Although Colin St John Wilson is best (or, to some minds, worst) known as the architect of the British Library, over the past 60 years he has also put together what may be the most important collection of modern British works in private hands: 800 of them, most bought fresh from the studio, many from artists who were friends. Now, the 84-year-old has given or lent half his collection to the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, advising his wife's firm on the building of an pounds 8m wing to house it.
This is a hugely generous thing to have done, and makes Pallant House the greatest resource of 20th century British painting outside Tate Britain. In one sense, its collection is even more important. The trio of private collectors who amassed it weren't civil servants justifying their choices to committees: they were amateurs buying works from artists they knew. So the newly-expanded gallery is both a cross-section of 20th-century British art and a portrait of modern taste. We owe this gem of a place to a collector even more extraordinary than Wilson: Walter Hussey. Dean of Chichester from 1955-77, Hussey was an old-school aesthete: posh, enthusiastic, emphatically unmarried. His collecting career began in 1944 when, as a young priest, he commissioned Henry Moore's Madonna and Child for his church in Northampton. By the time he retired, he had added to his list a setting of the Psalms by Leonard Bernstein, Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb, a litany by W H Auden and windows by Marc Chagall. His deanery was crammed with pictures which he left to the city of Chichester on condition that they be shown in a restored Pallant House.
It is a shame Hussey isn't more widely remembered, as his steely generosity and talent for blackmail are responsible for one of the few regional galleries that can really be described as excellent. Particularly strong on the work of his contemporaries - British artists from 1940-65 - Hussey's collection dovetails nicely with Wilson's, which is stronger on the mid-Sixties to Eighties. …