Britain in the World
In 2016, the third phase of a multiyear building conservation project was completed, and visitors can experience a renewed masterpiece of modern architecture by Louis I. Kahn and a reimagined installation of the Center’s collections. Nearly four hundred works, largely the gift of the institution’s founder, Paul Mellon (Yale College, Class of 1929), and augmented by other gifts, loans, and purchases, are on display in the restored galleries on the fourth and second floor.
Tracing the growth of a native British school of artists, this installation reveals how frequently the story of art in Britain focuses on a narrative of international exchange. This 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 propagating Britain’s imperial vision—exploring the ways in which the perception of the British Empire influenced how Britons saw themselves and others. Featured in this 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 artist Anthony van Dyck, the eighteenth-century Venetian artist Canaletto, the German artist Johan Zoffany, and American artists John Singleton Copley and Benjamin West.
Many of the Center’s well-known works from the Paul Mellon Collection are on view in exciting juxtapositions, including George Stubbs’s 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 (1831–32); and John Constable’s cloud studies (ca. 1821–25). This display also comprises exceptional loans, including a portrait of Henrietta Maria (1636) by Van Dyck and 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 (1800–1830); and A New Age (1830–1860).
The timeline continues on the second floor with Art and Industry (1850–1900); Going Modern, Being British (1900–1945); The End of Empire (1945–1979); and Postmodern Britain (1979–now). Masterworks from the collection, such as James McNeill Whistler’s (1872–78) and Francis Bacon’s Study of a Head (1952), are paired with major loans, including paintings by Lucian Freud (1922–2011) and George Shaw (b. 1966). The second floor also houses works by Vanessa Bell (1879–1961), Ben Nicholson (1894–1982), Henry Moore (1898–1986), Barbara Hepworth (1903–1975), Patrick Caulfield (1936–2005), Maggi Hambling (b. 1945), and Rebecca Salter (b. 1955), among many others.