Be Inspired! At Guildhall Art Gallery

Isla Phillips-Ewen 2 May 2022 min Read

Guildhall Art Gallery is hosting a fascinating new exhibition examining the ways in which visual artists have taken inspiration from the literary arts. Inspired! Art inspired by theatre, literature and music (8 April–11 September 2022) explores the relationship between poetry, plays, novels, and music with the visual arts.

The Exhibition – An Overview

Novels were increasingly popular during the 19th century and, in reaction to industrialization, many Victorians valued nostalgic and Romantic novels and poetry— for example, Shakespeare’s history plays (such as the painting below), Tennyson’s poems, medieval folktales, and Greek myths. The art of the time reflects this, and Guildhall Art Gallery dives into its amazing 19th-century collection to explore the dialogue between art and literature. Inspired! goes deeper and looks at how theater and music were additional sources of inspiration for Victorian artists.

Inspired! The Guildhall Art Gallery. Exhibition shot by Paul Clarke Photography. 2022.

Augustus Leopold Egg, Scene from A Winter’s Tale, 1845, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK.

Lovers of Pre-Raphaelite art can see pieces by celebrated names, including those by William Holman Hunt (1827-1910), John Everett Millais (1829-1896) and George Frederic Watts (1817-1904).

Inspired! The Guildhall Art Gallery. Exhibition shot by Paul Clarke Photography. 2022.

William Holman Hunt, The Eve of St Agnes, 1848, The Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK. Exhibition shot by Paul Clarke Photography, 2022. Detail.

Also on display are sculptures that celebrate the performing arts in stone and a broad collection of watercolor paintings, with highlights including Ophelia’s Madness by Fred Walker and Cedric’s Toast, 1859 by John Gilbert.


Inspired! is a wonderful curation of artworks put into three themes: Poetry & Poets, Music & Musicians, and Theatre & Theatricals. The exhibition is very much at home in a nicely spaced, not-too-large gallery. The space mixes a gentle variety of artworks, from sculptures to small pieces and epic (in size and topics) works, such as the magnificent Clytemnestra.

The signs that accompany each piece are absolutely splendid. Their tone is inclusive and welcoming and the text itself is highly informative. There are fascinating things to learn about whatever interests you. Whether you are a literature aficionado, a London enthusiast, or an avid historian, the amount of background and context to the pieces is just right.

The Author’s Highlights

This trio really struck me during the exhibition, and hopefully, these glimpses will inspire you to visit. Firstly, the bright and colorful, Music Shall Play Wherever They Go features two classically dressed women grinning out of the canvas from a golden classical age.

Secondly, there is the abstract but equally colorful depiction of the myth of Leda by Matthew Smith, who may have taken inspiration from William Butler Yeats’ sonnet, which itself was a response to the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s.

Finally, there is the utterly dazzling  Blessed Damozel, which responds to a Rosetti poem (verses from which are written in the right-hand corner). The story is of a woman grieving in heaven for her still-living lover. Here she is surrounded by a host of pre-Raphaelite angels. They are all wearing the most fabulous and sumptuous clothes, including silks, velvets, and peacock feathers. I could gaze at the richness in this painting for hours.


Finally, it would be amiss to not mention the absolutely wondrous visual telling of the banquet scene in Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act 3, Scene 4). This piece, by Daniel Maclise, is utterly bursting with narrative detail. If you are able to visit the exhibition, make sure to spot the ghost looming in the foreground.


Exhibition poster for Inspired!, Guildhall Art Gallery, London, UK. Gallery’s website.

Exhibition Details

If you are lucky enough to visit the exhibit, why not also make a day of it? The gallery hosts regular free walking tours and is also on the site of London’s only Roman amphitheater!

Location:  Guildhall Art Gallery (off Gresham Street), London, EC2V 5AE.

Duration: 8 April–11 September 2022.

Tickets:  £8 (£6 concessions). For more information visit the website.

How to get there: Guildhall Art Gallery is a short walk from Bank (on the Northern, Central, and Waterloo & City lines) and Moorgate (on the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines) stations. The nearest rail station is Moorgate.

Social Media: @GuildhallArt, #InspiredatGuildhall



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