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Past Exhibitions

Past exhibitions

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View an archive of our past exhibitions here:


'Paved with Gold': Bedford's Windrush Generation

6th October 2018 - 24th March 2019

Connections Gallery - Free Entry

Windrush Poster Cropped


Explore the stories of Bedford’s Windrush Generation. This year will mark the 70th anniversary of The Empire Windrush's arrival from the Caribbean to England and to celebrate this, The Higgins Bedford will showcase the memories of the people who settled in Bedford in 1948 and after.


Find out more about the exhibition here >



We are Five - The Higgins Art Collection Favourites Chosen by the People of Bedford

6th October 2018 – 24th March 2019

Wixamtree Gallery – Free Entry

We Are Five Poster



It has been five years since The Higgins Bedford reopened following redevelopment work. To celebrate, we have asked some of the communities, organisations and people we have worked in partnership with to choose their favourite paintings and prints to exhibit.

Enjoy highlights from Bedford’s internationally renowned Cecil Higgins Art Gallery collection as well works that have not been on display since we reopened.


Find out more about the exhibition here >



Bawden's Beasts

10th February - 27th January 2019

Edward Bawden Gallery - Free Entry


Edward Bawden (1903-1989) Aesop's Fables: Ant and Grasshopper, 1970 Copyright The Edward Bawden Estate


Celebrated artist Edward Bawden’s lifelong preoccupation with all manner of creatures – from delicate insects to farm grazers and domestic pets, and from exotic jungle and desert dwellers to fantastical shape-shifting beasts – are the focus of this enchanting exhibition drawn from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection.


Find out more about the exhibition here>


The Young Turner: Ambitions in Architecture and the Art of Perspective

22nd September - 16th December 2018


The Young Turner Poster


JMW Turner’s unrivalled painting of The High Street, Oxford is touring the region. Celebrating a successful campaign by the Ashmolean Museum to acquire this masterful view of Oxford, the painting is accompanied by an exhibition exploring the young Turner’s interest in architecture and the development of his skills in the art of perspective.


Read more about the exhibition here >








Friday 7th - Sunday 9th December 2018


Explore the stories of Syrian refugee families living in Bedford. With a special focus on their homes and places of origin in Syria, view a collection of photographs and drawings which were created by some of the families featured in this exhibition.


Read more about the exhibition here >



Celebrating Women of Bedfordshire

10th March – 23rd September 2018

Free Entry


Celebrating Women of Bedfordshire PosterThis spring The Higgins Bedford celebrates the achievements of women of Bedfordshire with a new exhibition. It is 100 years since the Representation of the People Act allowed some women to vote for the first time. The exhibition will reflect on women in Bedfordshire’s achievements in those 100 years. From aviators to opera singers, designers to engineers, and rugby players to Suffragettes Bedfordshire has a long history of great women.


Read more about the exhibition here >


Anne Frank and Family

Photographs by Otto Frank

24th January – 1st March 2018

Free Entry


Anne Frank and Family, an exhibition of family photographs by Otto Frank, taken before World War Two will be free to visit at The Higgins Bedford from 24th January – 1st March 2018. The exhibition has been brought to Bedford by the Anne Frank Trust and forms a central part of Bedford’s Holocaust Memorial events.

The exhibition has been shown in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, as well as New York, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. It is accompanied by a collection of period toys, clothes and books, reflecting those captured in the photos, as well as educational resources for younger visitors.

There will be a programme of free events accompanying the exhibition.

Wednesday 24th January, 6.30pm: Survivor stories from Rwanda

Wednesday 31st January, 6.30pm: Survivors stories from Srebrenica

Wednesday 7th February, 6.30pm: Eva Clarke, who was born in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria on 29 April 1945 will share her story

13th – 16th February: The Higgins Young Peoples’ Panel (HYPP) will lead a series of activities related to the exhibition and the theme of The Power of Words during February half-term.

Read more about the exhibition here>


A Walk in the Woods - A celebration of Trees in British Art

30th September 2017 - 25th February 2018

Wixamtree Gallery

Free Entry


This autumn, The Higgins Bedford pays homage to the tree with a new exhibition celebrating the role of trees and woodland in British landscape painting. Drawn from the world-famous Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection, some forty watercolours, drawings and prints from the past two centuries will be on show and will include works by John Constable, John Sell Cotman, Edward Lear, Samuel Palmer, Paul Nash, Graham Sutherland and Lucian Freud. The show will highlight the importance and enduring popularity of trees in art, and explore various themes which have evolved in artists’ depictions of nature: magical and dreaming trees, trees in the countryside, the pleasures of woods and the lure of the exotic.

