P enny Allen’s interest in art was nurtured by her mother Lettice Colman (née Adeane), a collector in her own right who, helped by Penny, established The Norfolk Contemporary Art Society in Norwich, and who gave Penny the Keith Vaughan oil, Landscape in Missouri, painted in 1959. Penny started collecting when she was eighteen years old, and she acquired The School Playground in 1945, an oil by L.S. Lowry, which she bought for only £40.
Penny studied Technical Drawing at Norwich Art School in 1944, Fine Arts at Camberwell School of Art graduating in 1949, and Theatre Design at The Central School of Art in 1951. She then worked in the theatre on set design for Glyndebourne Opera’s property department and from 1953-57 she worked at Sadlers Wells, at High Wycombe Rep, and with Laurence Irving for the John Clements Company Saville Theatre in London.
During her time at Central, Penny became friends with, amongst others, Henry Moore, and during the sixties, she continued to strike up friendships with other artists who she later went on to collect. Her first exhibition in 1958 at the Galerie de Seine in Paris was shared with Prunella Clough, Ben Nicholson, John Piper and Keith Vaughan - all contemporaries of hers. Penny was instrumental in creating The Friends of the Tate with her uncle Sir Robert Adeane and she became Chairman when Sir Norman Reid was Director of the Tate Gallery (whose paintings Penny also collected).
In 1958, she married an Australian Richard Patrick Allen - known to all as Pat. To the surprise of his family who had him marked down to join the Allen family law firm, he had come to London to work as an airline pilot for BOAC, having completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at The University of Sydney. Pat was awarded an MVO when he flew The Queen to Mexico and the Bahamas in 1975.
While Penny’s principal area of collecting continued to be Modern British art, in between his busy life as one of the first ever Concorde pilots, Pat concentrated on buying work by artists who are now considered to be some of the most important Australian artists of the second half of the twentieth century; Brett Whiteley, John Olsen, Fred Williams, Ian Fairweather and Roy de Maistre. John Olsen came to live in the flat beneath Pat and Penny’s house in Kensington, and they also became firm friends with Roy De Maistre as well as Brett and Wendy Whiteley.
Penny continued to paint under the name of Penny Colman, deriving inspiration from the landscapes around her home in Suffolk and Southern Spain which she visited frequently. In the early ‘90s, inspired by Mary Martin, Penny took up making modern jewellery in perspex. She met the British painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling, CBE, at Morley College and they became great friends, holding painting weekends together at Pat and Penny’s house on the River Orwell in Suffolk. Maggi affectionately referred to Penny as ‘The Brig,’ and this is inscribed on the back of Maggi’s painting, Wave (to be offered in Sotheby’s Made in Britain Sale, 10 September 2019). In the introduction to Penny’s last exhibition in London Maggi wrote; ‘Her rhythm and fluency with paint, oil or watercolour, catch the speed of changing light, the Suffolk harvest or the barren land of Southern Spain. She seizes the essence of her landscape.’
Surrounded by the works of art they loved so much, Pat and Penny held charity concerts in their London home; in particular with Penny’s cousin Humphrey Lyttleton and his band, and with Nigel Kennedy. The family now hope that others will be able to enjoy the collection as much as they have done.
Further works from the collection will be offered as part of our 20 June Impressionist & Modern Art sales; our 10 September Made in Britain sale and our November Contemporary Curated sale.