Ice Age art
arrival of
the modern

7 February – 2 June 2013
Exhibition closed

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Recommend this exhibition

An exhibition 40,000 years in the making

Discover masterpieces from the last Ice Age drawn from across Europe in this groundbreaking show. Created by artists with modern minds like our own, this is a unique opportunity to see the world's oldest known sculptures, drawings and portraits.

These exceptional pieces will be presented alongside modern works by Henry Moore, Mondrian and Matisse, illustrating the fundamental human desire to communicate and make art as a way of understanding ourselves and our place in the world.

Ice Age art was created between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago and many of the pieces are made of mammoth ivory and reindeer antler. They show skilful, practised artists experimenting with perspectives, scale, volumes, light and movement, as well as seeking knowledge through imagination, abstraction and illusion.

One of the most beautiful pieces in the exhibition is a 23,000-year-old sculpture of an abstract figure from Lespugue, France. Picasso was fascinated with this figure and it influenced his 1930s sculptural works.

Although an astonishing amount of time divides us from these Ice Age artists, such evocative pieces show that creativity and expression have remained remarkably similar across thousands of years.

Opening event

At the private view, Antony Gormley, artist and Trustee of the British Museum, introduces ‘the contemporary minds of 40,000 years ago’. With contributions from Dr Andrew Jones, Tom Holland, Sadie Holland and Lord Robert Winston.

Read the reviews

“Not even Leonardo surpassed this”
The Guardian
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“I can’t remember the last time I saw a show with so many rare and beautiful objects”
The Telegraph
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“The exhibition everyone should see”
The Times
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  • Spear thrower made from reindeer antler, sculpted as a mammoth. Found in the rock shelter of Montastruc, France. Approximately 13,000–14,000 years old

  • Tip of a mammoth tusk carved as two reindeer depicted one behind the other. Approximately 13,000 years old, from Montastruc, France

  • Female figure sculpted from steatite. Found at Grimaldi, Italy, thought to be about 20,000 years old

    Musée d'archéologie nationale © Photo RMN/Jean-Gilles Berizzi

  • The oldest puppet or doll: an articulated figure made of mammoth ivory

    On loan from Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute

  • Fragment of decorated reindeer metatarsal (bone) engraved on the obverse surface with two reindeer. From Madeleine, France

  • Bison sculpted from mammoth ivory. Found at Zaraysk, Russia. About 20,000 years old

    The Zaraysk Kremlin Museum, Zaraysk, Russian Federation

  • Modelled figure of a mature woman from Dolni Vestonice, the oldest ceramic figure in the world

    On loan from Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute

  • The oldest known portrait of a woman sculpted from mammoth ivory found at Dolní Vestonice, Moravia, Czech Republic. approximately 26,000 years old

    Moravian Museum, Anthropos Institute

The female gaze

Sculptures of the female form are a feature of the exhibition Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind. Here, exhibition curator Jill Cook and artist Ghislaine Howard explore these representations of women in Ice Age and contemporary art.