The Lewis Walpole Library develops and presents two to three exhibitions that draw from its collections each year, most with associated programming. In addition to the exhibitions on view at the Library in Farmington, the Library collaborates on and contributes to exhibitions held on Yale’s campus in New Haven and at other institutions.

Current Exhibit

Future Exhibits

Past Exhibits

Online Exhibits

Current Exhibit

POSTPONED–Please note that this program is postponed. We apologize for the inconvenience. Watch this space for updates.

Artful Nature: Fashion and Theatricality, 1770-1830

February 6 to May 22, 2020

Lewis Walpole Library

Curated by Laura Engel, Professor of English, Duquesne University


Amelia Rauser, Professor of Art History, Franklin & Marshall College

Between 1770 and 1830, both fashionable dress and theatrical practice underwent dramatic changes in an attempt to become more “natural.” And yet this desire was widely recognized as paradoxical, since both fashion and the theater were longstanding tropes of artifice. In this exhibition, we examine this paradox of “artful nature” through the changing conception of theatricality during these decades, as mirrored and expressed in fashionable dress. Theater and performance practices in the late eighteenth-century, including the vogue for private theatricals, reinforced the blurred lines between the theater and everyday life. Classical sculpture became a reference point for women, as its artistic excellence was acclaimed precisely because it seemed so “natural.” But when actresses, dancers, painters, or just regular fashionistas posed themselves as classical statues come to life, they acted as both Pygmalion and Galatea, both the genius artist and the living artwork. “Artful Nature” refers simultaneously to the theatricality and deception typically attributed to fashionable women in the late eighteenth century, and at the same time to the potential survival strategies employed by women artists, authors, and actresses to craft their own parts.

View exhibition brochure

A Keynote Lecture by Joseph Roach took place on February 6, 2020 in conjuction with the exhibit. More information about the Keynote Lecture

The evening talk presented in collaboration with the Farmington Public Library, originally scheduled for Wednesday, May 13, has been CANCELLED.