Future Exhibitions

The Paradox of Pearls: Accessorizing Identities in the Eighteenth Century
Curated by Laura Engel, Professor, Duquesne University
Pastel half-length portrait of young  woman with upswept brown hair, yellow silk ermine-trimmed dress with white lace, ornamented with strings of pearls, and a rose velvet robe over one shoulder
Opening Friday, September 27, 2024
Pearls figure prominently in pictures of celebrated and imagined figures across the eighteenth century. Adorning royalty, celebrities, servants, and in fashion plates, the mysterious, opaque, and gleaming white accessory aligns with the mutable, seductive, and threatening emergence of new forms of identity. Worn as jewelry, as embellishments to the body and dress, or embedded in the settings of precious objects – pearls accessorize, highlight, colonize, and perform. As one of the most sought-after commodities of the early modern colonial enterprise, a precious jewel tied to bondage and violence, pearls have a baroque and complex history. Drawing from materials in the Lewis Walpole Library this exhibition will explore the “paradox of pearls” by considering how the varied and often contradictory meanings of this jewel appear in period images and the ways in which practices from the past connect us to the powerful presence of pearls today.
“Seen With Great Delight”: Spectacle in Georgian London
Curated by Alison FitzGerald, Associate Professor in the Department of History, Maynooth University
A well-dressed crowd stand outside, enter, or struggle to enter a wide doorway, Broadsides announcing the exhibition are posted on the exterior wall above which in large letters is No 5, flanking an elaborate fan-light. They mount steps from the street, throng the vestibule, and are seen through an open window (right) ascending a staircase. A man in the vestibule shouts.
Spring 2025

Samuel Johnson defined “spectacle” in 1755 as “a show; a gazing stock; any thing exhibited to the view as eminently remarkable.”  This exhibition will explore the range of spectacular shows that were offered to the fee-paying public in Georgian London, from exhibitions of paintings, to scientific demonstrations, to the display of wondrous animals.  These shows were such an integral part of the visual culture that Horace Walpole complained in 1770, “The rage to see these exhibitions is so great, that sometimes one cannot pass through the streets where they are … it is incredible what sums are raised by mere exhibitions of anything … to enter at which you pay a shilling or half a crown.”

The exhibition will primarily focus on images drawn from the extensive collections at the Lewis Walpole Library that announce, depict and satirise what people paid to gaze at.  It will consider how derogatory ideas about spectacle were expressed in caricatures and political discourse.  Admission charges made shows less accessible for some, but spectacle blurred the line between high and low culture, fine art and performance.  Who ultimately judged what was “eminently remarkable” in an unashamedly commercial context?  At the heart of this equation were the spectators, united by the impulse of curiosity but far from homogenous, and at times, making a spectacle of themselves.

Stay tuned for annoucement about other future exhibits. 

Our current exhibits can be seen here