Current Exhibitions at Newstead Abbey

OPEN…. Until Spring 2017

…Scattering Clouds

An exhibition inspired by the ‘Oval Room’ (Charles II Room) Ceiling at Newstead Abbey

‘He who ascends to mountain-tops, shall find

The loftiest peaks most wrapt in clouds and snow’

Lord Byron, Childe Harold

The selection of paintings, drawings, photographs, costume and textiles in our exhibition spaces have been inspired by the cloudy sky and winged figures in the ceiling paintings in the Charles II Bedroom.

Since the mid-19th century, this room has been known as the Charles II Room, because legend had it that the King had slept in it on a visit to Newstead. However, this is fiction – the King never slept, or even entered here. The room was in fact known as the Oval Room in 1738 and 1740 inventories, because of the ornate oval plaster frame in its ceiling, with its painting of a cloudy sky.

The four painted panels that extend beyond the oval to the corners of the room, contain foliage, scrolls, putti (or cherubim), winged male heads and winged female ‘grotesques’ (decoration involving mixed animal, human, and plant forms). In the centre of each panel is a painted oval frame, two of which contain the Byron family’s mermaid crest.

The ceiling dates from before 1720 and is assumed to be a memorial to the 4th Lord’s first marriage in 1702, and a celebration of his second marriage in 1712. Such paintings often featured on the ceilings of great houses, as if the room was open to the sky beyond. Painted murals often used the laws of perspective and clever foreshortening of figures on a ceiling so as to give the illusion that the figures are suspended in air above the viewer.

The display in the Oval Room combines contemporary artist John Riddy’s photographs of the sky in different parts of the world, with 19th century sketches of clouds and sky by Nottingham artist Henry Dawson – made outdoors and often including the artist’s notes in the margins. Cloud studies represented the most difficult of subjects for an artist because of the fleetingness of cloud forms and shifting effects of light.

In the Charles II Dressing Room a display of designs for fans and fabric by Art Deco-inspired artist and designer George Sheringham are shown alongside 18th century fans with sky and landscape decoration and textiles inspired by the Chinese and Japanese use of cloud symbols. Samplers, jewellery and drawings with winged angel and cherub motifs are also included here, prompted by the winged figures, heads and ‘putti’ or cherubim that surround the oval of sky in the ceiling paintings next door. These are accompanied by selected quotations from some of Lord Byron’s most celebrated poems.


TOP-   The Israelites led by the Pillar of Fire by Night, William West, c.1845, oil on canvas, NCM 1952-46

CENTRE – The Passing of a Viking – Fan Design, George Sheringham, watercolour, NCM 1938-15

BOTTOM –  Christopher Le Brun, 1982, oil on canvas, NCMG 2007-137, given by the Contemporary Art Society