I visited Birmingham’s world famous art exhibition & it made me so proud of my city’s culture

I explored the stunning works of the Victorian Radicals, at recently reopened, Gas hall at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The exhibition showcases the works of three generations of British artists, designers and makers who revolutionised the visual arts in the second half of the 19th century.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They were known as the Victorian Radicals, and they challenged the conventions of their time and expressed their social, political and spiritual beliefs through their art.

Victorian Radicals Exhibition BMAG Gas Hall 2024 courtesy David Rowan_Birmingham Museums TrustVictorian Radicals Exhibition BMAG Gas Hall 2024 courtesy David Rowan_Birmingham Museums Trust
Victorian Radicals Exhibition BMAG Gas Hall 2024 courtesy David Rowan_Birmingham Museums Trust

The exhibition displays the variety and richness of the Victorian Radicals’ artistic production, from paintings and sculptures to textiles and jewellery. I was amazed by the beauty and craftsmanship of their works, which reflected their passion for nature, history, mythology and literature. 

The Gas Hall, with its splendour and historical significance, serves as the perfect backdrop for this exhibition. Here are some highlights from my visit:

Paolo and Francesca, Alexander Munro (1825-1871)Paolo and Francesca, Alexander Munro (1825-1871)
Paolo and Francesca, Alexander Munro (1825-1871)

I stood before Alexander Munro’s sculpture, Paolo and Francesca which captures a tragic love story from Dante’s Inferno. The intertwined figures, carved from marble, convey both passion and sorrow. Their eternal embrace speaks of forbidden love and fate, and seemed to transcend the time of early pre-Raphaelite drawings.  

Edward Burne-Jones, Myth of Pygmalion  (1875-78)Edward Burne-Jones, Myth of Pygmalion  (1875-78)
Edward Burne-Jones, Myth of Pygmalion (1875-78)

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Birmingham-born artist Edward Burne-Jones played a pivotal role in the Second Wave of Pre-Raphaelites. His work of the Myth of Pygmalion, characterised by dreamy narratives, left a lasting impression within a four images sequence, showing the sculptor falling in love with his own creation. The exhibition also displayed his stained glass designs, tapestries, and paintings.

The Skylark by David Cox (1849)The Skylark by David Cox (1849)
The Skylark by David Cox (1849)

And finally, my personal favourite: The Skylark by David Cox. Exquisite painting, thought to show a view near Harborne in Birmingham, As a Brummie, I find that it transcends mere art—it becomes a gateway to memories, feelings, and the passage of time. I picture the artist himself standing there, brush in hand, absorbed in the tranquillity of nature. His 18 years in Birmingham infuse the canvas with a sense of belonging—a shared connection between artist and viewer. 

Gift shop - Victorian Radicals Exhibition Gas Hall, Birmingham Museums TrustGift shop - Victorian Radicals Exhibition Gas Hall, Birmingham Museums Trust
Gift shop - Victorian Radicals Exhibition Gas Hall, Birmingham Museums Trust

The gallery offered a variety of souvenirs and artworks inspired by the exhibition’s main attractions, such as a limited edition of prints with illustrations from the Victorian Radicals.

The Victorian Radicals exhibition was a fascinating and stimulating experience. It deepened my understanding of the art and history of the Victorian era. It also made me appreciate how the paintings from so long ago can still evoke feelings and admiration today.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

The Victorian Radicals were bold and creative in their artistic expression. They challenged the status quo and left a lasting mark on the history of art. The exhibition, organised in collaboration with the American Federation of Arts (AFA), was the largest and most complex display of Birmingham’s collection ever to tour the US. It reached around 168,000 visitors, raising the profile of Birmingham and its collection, and earning a Global Fine Arts exhibition award.

The exhibition also shows the museum’s dedication to sharing its treasures with the public, despite the difficulties caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and the ongoing repairs of the museum building.

Now our culture is facing a new challenge - as Birmingham city council makes a series of cuts to balance its books. The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has been partly closed since March 2020.

The Gas Hall is now open to visitors for Victorian Radicals, a rare opportunity to see some of the museum’s most famous artworks in person, as planned maintenance work continues in other areas of the Museum but several gallery spaces within the main Museum will re-open before summer 2024.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

For those who have an interest in the visual arts, culture, and history, I strongly recommended the Victorian Radicals exhibition. It is a captivating and enlightening journey through the Victorian era, and a celebration of the artistic achievements of the Victorian Radicals.

It is a shining example of the amazing value of Birmingham’s culture and I hope many can continue to enjoy it in this remarkable building for hundreds more years.

The exhibition runs until 31 October 2024, from 10am to 5pm. You can book your tickets online at the museum’s website. Don’t miss this opportunity to see some of the finest Victorian art in the world, right here in Birmingham. 

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.