Six Wives of Henry VIII Exhibition for the NPG in 2024

November 16 2023

Image of Six Wives of Henry VIII Exhibition for the NPG in 2024

Picture: NPG

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The National Portrait Gallery in London has recently announced that it will be putting on an exhibition next year entitled Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII’s Queens. Considering the never-ending contemporary interest in this subject, I can imagine it will be a hit.

According to the press release:

Tudor paintings by Hans Holbein the Younger and contemporary photography by Hiroshi Sugimoto meet in the National Portrait Gallery’s first exhibition of historic portraiture since reopening, presenting a study of the lives and afterlives of the six women who married Henry VIII.

Six Lives will chronicle the representation of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Katherine Howard and Katherine Parr throughout history and popular culture in the centuries since they lived. As a frequent source of fascination, the stories of the six women has repeatedly inspired writers and artists of all kinds to attempt to uncover the ‘truth’ of their lives: their characters, their appearance and their relationships. From historic paintings, drawings and ephemera, to contemporary photography, costume and film, the exhibition draws upon a wealth of factual and fictional materials to present the life, legacy and portrayal of six women who forever changed the landscape of English history.

The exhibition will open in June 2024.


As it happens, I find the photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto's portrait series used on the NPG website one of the most cynical forms of 'contemporary art' I've ever seen. I wonder how many people who view these 'artworks' know that the photographer quite simply took some snaps of Madame Tussaud's waxworks of the wives and King on display somewhere, edited out the background, and Voilà printed them out and now they are on display in the NPG? I happen to know this because as a set of them used to be on display at Warwick Castle (where I worked long long ago), a site owned by the same owners of Tussauds who were often handed old unwanted waxworks from the Baker Street museum. I find this sort of art, which anyone could have done with some holiday snaps, entirely hollow.

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