The decision to hang contemporary art in an important historic setting such as Beningbrough Hall cannot be taken lightly. Not only does one need to be sensitive to the character of the early eighteenth-century interiors and the other artworks on display but the very fabric of the building is rightfully subject to strict conservation regulation. This becomes all the more complicated when dealing with artworks that require electrical power, such as Chris Levine’s portrait of the Queen, Lightness of Being, or large works such as John Wonnacott’s 12ft (almost 4 metres) high The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait.

This year, contemporary royal portraits have been brought to Beningbrough for the first time to mark the 300th anniversary of the accession of George I. Thanks to careful preparation, the practical challenges of this project have been overcome in order to display the present royal family alongside their Hanoverian ancestors. For the Chris Levine portrait, this involved fabricating a false wall and, as you can see from the photographs, the Wonnacott required our team of expert Art Handling Technicians to devise a special hanging system, and many hours of planning and labour to get it installed. The final bolt securing the picture to the wall was greeted with thrill and a great sense of relief. See the results for yourself at Beningbrough Hall until 2 November.

Clare Fletcher, Visitor Experience and Volunteering Manager at Beningbrough Hall, says:

The team at Beningbrough is learning all about these new works and perfecting talks, tours and workshops around the display which extends both indoors and out in the grounds too. Working with the Gallery staff to fit the new works into such a historically sensitive building (and the conservation issues that it raises) has been challenging. The large painting by John Wonnacott needed two scaffolding towers, many art handlers, a genie lift and many hours of painstaking work – and the result is incredible. My personal favourite is the work by Chris Levine, glowing in an otherwise dark corridor at Beningbrough, this other-worldly portrait sits not far away from the eighteenth-century royal portraits of George I and Queen Anne. It is such a contrast, and is beautiful, challenging and thought provoking.

Image Credits (from top to bottom)

Installation shot of Lightness of Being, lenticular print on lightbox by Chris Levine, 2007, NPG 6963

Installation shots of The Royal Family: A Centenary Portrait, oil on canvas by John Wonnacott, 2000, NPG 6479



Got something to say?

Rab MacGibbon

24 April 2014, 16:38

Thank you for your comments (I share your enthusiasm for the Kit-Cats) and for your exhibition suggestion. Beningbrough Hall's wartime story was the subject of the 2013 exhibition 'Beningbrough at War', which was a great success. Although the exhibition has ended, two rooms in the house include long-term displays relating to this fascinating period of Beningbrough's history. With regard to the display of modern art, the Gallery will continue to work closely with the National Trust to ensure that the quality of the architectural and historical context is respected.

Bruce Trewin

15 April 2014, 21:00

To make a success of Beningbrough as a satellite NPG venue I would fully support some areas of changing exhibits, essential in maintaining interest in repeat visits (although the Kit Kat portraits alone bring me back again and again). The danger may be any works that distract from the quality of the architectural and historical context. However given the historical use of the house as an RCAF airmen's facility perhaps a future special exhibit could relate to World War Two portraits? I must confess a personal interest as my uncle was based at Linton and lost his life flying bombers while resident in the house.

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