Curatorial debut for John Stezaker as Van Dyck self-portrait arrives in Birmingham

Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud opens Saturday 28 May 2016 at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery

The media preview will be on Thursday 26 May.  John Stezaker (exhibition curator) and Lisa Beauchamp (Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museums Trust) will be available for press interviews between 2pm-5pm on Thursday 26 May.

Internationally renowned artist John Stezaker is making his curatorial debut at Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery this month with a new exhibition, Turning to See: From Van Dyck to Lucian Freud, part of the national tour of Van Dyck’s last and greatest self-portrait.

Worcester-born Stezaker, who is highly regarded for his collages using photographs, postcards and vintage movie stills, uses the Van Dyck self-portrait as the central focus for an exhibition exploring the concepts of physical and metaphorical turning in portraiture. The exhibition will feature paintings, drawings, photographs and sketches from artists past and present, including Rembrandt, Freud and Bomberg, alongside new and existing collages by John Stezaker – some of which are being shown for the first time in this exhibition.

“I have always been fascinated by self-portraits: the artist watching themselves watching. The necessary act of turning between the canvas and the mirror creates the figure of the painter between worlds – capturing the memory of the image as the artist turns from reflection to his work. I did not want to do a self-portrait show because what I miss in contemporary self-portraiture is exactly that sense of vision engaging with itself,” comments Stezaker.

Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) revolutionized portraiture, taking it from the stiff formal portraiture of the 16th century to a more relaxed and informal style which continues to influence artists today. He was the principal painter to the court of King Charles I and his characterful and striking portraits are world-renowned. His last ever self-portrait, painted in 1640 towards the end of the artist’s life, shows him fashionably dressed but apparently in the act of painting, the line of his right shoulder and sleeve suggesting his hand is raised in the process of applying paint to a canvas just out of sight. Purchased for the nation for £10 million by the National Portrait Gallery after a hugely successful public fundraising campaign, supported by the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery is one of just six galleries in the country to be hosting this stunning work as part of the National Portrait Gallery’s UK tour of this painting.

The theme of turning is explored in a number of ways in the exhibition. The positioning of the artworks in a single line will create a ‘spectacle of turning’ in the gallery and will mirror the way the viewer moves around the space, drawing attention to the pose in portraiture in a new way.

Classical mythology develops the theme of ‘turning into’, inspired by the stories of Orpheus losing Eurydice to the underworld when he turns to look at her, and Perseus turning to his reflective shield to protect himself from the petrifying gaze of Medusa.

“This exhibition is an incredible opportunity for audiences to see this hugely important Van Dyck self-portrait alongside rare and beautiful works from Birmingham’s collection shown together for the first time. The enthusiasm and vision John Stezaker has brought to the curation of this exhibition enables our collection to be shown in exciting and inspiring ways, and also offers a rare glimpse into John’s own working practice in this unique context. From the beginning John and I decided we didn’t want to do a straightforward ‘portrait’ or ‘self-portrait’ show, and I feel that we’ve achieved something that will hopefully enable people to reconsider the pose in portraiture and art differently, through the insight of John Stezaker – one of the leading artists of our time,” comments Lisa Beauchamp, Curator of Modern & Contemporary Art at Birmingham Museums Trust.

Artworks that will be displayed alongside the portrait centrepiece will include works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Pablo Picasso, Gustave Courbet, Helen Chadwick and Sarah Lucas amongst many others. Visitors will also see some fragile works not normally on public display, including Burne-Jones’s pencil sketches for ‘Pygmalion and the Image’ from Birmingham’s collection.

“We are privileged to be able to display Van Dyck’s great self-portrait in Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, and it has been a fascinating experience to collaborate with John Stezaker in looking again at some of our own works,” comments the Director of Birmingham Museums Trust, Dr Ellen McAdam. “We hope this thoughtful and imaginative show will attract new audiences and introduce them to the other wonders of our collection.”

The exhibition is free and organised in collaboration with the National Portrait Gallery, with support from the Art Fund and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It runs from Saturday 28 May until Sunday 4 September, and is open during normal Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery opening hours (Monday to Thursday, 10am to 5pm, Friday 10.30am to 5pm, Saturday and Sunday 10am to 5pm). For more details, please visit

Photograph credits and captions:

Self-Portrait by Sir Anthony van Dyck, c. 1640 © National Portrait Gallery, London. . Van-Dyck’s Self-portrait was acquired by the National Portrait Gallery following a major public appeal with the Art Fund and thanks to the generous support of the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.

Marriage (Film Portrait Collage) CXI, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Mask (Film Portrait Collage) CLXXXV, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Mask (Film Portrait Collage) CLXXXVII, 2013, by John Stezaker © the artist, courtesy The Approach, London.

Self-Portrait by Lucian Freud, 1963 © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images. National Portrait Gallery, London.


