Welcome to Georgian Illuminations, an exhibition focusing on the spectacular illuminations which were popular in the Georgian period.

This exhibition concentrates on specific, well-publicised light shows of the period and the impressive and the elaborate temporary architectural structures created for them, often designed by leading architects and artists, including Soane. Royal entertainments, pleasure gardens, national celebrations, and illuminations by Soane all feature, demonstrating that these ephemeral cultural practices were drivers of architectural and technological innovation.

Newly discovered vast linen transparencies, which were back lit in Georgian windows as patriotic decoration during the Napoleonic Wars, have been placed on lightboxes and displayed for the first time in the Foyle Space.

Additionally, the Soane has commissioned a contemporary equivalent of the illuminated architecture explored in the exhibition. The light artist Nayan Kulkarni has developed a new work to illuminate the façade of the Museum on Lincoln’s Inn Fields, reinforcing how light was a central element of design for Sir John Soane. The illumination will be on display nightly from dusk until 11pm, throughout the exhibition.

Georgian Illuminations is co-curated by Dr. Melanie Doderer-Winkler and the Soane’s Head of Exhibitions, Dr. Louise Stewart.

Important update

We're very sorry that the first-floor exhibition galleries are now closed for the remainder of this exhibition due to a technical problem. In the meantime, the Foyle Space – home to the restored linen transparencies – remains open, and Nayan Kulkarni’s light installation, A Drawing for John Soane can still be viewed, illuminating the Museum’s façade from dusk each evening until 7 January.

Two illuminated linen transparencies, affixed to light boxes, illustrated with two celebratory scenes from the end of the Napoleonic wars: the Duke of Wellington on horseback, and the figure of Peace destroying weapons.

Image: two original Georgian linen transparencies, discovered and restored for display in this exhibition. They are illuminated on custom-built light boxes and date from the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1814-15. Photo by Gareth Gardner.

Explore the world of Georgian Illuminations

Understand more about artificial light in the Georgian era, take a closer look at how the two original linen transparencies were meticulously restored, and immerse yourself in an online exhibition about the history of fireworks.

A crowd of revellers drink and carouse amongst the grandly illuminated trees and temporary structures of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, circa 1786.

Image: Robert Pollard after Thomas Rowlandson, Vaux-hall, aquatint, c.1786

If you're curious to learn about Sir John Soane's connections to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, you can find out more in this article for The Vauxhall Society by David Coke and our archivist, Sue Palmer.

The frontage of Sir John Soane's Museum, with the central Portland stone facade of no. 13 illuminated with architectural geometries in pink and blue light.

Image: Nayan Kulkarni's 'A Drawing for John Soane', Etched Dichroic Glass Slides, Analogue Light Instruments, Digital Electronic Dimmers, 2023. Photo by Gareth Gardner.

Exhibition events

To celebrate Georgian Illuminations and provide further insights into the world of public entertainments in Regency London, the Museum will be hosting a programme of fascinating themed events, including talks, tours and family workshops. Take a look at our schedule below.

22 Oct British sign language tour of the exhibition, led by guide Edward Richards - email to book

24 Oct Social and Sexual Encounters: The Special Allure of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, with Professor Penelope Corfield - tickets

25 Oct Half-term workshop: 'Gleaming Georgians', suitable for 7 to 11 year olds - tickets

4 Nov Walking tour: 'Bright Nights in Georgian London', with Dr. Matthew Green - tickets

25 Nov Tatty Devine star bunting necklace workshop: make your own Georginan Illuminations inspired necklace - tickets

3 Dec Curator-led tour of the exhibition, with co-curator Dr. Louise Stewart - tickets

4 Dec 'Light Entertainment' panel discussion, with co-curator Dr. Melanie Doderer-Winkler, conservator Geoffrey Major and light installation artist Nayan Kulkarni - tickets

Photos (above) by Gareth Gardner.

Image (top): Joseph Constantine Stadtler after Augustus Charles Pugin, Illumination at M. Otto's house in Portman Square on the evening of the proclamation of peace. April 29, 1801 published 12 May 1802, illustrated in Old and New London by Thomas Warner. Courtesy of Westminster City Archives.