About Us

Read about the history of our Foundation.

Colchester born Clarence Victor Batte-Lay was an avid collector of paintings and furniture who died in 1935 and left his collection to his wife Margaret.  On her death in 1955, her will directed that “an ancient building of antiquarian or archaeological interest” be bought in her late husband’s memory, to house and exhibit his collection “for the benefit and advantage of the inhabitants of Colchester”.

The Victor Batte-Lay Trust (now the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation) was created and The Minories, at the end of the High Street was purchased. In 1958, The Rt. Hon. R.A.Butler, Home Secretary and Sir Trenchard Cox, Director of the V & A museum,

oversaw its official opening with a notable John Constable exhibition.  The much altered medieval building, which was a private house originally, has served as an art gallery up to the present, although the permanent Collection of art works is stored separately.

Revenue and funding shortages have curtailed the Trust’s activities greatly in the recent past.  However, with Foundation status, the current Directors are determined to revitalise and reaffirm the Collection as an important assemblage of art by locally and internationally acclaimed artists with a specific local relevance.

 The Minories Galleries, Colchester.

74 High Street  Colchester is the major asset of the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation. It has long been an essential part of any visit to the town center, and in the warmer months it’s secluded garden is a particular delight. To discover its peace and calm for the first time is a memory that certainly seems to remain in many visitors’ hearts.  Inside, in the galleries and reception rooms, elegant spaces can be found ideal for quiet, visual contemplation.

Ronald Blythe has long held connections with The Minories. He is well known as an East Anglian writer. He was responsible for programmes and publications associated with the Aldeburgh Festival , working with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. Recent publications include The Time by the Sea. (Faber 2013). 

At the Minories: A Memory

 
I used to believe that this fine house stood on the site of the house of the Minor Friars, but apparently not so. I was first taken there by my friend John Bensusan-Butt when I was about twenty-one. I was working at Colchester Public Library – and also at being a poet – and John was an artist. His mother, Dr Ruth Bensusan-Butt was a member of the Library Committee and I recall her chiding me about my ignorance of Henry James. She and her husband ran their careers from the Minories, which was a large and wonderfully ramshackle maze of rooms backing onto a wonderful garden with a terrace and cedars. Similar town houses adjoined it and their gardens formed spacious grounds behind the High Street and East Hill. Much of this disappeared when the bus park was constructed and business premises were developed in Queen Street. John Bensusan-Butt did all he could to prevent some of this post-war destruction and development, mostly in vain. But our early friendship established my long connection with his home and I would later come there many times over the years when it became an art gallery.

As well as John, my artist friends now included Sir Cedric Morris, Lett Haines, John and Christine Nash, Richard Bedford, Denis Wirth-Miller, Richard Chopping and I suppose most of the Members of the Colchester Art Society, which I founded in 1947.

Both writers and painters would be found at the quite glamorous Private View parties at the Minories, and the exhibitions themselves were usually visited by London critics.I became a full time writer in 1956 but I remember giving lectures at the Minories to help raise funds for the purchase of the adjoining house and of often having meals there with some of the curators, especially Michael Chase and Valerie Thornton. I usually stayed with the Nashes at Wormingford.

One great occasion was the Georgian Assembly which Christine Nash and Mary Doncaster staged in the house in the 1970s when we all wore 18th century clothes. Mine were lent to me by Miss Oates, the sister of the Arctic explorer. Captain Oates had worn them before the First World War. A Mozart band played in the summer-house.
My life was now spent between Aldeburgh, Cambridge and Wormingford but I rarely missed the annual exhibitions at the Minories, partly because they drew so many early friends together and partly because I had an increasing love of art. The Bensusan-Butts were related to the Pissarros and Lucien was often at the Minories, bringing the founders of Impressionism into our midst, as it were. Thus the house became part of my youth and closely associated with my early friends. Much later, when I came to live in John Nash’s house, I was to discover that the descendants of Thomas Boggis, the man who had built the Minories, lived just over the fields from me at Wormingford Grange, and would themselves become dear neighbours and friends.