The exhibition has been organised in collaboration with Christiana Payne, Professor of History of Art at Oxford Brookes University.

Find out more>


Sankofa: Bedfordshire's Black History Uncovered

“It is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

30th September- 25th February 2018

Connections Gallery - Free Entry

This exhibition will celebrate the 30th anniversary of Black History Month in the UK and explore Bedfordshire’s own Black History through the inspirational people within the African and Caribbean community who have been instrumental in their leadership and achievements.

Find out more>


Edward Bawden and His Studio

11th February 2017 - 28th January 2018

Edward Bawden Gallery

Free Entry

Edward Bawden and his Studio, a new exhibition showcasing the work of influential British artist and designer Edward Bawden (1903–1989)

During the eight years prior to his death in 1989, the renowned watercolourist, printmaker, illustrator, designer and former Official War Artist Edward Bawden donated the contents of his studio to Bedford. From the walls of his house, the insides of cupboards and the drawers of his plan chest came adverts for Fortnum & Mason, Ealing Comedy posters, plates for Wedgwood, letters and photographs; an entire life’s work. This new exhibition will focus on Bawden’s life in the studio, through his letters, photographs and most importantly his work.

Find out more >


Romance and Rebellion: The Art of the Victorians

6th May 2017 - 17th September 2017

Free Entry

This new exhibition drawn from the internationally acclaimed Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Collection is romp through Victorian art. No other period in art history has been so full of stylistic extremes from the older traditional artists to the Aesthetes, the Pre-Raphaelites to the Decadents and the Social Satirists to the Exquisites. The exhibition charts the period chronological showing how these styles grew and flourished alongside one another. The exhibition features the work of J.M.W. Turner, Frederic, Lord Leighton, Edward Burne-Jones, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, James McNeill Whistler, Richard Dadd and Aubrey Beardsley.


Blue-Sky Thinking: The Shorts Brothers' Airships 

6th May 2017 - 17th September 2017

Free Entry

2017 celebrates the centenary of airships being built here in Bedfordshire. The Shorts Brothers started building R.31, the first of their airships, at the Cardington sheds in 1917, as well as building homes for workers in the village that still heralds their name today, ‘Shortstown’.  Discover the story of three remarkable brothers; Oswald, Eustace and Horace and their vision for a British airship industry.  Come and understand more about the Zeppelin airship raids of WW1 and the impact of early airships on Bedfordshire and the wider world


Picasso and The Masters of Print

15th October 2016 - 23rd April 2017


Picasso & the Masters of Print offers a unique opportunity to view together some of the most important prints by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. The seven prints by Picasso held at The Higgins Bedford span seven decades of his career and spectacularly showcase the varied printmaking techniques that he mastered.

These stunning works will be accompanied by a wider exhibition of major artists’ original prints drawn from the Cecil Higgins Collection. Five centuries of printmaking will be on show, ranging from masterpieces by key figures in the history of European printmaking, such as Dürer and Rembrandt, through to 20th century icons such as Matisse and Warhol, and including contemporary artists such as Paula Rego and Mark Hearld.

Find out more>>


Bawden By The Sea

13th February 2016 - 29th January 2017


Edward Bawden’s nostalgic and whimsical depictions of Britain’s seaside towns are the subject of the latest exhibition in the Edward Bawden gallery. From bathing beauties in Bexhill-on-Sea to children’s sand castles on Clacton Beach, Bawden’s love of the seaside is demonstrated in his prints and advertising material. He treats the sea’s inhabitants with equal glee, scattering murderous mermaids, man-sized lobsters and parcel-delivering fish in his commissions for Fortnum & Mason and Shell. Probably the

most famous and much loved work inspired by the seaside is Bawden’s large linocut

Brighton Pier from 1958. Nearly a metre and half in width, it is undoubtedly one of Bawden’s most impressive works. The exhibition will feature the preparatory designs for Brighton Pier, the finished print as well as the rarely seen original blocks, allowing a unique look at Bawden’s working methods.



