Guildhall exhibition looks at art inspired by art
An exhibition of Victorian art inspired by music and poetry has opened at the Guildhall Art Gallery, drawing on the City of London’s permanent collection to examine how muses have inspired artists. The exhibition, Inspired!, explores the inspiration that led to the creation of work, from the great Greek epics to modern plays and even the newspaper trade.
Ranging from large Victorian landscapes to small modern portraits, biblical scenes and wars, it’s a mix of exhibits, with paintings in almost every style and from every era, with sculptures scattered throughout the gallery. Sculptor Jaroslaw Gierrcarz Alfer commemorates Chopin’s last concert in London in 1848, which took place at the Guildhall.
Novels were increasingly popular in the 19th century and, in response to industrialisation, many Victorians enjoyed nostalgic and romantic novels and poetry, turning to Shakespeare’s history plays, Tennyson’s poems, medieval folk tales and Greek myths. This was reflected in much of the art of the time, and the Guildhall Art Gallery delves into its famous 19th century collections to explore the dialogue between art and literature. Inspired goes one step further to examine how theater and music were additional sources of inspiration for Victorian artists.
The exhibition is divided into themes: Theater and plays, Music and musicians, and Novels and popular press.
It’s the wide range that makes the exhibition interesting because you can compare so many different styles side-by-side in the galleries and see how the artists chose to portray their subjects. Some of the most modern abstract paintings contrast sharply with the almost photographic attention to detail in older works.
One painting that has puzzled me greatly is Abraham Pether’s Burning of Drury Lane Theater in 1809. It appears to show the Thames as seen from the Old Chelsea Waterworks, but if so, Westminster Abbey is on the wrong side of the river. Illumination comes when the river turns out to be the now-buried Tyburn, and a little squint in the map can go some way to explaining how the painter achieved this perspective.
But it’s quite a puzzle when you look at it in the gallery.
Overall, it’s an art buffet, tied to a theme, but very individualistic, and the variety makes it a pleasant gallery to peruse. Very detailed explanatory panels explain why the painting was chosen and what it represents, which is good, because the inspirations that were commonplace to the Victorians are sometimes less familiar to us today.
The Inspired! is open most days at the Guildhall Art Gallery until 11 September.
Adults: £8 | Reduced price: £6 | Children (
Reservation recommended from here.
Free guided tours by curator Katty Pearce will take place on the following dates:
- June 1
- July 6
- August 3
- September 7
These tours of the Curator take place at noon (1 p.m., approximately 45 min) and admission is included in the exhibition ticket.