IN 1937, the Nazi Party presented an exhibition entitled Degenerate Art in Munich. Its purpose was, as the name suggests, an unpleasant one. Any artists that supposedly had the intention “to destroy or confuse natural form” were grouped together for the gallery showing.

One of the artists was Hans Feibusch, the classicist born to Jewish parents who had studied art across Europe and would go on to paint murals in Sussex churches. Ahead of an exhibition of his previously unseen work in Chichester, Pallant House Gallery artistic director Simon Martin calls Degenerate Art “a statement against modern art”.

“Degenerate was the word for Jewish, gay, abstract or whatever – all these artists were lumped together in a very unsavoury way,” he adds. “It is quite extraordinary to think that in the exhibition there were pieces by artists who became hugely celebrated; Picasso, Paul Klee and more.”

Feibusch had previously fought in the First World War for his homeland but eventually left Germany because it “became impossible for artists to exhibit their work” in the Nazi regime. Feibusch emigrated to these shores in 1933 and two years later married Englishwoman Sidonie Cranmer. Feibusch’s love of Italian renaissance art influenced his distinct style, which, as Martin says, “combined a respect for tradition with colour taken from modern art”.

The drawings seen above are sketches from his days as a mural painter – he was commissioned for work at Saint Martin with Saint Wilfred and Saint Alban Church in Brighton, the Saint Elizabeth Church in Eastbourne and the Diocese of Chichester.

Former bishop of Chichester George Bell was a big supporter of Feibusch and commissioned him for numerous works. “Bell was very concerned with Anglo-German reconciliation after the war,” says Martin. “To have a German artist creating work for his diocese made a powerful statement at a time when there was some suspicion towards German refugees – even though they had come here to escape the Nazis.”

As for Feibusch’s relationship with his homeland, he never returned to Germany. Pallant House Gallery, however, unearthed some drawings from the 1920s and 1930s of members of the artist’s family, some of whom died in the holocaust. “I don’t think he spoke a great deal about that,” says Martin. “So many people didn’t because it was too traumatic.”

The Mythic Method is still enchanting

The Hans Feibusch exhibition is an off-shoot of The Mythic Method: Classicism in British Art 1920- 1950, which runs at Pallant House Gallery until February 17. The flagship display features 80 works including paintings, drawings, prints, sculpture and photography by high-profile artists such as Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Wyndham Lewis. Martin is keen to point out, too, that lesser-known British artists like Edith Rimmington and John Kavanagh are showcased.

The exhibition aims to provide a fresh view on British art, showing how modern movements have engaged with tradition and myth in the present day. Martin says: “It’s been fantastic. The New York Times and The Mail on Sunday have given it great reviews. It’s interesting to see how the influence of classicists impacts the work of contemporary artists, to study that lineage.”

Hans Feibusch: The Unseen Drawings, De’Longhi Print Room, Pallant House Gallery, North Pallant, Chichester, Sunday, January 18 to Sunday, March 5, free, 01243 774557