Display 3: Travelling Light

Selected by Simon Schama
The third display of works from the Government Art Collection at the Whitechapel Gallery
16 December 2011– 26 February 2012

For the third display at the Whitechapel Gallery, the Government Art Collection invited historian and cultural commentator Simon Schama to select works of art from the Collection. In Travelling Light Schama chose works that explore ideas of travel. In commenting on his selection he said 'We often look inwards to the insular pastoral before breaking loose offshore towards bluer horizons and palmier strands; only to then better understand what it is to be at home … Travelling Light is all about setting off, trying to picture something, never-quite-catching it but in the process doing something beautiful'.

Simon Schama in front of Marta Marcé's painting at the GAC, London 2011

Simon Schama in front of Marta Marcé's painting at the GAC, London 2011

© Crown Copyright

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Schama's selection of historical and contemporary artworks from the Government Art Collection explores ideas of travel from the 16th century to the present day. Britain has always been an island nation of explorers, from aristocrats embarking on the Grand Tour to romantic exiles like, most famously, Lord Byron. In this display, Schama explores a very British yearning to go abroad, and he discovers the ways that artists have brought a distinctly British view to depictions of people and places overseas.

Highlights of the exhibition include an iconic portrait from 1814 of Romantic poet and intrepid traveller Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips brought back specially for the display from the British Ambassador's Residence in Athens, Greece. The romantic urge for adventure and escape is seen in Bloomsbury Group painter Vanessa Bell's portrait of a woman as a 'Byzantine Lady' (1912) and Edward Lear's painting 'View of Beirut' (c.1861). Schama's selection also includes Howard Hodgkin's 'Mud on the Nile' (1993) and Yinka Shonibare's 'Nelson's Ship in a Bottle' (2009) a smaller version of his recent Fourth Plinth sculptural commission for London's Trafalgar Square.

This is the third in a series of five displays at the Whitechapel Gallery running from June 2011 to September 2012. The exhibition will tour to Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery and Ulster Museum, Belfast in 2012–13.

Download the exhibition guide (PDF 820KB)

Visitor Information:

Admission free

Opening hours:
Monday: CLOSED
Tuesday - Sunday: 11am - 6pm
Thursday: 11am - 9pm

Whitechapel Gallery
77 - 82 Whitechapel High Street
London E1 7QX
T +44 (0)20 7522 7888
Nearest Underground station is Aldgate East

Related Exhibition Events

Please note that booking is essential for all events. Book through Whitechapel Gallery, email tickets@whitechapelgallery.org or telephone +44 (0)20 7522 7888

Tours: Government Art Collection
10, 25 January; 8, 21 February 2012 6.30pm
Government Art Collection, Queens Yard, 179a Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7PA
Admission free, booking essential
A chance to go behind the scenes at the Government Art Collection's central London premises to learn about the role of the collection and view the storage and conservation of works as they are prepared for display. Led by curators from the Collection.

Big Ideas: Simon Schama
Thursday 9 February, 7pm Zilkha Auditorium
Whitechapel Gallery ticket price £7/£5conc
Historian, broadcaster, critic and Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University, New York, Simon Schama presents his lecture This was Tomorrow: Whitechapel Gallery, the Independent Group and the promise of the 1950s. Supported by Stanley Picker Trust.

Supper Club: Simon Schama
Date TBC, 7pm Whitechapel Dining Room
(£150, including dinner, £125 for members)
Join historian and broadcaster Simon Schama for an exclusive talk on travel in British art and culture over the centuries. Britain has always been an island nation of explorers and Schama's journey through aristocrats to exiles to artists, takes in legendary figures including John Ruskin, Inigo Jones and David Hockney. Followed by an intimate dinner in the Whitechapel Gallery Dining Room.

Gallery Talk: Chantal Condron on Travelling Light
Thursday 2 February, 7pm
Gallery 7 at the Whitechapel Gallery
Admission free
Government Art Collection Curator of Information & Research (Modern & Contemporary) Chantal Condron leads a tour of work selected by Simon Schama for the third display from the Collection. With BSL Interpretation