Bedford's War Machines

Bedford's War Machines exhibition at The Higgins Bedford


2016 marks the centenary year of both the Battle of the Somme and the year that Simplex petrol locomotives, which were integral to the allied effort on the Western Front began to be made in Bedford. The devastating losses at the Somme led the British Forces to find a new solution to improve supply lines to the front. This new exhibition at The Higgins Bedford takes a close-up look at the Simplex engines and explores Bedford’s home-front contribution to the Great War.


Beautiful Bodies

Beautiful Bodies exhibtion at The Higgins Bedford


23rd April - 2nd October 2016


Wixamtree Gallery


Lucien Freud, Henry Moore, Barbara Hepworth, Stanley Spencer and Dora Carrington are all included in this exhibition: a celebration of the differing approaches to drawing the human figure taken by British artists. The exhibition is drawn exclusively from Bedford’s internationally renowned collection.

The angular works of Wyndham Lewis and the gritty realism of Lucien Freud and Walter Sickert are in stark contrast to Dora Carrington’s tender drawings of her brothers. It is the first time Carrington’s drawings of Noel and Teddy have been on display at The Higgins Bedford. The works, Noel Carrington c. 1912 and Teddy Carrington c.1915 were acquired by the art gallery in 2012 from the artist’s family. Carrington would often persuade her brothers to sit for her on visits home to Bedford from the Slade School of Art and the two drawings are remarkable examples of her talent for figure drawing.

Including many of the 20th century’s most influential artists, this exhibition celebrates the inspiration these artists have drawn from the human figure.


Harpur Trust 450th Anniversary Art Competition

Sir William Harpur Gallery

2nd July – 28th August 2016


An exciting exhibition of local children’s work based around the theme of ‘Recording Bedford’ over 450 years.  Pupils aged 7-18 years have taken part in the competition which was launched as part of a year-long programme of events marking the Trust’s 450th anniversary.  The exhibition celebrates Bedfordians past and present and captures the Borough’s landmarks both urban and rural, in a delightful collection which retells the wonderful and varied story of Bedford.

To help pupils prepare for the competition The Harpur Trust funded a team of artists to go into participating schools and deliver workshops and insets for staff.  The Bedfordshire and Luton Archives Service also provided schools with free history workshops in support of the project.


Exhibitions 2015

J.M.W. Turner & The Art of Watercolour

Saturday 10th October 2015 – Sunday 10th April 2016

Free Entry


During autumn 2015, for the first time, all nine of Bedford’s watercolours by J.M.W. Turner were displayed together. The exhibition spanned Turner’s career, showing the development of his unique, unparalleled work, from Cote House near Bristol, painted when Turner was aged just 16 and already a skilled draughtsman and watercolourist, to The Town and Lake of Thun, painted during the final phase of his career, when he produced some of his most innovative works. Find out more >


Bawden’s Book Illustration

11th April 2015 - January 31st 2016


This exhibition featured early illustrations, unused designs, original artwork and books written and illustrated by Bawden himself

Quirky and humorous work bursting with original ideas

Bawden’s Book Illustration is drawn from the vast collection of 3,000 works at The Higgins Bedford; the largest of its kind. Find out more >



Artist Spotlight: John Piper

Saturday 13th June – Sunday 12th July 2015


John Piper was the first in a series of mini-exhibitions at The Higgins Bedford which cast a spotlight on artists in the Cecil Higgins Collection. Piper was one of the most important and diverse artists of the 20th century, famous for his paintings of churches, stately homes and romantic landscapes. Find out more >



Highlanders: Billeted in Bedford

Connections Gallery - Entry Free

Saturday 27th September 2014 - Sunday 31st May 2015


Between August 1914 and May 1915 up to 22,000 soldiers of the Highland Division were billeted in Bedford before joining the fight on the Western Front in France. This exhibition explored the little known story of these Scottish troops who became a familiar sight in the town and surrounding countryside as they trained and prepared for the war. Find out more >


Mermaids, Roses, Camels & Cows:

Wallpaper by Edward Bawden

Saturday 8th November 2014 – Sunday 29th March 2015

Mermaids, Roses, Camels and Cows: Wallpaper by Edward Bawden showcased the ‘enchantingly personal and offbeat’ wallpaper designs produced by Bawden throughout his career. Many of the designs are still in demand today.

