British Baroque – Power and Illusion

British Baroque - Power and Illusion will look at how the style flourished in Britain in the 17th and 18th centuries. Peter Gray reports.


The style might be more associated with our cousins from continental Europe, but Tate Britain’s new show, British Baroque – Power and Illusion, will aim to prove that the art form flourished just as much in Britain as it did abroad.

The first exhibition of its kind to be staged in the UK, the Tate show will focus in on a previously overlooked period in art history with a collection containing several pieces which have never been seen in public before.

Focusing on the years following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, Power and Illusion will trace the evolution of Baroque art from the ascension of King Charles to the throne to the death of Queen Anne in 1714. The age marks a period of momentous change in Britain, with the restoration of the monarchy and the rise of party politics having a profound impact on British society.

 In a time of such uncertainty, it is perhaps no surprise that the rich and powerful began to seek ways of expressing their power and influence. Baroque art was one such means. Just as it had served the rich and powerful in continental Europe, In Britain too, the Baroque style became synonymous with status and influence. The exhibition will look at how the style was used to express a renewed vision of monarchy, with Charles II’s restoration court in the spotlight.

The exhibition will feature a breathtaking collection of paintings by many of the leading artists of the day, including Sir James Thornhill, Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller alongside works by a group of lesser known artists.

As War and politics dominated period, British Baroque will include several battle scenes, as well as a series of “heroic equestrian portraiture” and the several examples of the propaganda that accompanied such conflicts. The show will also trace the way party politics came to offer an alternative to warcraft. Several portraits of the political elite of the period are included in the exhibition with John James Baker’s The Whig Junto being among the most celebrated.

The show will also explore how baroque art was used for religious purposes, with Sir James Thornhill’s stunning designs for the painted dome of St Paul’s cathedral featured alongside dazzling examples of the work of carver/sculptor Grinling Gibbons.

British Baroque – power and illusion will be on at Tate Britain from the 4th of February until the 19th of April 2020. If you would like more information on the exhibition, please click here.

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What: new exhibition
When: tbc
Where: Tate Britain
Website: British Baroque