Gilding the Lily

29 July 2011
Courtesy of the British Museum
Courtesy of Adrian Sassoon, London

Photocall Opportunity: Major work of art (Mary Delany embroidered panel) comes to Fairfax House as part of the installation of the exhibition Gilding the Lily on Monday, 21st March between 12.30 and 1.00pm.

In a coup for Yorkshire, Fairfax House is bringing to the North pieces from key collections from around the country, in the forthcoming major exhibition, Gilding the Lily.

This exhibition, which pays homage to the exquisite use of the flower in decorating Georgian decorative arts, showcases exceptional examples of florally-inspired, 18th century works from across a range of media, artists and collections.

In forming this exhibition, Fairfax House has assembled pieces on loan from prestigious museums such as the Royal Collection, British Museum, Rothschild Collection, Waddesdon, Harewood House, the Sir John Soane’s Museum, plus a range of private collections of national and international standing including Wartski of London and Adrian Sassoon.

As the name suggests, Gilding the Lily, brings together flowers and their extraordinary power of beauty with the skills of craftsmen and artists to create a lasting tribute to the natural world. This exhibition takes as its theme the potent influence of the flower in the design of eighteenth century decorative arts and its universal representation across art forms and media. It will focus on the decorative flower as an expression of Georgian society’s fascination with the natural world from the humble to the exotic, and passion to tame and recreate it in decorative form.

Curated by Fairfax House Director, Hannah Phillip, Gilding the Lily examines how the scientific passion for botanical study and recording flowers, both domestic and exotic, found resonance across society, spawning and inspiring the work of the professional, and the amateur artist to the upper reaches of Georgian society.

Works from the Royal Collection particularly illuminate the Georgian Royal Family’s patronage and own passionate pursuit of the study of botany and the expression of this through art. Pieces will include works actually created by members of the Royal Family, whilst among some of the more unusual objects are a porcelain flute and mug both of which belonged to George III and are delicately decorated with floral motifs.

The exhibition will also includes pieces by the highly celebrated and artistically talented Mary Delany whose name is famous for both her commentary of Georgian life and her extraordinary portfolio of work containing nearly 1000 “paper mosaics” held by the British Museum. The exhibition will put on display selected examples of these famous paper “flower portraits” as well as textiles and textile designs by Mrs. Delany including a beautiful embroidered panel originally worked as her court dress for the court of George III.

Gilding the Lily will also focus on how the availability of botanical illustrations transformed design in the porcelain world and brought the exotic to the plate. The exhibition will feature exquisitely decorated porcelain from the factories of Sevres, Derby, Vincennes and Chelsea. However, this installation extends well beyond porcelain to include exceptional examples of furniture and carving, textiles and glass, gold boxes and silver, object d’art and even wallpaper.

Hannah Phillip explained: “We are delighted to be able to bring these important pieces to York as part of this exhibition. The opportunity to see such works showcased in one venue is very rare.

This exhibition allows us to explore a very important as well as beautiful aspect of 18th century decorative arts and to showcase the breadth and ingenious use of the flower. Gilding the Lily will examine how the marriage of science and art was ultimately expressed in art form through botanical studies and “flower portraiture” and how the desire to catalogue, classify and capture on paper botanical species, reached a pinnacle during this period with the work of Linnaeus and Ehret”.

Fairfax House has an established reputation of over 26 years for curating high-profile, well-researched exhibitions, which draw on material from around the country to create educational and innovative ways to give context to the eighteenth century.

Gilding the Lily commences on Friday, 1 April and will run until Sunday, 31 July 2011. It will be opened with a preview of the exhibition and a special lecture on botanical porcelain by BBC Antiques Roadshow presenter, and Director of Bonhams, John Sandon, on Thursday, 31st March at 7.00pm.

To view the exhibition visitors need to purchase a Fairfax House viewing ticket, which costs £6.00 (£5.00 concessions, under 16s are free). Fairfax House is open Tues – Sat 10am to 4.30pm and Sunday 12.30pm to 3.30pm for self-guided tours. Guided tours are also available at 11am and 2pm on Mondays. Tickets for the John Sandon lecture can be booked through the gift shop on 01904 655543.

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