Ronald Blythe
Wormingford, May 2014

The history of our collection.

T he original bequest which focused on British art and artists from the 17th century onwards included still lives, regency portraits, 18th century prints and drawings, 19th century samplers and oil paintings. It then expanded through a number of modern acquisitions and loans over the years and, despite a period of financial difficulties in the 1990s which meant that a small number of works had to be sold, the collection now brings together a wide and interesting range of material.

Today, the Victor Batte-Lay Foundation Collection includes works by internationally celebrated artists with local relevance such as John Constable with three drawings, John and Paul Nash with a large number of lithographs and Camille Pissarro with a series of pencil caricature sketches drawn for his mother. Roderic Barrett whose work is at the V&A, Maggi Hambling RA with a painting from The Max Wall series and Humphrey Spender with a watercolour entitled Gross National Product are also represented. The Collection also includes a painting by Charles Ginner and a painting by William Ratcliff from the Camden Town Group both illustrating their vision of modernity in the early 20th century.

Leon Underwood who counted Henry Moore as one of his students is there too, not to mention Gino Severini with a book of prints and watercolours entitled Fleurs et Masques.

In 2006, the Public Catalogue Foundation at the instigation of the National Gallery, recorded the oil paintings in the collection and these were included in their Essex Catalogue.  A report (by the Public Catalogue Foundation), to the House of Commons’ Culture Media and Sport Committee followed later in 2006.  The findings brought into sharp focus the lack of access to publicly owned collections.  As a result, the VBLT launched an on-line catalogue of the collection, designed by Sophie Baker and produced by their fine art consultant,  Evelyne Bell in 2009.

The Victor Batte-Lay Collection now comprises a broad range of works; not currently on permanent display. Selections from the collection are scheduled to be displayed in the centre of Colchester at Tymperleys and the Minories Art Galleries later in 2014.  Other temporary loans are also planned to regional and national institutions.

Contributors and supporters of the VBLF collection.

The Victor Batte-Lay Foundation wish to express thanks to the following individuals and organisations.  Their effort, support and enthusiasm have enabled the collection to be accessed by a wider audience.

  • Evelyne Bell, Fine Art Consultant, who organized and directed the team that produced the first on-line catalogue, writing many of the entries herself
  • Essex Heritage Trust for providing a generous grant for the research and design of the original catalogue on line
  • Suki Cohen, a former trustee of the VBLF, now Chair of the Friends of the Minories, for sponsoring the photography and researching the Foundation archives
  • Doug Atfield, photographer, for the production of the excellent images in the on-line catalogue
  • Sophie Baker for the design of the original on-line catalogue
  • Research students from the Art History and Theory Department at the University of Essex
  • Tom Hodgson, Community History Manager, Ciara Canning Assistant Curator of Community History, Emma Roodhouse, Art Curator, and Stephen Yates, all from Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service for their supportive help
  • Janet Spence from firstsite for sourcing information
  • Charlotte Hodgson for research
  • The late Canon John Woods, for his support and encouragement when Chairman of the VBLT

 

Thank you also to members of the team of Colchester Institute at the Minories for their considerable support:

  • Jayne Knowles, former Head of Colchester School of Art, for encouraging closer co-operation between Colchester Institute and the VBLF
  • Dr David Hulks, for his researches and curation of selections from the collection
  • Kaavous Clayton, Curator of the Minories Galleries, for his acute visual judgement and empathy with the exhibition display of VBLF work

Previous VBLF public exhibitions.

Summary of Exhibitions held by the Trust at the Minories 1958 – 1992, to be inserted here.

 1958  

 Inaugural Exhibition.  (included works by Constable as centre of the exhibition).

1959   

 Rodger Fry paintings.  1866-1934. 9 – 28 Mar.

John Addyman. 6 Jul -1  Aug.

1961  

 John O’Connor and Edward Bawden. 4-25 Feb.

 Leicestershire Schools Exhibition. Mar.    Days ?

Munnings.  (Correspondence re death and estate of Sir Alfred Munnings).     Month ?

