Victoria Art Gallery
Photo by Andy Fletcher, courtesy of Victoria Art Gallery

Local Voices: Jon Benington, Manager of Victoria Art Gallery, Bath

Jon Benington tells us about the gallery's new Toulouse Lautrec exhibition and what art lovers should look out for in the city this year

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Jon Benington

Jon Benington grew up in Coleraine, Northern Ireland and escaped the troubles in 1978 after moving to London to study art history. He has been Manager of Bath and North East Somerset’s Victoria Art Gallery since December 1996. Specialising in the modernist movement, he has added many works to the Victoria Art Gallery’s permanent collection by 20th century artists, including Paul Klee, Walter Sickert, Thérèse Lessore, Gillian Ayres, Peter Blake and Grayson Perry, as well as devoting exhibitions to luminaries from Bath Academy of Art such as William Scott, Howard Hodgkin and Clifford and Rosemary Ellis.

February 6th, 2020

What do you like about living/working in Bath?

For its size, Bath is a very busy place, both culturally and commercially. It has a real ‘buzz’ on the streets, a great culture offer, plus stunning Georgian and Roman buildings.

Do you have a favourite piece of art that is featured at Victoria Art Gallery?

We have a Grayson Perry ceramic, ‘Posh Art’, and a large print ‘The Map of Days’ in our permanent collection, that is free for everyone to access. These were acquired in the wake of our 2017 exhibition, Grayson Perry: the Vanity of Small Differences’ that drew record-breaking crowds.

What makes Victoria Art Gallery so special?

We owe our existence to the philanthropism of hundreds of local individuals going back to 1897. This investment of local citizens in our organisation continues to this day and has expanded into new areas, for example with our team of 80 front-of-house volunteers who help steward the galleries. Art can contribute enormously to wellbeing,  and whether it’s exhibitions or children’s activities or lifelong learning events, I believe that this is where we can really make a difference.

Why should visitors be excited about the Toulouse Lautrec exhibition?

As big names go, you can’t get much bigger than Lautrec! We are also hugely excited to be able to bring to Bath (only venue in the UK) a show of over 80 incredibly rare artworks that have been wowing audiences in continental Europe. Visitors will be able step back in time to the Montmartre of the 1890s, facilitated by a multi-sensory experience that includes vintage recordings of the some of the original music hall performers.   

Toulouse Lautrec Exhibition Victoria Art Gallery Bath Couverture de l’estampe originale, Toulouse Lautrec, Photo © Musée d'Ixelles- Bruxelles / Courtesy of Institut für Kulturaustausch, Tübinge
Photo © Musée d'Ixelles- Bruxelles / Courtesy of Institut für Kulturaustausch, Tübinge

What are the must-dos/must-sees for an art-lover in Bath?

There are three works by Lautrec depicting the singer and dancer Jane Avril. In one from 1899 she wears a dark dress imprinted with a coiled snake, which was the last poster he made of her. It is such a strong silhouette and was based on a professional photograph of the performer, demonstrating the extent to which Lautrec embraced all forms of modernity. This extended to an abiding interest in racing bikes (also in the show) and some of the earliest motor cars.

La Chaîne Simpson La Chaîne Simpson, photo © Musée d'Ixelles-Bruxelles / Courtesy of Institut für Kulturaustausch, Tübingen
La Chaîne Simpson, Toulouse Lautrec

What else can visitors look forward to at Victoria Art Gallery this year?

Our annual Summer Open exhibition featuring up to 400 artworks runs from 24 April to 19 June. This will be followed by the family-friendly Myths and Monsters show, on view from 25 July to 18 October, and finally a historical survey of printmaking, From Hogarth to Hodgkin, which opens on 24 October and continues into early January.

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