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Walk Through British Art

Walk through time and explore artworks from 1545 to the present day

Photo © Rikard Österlund

Highlights

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
John Singer Sargent Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885–6
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
Francis Bacon Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion c.1944
The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
Richard Dadd The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke 1855–64
Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers
Henry Fuseli Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers ?exhibited 1812

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Highlights in Walk Through British Art

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose

John Singer Sargent
Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose
1885–6

This painting is set in a garden in the Cotswolds village of Broadway, where John Singer Sargent stayed in the summer of 1885. The children lighting Japanese lanterns with tapers are Dolly (left) and Polly Barnard. Their father was the illustrator Frederick Barnard – a friend of Sargent’s. Sargent wanted to capture the exact level of light at dusk so he painted the picture out of doors, in the impressionist manner. As autumn came and the flowers died he resorted to painting flowers in pots. The title comes from the refrain of a popular song The Wreath by Joseph Mazzinghi.

Display caption, 2016

Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion

Francis Bacon
Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion
c.1944

The title of this work refers to figures at the foot of the cross in Christian paintings of the death of Jesus. Bacon later related them to the Eumenides, vengeful goddesses from Greek mythology. The work was first exhibited in April 1945, during the final months of the Second World War. This coincided with the release of the first photographs and film footage of the Nazi concentration camps. For some, Bacon’s painting reflected the pessimistic world brought about by the Holocaust and the development of nuclear weapons.

Display caption, 2019

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke

Richard Dadd
The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke
1855–64

Richard Dadd painted this work for an official at Bethlem Hospital (now the Imperial War Museum) where he was sent after murdering his father and declared mentally ill.

The scene shows a number of different characters including figures thought to represent the Pope and Dadd’s own father. In the centre is the ‘fairy-feller’, about to split a large chestnut which will be used to construct a new carriage for Queen Mab, a fairy mentioned in William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The picture is painted in great detail. Dadd worked on it for between six and nine years.

Display caption, 2018

Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers

Henry Fuseli
Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers
?exhibited 1812

This dramatic work was probably inspired by a performance of Shakespeare’s tragedy Macbeth. Encouraged by the deceptive prophecy of witches, Macbeth and his wife plot to take the crown of Scotland by murdering King Duncan in his sleep. Here Macbeth emerges horrified from the murder scene off-stage, still holding the bloodied weapons. Lady Macbeth takes control of the situation but by the end of the play, consumed by guilt, she succumbs to madness and suicide. Fuseli treats the scene with an almost supernatural intensity.

Display caption, 2016

The First Cloud

Sir William Quiller Orchardson
The First Cloud
1887

This is the last of three paintings by William Orchardson on the subject of an unhappy marriage. The empty space of the parquet floor emphasises the psychological tension between the couple. It suggests that their dispute might lead to more serious problems. When it was first exhibited these lines from a Tennyson’s poem Merlin and Vivien were published in the catalogue: ‘It is the little rift within the lute, That by and by will make the music mute’.

Display caption, 2016

Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’)

John Constable
Flatford Mill (‘Scene on a Navigable River’)
1816–7

Landscape painting flourished in the 19th century, ranging from the epic, through rustic nostalgia to the naturalism championed by John Constable. He based what he called his ‘natural painture’ on study of nature, experience of his subjects and attention to working life, especially in the Stour Valley where his father was a miller and merchant. When possible, he sketched or worked on pictures outdoors. Flatford Mill shows barges approaching Flatford footbridge after passing through the lock near his father’s mill. Its bright, airy realism was unprecedented at the time.

Display caption, 2016

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