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The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain

[ Exhibition )

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A still life painting of assorted objects including a conch shell in centre, a spool of red ribbon, a blue ribbon a clock in a square frame and some binoculars all on a red table with a steam ship in the back left corner

Join us for the first major exhibition to explore British still life.

The Shape of Things questions the idea that still life is a lesser genre, showing how important it is to artists and society. Featuring a ‘Who’s Who’ of Modern and Contemporary British artists, the exhibition digs into still life’s rich symbolism and how it’s pushed boundaries and new ideas.

The exhibition shifts from 17th-century ‘vanitas’ paintings to post-impressionism to abstraction and from pop to conceptual art. It invites viewers to think about life’s challenges, such as love and grief, identity and the subconscious, life and death and plenty and waste. Today, these challenges also include biodiversity loss, the legacy of colonialism, and climate change.

On display are a selection of works by modern and contemporary artists in Britain including Hurvin Anderson, Vanessa Bell, Edward Burra, Patrick Caulfield, Lucian Freud, Gluck, Duncan Grant, Richard Hamilton, Mona Hatoum, Jann Haworth, David Hockney, Lee Miller, Paul Nash, Ben Nicholson, William Nicholson, Eric Ravilious, Anwar Jalal Shemza, William Scott, Walter Sickert, Stanley Spencer, Edmund de Waal, Rachel Whiteread and Clare Woods. The exhibition looks at how these artists have used traditional art history to express the complexities of the human condition.

Phoebe Cummings, an artist working with clay, has created a site-specific installation for this exhibition – Phoebe Cummings: I hear myself with my throat

★★★★ This splendid exhibition shows that the genre has always been dynamic – and there’s much more to it than apples and grapes in a bowl.

Alastair Smart, The Telegraph


★★★★ This excellent exhibition is a fascinating walk through the often surprisingly radical history of British still life.

Mark Hudson, Independent


★★★★ The curators persuasively make the case that still life painting was – and is – a brilliant vehicle for expression, experiment and sheer artistic display.

Laura Freeman, The Times

Full of colour, surrealism and delight.

Laura Gascoigne, The Spectator

Featured artworks

A still life painting of assorted objects including a conch shell in centre, a spool of red ribbon, a blue ribbon a clock in a square frame and some binoculars all on a red table with a steam ship in the back left corner

Edward Alexander Wadsworth, Bright Intervals

Painting of a table with a plate with a cut orange melon on it with an apple, peach and green grapes to the left of it. Next to the fruit is a glass of red wine. All is on a dark blue background.

George Leslie Hunter, Still Life with Cut Melon, Glass and Fan

Painting of a table laden with food and drink and elaborate crockery including a lobster, a shell, fruit and goblets. All are painted with a technique that makes the whole thing seem as if the paint is dripping away.

Gordon Cheung, Still Life with Golden Goblet (after Pieter de Ring 1640-1660)

Painting of two skulls on a black background. The base of one skull rests on top of another with the face side looking upwards.

Maggi Hambling, Cuddling skulls

Painting of a view from a window with a jug on the window sill and in the back ground you can see sailing ships on the sea with mountains behind them

Ben Nicholson, 1943-45

Painting of a rounded silver casket sat on tap of a flat book, sat on top of a pair of white gloves all sat on top of a red case with a gold latch. Background is black.

William Nicholson, The Silver Casket and Red Leather Box

Cornelia Parker, Falling Façade

Eric Ravilious, Ironbridge Interior

Richard Hamilton,The Critic Laughs

Anwar Jalal Shemza, Still life

Anwar Jalal Shemza, Still Life, 1957, collection and © Estate of Anwar Jalal Shemza

Patrick Caulfield, Coloured Still Life

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Photograph of an open book on a pile of books

Exhibition catalogue

Discover the rich variety of artists and artworks in the exhibition with contributions from Simon Martin, Lydia Miller, Chloe Nahum, Emma Sharples, Michael Bird, Melanie Vandenbrouck, Miriam O’Connor Perks and Phoebe Cummings.

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Listen to an audio tour

Download the free Bloomberg Connects app and dive into the exhibition with audio tours personally guided by our curators and contemporary artists, including Maggi Hambling, Glenn Brown, Gordon Cheung, Lindsey Mendick, Charlotte Verity, Bouke de Vries and Toby Ziegler.

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A group of five people standing with their backs to the viewer looking at a range of artworks on the wall.

Join a guided tour

Join one of our passionate guides for an in-depth tour of the exhibition and discover more about some of the key works on display.

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