stone sculpture

A sculpture by Sean Scully at Newlands House Gallery. Photograph by James Houston

When it comes to contemporary art, Petworth in West Sussex isn’t a destination that immediately springs to mind, but with the recent opening of a new gallery, headed up by famed art dealer and LUX contributor Simon de Pury, the historic village is beginning to attract a more international crowd. We travelled down from London to see for ourselves

Contemporary art gallery Newlands House opened its doors in 2020 with two blockbuster exhibitions, a presentation of photographs by Helmut Newton and a survey of works by designer, architect and artist Ron Arad, but what makes the gallery truly unique is its setting.

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Petworth sits amidst the glorious rolling hills and valleys of the South Downs National Park, but due to its proximity London (roughly an hour and a half drive), Cowdray Park Polo Club and Goodwood, it feels less remote and more buzzy than many of England’s historic country towns. Visitors arrive in sleek Porsches and Lamborghinis, and leave clutching bags filled with objets d’art.

Newlands House, however, bridges the gap between old and new. Occupying an expansive 18th century townhouse that was previously home to Augustus Brandt‘s antiques showroom, the exhibitions weave through twelve homely rooms, with works hanging beneath low wooden beams, above fireplaces and on hessian covered walls. The current exhibition, From the Real (on show until 10 October), features a compelling series of large-scale abstract paintings and sculptures by husband and wife art duo Liliane Tomasko and Sean Scully. Tomasko’s quick, bold gestures recall the language of street art while Scully’s shiny surfaces (some of the works are painted onto sheets of aluminium) and cool marine colour palette evoke more smoothing architectural forms.

Where to stay…

We checked into The Angel Inn, an upmarket gastro pub with a pretty walled garden and seven quirky guest-rooms, all of which have been recently refurbished with tasteful interiors by Augustus Brandt. It’s worth bearing in mind, however, that as its an old building, the rooms do vary quite extensively in terms of size and amenities. Scots Pine is by far the most luxurious and characterful with an orange velvet sofa, large bathroom and free-standing bath.

hotel suite

The “Scots Pine” bedroom at The Angel Inn. Photograph by James Houston

For larger groups and families, there’s East House, a self-catering apartment spread across the top floors a Grade-II listed Georgian building, or Ryde House, a grand 19-century home with three spacious bedrooms and a courtyard garden.

Where to eat…

E. Street Bar & Grill offers a laid back fine dining experience with a strong focus on local, seasonal ingredients. We had oysters to start, followed by warm roasted fig and pecan salad, and tuna steaks from the grill served with thick, crispy chips. Everything was cooked to perfection. Sitting in the courtyard on a balmy summer’s evening with a chilled glass of white wine, we almost felt like we were in the south of France.

street view of a pub

The Angel Inn, Petworth. Photograph by James Houston

What else…

Petworth is famed for antiques. If you’re feeling energetic, the antiques market is piled high with furnishings, ceramics, glassware, books, maps and all other manner of curiosities, while Tallulah Fox stocks a smaller, curated collection of textiles and elegant home accessories.

A busy through-road and lack of pavements make wandering through the town a little stressful, but there are plenty of easily accessible walking routes through the surrounding countryside. We particularly enjoyed the”Shimmings Valley” 5k trail which leads through expansive, undulating fields, and the parkland around Petworth House, a 17th-century mansion now owned by the National Trust, is spectacular. The nearby Nyetimber Vineyard, producers of award-winning English sparkling wine, is also worth visiting, but tickets need to be booked in advance for all tastings, tours and dining experiences.

Don’t miss…

The wide array of local and artisanal produce at The Hungry Guest, especially crayfish sandwiches and huge, squidgy chocolate chip cookies.

Find out more: discoverpetworth.uk, newlandshouse.gallery