a hedge maze with thousands of young yews. Further afield (though only half an hour on foot) is Audley End House and Gardens. This spectacular 17th-century estate was once home to Charles II, and its parkland was the work of Capability Brown. 

A view inside the gallery. Image: courtesy of Fry Art Gallery 

Here’s a fun fact…

The Fry Art Gallery is run entirely by volunteers who both invigilate and assist with all elements of conservation and general upkeep. In fact, the entire gallery as it stands is the result of collaboration. When the family sold off the building and its contents, the newly established Fry Art Gallery Society took over in 1985 and reopened the museum in 1987 with the help of artists who rebuilt its sizeable collection. 

Find out more at fryartgallery.org

Going local 

Do you live close by – then why not join the local Arts Society?

Local Societies include:

The Arts Society Saffron Walden theartssocietysaffronwalden.com

The Arts Society Bishop’s Stortford tasbs.org.uk

The Arts Society Cambridge tascambridge.org.uk

About the Author

Holly Black

Is an arts and culture writer


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