A new exhibition – Peacocks: The Pomp of Power opens at Newstead Abbey this weekend and will be open to visitors, each weekend throughout the summer in the Charles II Dressing Room and Edward III rooms.

The exhibition is inspired by the beautifully elegant peacocks that grace the grounds of Newstead Abbey, the ancestral home of the Romantic Poet Lord Byron. Byron was both a sartorial peacock and lover and keeper of these extravagant creatures. The title of the exhibition comes from Don Juan: Canto The Seventh, a poem by the poet and great eccentric.

A Peacock outside the Abbey

The artworks and objects on display are from the Nottingham City Museum and Art Galleries fine art, decorative art, lace, costume and textiles, and natural history collection.

Peacocks have taken on important roles and various identities in many countries and cultures: their vivid feathers or designs resembling their shape and beauty continue to feature heavily on interior décor, garments, ceramics and accessories. This is certainly the case at Newstead Abbey.

Cllr Dave Trimble, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and Culture said; “Everybody enjoys the beautiful peacocks when they visit Newstead Abbey. I know Arthur, the peacock that struts round the courtyard particularly enjoys having his picture taken! It is wonderful to have an exhibition that celebrates this majestic creature. Whether you are a bird lover or an art enthusiast, there is something in this exhibition for everybody. It is also a lovely introduction to the works of Lord Byron, to learn more about the man and a chance to see how the peacocks have been represented in other cultures, with the pieces in the Abbey as a starting point.”

Where to see peacock designs at Newstead Abbey
The Henry the Seventh’s Lodging, situated along the East Gallery from the Charles II Room, is one of the main bedrooms at Newstead and is also known as the Japanese Room. The upper walls are fitted with screens and painted panels that were brought back to Newstead by the Webb sisters, who travelled to the Far East in the 1890s. They depict the beauties of the natural world and date from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.  They are hand-painted on gold leaf with peacocks, cranes, ocean waves, pine trees and cherry blossom.

The peacock and its colours are synonymous with Indian identity and in 1963 the peacock was declared the National Bird of India because of its rich religious and legendary involvement in Indian traditions. The bird is indigenous to India and Sri Lanka, but now features in countries all over the world and is as much a part of the country-house tableau as fountains and parterres. Taken from its homeland by traders thousands of years ago, the Indian peacock eventually reached England, where it became something of a country house status symbol. A number of vibrant and detailed Indian textile items are included in The Pomp of Power along with a beautiful wooden plate with a copper inlay and a ceremonial sword.

In Russian folklore the peacock carries a lot of meanings, it symbolises the spring and the sun along with its many attributes such as warmth, light and power. In the 11th century, the peacock motif appeared in Russian embroidery, and is thought to have come from Byzantium art to Russia, along with Christianity. Different regions developed their own depictions of peacocks and some of these stylized peacock designs can be seen within this exhibition, used by embroiderers on a number of 19th century linen bobbin lace borders.

Notes for editors

  • This will be accompanied by a display of Triptych Japanese Woodcut prints in the Charles II Room, situated next to the Charles II Dressing Room.
  • https://www.newsteadabbey.org.uk/ – The House is only open during weekends, hence this is the only time the exhibition can be viewed.
  • Newstead Abbey is home to a number of peacocks including Arthur, a male peacock often seen strutting around the grounds and café courtyard.
  • The exhibition includes over 40 items, including, accessories, a sword, fabric samples, lace, hats, clothing, ceramics, taxidermy prints and oil painting.
  • The exhibition ties in strongly with Lord Byron, Byron was both a sartorial peacock and lover and keeper of these extravagant creatures. Newstead was the ancestral home of the famous poet and houses the Lord Byron Collection. The name of the Cole & Son wallpaper, which forms a feature wall in the Charles II Dressing room, is BYRON.
  • Full Lord Byron quote that the title of the exhibition is taken from:

For every thing seem’d resting on his nod,
As they could read in all eyes. Now to them,
Who were accustom’d, as a sort of god,
To see the sultan, rich in many a gem,
Like an imperial peacock stalk abroad
(That royal bird, whose tail’s a diadem),
With all the pomp of power, it was a doubt
How power could condescend to do without.
Lord Byron, Don Juan.

  • This exhibition comes at the same time as Dinosaurs of China: Ground Shakers to Feathered Flyers – Many dinosaurs were tiny, some species had feathers, and a number of species even evolved flight. These feathered-flyers eventually evolved into birds. Birds are dinosaurs that learned how to fly. Hence the use of birds for content and inspiration can be found at both sites.