Find out more >


Expressionism, Cubism and Vorticism

Saturday 25th October 2014 - Sunday 12th April 2015

Wixamtree Gallery - Entry Free


The early decades of the 20th Century were a time of great change in European art. This exhibition explored some of the key artistic movements of the modernist period leading up to and following the First World War. Drawn entirely from the Cecil Higgins Collection, it features German Expressionist and French Cubist prints alongside watercolours and drawings by artisits associated with Vorticism, one of the most avant-garde movements in British art. Find out more >

Exhibitions 2014


London by Edward Bawden

22nd May - 26th October 2014

London by Edward Bawden showcased the artist and designers unique and iconic vision of the city. The exhibition included examples of Bawden’s work for London Underground, his large, structural linocuts of London monuments and London markets, and images of the Horse Guards and Kew Gardens. These remarkable images offerd insight into how Bawden’s relationship with the city developed throughout his long career.  Read more here >


Shattering the Canon: Post-Impressionism & British Art

Wixamtree Gallery, Entry Free

Saturday 10th May - Sunday 12th October 2014


When the work of Cezanne, Gauguin and the Post-Impressionists was first shown to the British public in 1910 the course of British art was forever altered. As Paul Nash wrote several years later, ‘every canon of art, as understood, was virtually shattered’ as a new generation of artists fell under the spell of the continental avant-garde. Read more here >


Imagined Cities

Connections Gallery – Entry Free

5th July - 14th September 2014


We turned the Connections Gallery into a giant artwork - with your help! Inspired by the theme of cities in our exhibitions programme, we created an imaginary cityscape across the gallery walls.


Read More here >


Recording Bedfordshire

Connections Gallery – Entry Free

Saturday 1st February – Sunday 22nd June 2014


You create the exhibition!


Recording Bedfordshire was your opportunity to participate in a season of exhibitions at The Higgins Bedford dedicated to the British landscape. We invited you to submit your own A5-sized Bedfordshire landscape creations to form part of an exhibition in the Connections Gallery.

Read More >


A National Art: Watercolour & the British Landscape Tradition

Wixamtree Gallery

Saturday 23rd November 2013 - Sunday 27th April 2014

In the 1930s, as war loomed, British watercolour painting was looked at afresh. This previously neglected medium became seen as an important artistic tradition, 'a national art' that was epitomised by the use of watercolour to capture the British landscape and its changeable weather. Find out more >


Recording Britain

Entry: £3.50 (concessions £2.80)

Sir William Harpur Gallery

Exhibition organised by the Victoria & Albert Museum, London

January 9th 2014 - March 20th 2014

Recording Britain is the result of a unique documentary project initiated by Sir Kenneth Clark and funded by the Pilgrim Trust at the start of the Second World War. More than 90 artists made inspiring pictures that were 'sympathetic records' of vulnerable people, landscapes and lifestyles. Amongst the contributers were some of the country's finest watercolour painters including John Piper, Charles Knight and Michael Rothenstein. Find out more >

Exhibitions 2013

For the Record Too

Free Entry

Community Gallery

October 12th 2013 - January 5th 2014

An exhibition by Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Record Service, celebrating its 100th year in 2013. Read more here >


Edward Bawden - Aesop's Fables

Free Entry

Friday 21st June - Sunday 24th November 2013


This display showed vibrant linocut prints alongside colour separations, allowing visitors to see the artist's entire process from initial sketches to the final print. The Aesop's Fables prints show Bawden at his entertaining best. They bring to life well known stories like the Hare and the Tortoise as well as lesser-known fables like the Ant and Grasshopper. Also on display was a series of adverts Bawden was commissioned to design for Guinness, which featured updated versions of some of Aesop's Fables.

Victorian Visions: Pre-Raphaelite watercolours and drawings

Free Entry

Wixamtree Gallery

Friday 21st June - Sunday 10th November 2013

Drawn entirely from the Cecil Higgins Collection, this exhibition featured work by the founding members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the artists they influenced. The collection's strength lies in its preparatory works, including studies for larger works such as Burne-Jones' 'Cupid's Hunting Fields' (1880) and illustrations by Millais and Simeon Solomon. Also on display will be designs by Rossetti, Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown for stained-glass windows made by Morris & Co., while further links were drawn between the work of these visionary artists and the redisplayed decorative arts collections on show in Design  and William Burges.

