Current Exhibitions at Newstead Abbey

Peacocks: The Pomp of Power
17 June 2017 – Summer 2018

Charles II Dressing Room & Edward III Room

Peacocks: The Pomp of Power presents a display of artworks and objects from the Nottingham City Museum and Art Galleries fine art, decorative art, lace, costume and textiles, and natural history collection. The selected works are inspired by the beautifully elegant peacocks that grace the grounds of Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the Romantic Poet Lord Byron. Byron was both a sartorial peacock and lover and keeper of these extravagant creatures; hence the title of this exhibition has been taken from Don Juan: Canto The Seventh, a poem by the poet and great eccentric.

Peacocks have taken on important roles and various identities in many countries and cultures: their vivid feathers or designs resembling their shape and beauty continue to feature heavily on interior décor, garments, ceramics and accessories.

The Henry the Seventh’s Lodging, situated along the East Gallery from the Charles II Room, is one of the main bedrooms at Newstead and is also known as the Japanese Room. The upper walls are fitted with screens and painted panels that were brought back to Newstead by the Webb sisters, who travelled to the Far East in the 1890s. They depict the beauties of the natural world and date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  They are hand-painted on gold leaf with peacocks, cranes, ocean waves, pine trees and cherry blossom.

The peacock and its colours are synonymous with Indian identity and in 1963 the peacock was declared the National Bird of India because of its rich religious and legendary involvement in Indian traditions. The bird is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka, but now features in countries all over the world and is as much a part of the country-house tableau as fountains and parterres. Taken from its homeland by traders thousands of years ago, the Indian peacock eventually reached England, where it became something of a country house status symbol. A number of vibrant and detailed Indian textile items are included in Peacocks: The Pomp of Power along with a beautiful wooden plate with a copper inlay and a ceremonial sword.

In Russian folklore the peacock carries a lot of meanings, it symbolises the spring and the sun along with its many attributes such as warmth, light and power. In the 11th century, the peacock motif appeared in Russian embroidery, and is thought to have come from Byzantium art to Russia, along with Christianity. Different regions developed their own depictions of peacocks and some of these stylized peacock designs can be seen within this exhibition, used by embroiderers on a number of 19th century linen bobbin lace borders.

The exhibition is open alongside a display of Japanese Woodblock prints from the Nottingham City Museums and Galleries collections in the Charles II Room.

Image Credit: Attributed to Guy Head, (1753-1800), Juno Borrowing the Girdle of Venus, c. 1771, Oil painting, NCM 1894-18.