Archive: Guarding the Relics of the Age of Enlightenment; Ross Reyburn Discovers Wolverhampton's Georgian Legacy and Sees the Efforts Being Made to Preserve the Town's Architectural Heritage
Byline: Ross Reyburn
Wolverhampton's Georgian architectural legacy is somewhat fragmented but the Black Country city has what must rank as one of the most interesting tributes to the Age of Enlightenment currently being staged in Britain.
As well as being well-known for its modern art, the Wolverhampton Museum & Art Gallery has a fine collection of Georgian paintings including works by Thomas Gainsborough, Johann Zoffany, JMW Turner, Wright of Derby and Sir Henry Raeburn.
Now, through a pounds 97,000 lottery grant, the Georgian Room at the museum is staging the At Your Pleasure exhibition, which opened on February 1 and runs for five years.
The idea came from the museum's access and interpretation officer Marina Reilly, while Georgian project manager Olga Baird created the network of five work stations sited at the various items of reproduction period furniture in the room.
'The Georgian collection is not very big and but almost all great British artists of the 18th century are represented with one or more fine paintings,' said Olga, former assistant director of the Pushkin Museum in her home town of St Petersburg. She came to England after marrying a British social worker.
'The idea is we would like to show these Georgian paintings not only by themselves as works of art but organise them showing their broad historical, political and cultural background in Georgian Britain. It was the Age of Enlightenment, a time of such strength of purpose. People who lived in this period were very active, very curious.'
Birmingham's celebrated Lunar Society, the gathering of the greatest minds in 18th century Britain, is represented in the exhibition through Wright of Derby's 1792 portrait of the great Lichfield scientist Dr Erasmus Darwin.
It is Olga Baird's favourite painting in the Georgian Room. 'I am very pleased to see the face of Erasmus Darwin every day,' she said. Go to the replica 18th century desk a few feet away from the painting, pull out a drawer and you can put on earphones and hear an audio tape taking you on a journey with the great doctor covering his 'war on the pox and the fever' and his visionary idea of a future that would see 'a flying chariot to take us through the skies.'We also have a particularly nice Zoffany painting that shows David Garrick playing his favourite role, Sir Brute, in Vanbrugh's Provok'd Wife,' said Baird.
At the actor's desk near the painting, a replica of Garrick's own prompt book for the 1758 Drury Lane production of The Provok'd Wife is marked with his own writing.
A huge canvas shows Wolverhampton artist Edward Bird's painting The Landing of Louis XVIII at Calais depicting the brief restoration of the French monarchy. Unusually on the right side of the portrait Bird has painted himself witnessing the event. …