 1962  

 John Bensusan-Butt. 2-21 Jul.

 Henry and Joyce Collings  (with Andrew Dodds). 10-29 Sep.

Beaver Roberts/Marit Aschan: Contemporary Enamels. 9-30 Mar.

Duncan Grant: Retrospective. 8-27 Apr.

Hickman-Bacon:  Watercolours and Drawings. (from the Hickman-Bacon Collection). 23-14 Dec.

1964    

 Essex and Suffolk Country Houses: Pictures, Furniture and Objects d’art. 2-21 Mar.

Edward La Bas: A painter’s collection.  Mar-Apr.  Days ?

1965   

Henri  Gaudier – Brezeska 13 Feb – 13 Mar.

Colchester  Art  School:   20th Anniversary Exhibition 18 Apr – 7 May.

Collections in Essex and Suffolk:  contemporary drawings and paintings. 15 May – 12 Jun.

Robert Bevan. Jun – Jul   days ? 

1966   

Sir Winston  Churchill :  including the Golden Rose Wedding Book.  Feb 12 – Mar 12.

British Council : sculpture including Hepworth, Adams, Paolozzi,  loan.returned nov  May.  days ? 

Fine artists to Remember:  Sandra Blow, Ian Stephenson, Matt Rugg, Ed Giobbi.     

                                                       New Art   Centre   Artists. 14 May – 14 Jun.     

Colchester Art Society   Sponsored Exhibition. Sep.  days ?

David and Hermia Boyd:  Pottery.  22 Oct – 16 Nov.

1967      

Picasso.  28 Jan – 1 Mar.

 

Tapestries Exhibition. 8– 25   Mar.

Colchester Art Society : Spring Exhibition. Apr.   days ?

Humphrey  Spender May.  days ?

Arts Council :  exhibition of sculpture.  1960 – 1967. 3 – 24 Jun.

Henry and Joyce Collins.  1 – 22 Jul.

The Flower in Art. 7 Aug – 23 Sep.

1968.    

Object and Owner 29 Jan – 21 Feb.

The Fashionable Image. 17 Feb -14 Apr.

Richard Bedford Retrospective:  The World of Richard Bedford. 4 – 23 Mar.

Elizabeth Vellacott and G Hermes. 22 Apr – 18 May.

Lablache and Mott. 29 Jun – 24 Jul.

Printmakers Council. 3 Aug – 11 Sept.

David Pearce: Original Prints and Engraved Glass.  Bookbindings : Peter Tyscoe, Cockerell, Mansfield, Smith. 8 Aug – 11Sept.

Debenham and Dodds: Landsccape, People and Places. Oct – days? 

1969.    

The World of Oliver O’Connor Barrett.  27 Jan – 22 Feb.

Harold Gilman. 1 – 29 Jan.

Colchester Art Society : Spring Exhibition. 12 Apr – 3 May.

Oxford University Press, Bible Illustrators  Oxford Old Testament Drawings.  Pt 1. 13 Apr – 8 May.

John Addyman. And Part 11 of Oxford Testament  Drawings. 10 – 31 May.

Byran Brooke:   Still life, Portraiture, Literary Landscape. 12 – 31 May.

Keith Barnes: Retrospective : 50 Years Painting in England, France and Portugal. 11 Jun- 5 Jul.

Gerald Fisher: Gouaches and Drawings. Jul – days ?

David Zinkeisen : Horse and Carriage _ Paintings of Carriages from  Queen Anne To Edward V11.  12 Jul – 2 Aug.

Leon Underwood : Retrospective.  Aug – Sep.  days?

Enid Crowther and Mary Warsop :  Landscapes and Abstracts. Sept 29 – 18 Oct.

Clifford Smith, 1906 – 1968: Commemorative exhibition of oil paintings.  Nov 3 – 29.

1970.     

Bruce Killean.  Jan 31 – Feb 21.

Exhibitions 1993 – 2013 to be inserted here.  (below is just one example)

2012.     

Art for Colchester:  The 20th century collecting practices of the Victor Batte-Lay Trust.  Sept 22 – Oct 20.