Image of ruben's garden of love

Since closing to the public in September 2019, nearly 200 items from the Woburn Abbey Collection have been on show in many different venues across the country from Plymouth on the South Coast to Inverness in the Scottish Highlands. Objects have even travelled overseas: to Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United States of America.

This comprises 21 loans of varying scale to national, local authority and independent museums.

As well as paintings, we have loaned sculptures, textiles, books, metalwork, ceramics, miniatures, furniture and drawings. Not only works for which Woburn is rightly famous, such as the collection of Canaletto paintings and the Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I, but also objects which have never been public display before including delicate Chinese wallpaper and Indian textiles.

Many exhibitions have been designed exclusively around the Woburn Abbey Collection, including at the National Maritime Museum (London), Holburne Museum (Bath), Barber Institute of Fine Arts (Birmingham), Worcester Museum and Art Gallery, and Compton Verney (Warwickshire).

In other instances, loans have been made to wider exhibitions: an ancient Roman sarcophagus was a centre-piece in the British Museum’s Troy exhibition in the winter of 2019 and seven portraits by the 18th-century artist Sir Joshua Reynolds were loaned to The Box for their bicentennial exhibition this year.

These projects have provided an interesting opportunity to work with colleagues across a range of venues on the exhibition narratives and overall logistics.

Familiar works have been interpreted in new ways and displayed in groupings that are not possible in their country house environment.  It is also an opportunity for educational activities and public programming – whether it is a lecture about Woburn Abbey delivered by a member of the Curatorial Team, or pupils from primary schools learning about the symbolism of the Armada Portrait.

The exhibition at the Barber Institute was co-curated by MA students at the University of Birmingham and grant funding attracted by the prestige of the loan to Worcester enabled students from nearby art colleges to travel to Venice and create their own artworks inspired by the Canaletto’s views of the city.

Woburn Abbey’s Collection has now been more widely published, with two exclusive catalogues and inclusions in at least five more exhibition-related publications. The interest of the wider scholarly community has been piqued, with new research enquiries about the collection to now support.

Whilst the majority of the collection remains packed away and safely stored, and we long to refurnish the house, it is a real privilege to see things back out on display and to share Woburn’s treasures with a wide audience in this unique series of collaborative exhibitions.

You can currently see works from the Woburn Abbey Collection at:

  • Compton Verney Landscape and Imagination: From Gardens to Land Art 21 March – Sun 16 June 2024

Keep an eye on our Instagram account for details of further exhibitions.