Government Art Collection: Selected by Simon Schama: Travelling Light

  • Lord Byron, Thomas Phillips

Past Exhibition

This exhibition was on 16 December 2011- 26 February 2012

Historian and broadcaster Simon Schama selects historical and contemporary artworks from the Government Art Collection that explore ideas of travel from the 16th century to the present day.

Britain has always been an island nation of explorers, from aristocrats embarking on the Grand Tour to romantic exiles like Lord Byron. In this display, Schama explores the part of British culture that longs to go abroad, and the way artists have brought a distinctly British view to their depictions of people and places overseas.

Highlights of the exhibition include an iconic portrait of Romantic poet and famous traveller Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips (1814) brought back specially for the display from the British Ambassador’s residence in Athens, Greece. The romantic urge for adventure and escape is seen in Bloomsbury Group painter Vanessa Bell’s portrait of a woman as a Byzantine Lady (1912) and Edward Lear’s painting View of Beirut (c.1861).

Schama’s selection also includes Howard Hodgkin’s Mud on the Nile (1993) and Yinka Shonibare’s Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle (2009), a smaller version of his recent Fourth Plinth sculptural commission for London’s Trafalgar Square.

Schama’s personal take on the role of international cultural diplomacy, is the third in a series of five displays of works from the Government Art Collection.

The Government Art Collection is part of the Gallery’s ongoing programme opening up important public and private art collections to wider audiences.

The Whitechapel Gallery’s programme of collection displays is supported by Hiscox: