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UoG students and staff collaborate with The Wilson for rare exhibition of world-class art

University of Gloucestershire students and staff have joined forces with a best-selling children’s author and The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum in Cheltenham for a rare exhibition of world-class paintings, including work by Pablo Picasso.

BA (Hons) Illustration students Jodie Dean and Dylan Wyeth produced the hand-made book for children written by best-selling LGBTQ+ author Robert Tregoning that retells the extraordinary life of Mattei Radev, a post-war Bulgarian migrant who went on to own one of world’s most exciting art collections, now known as the Radev Collection.

The book – entitled Mattei’s Story – was commissioned by The Wilson to enhance visitors’ enjoyment of the world’s largest ever exhibition of paintings from the Radev Collection, where the 79 pieces on display include work by iconic artists such as Picasso, Amedeo Modigliani and Vanessa Bell.

the front cover of Mattei’s Story - mainly pink

Jodie Dean said: “Working on Mattei’s Story was an amazing opportunity, as it was my first time being commissioned to illustrate a book. I could not ask for a better producer in Dylan and it was great working with Robert’s text, meeting him and seeing him read from the book. 

“During research and development of the pages, I got to learn about all the fantastic people connected to the collection and their beautiful houses.

“I loved drawing the interiors and used the patterns I found there throughout my illustrations. I became so familiar with the people and the art that when I saw the finished exhibit, I had a connection with a gallery I’ve never had before – it was very special.”

long view of the Radev Collection with paintings on the walls
The Radev Collection at The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum (copyright Luke Unsworth 2024)

The book was created and published in collaboration with the University’s Pittville Press, a collective formed by staff, students and graduates from the Illustration course more than 15 years ago. It takes readers on a journey through the world of the Bloomsbury Group and tells stories of friendship, love and creativity among some of Britain’s greatest artists and collectors.  It allows them to visualise Radev’s life and the challenges he faced as a gay man and in establishing himself as refugee in post-war Britain.

Kimberly Hall, Academic Course Lead for BA (Hons) Illustration within the University’s School of Creative Arts, said: “Meaningful projects that tell new stories about life and art are so important to get out into the public eye, and all of us at UoG were inspired by Mattei’s story.

“The team at The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum are top notch and our students learned so much from working with them and Rob Tregoning throughout the whole process.

“Jodie and Dylan used the skills that we practice in the studio to bring a beautiful and complex story to children in an understandable and thoughtful way. We are so proud of their work.”

Extraordinary collection of 20th century art

Mattei Radev escaped Bulgaria in 1950 by swimming across a river to Turkey and then hiding in the lifeboat of a cargo ship travelling from Istanbul to Glasgow, where he was able to claim asylum.

After settling in London, Mattei met the early gay activist Patrick Trevor-Roper, who introduced him to the artistic circles of the capital. He was supported by friends to find a career as a picture framer and worked with some of the greatest artists of the 20th century.

What is now known as the Radev Collection was started by writer Edward Sackville-West, 5th Baron Sackville, in 1938. It was inherited by art dealer Eardley Knollys in 1965 and later by Mattie Radev in 1991. Mattie died in 2009 and was survived by his civil partner, theatrical designer Norman Coates.

The Radev Collection will be shown alongside pieces from the Wilson Collection, and new work by artist Luke Edward Hall, which is inspired by the Radev Collection and the Bloomsbury group.

Lisa Edgar, Head of Culture at The Cheltenham Trust, said: “The Wilson is excited to present a remarkable story of survival, love and kindness set against a backdrop of the British art world, and generating this extraordinary collection of 20th century art.

“We’re proud to be collaborating with University of Gloucestershire, artist Luke Edward-Hall, best-selling children’s author Robert Tregoning and our partners, The Charleston Trust, to bring this story to life.”

The Exhibition at The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum runs 1 September 2024.

Main image: left to right, Jodie Dean and Dylan Wyeth with the hand-made book for children that they produced to accompany the Radev Collection at The Wilson Art Gallery and Museum