Sketches for Spaces

Sir James Thornhill, ‘A Ceiling and Wall Decoration’ c.1715–25
Sir James Thornhill
A Ceiling and Wall Decoration c.1715–25

Mural paintings were fashionable in Britain from around 1630 to 1730. Like most 17th-century art, they were introduced by foreign born and trained artists, with a new style emerging in Peter Paul Rubens’s ceiling at the Banqueting House, Whitehall. Murals, applied directly onto walls or canvases inserted into architecture, were planned for royal, aristocratic and public buildings, and townhouses. The combination of architectural space and painting aimed to engage the spectator in a way typical of the continental ‘Baroque’.

Preparatory drawings and oil sketches for murals are displayed here with reference to their broader contexts – physical, cultural and historical. Sketches, some of which would have been used to present to the patron for approval, were not finished works but help to show the process of planning a painting for a particular interior. Actual wall paintings give a sense of the scale of the finished work, while paintings and prints were made to disseminate knowledge of these murals in the 17th and early 18th centuries.

This display coincides with the unveiling of a new Tate Britain in November 2013. The decoration of walls, ceilings and staircases is an important element in its transformation. It includes the restoration of Rex Whistler’s mural, The Expedition in Pursuit of Rare Meats 1926–7, in the Rex Whistler Restaurant. Alan Johnston marks the reopening of Tate Britain with a ceiling drawing for the Djanogly Café. David Tremlett’s Drawing for Free Thinking 2011 on the Manton staircase responds to the floor plans and architecture of the gallery. All these works form part of the Tate Britain Millbank refurbishments.

This display has been devised by Lydia Hamlett as part of the AHRC funded project Court, Country, City.

See also

Tate Britain Exhibition

Rubens: The Apotheosis of James I and Other Studies

20 Mar 2008 – 11 Jan 2009
Rubens: The Apotheosis of James I and Other Studies past exhibition at Tate Britain

Rubens and Britain: Focus display

A new display at Tate Britain explores Peter Paul Rubens's connections with Britain’s monarchy and court.