Sarah Rose first became interested in art as a teenager growing up in Brisbane, Australia. She would visit galleries and exhibitions, and borrow English art magazines from her local library. Initially, though, it was music rather than the visual arts that brought her to England in 1951. Sarah's husband, a singing teacher, wanted to deepen his understanding of the singing voice. He went on to write a book on the subject, published by Faber and Faber, with Sarah contributing to research.
Soon after their arrival in London, the couple met Cliff Holden, a member of the Borough Group, and Sarah began her collection by purchasing some of his work. It was at a sale of David Bomberg's work at the Anthony d'Offay Gallery in 1981 that she first recognised clearly the affinity between works of Bomberg and Holden. She bought two Bomberg charcoals, one from the famous Bomb Store series, and another of a street scene at Ronda in Spain. This marked the start of what was to become a unique and important collection of over 140 works by Bomberg and five of the Borough Group artists – Cliff Holden, Dennis Creffield, Edna Mann, Dorothy Mead and Miles Richmond.
Amassing the collection required dedication and no little sacrifice on Sarah's part. Determined to create a permanent collection for the public domain, she abandoned the idea of getting sponsorship as this would mean losing control over what was bought. She financed the purchases herself, first teaching at and then taking over the running of the school of singing founded by her late husband. She often worked day and night in various occupations in order to fund her growing collection.
She was helped by the fact that the work of Bomberg and his followers was for a long time neglected and undervalued. Although the worth of the collection has since increased significantly, Sarah has always been motivated by her belief that the paintings should be in the public domain rather than by hope of financial gain. "The works appealed to me because they resonate with the natural world," she says. "They are physically restful, and at the same time intellectually and visually exciting. To me, these painters succeed in conveying both what we see with our eyes and feel with our bodies."
Now, Sarah has generously donated her collection, titled 'A David Bomberg Legacy – the Sarah Rose Collection' in trust to LSBU. "It seemed appropriate for the collection to be housed in a place where David Bomberg had such influence," she says, "and where it would be in close proximity to other important London art collections."
The University has received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to create a gallery to show the Collection and to provide a two-year programme of educational and outreach work based on the Collection. Sarah herself is a trustee, and plans to support the Collection in these programmes and in acquiring further works.
For LSBU, the gallery also represents a link to our own past. In its early years, the Borough Polytechnic would put on free exhibitions of artists including Holbein, Gainsborough and Burne-Jones. Furthermore, it is a way of strengthening our links with the community and, of course, ensuring that the work of Bomberg and the artists who were shaped by his radical ideas and unique teaching methods lives on and is more widely understood.