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A love for art: The Eric and Jean Cass Gift

Back sitting room at Bleep. Image courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield
Back sitting room at Bleep. Image courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield
View of Bleep, the home of Eric and Jean Cass. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield
View of Bleep, the home of Eric and Jean Cass. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield
Joan Miró;, <em>L'Enfance d'Ubu</em>, 1975, lithograph. © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013.
Joan Miró;, L'Enfance d'Ubu, 1975, lithograph. © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013.
Joan Miró, <em>Miró</em>, 1970s, lithograph. © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013.
Joan Mirô, Mirô, 1970s, lithograph. © Succession Miro/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2013.
John Hoyland, <em>Platter No. 11</em>, 1985, Earthenware. © Estate of John Hoyland.  All rights reserved, DACS 2012
John Hoyland, Platter No. 11, 1985, Earthenware. © Estate of John Hoyland. All rights reserved, DACS 2012
John Hoyland, <em>Private Waltz</em>, 1989, Acrylic on cotton duck. © Estate of John Hoyland.  All rights reserved, DACS 2012
John Hoyland, Private Waltz, 1989, Acrylic on cotton duck. © Estate of John Hoyland. All rights reserved, DACS 2012
Karel Appel, <em>The City</em>, 1982, Oil on canvas. © Karel Appel Foundation/ DACS 2013
Karel Appel, The City, 1982, Oil on canvas. © Karel Appel Foundation/ DACS 2013
Mezzanine at Bleep. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield.
Mezzanine at Bleep. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield.
Sitting Room at Bleep. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield.
Sitting Room at Bleep. Courtesy of photographer Douglas Atfield.

Over the last 35 years, Eric and Jean Cass have established an outstanding and very personal collection of over 300 sculptures, ceramics, drawings, prints and paintings.

In 2012 Amgueddfa Cymru received a generous gift of twelve modern works from this private collection, made through the Contemporary Art Society. It includes a major work by Dutch artist Karel Appel and lithographs by famous Surrealist Joan Miró.

Eric and Jean Cass live in Surrey. In 1969, Eric Cass worked closely with architect Brian Sapseid to design a house called Bleep. The name Bleep is in recognition of Cass Electronics and the high-pitched sound emitted by the paging receivers marketed by the company. The open plan, modern architecture of the house encouraged Eric to start purchasing modern and contemporary art to fill their home.

They collected over 300 works of art over 35 years - some purchased on-the-spot by intuition, others sought out for several years. Eric and Jean formed strong friendships with many of the artists, who would often oversee the installation of their work at Bleep and return for friendly visits. Their strongest affiliation was with the artist Niki de Saint Phalle. Eric and Jean Cass owned the largest private collection of de Saint Phalle's work in the United Kingdom.

In 2012 they made the decision to donate their collection to museums and galleries in the United Kingdom, so that audiences from around the country could enjoy their collection. The Contemporary Art Society was appointed to manage the distribution of the Cass Collection to its member museums as part of its programme of Gifts and Bequests. Amgueddfa Cymru was nominated as one of the beneficiaries alongside The Ashmolean, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Leeds Art Gallery, The Hepworth Wakefield, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art in Edinburgh and the Gallery of Modern Art Glasgow.

The Gift to Amgueddfa Cymru

It is important to remember that the works gifted to Amgueddfa Cymru are not only exceptional works of art by internationally renowned artists, but also part of a very personal collection with a place inside a home. Two of the Joan Miró lithographs hung in the house's cloakroom and corridor, welcoming anyone who came into the house, while John Hoyland's platter sat on a coffee table in the lounge and Karel Appel's major work The City greeted anyone relaxing in the sitting room.

Karel Appel (1921-2006)

The City, 1982, oil on canvas by Karel Appel, shows a naked woman and a dog roaming through a desolate landscape of skyscrapers. It deals with the subject of city decay and poverty inspired by Karel Appel's experience of the streets of New York in 1981. The paint is applied thickly, in broad expressive strokes. The primitive lines, which form the figures and the buildings, mimic the simplicity of children's drawings.

Appel was born in Amsterdam in 1921. In 1946, following his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Amsterdam, he travelled to Denmark and met the Danish artists who would form part of his International Cobra group in 1948. This group rejected the western rationalist approach to art and embraced primitivism, childlike art and explored diverse ways of commenting upon the human condition. Appel broke from this group in 1952. He went on to become part of Art Informel. Among the members of this group were American Abstract Expressionists, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock.

Eric Cass developed an early admiration for Appel's work and also purchased a major sculpture by Appel titled Tête Soleil, 1966, which has been gifted to Wolverhampton Museum & Art Gallery.

