Britain in the World: A Display of the Collections

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; Joseph Wright of Derby’s The Blacksmith’s Shop; J. M. W. Turner’s Dort or Dordrecht: The Dort packet-boat from Rotterdam becalmedStaffa, Fingal’s Cave; and John Constable’s cloud studies.

This display also comprises exceptional loans, including a portrait of Henrietta Maria (1636) by Van Dyck, coins and medals from the collection of Stephen Scher, a portrait of the artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye by Kehinde Wiley (Yale MFA 2001), and Enough About You (2016) by Titus Kaphar (Yale MFA 2006), which collapses and reworks the composition of an eighteenth-century painting from the Center’s collection.

The installation is organized chronologically, focused around a number of themes. On the fourth floor, the display begins in the sixteenth century and traces Britain’s commercial and imperial expansion through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The timeline continues on the second floor, exploring the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, the end of empire, and postmodern Britain. Masterworks from the collection, such as James McNeill Whistler’s Nocturne in Blue and Silver and Francis Bacon’s Study of a Head are paired with major loans, including paintings by Lucian Freud and George Shaw. The second floor also houses works by Vanessa Bell, Ben Nicholson, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Caulfield, Maggi Hambling, and Rebecca Salter, among many others.