Cleveland, OH (June 25, 2020) – The Cleveland Museum of Art (CMA) today announced the reopening of its Paul J. and Edith Ingalls Vignos and Ellen and Bruce Mavec British galleries (203A–B) focusing on the art of Britain from the 1600s to early 1800s. The completely redesigned galleries feature beloved masterworks from the permanent collection, loans from other museums, as well as important recent acquisitions and gifts. The new installation combining decorative arts, paintings, and sculpture echoes the British country house context in which many of these works would have been displayed. The redesign of the British galleries is made possible with major support from Jane and Douglas Kern, with additional support from Ann and Richard C. Gridley. The redesigned British galleries open June 30, in tandem with the reopening of the museum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CMA, which closed its doors March 14, postponed the galleries’ original March 20 opening.
“This is the first time since 2008 that our British galleries have been redesigned,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “This exciting initiative was undertaken in connection with our strategic plan, which calls for us to reimagine and reinterpret the installation of selected galleries in the coming years. The renovated space has a fresh, new look that provides a much more holistic approach to displaying British art.”
The works on display can be traced to more than a dozen country houses in England and Scotland. Britain’s prosperity in the 1600s and 1700s resulted in an expanded aristocracy, which in turn built grand homes filled with luxurious furnishings. Many wealthy patrons of art traveled through continental Europe on the Grand Tour, a journey meant to entertain and educate young men and, less often, women to be citizens of the world, with an understanding of art and its power to communicate status and identity. The galleries display fashionable portraits and sophisticated decorative arts, conceived to feature their patrons’ cosmopolitan taste.
Visitors will encounter recent acquisitions and collection favorites in a new context. For example, the Portrait of the Ladies Amabel and Mary Jemima Yorke by Joshua Reynolds hangs alongside a pair of recently acquired candle stands by the legendary furniture designer Thomas Chippendale. In effect, the painting is now shown much as it might have been originally seen. To complement the candle stands, the CMA’s newly acquired French version of Chippendale’s more-than-300-page book of 18th-century design will also be on view. Another highlight is the Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote by Joseph Wright of Derby, on view for the first time since its acquisition in 2017. The portrait, which demonstrates the artist’s distinctive manner of painting expressive landscape, and a special loan from the Yale Center for British Art of George Stubbs’s Water Spaniel, are among the works exploring British country life.
“The exciting new acquisitions by Thomas Chippendale together with new cases designed especially for our British ceramics and silver showcase the CMA’s rich collection of decorative arts in tandem with the majestic portraits and sublime landscapes of our British paintings,” said Stephen Harrison, curator of decorative art and design.
Works on view also respond to the era’s changes and feature artists’ emulation of historical styles, conveying both excitement and anxiety about the nation’s increasingly industrial society. The 1800s were defined by upheaval, as Britons relocated from the country to cities and prospered from enterprises rooted in steel and electricity. Newly rich industrialists and middle-class patrons alike traveled more freely and had the leisure time to enjoy art and the disposable income to acquire it. In this context, visitors will see Joseph Mallord William Turner’s masterpiece The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16 October 1834, a provocative essay on the destructive powers of both man and nature.
A highlight in the redesigned galleries is Augustus Leopold Egg’s The Life of Buckingham, a mid-19th-century history painting depicting the 17th-century Duke of Buckingham dining at the court of King Charles II. The picture features exquisite details and shows how the Victorians embraced the past during the age of electricity and steamships. The new galleries also feature a selection of small luxury objects from the CMA’s rich collection. Displayed in a custom-designed cabinet, these diminutive works rotate every six months, allowing visitors to see objects ranging from snuff boxes and jewelry to portrait miniatures.
“Our conservation team has been instrumental in completing some fascinating projects enabling us to display important works by painter Thomas Gainsborough, wood carver Grinling Gibbons, and sculptor Francis Chantrey, which have been off view for many years,” said Cory Korkow, associate curator of European paintings and sculpture, 1500–1800.
Please view the press kit for images and more information about highlights on view in the British galleries.
About the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Collection of European Painting and Sculpture
The Cleveland Museum of Art’s collection of European painting from 1500 to 1800 is one of international importance. Areas of particular depth include Italian Baroque, including Caravaggio’s The Crucifixion of Saint Andrew, and 17th-century Dutch painting, among them Frans Hals’s masterpiece Portrait of Tieleman Roosterman. There are highly significant holdings in Spanish Baroque, including Francisco de Zurbarán’s Christ and the Virgin in the House of Nazareth, and 17th-century French painting, of which Nicolas Poussin’s The Holy Family on the Steps is a highlight. The Italian Renaissance painting collection also has major works, as do the 18th-century French and British holdings. The sculpture collection maintains strengths in Renaissance bronzes and German and Austrian Baroque sculpture. The portrait miniature holdings are among the most outstanding in the world.
About the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Decorative Art and Design Collection
The Decorative Art and Design collection at the Cleveland Museum of Art is internationally known and includes work that is considered some of the finest of its type in the world.
The collection is one of the most visible areas of collecting in the museum because works are displayed alongside paintings and sculpture of similar eras or origin in galleries throughout the museum. The works that appear on view are of very high quality and visual interest.
The best American material can be found in the galleries devoted to 19th- and 20th-century art, while European furniture, silver, and ceramics from the 16th to the 19th centuries form one of the strongest collections in the museum. In particular, the works of Limoges enamel, Italian maiolica, German and French silver and ceramics, and French 18th-century furniture are among the best in the United States, known internationally through scholarship and exhibitions.
Significant works in 19th- and 20th-century decorative arts have been added in recent years, making this an emerging strength in the museum’s collections. The work by Peter Carl Fabergé circa 1900 is considered some of the finest of its type in the world.
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