John Hoyland (1934-2011)

Private Waltz,1989, acrylic on cotton duck, is a large gestural abstract work by British artist John Hoyland. The paint is dripped and spattered onto the canvas displaying the action of painting itself. Hoyland's work was inspired by the American Abstract Expressionists, a group of abstract painters who emerged in New York in the 1940s and included Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko and Robert Mortherwell among others. Hoyland met some of these artists while on a trip to New York in 1965 following the receipt of a travel bursary from the Peter Stuyvesant Foundation. In 1979, he spoke of the critical response to an exhibition of his own work at the Whitechapel Gallery;

'...everyone went on about the colour. In fact I really hadn't thought about colour very much: it had been the least of my preoccupations. I wanted brilliant, full, unmixed colour, but basically it was reds, greens and oranges. I was much more preoccupied with shape, where to locate colours, what kind of shapes to use and so on. This was all in the wake of Rothko, etc. - it was trying to come to terms with those paintings of his, but knowing that one couldn't go on making them that simple. I just happened to like those colours, and I still do. But the ways edges met, how colours impinged upon one another, and the way that that affected the space was much more of a problem.'1

Hoyland was born in Sheffield in 1934 and studied at Sheffield College of Art from 1951 to 1956.

Private Waltz was painted in 1989, when Hoyland travelled to Minorca, Jamaica and Italy. Eric and Jean Cass initially purchased a platter by John Hoyland in 1987 - which is also part of the Eric and Jean Cass gift to Amgueddfa Cymru - but continued to search for a painting to accompany it in the collection. They purchased Private Waltz in 1990.

Joan Miró (1893-1983)

Amongst the Eric and Jean Cass gift are four lithographs by the Catalan artist Joan Miró. One of the lithographs is called Miró and was produced in the 1970s as a poster to advertise Miró's original prints being available to purchase at Vision Nouvelle, Paris. The colourful design and abstract forms are typical of the work of Miró, who became famous for his part in the Surrealist group in Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.

Also among this group of lithographs is L'Enfance D'Ubu, 1975. The simplicity of line is deliberately childlike to illustrate the childhood adventures of Ubu. This series of work was inspired by the character of Ubu in Alfred Jarry's play Ubu Roi. Miró read the play several times and illustrated a collector's edition in 1966. He produced his own book called Ubu's Childhood or L'Enfance D'Ubu in 1975. Ubu's Childhood consists of Catalan and Majorcan sayings and humour collected by the artist, in-keeping with the character of Ubu.

Joan Miró was born in Barcelona in 1893. He began studying art at the age of fourteen at the La Lonja School of Fine Art. In 1920, during his first trip to Paris, Miró visited the studio of Pablo Picasso and attended a Dada Festival. He moved to Paris the following year and began to meet artists and writers who would eventually form the Surrealist group. This group believed in producing art, which emerged from the subconscious mind, whether that be through the representation of dreams or of thoughts discovered by a variety of psychoanalytic methods. Miró became renowned for his automatic paintings and drawings, which display a childlike form and purity of unconscious thought free from the control of reason.

Other works gifted to Amgueddfa Cymru — National Museum Wales from Eric and Jean Cass are:

  • Joan Miró, L'Enfance D'Ubu, 1975, lithograph on paper
  • Joan Miró, Oda a Joan Miró , 1973, XXV/XXV; lithograph
  • Joan Miró, Oda a Joan Miró , 1973, XXV/XXV; lithograph
  • Joan Miró, Composition, 1957, lithograph
  • Patrick Caulfield, Commemorative Vase, 1979, Bone china
  • Brigitte Deuge, Ceramic Plate, 1992, Porcelain
  • Peter Hedegaard, Red, Marron and Blue Abstract, 1969, Edition 2 of 35; lithograph
  • John Hoyland, Platter No. 11, 1985, Earthenware
  • Bjorn Wiinblad, Susanne I Badet, 1988, multiple porcelain

1 Gooding, M., John Hoyland, London, 1990, p.13

Contemporary Art Society logo

The Contemporary Art Society is a national charity that encourages an appreciation and understanding of contemporary art in the United Kingdom. With the help of our members and supporters we raise funds to purchase works by new artists which we give to museums and public galleries where they are enjoyed by a national audience; we broker significant and rare works of art by important artists of the twentieth century for public collections through our networks of patrons and private collectors; we establish relationships to commission artworks and promote contemporary art in public spaces; and we devise programmes of displays, artist talks and educational events. Since 1910 we have donated over 8,000 works to museums and public galleries - from Bacon, Freud, Hepworth and Moore in their day through to the influential artists of our own times - championing new talent, supporting curators, and encouraging philanthropy and collecting in the United Kingdom.

Article Date: 3 May 2013

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