Notes to editors

About Sir Anthony van Dyck

Van Dyck was a Flemish artist who became the leading court painter in England, most famous in this country for his portraits of Charles I and his family. His portraits were known for a relaxed elegance which did not diminish the authority of his subjects. His self-portrait from around 1640 – the last he painted, as he died in 1641 aged just 42 years old - was purchased in 2014 by the National Portrait Gallery for £10 million, with the support of the Art Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and others.

About the Tour

Van Dyck’s magnificent self-portrait has embarked on a major, three year tour, celebrating its acquisition for the nation in 2014. The tour gives visitors in Margate, Manchester, Birmingham, Newcastle, Edinburgh and London the chance to see the portrait, and appreciate this important work in the context of British history and art.

Turner Contemporary, Margate:  24 January – 10 May 2015

Manchester Art Gallery:  21 May – 31 August 2015

National Portrait Gallery, London:  4 September 2015 – 4 January 2016 

Dulwich Picture Gallery, London:  12 January – 24 April 2016

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery: 28 May – 4 September 2016

National Portrait Gallery, London:  16 September 2016 – 8 January 2017

Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle:  28 January – 4 June 2017

Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh:  24 June – 1 October 2017

National Portrait Gallery, London:  October 2017 – January 2018

Information about the Van Dyck Self-portrait including specially commissioned films detailing a period of conservation of the painting can be found on the National Portrait Gallery’s website     

A new booklet on the Van Dyck Self-portrait to coincide with the tour is available from the National Portrait Gallery Shops and online ( and the tour venues for £5 (paperback). There is also a full range of products supporting the tour available.

Van Dyck Self-portrait 1640-1

Purchased with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund in honour of David Verey CBE (Chairman of the Art Fund 2004–2014), the Portrait Fund, The Monument Trust, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Aldama Foundation, the Deborah Loeb Brice Foundation, Sir Harry Djanogly CBE, Mr and Mrs Michael Farmer, Matthew Freud, Catherine Green, Dr Bendor Grosvenor, Alexander Kahane, the Catherine Lewis Foundation, the Material World Foundation, The Sir Denis Mahon Charitable Trust, Cynthia Lovelace Sears, two major supporters who wish to remain anonymous, and many contributions from the public following a joint appeal by the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Fund.

About John Stezaker

Born in 1949 in Worcester, John Stezaker is an internationally renowned artist best known for his striking photographic collages using vintage movie stills, postcards and book illustrations. His work is in international collections and his solo exhibitions include a major retrospective at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 2011. John Stezaker is represented by The Approach, London.

Birmingham Museums Trust

Birmingham Museums Trust is an independent charity that manages the city’s museum collection and venues on behalf of Birmingham City Council. It uses the collection of around 800,000 objects to provide a wide range of arts, cultural and historical experiences, events and activities that deliver accessible learning, creativity and enjoyment for citizens and visitors to the city. Most areas of the collection are designated as being of national importance, including the finest collection of Pre-Raphaelite art in the world. Attracting over one million visits a year, the Trust’s venues include Aston Hall, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, Blakesley Hall, Museum Collections Centre, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Sarehole Mill, Soho House, Thinktank and Weoley Castle.

National Portrait Gallery

Founded in 1856, the aim of the National Portrait Gallery, London is ‘to promote through the medium of portraits the appreciation and understanding of the men and women who have made and are making British history and culture, and ... to promote the appreciation and understanding of portraiture in all media’. The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. With over 1000 portraits on display across three floors, from Elizabeth I to David Beckham, the Gallery has something for everyone. Artists featured range from Holbein to Hockney, and the Collection includes work across all media, from painting and sculpture to photography and video. As well as the permanent displays, the Gallery has a diverse and ever-changing programme of exhibitions and events that promote an understanding and appreciation of portraiture in all forms.

The Art Fund

The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art.  In the past five years alone the Art Fund has given £34 million to help museums and galleries acquire works of art for their collections. It also helps museums share their collections with wider audiences by supporting a range of tours and exhibitions, including ARTIST ROOMS and the 2013-18 Aspire tour of Tate’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows by John Constable, and makes additional grants to support the training and professional development of curators.

The Art Fund is independently funded, with the core of its income provided by 122,000 members who receive the National Art Pass and enjoy free entry to over 230 museums, galleries and historic places across the UK, as well as 50% off entry to major exhibitions. In addition to grant-giving, the Art Fund’s support for museums includes the annual Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year (won by The Whitworth, Manchester, in 2015), a publications programme and a range of digital platforms.

Find out more about the Art Fund and the National Art Pass at

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Birmingham Museums has extraordinary venues that provide a fascinating glimpse into Birmingham's rich and vibrant past and showcase world class museum collections. Sites include:Birmingham Museum & Art GalleryThinktank, Birmingham's Science MuseumAston HallBlakesley HallMuseum of the Jewellery QuarterSarehole MillSoho HouseWeoley CastleMuseums Collections Centre