Island to Empire: 300 Years of British Art 1550-1850.

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Island to Empire: 300 Years of British Art 1550-1850.


Art Gallery Of South Australia. (11 March 2005 – 13 June 2005)




Multi-artist exhibition. Located: Australia (SA). Paintings, Drawings, Prints, Sculpture, Watercolours, Decorative arts.



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Island to Empire is an exhibition of 170 works showcasing the extraordinary strength and depth of British art from the mid-16th to the mid-19th centuries in the collection of the Art Gallery of South Australia; recognised as one of the finest British art collections outside the United Kingdom. The exhibition combines oil paintings, watercolours, prints, drawings, sculptures and decorative arts to tell the story of the development of British art and the history of Britain from the reign of Henry VIII to that of Queen Victoria.

Curated by the Gallery’s former Director, Ron Radford (now Director of the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), this exhibition has been more than a decade in the planning. While some works will be familiar to Gallery visitors, a number have been acquired only recently and have never been displayed before. Many more will be revealed for the first time after undergoing extensive conservation, cleaning and reframing, including the Gallery’s fragile watercolour collection, much of which has been carefully preserved in storage for a generation. The exhibition marks the first time that all the Gallery’s great British works of the period are displayed together.

Island to Empire is a journey through three centuries both chronologically and thematically beginning with the British mainstay of portraiture, on to maritime paintings, animal pictures, watercolours, satire and finally and triumphantly, landscape painting. Visitors enter into a ‘long gallery’, the feature of many English country houses and the works are shown to further advantage against richly coloured walls, enriched with furniture and decorative arts.

There is a strong royal presence with portraits of the legendary King Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, the infamous Duke of Buckingham, the ‘merry monarch’ Charles II and a dashing King George III. King William and Queen Adelaide also make an appearance in a delightful pair of miniatures, which were presented as a gift to the Gallery by Queen Mary in 1946.

The exhibition boasts works by many of the most important artists working in Britain during the period including: Isaac Oliver, Anthony Van Dyck, Peter Lely, William Hogarth, Allan Ramsay, Joshua Reynolds, Samuel Palmer, Thomas Gainsborough, William Blake, J.M.W. Turner and William Holman Hunt among many others.

The accompanying exhibition book is the largest ever published by the Art Gallery of South Australia and the most substantial Australian book on British art of the period ever produced. Made possible by the sponsorship from the Gordon Darling Foundation, it features 125 colour plates and over 300 black and white illustrations and is the first time the Gallery’s entire British collection has been published. [Gallery media, 2005]

Last Updated

04 Jul 2012