Rye Art Gallery was founded by trust deed in 1957 by the artist Mary Stormont (1859–1935) who, together with her husband, artist Howard Stormont (1871–1962), bequeathed their studio house for the formation of an art gallery in Rye. Soon afterwards, the Gallery was bequeathed a second house in the adjacent High Street, by artist and trustee Eileen Easton (1890–1965). Initially the two premises had different functions – the Stormont Studio showed work from the permanent collection, which had started with the Stormonts’ personal collection of British art, augmented by the Trust to include other important donations, bequests and purchases. On the High Street, the Easton Rooms held exhibitions and sales of art and craft by contemporary regional and national artists and makers.
Today, the two buildings are linked together to form one continuous premises. There are six exhibition spaces and the Gallery is unique in its blend of permanent collection and contemporary art and craft for sale. There are also community and educational events.The permanent collection, with a collection development policy focusing on British Art of the 20th and 21st centuries, holds work by major national and regional figures including Edward Burra and Paul Nash, who both lived in Rye, also Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell, Ivon Hitchens, John Bratby, Eric Gill, John Piper, Fred Cuming and many others. It holds about 650 pieces, with over half being works on paper. For conservation reasons, and as the space is limited, they show around 20-30 at a time in themed exhibitions which complement the contemporary programme.