Five great British exhibitions

Published 20 January 2016

Celebrate the best in British talent with these shows dedicated to homegrown heroes.

1. Grayson Perry: The Vanity of Small Differences, Victoria Art Gallery

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In this celebrated series of tapestries, the ever-intriguing Grayson Perry reimagines William Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress for the modern era. While the original paintings illustrate the story of a young man who squanders his inherited fortune and dies in a madhouse, Perry’s version tells the tale of Tim Rakewell’s upward mobility through the British class system, ending with his bloody death in a car accident. Littered with cage fighters, dinner parties, celebrity magazines and energy drinks, the designs were based on the artist’s encounters in Sunderland, the Cotswolds and Tunbridge Wells, which he visited while filming a Channel 4 documentary exploring British social status and how this affects definitions of good and bad taste. The tapestries were acquired with Art Fund support in 2013 (until 10 April).

2. Shakespeare in Art: Tempest, Tyrants and Tragedy, Compton Verney

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This spring a host of events and exhibitions are set to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. Compton Verney, in Shakespeare’s home county of Warwickshire, examines how his work has been represented in art. From the late 18th century Shakespearean plotlines and characters were a hugely popular source of inspiration for painters – perhaps most famously the Pre-Raphaelites – but also Singer Sargent, Fuseli, Watts and Romney. Their work is represented here, where it is shown alongside that of contemporary artists such as Tom Hunter, whose photographic series reimagines A Midsummer Night’s Dream in modern-day Hackney. Specially commissioned audio recordings performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company also join the display (19 March until 19 June).

3. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, British Library 50% off with National Art Pass

A second exhibition at the British Library, meanwhile, investigates how the writer’s plays have been transformed, translated, faked, forged, revised and recast to suit the times in which they are performed. Examining 10 defining Shakespeare productions from across history, it begins with the very first performance of Hamlet in 1600 and spans to The Wooster Group’s digital deconstruction of the same play in 2006. On display are diary entries, playbills, costumes and props, as well as the only surviving script in the writer’s own hand (15 April until 6 September).

4. John Constable: Observing the Weather, The Lightbox

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In the 1820s John Constable began a project to document and analyse patterns in the weather, believing it would help him develop his skills as a painter. As well as studying scientific essays explaining atmospheric phenomena, he made sketches of his real-life observations in Hampstead, Salisbury and Dedham Vale. Documenting these same places at different times of day or in different weather conditions meant he was able to demonstrate the dramatic effect meteorological changes had on the light and colour of a scene. The resulting pictures – often worked up in haste – were not intended for public display but simply as a reference for his large-scale landscape pieces. The Lightbox displays them as works of art in their own right, shown alongside the finished paintings that they inspired (13 February until 8 May).

5. Charlotte Great & Small, Brontë Parsonage Museum

Free with National Art Pass

In celebration of the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, the museum explores how a young writer confined to a constricted life in a parsonage dreamt of greatness. At their home in Haworth the Brontës lived in cramped spaces, working from just one room on their various creative projects. Yet despite her humble upbringing Charlotte had bold ideas about the contribution she expected to make to literature. On display here are quotes from her letters and writings that betray her hopes for the future, as well as a scrap from a dress she wore to an important dinner party in London. They are shown in contrast to the tiny books and paintings she made at the parsonage, examples of her everyday clothes and pieces of her embroidery (1 February until 1 January).

Enjoy 50% off admission price to major exhibitions and free entry to more than 220 museums and galleries with a National Art Pass.

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