Art and Music in Britain: Four Encounters, 1730-1900

Thursday, October 5, 2006
Sunday, December 31, 2006

Art and Music in Britain: Four Encounters, 1730–1900 was an innovative exploration of the relationship between art and music. Many of us have sensed the kinship between church music and a stained glass window, or between the sweeping perspectives of a Romantic symphony and a panoramic landscape painting of the same era. The juxtaposition of art and music has the potential to enrich our understanding of, and response to, each medium and the cultural milieu that produced them.

This exhibition offered a tightly focused historical exploration of this theme by examining four moments in British history when the conjunction of art and music took on a distinctive character. “Handel’s London” looked at sites for viewing art and hearing musical performances around 1740. “Music and Polite Society” explored the way in which artists presented music-making as an emblem of social harmony in the late eighteenth century. “Romantic Landscapes” traced the responses of composer Felix Mendelssohn and painter J. M. W. Turner to a particular Scottish landscape that both visited in the years around 1830. Finally, “Aspiring to the Condition of Music”

Philippe Mercier, The Sense of Hearing (detail), 1744–47, oil on canvas, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

examined the ways in which the painters of the Aesthetic Movement attempted to emulate music’s direct, sensory appeal. Drawn primarily from the Center’s permanent collection, the exhibition also included period instruments on loan from the Yale Collection of Historical Musical Instruments. Each section of the exhibition contained listening stations at which relevant musical extracts could be heard. A website created to accompany the exhibtion is also available.

The exhibition was organized by the Center; it was curated by Tim Barringer, Paul Mellon Professor of the History of Art at Yale, and Eleanor Hughes, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the Center.