Britain in the World
The third phase of an important multiyear building conservation project has been completed, and visitors can now experience not only a renewed masterpiece of modern architecture by Louis I. Kahn but also a freshly reimagined installation of the Center’s collections. More than five hundred works, largely the gift of the institution’s founder, Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), are on display in the newly restored and reconfigured galleries on the third and fourth floors.
Tracing the growth of a native British school of artists, the installation reveals how frequently the story of art in Britain focuses on a narrative of international exchange. The new arrangement addresses the impact of immigration and travel on British art and culture across the centuries, and the role that the arts have played in the history of Britain’s imperial vision, exploring the ways in which the perception of the British Empire influenced how Britons saw themselves and others. Featured in the display are the Netherlandish artists who provided the foundations of British art in the Tudor period (1485–1603), as well as the seventeenth-century Flemish artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck, the eighteenth-century Italian artist Canaletto, the German artist Johan Zoffany, and American artists John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West.
Many of the Center’s well-known treasures from the Paul Mellon Collection return to view in new and exciting juxtapositions, such as the works of George Stubbs, including his painting Pumpkin with a Stable-lad (1774); Joseph Wright of Derby’s The Blacksmith’s Shop (1771); J. M. W. Turner’s Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort packet-boat from Rotterdam becalmed (1818) and Staffa, Fingal’s Cave (1831–1832); and John Constable’s cloud studies (ca. 1821–1825) and Hadleigh Castle, The Mouth of the Thames—Morning after a Stormy Night (1828–1829). The display also includes important loans, from a portrait of the young Elizabeth I to paintings by Allan Ramsay (1713–1784) and John Linnell (1792–1882), as well as coins and medals from the collection of Stephen Scher.
The installation is organized chronologically, focused around a number of themes. On the fourth floor, these include Becoming Great Britain (1550–1688); A Commercial Society (1688–1750); Rule Britannia? (1750–1775); Art and the Market (1775–1800); Revolution and Reaction (1800–1820); and The Age of Unease (1820–1850). The timeline continues on the third floor with A New Age (1850–1900); Going Modern, Being British (1900–1945); The End of Empire (1945–1979); and Postmodern Britain (1979–present). Masterworks from the collection, such as Frederic Leighton’s Mrs. James Guthrie (1865) and James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Silver (1872–1878), are paired with major loans, including paintings by Sir John Everett Millais (1829–1896), Francis Bacon (1909–1992), Lucian Freud (1922–2011), and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye (b. 1977), and a sculpture by Sir Antony Gormley (b. 1950). The third floor also contains works by Ben Nicholson (1894–1982), Henry Moore (1898–1986), and Maggi Hambling (b. 1945), among many others.