16 June—19 November 2023

Opulent Origins: 200 Years of Displaying Fine Art

Join us as we reimagine the first Fine Art exhibitions hosted by Bristol Museum in the 1820s.

In 1823, our forerunner, the Bristol Institution for the Promotion of Science, Literature, and the Fine Arts, opened its doors to the public for the first time.

A year later, in 1824, the Institution’s Sub Committee for the Fine Arts was formed. On June 19 their first exhibition, ‘Pictures by Old Masters’ was opened, costing one shilling (around £5 today) for a single entry. The Sub-Committee would come to organise at least six fine art exhibitions between 1824 and 1831.

This display, 199 years later, reimagines the 1820s exhibits as we investigate our institutional origins. Archival resources have allowed us to restage elements such as an accompanying catalogue, Salon-style hang, and crimson walls.

In the 1820s, the pictures on display were either by then-Contemporary British Artists, or those deemed ‘Old Masters’. Today, we unite those categories along with our creative community’s art, considering what Fine Art meant in the past, now, and in the future.

As part of this exhibition, we’re welcoming community art inspired by the collection. Submit your artwork to have your masterpiece included in this display at Bristol Museums.

watercolour painting of a building on park street

The Bristol Institution in 1825, Alfred Montague (K4539)