Places of the mind
British watercolour landscapes 1850–1950

23 February – 28 August 2017

Room 90

Supported in memory of Melvin R Seiden


Recommend this exhibition

Paul Nash (1889–1946), The Wanderer, also called Path through trees (detail). Watercolour with blue chalk and graphite, 1911. Presented by the Contemporary Art Society.

Drawn from the British Museum’s rich collection, this is the first exhibition devoted to landscape drawings and watercolours by British artists in the Victorian and modern eras – two halves of very different centuries.

The exhibition celebrates the work of British landscape artists during the hundred years following the death of J M W Turner. It demonstrates how they worked in many different styles and techniques on paper – not only in watercolour, but also in mixed media including bodycolour, pastel, chalk and pen and ink – to interpret the changing landscape of the period. It charts their technically brilliant, virtuoso and imaginative responses to the artistic, cultural and social upheavals of the time.

Most of the 125 works are from the British Museum’s remarkable but little-known collection – over half have never been on display before. The exhibition includes works by James McNeil Whistler, Edward Burne-Jones, John Singer Sargent, Muirhead Bone, Paul Nash, John Minton, Henry Moore and Graham Sutherland.

Different sections of the exhibition explore not only the variety of techniques and styles but also the effects of tourism at home and abroad, the role of artists’ colonies, contemporary writing and the devastating effect of two world wars. The exhibition’s title is borrowed from the poet and critic Geoffrey Grigson’s 1949 collection of essays, Places of the Mind. It acknowledges how every landscape drawing is a construct of the mind and imagination of its creator – an attempt to convey not merely the physical properties of a landscape but an almost spiritual quest to capture its essence and sense of place.

The accompanying book, available in the Museum shops and online, is supported in memory of Melvin R Seiden and by a grant from the Dr Lee MacCormick Edwards Charitable Foundation, awarded to the American Friends of the British Museum.