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Nationally significant painting comes to the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), Bristol

Nationally significant painting comes to the Royal West of England Academy (RWA), Bristol

250 years since the death of the influential Bristol-born poet, Thomas Chatterton, at the tragically early age of 17, the RWA announce they will display Henry Wallis’ notorious Chatterton painting in a free exhibition ‘Furious, Wild and Young': The Death of Chatterton (7-18 October 2020), thanks to a rare loan from Tate Britain.

This will offer audiences in the region a unique opportunity to see a painting that created a sensation when it was first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1856, and was described by leading Victorian art critic John Ruskin as ‘faultless and wonderful’.

“We're delighted to have such an iconic and important painting as Wallis' Chatterton come to Bristol - an important milestone in our poetic city programme. This will encourage learning, debate, reflection and new creativity. This is a great opportunity to celebrate a fine poet and Bristol as a city of poetry.” Andrew Kelly, Director, Bristol Cultural Development Partnership.

2020 marks 250 years since the death of Bristol-born poet Thomas Chatterton. Despite his accolade as the “Father of Romantic Poetry”, he’s largely unknown in Bristol. Chatterton’s writings, life and death was a source of fascination for artists and writers in the 19th century and he became a tragic hero, emblematic of artistic martyrdom. A Poetic City is a multi-partner, citywide programme bringing to light Bristol’s links to this iconic literary figure. It offers the opportunity to link contemporary poetry practice to its roots in the past, and to bring forgotten past stories back into the light. It is celebrating Bristol’s vibrant and diverse contemporary poetry scene and inspire and commission artists and poets of the future. Accompanying the exhibition of Wallis’ painting at the RWA, the programme also includes new publications; poetry commissions and readings; mental health workshops and lectures. As well as looking to the past, A Poetic City will touch on issues from Thomas Chatterton’s lifetime which are still relevant today, including young people and mental health, encouraging young people with artistic talent and exploring fake news.

Former Bath Young Poet Laureate Polly Denny has been appointed Writer in Residence at RWA during the Wallis exhibition and will be running workshops around the painting and writing a poem to mark the new phase in the gallery’s history. RWA will be exhibiting artworks made by young people of a similar age to Chatterton alongside the Wallis painting. These artworks have been created with community youth groups and students in workshops exploring Chatterton's significance, led by Polly Denny and RWA Academicians Nicky Knowles and Laurie Steen.

"I am so excited to be a part of this amazing project, especially during a time when poetry, art and connection is more important than ever before. It is an honour to be working with the RWA which has acted as a home for these values for generations, and it is a joy to be working alongside such talented poets, Rebecca Tantony, Shagufta Iqbal, and Emma Williams, throughout our time in residence." Polly Denny.

“The RWA is delighted to be welcoming Polly Denny as Poet in Residence this autumn. We were impressed by Polly's fresh, energetic writing and enthusiasm for collaborating with young people in her work. Despite the unique circumstances we all currently face we are looking forward to working with Polly to creatively navigate the challenges, engaging with the RWA at a pivotal moment in our history ahead of a major capital development project planned for next year”. Alison Bevan, Director, RWA.

A Poetic City is being coordinated by the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership, who have been responsible for a number of citywide partnership programmes.

The programme is funded thanks to grants awarded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, using money raised by National Lottery players.

“Thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, we are pleased to support this project which, through the story of Thomas Chatterton, will explore Bristol’s poetic heritage and inspire new generations to look at the city’s history and future from a new and creative perspective.” Stuart McLeod, Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Visits for this exhibition need to be pre-booked online at:

Opening times: Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-3pm / 30 minute booking slots, 12 per slot.

Special entry days for Patrons/Friends/volunteers: Tuesday 6 and Tuesday 13 October

Free Entry / suggested donation £3.

The Royal West of England Academy (RWA), England’s only regional Royal Academy of Art, is Bristol's finest art gallery. Its magnificent Grade 2* listed building hosts five naturally-lit galleries acclaimed as one of the best exhibition spaces in the country and has been adapted to allow a safe visitor experience including one-way system, reduced capacity, hand sanitiser units, Perspex screens and Smartify. The gallery is preparing for a major transformation of its historic galleries and entrance in 2021.


7th - 18th October 2020
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Queens Road, Bristol, BS8 1PX