Discovering Britain exhibition at Mottisfont

A Shell poster of The New Forest by Edward McKnight Kauffer

This event happened in early summer 2017 and has now finished.

Discovering Britain: the Shell Heritage Art Collection runs from 6 May - 2 July, 11am - 5pm. Normal property admission price only. For visitors unable to access the second floor gallery, we have digital versions of exhibitions on iPads which are available on lower levels.

Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset, by Paul Nash
A Shell poster of Kimmeridge Folly, Dorset, by Paul Nash

Alongside more than thirty posters and original artworks, other material commissioned by Shell, including wall charts, film and travel guides, are also on show.

This is a new, unique exhibition on loan from the Shell Heritage Art Collection based at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. It's one of the most important collections of commercial art in Britain, spanning years of advertising campaigns.

Our exhibition focuses on the early twentieth-century period, when Shell’s advertising was driven by ideas of travel and discovery, featuring the slogans ‘See Britain First’ and ‘Visit Britain’s Landmarks’.

Exquisite artwork depicting quirky and interesting places encouraged drivers to get on the road and explore the British Isles.

Local landscapes

Look out for a number of recognisable local scenes: Edward McKnight Kauffer created an evocative winter landscape of the New Forest, with dramatic tree branches reaching up against a moody sky.

Both the poster and Kauffer’s original artwork are on show.

There are famous Dorset landmarks, from Dominique Charles Fouqueray’s Lulworth Cove to Kimmeridge Folly, beautifully depicted by Paul Nash, with rays of sunshine and a seaweed-strewn shore.

There’s a bold, colourful depiction of the Great Globe at Swanage from Graham Sutherland, while the Cerne Abbas Giant from Frank Dobson is delicately dressed in cloud.

The Great Globe at Swanage by Graham Sutherland
Shell poster of the Great Globe at Swanage, by Graham Sutherland

National Trust land and properties are another prominent feature of the exhibition.

Vanessa Bell created a shimmering view of Alfriston; the Clergy House here was the first property acquired by the Trust in 1896.

Other National Trust landmarks include a stunning rendition of Giant’s Causeway by John Roland Barker, and a sweeping scene of Box Hill in Surrey by Charles Mozley.

Giant's Causeway, Ulster, by John Roland Barker
A Shell poster of Giant's Causeway, Ulster, by John Roland Barker

The works on show reflect a diversity of artistic styles emerging in Britain after the First World War.

Jack Beddington, Shell’s publicity manager in the 1930s, selected and commissioned these then up-and-coming artists to produce designs for this campaign. Some of these artists went on to become famous names in British contemporary art.

A number of the artists included in the exhibition also feature in our own permanent collection of twentieth-century art, donated to the property by artist Derek Hill.

Maud Russell made Mottisfont into a vibrant hub of artistic activity from the 1930s onwards. Many Modern British artists, critics and designers spent long weekends of creative conversation here, and Maud herself sat for and commissioned works of art.

Perhaps most well-known of these is our striking drawing room, designed and painted by Rex Whistler. One of Whistler’s works features in the exhibition – his depiction of the Vale of Aylesbury includes a subtle self-portrait.

The Vayle of Aylesbury by Rex Whistler
A Shell poster of The Vayle of Aylesbury by Rex Whistler

As well as posters, Shell encouraged travel around Britain by producing guides and short travel documentaries.

John Betjeman both edited the Shell County guides and presented the short films, examples of which will be on display as part of our exhibition.

In keeping with Shell’s other commissions, innovative writers, artists, designers and academics contributed to these materials, again fostering a love for Britain’s heritage and encouraging romantic ideas of exploration.

A small selection of Shell’s Valentine cards will also be on show. Also designed by up-and-coming artists of the period, Shell sent these often humorous cards to its female customers from the late 1930s up until 1975.

The whole exhibition showcases an astonishing breadth of work produced by a company that was enlightened in commissioning leading artists to create stunning visuals for promotional campaigns, encouraging a love of landscape, heritage and discovery.