In this ongoing series, Apollo previews a range of international exhibitions, asking curators to reveal their personal highlights and curatorial impulses. Moira Goff is the lead curator of ‘Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain’ at the British Library, London.
Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?
The exhibition tells fascinating stories from the Georgian period, a somewhat overlooked era, about the daily lives of ordinary people. We’re showing off the library’s unbeatable printed collections from the time, from everyday throwaway adverts, tickets and receipts, to gargantuan and exquisitely illustrated books from King George III’s personal library. We hope visitors will enjoy the exhibition’s playful atmosphere and make the connections between then and now that really bring the period to life.
What makes this a distinctive show?
This is the first exhibition to look at the entire Georgian period, from 1714 to 1830. The exhibition explores not only topics like architecture and gardening but also the many frivolous and scandalous elements of polite society. It features over 200 objects and is the opener of a year-long series of celebrations marking 300 years since the period began.
How did you come to curate this exhibition?
I work in the library’s History and Classics team, looking after our 18th and 19th-century printed collections. The Georgian era saw an explosion in printing and the library’s printed collections from this period are the best in the world, so I knew we could tell a wonderful story through an exhibition here to mark the anniversary.
What is likely to be the highlight of the exhibition?
We have some glorious objects loaned from art galleries and museums – grand paintings, furniture, picnic hampers, shoes – but one of my favourite objects is one of the first British fashion magazines, depicting women in elaborate poses for the first time and creating the very idea of ‘trends’.
And what’s been the most exciting personal discovery for you?
The most fascinating discovery for me was the way all the different aspects of the Georgian period connect together – like a spider’s web – and how significantly they have influenced the way we live now.
What’s the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?
Selecting the material has been difficult as there is simply so much to choose from – and that’s before deciding which pages to display! We could have filled a room 10 times the size…
How are you using the gallery space? What challenges will the hang/installation pose?
We have used beautiful imagery on the walls created by an illustrator, which juxtaposes various characters and scenes from our wider collection of illustrations and creates a playful atmosphere for the exhibits to sit in. It’s very difficult to find entire Georgian outfits, so we have also commissioned costumes to be made which look beautiful among the real artefacts.
Which other works would you have liked to have included?
I’d like to have included more prints from King George III’s Topographical Collection, particularly those showing scenes from Britain’s provincial cities because they are so full of lively details. And I would love to have used more 18th-century newspapers – the advertisements are really fascinating and cover all aspects of Georgian life, from new books to dancing lessons for adults.
‘Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain’ is at the British Library, London, from 8 November 2013–11 March 2014.
Read Katy Barrett’s article on the recent vogue for all things 18th century.
‘She changed how we encounter sculpture’ – remembering Phyllida Barlow (1944–2023)