Find out more >


Fatal Attractions

Fatal attractionsFriday 21st June - Sunday 15th September 2013

Free Entry Castle Room

'Fatal Attractions was an exhibition about death and beauty', according to the students from Beauchamp Middle School, who curated this intriguing exhibition in an unique project for the opening of The Higgins Bedford.

Read more about the exhibition here >

Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Friday 21st June – Sunday 15th September 2013

Sir William Harpur Gallery

Entry £3.50 (Concessions £2.80) Free for children under three.

The world-renowned exhibition, on loan from the Natural History Museum in London, opened at The Higgins Bedford on 21st June 2013, featuring 100 awe-inspiring images, from fascinating animal behaviour to breathtaking wild landscapes. Read more about the exhibition here >

A Sense of Place

Friday 21st June - Sunday 27th September 2013

Free Entry Connections Gallery

'A Sense of Place' showed the work of 10 community groups on the theme of A Sense of Place'. Read more here >


Exhibitions 2011

15th January to 10th April 2011

High Kicks and Low Life: Toulouse-Lautrec Prints - A British Museum Tour

Supported through the generosity of the Dorset Foundation

Bedford Gallery played host to a British Museum Tour of the works of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. It was the final exhibition the gallery held before closing for a major redevelopment which will be complete in spring 2013. Read more about the exhibition here >


Exhibitions 2010

27th February - 23rd May 2010

Clocking In: An Exhibition of the Working Day

Clocking In Exhibition poster by Jonny Hannah

The exhibition explored the past, present and future working lives of the people of Bedford. From market trading to brick-making to cutting-edge aerospace research, the working lives of the people of Bedford have always been varied. Using interviews with local people, as well as the art gallery and museum collections, the exhibition illustrated the vibrancy and variety of Bedfordshire life. Read more about the exhibition here >



12th June - 5th September 2010

The Unknown Artist: Stanley Lewis

Born in 1905, Stanley Lewis was described as one of the most important artists of his generation. From his time at the Royal College of Art (1925-1930), Lewis continued to paint every day until his death in 2009 at the age of 103. This was the first major exhibition of this talented but little-known artist, held alongside works from the Cecil Higgins Collection by Lewis’ tutors, friends and influences, including William Rothenstein, Augustus John and Stanley Spencer. Read more about the exhibition here >


2nd October - 19th December 2010

R100 & R101: Airships at Cardington

The "Airships" exhibition coincided with the 80th anniversary of the R101 disaster and was organised with the support of the Airship Heritage Trust. Read more about the exhibition here >


Exhibitions 2009

3rd October - 31st October 2009

Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden poster

Edward Bawden, R.A., C.B.E., was one of the most significant graphic designers of the 20th Century. He was a watercolourist, printmaker, muralist, commercial artist, designer, illustrator and teacher. His distinctive style was not influenced by the vagaries of fashion or trends. This exhibition was the first major showing of this extensive archive.  Read more about the exhibition here >



6th June - 6th September 2009

Abram Games: Maximum Meaning Minimum Means

This exhibition celebrated the work of Abram Games, the graphic designer and poster artist who created many of the most memorable visual images of wartime and post-war Britain. Read more about the exhibition here >


1st April - 17th May 2009 at Bedford Gallery

Treasures from Cecil Higgins Art Gallery & Bedford Museum

Bedford Gallery, a splendid 19th Century, Grade II listed building, unused for 35 years, reopened in April 2009. This gallery provided over 200m² of state-of-the-art space for in-house temporary exhibitions and touring exhibitions from national museums and galleries. The inaugural exhibition brought together a selection of the finest works from the Cecil Higgins and Bedford Museum collections and asked the question: what is treasure? Read more here >


Exhibitions 2008

13th September 2008 - 4th January 2009 at Tate Britain

Treasures from Cecil Higgins Art Gallery

35 works from the Cecil Higgins Art Gallery’s watercolours and drawings collection were exhibited at Tate Britain on London’s Millbank at the end of 2008. Read more about the exhibition here >


2nd August - 21st December 2008 at Bedford Museum

Bedford's Sporting Heroes

Whether it's being swift on two wheels, leaping off icy slopes, speeding over or through the water, or running further and faster than everyone else in the world - Bedfordians have done it! Read more about the achievements of Bedford's Sporting Heroes here >