Dorset Museum to display star painting from Victoria & Albert Museum

A star object from the Victoria and Albert Museums collection is due to go on display in a new exhibition being held at Dorset Museum.

Hardy’s Wessex – The Landscapes which Inspired a Writer, running from 28 May 2022 until 30 October 2022, is a partnership exhibition which spans Dorset, Poole, Salisbury and Wiltshire museums. It tells the story of Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, amidst the Wessex landscapes which shaped his view of the world. The exhibition will be the largest collection of Hardy objects to ever be displayed at one time. Each museum will focus on various topics which Hardy covers, with Dorset Museum focusing on the rural landscapes which inspired Hardy and exploring themes on animal welfare and social tensions.

Thanks to support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, each museum will have a ‘star’ loan object. For Dorset Museum this will be A Village Choir, an oil painting by Thomas Webster, 1847 which is on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It depicts a village choir, illustrating the various ‘characters’ who might be found there. The painting captures a snapshot of rural life – similar to the community that Hardy grew up in. It also evokes the kind of characters found in Hardy’s novels such as Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree. 

Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “This exhibition on one of our most celebrated Victorian writers is a wonderful example of what the Weston Loan Programme sets out to do – we are so pleased to be able to support the display of such special objects in the places that inspired, and were reflected in, Hardy’s work.”

Dorset Museum’s interim director, Elizabeth Selby, said: “Dorset Museum is thrilled to be receiving Thomas Webster’s 1847 painting A Village Choir on loan from the Victorian and Albert Museum, London, made possible through the Weston Loans Programme. Involvement of Hardy’s family in the local village church choir was extremely important in his upbringing and influenced his work, most importantly the novel Under the Greenwood Tree. The inclusion of this painting in the Dorset Museum section of the exhibition which spans four sites, gives a wonderful flavour of the rural landscape in which Hardy grew up.”

Harriet Still, curator of the exhibition for Wessex Museums, said: “We are hugely grateful for this funding which is enabling us to display such significant objects…A Village Choir is a snapshot of rural life, capturing the typical local ‘characters’ found in Hardy’s writing.

“Together with the extensive collections from our partner museums, all these objects will combine to make an immersive, thought-provoking and memorable Hardy experience.”

Image credit: A Village Choir by Thomas Webster, © The Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Image no: 2006al3887