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Past Exhibitions


An Archive of our Past Exhibitions


Airship Dreams: Escaping Gravity

10 July 2021 - 20 March 2022


Bedford Creative Arts, The Higgins Bedford, the Airship Heritage Trust and artist Mike Stubbs, joined forces to launch this exhibition to celebrate Bedford’s airship heritage. It brought together new community sourced displays, presenting the pioneering vision of airship development over the decades. Find out more here >


Going to Town - 200 Years of Bedford's Art

10 July 2021 - 20 March 2022


Going to Town – 200 Years of Bedford’s Art celebrates artists' views of Bedford and the surrounding area with a number of watercolours, oils and prints from the past two centuries, some of which haven’t been seen by the public eye in several decades. Find out more here >


Edward Bawden: Architectural Elements

8th February 2020 - 16 January 2022


Explore the passion for architecture of influential British artist and designer, Edward Bawden, displaying his originality, wit and skill in giving character to the buildings featured in his work. Find out more here >


The Cecil Higgins Art Gallery Sculpture Collection

20th October 2020 – 10th October 2021


To celebrate the Cecil Higgins sculpture collection featuring on Art UK as part of its online showcase of publicly owned sculpture, The Higgins Bedford is displaying some of the highlights from the collection. Ranging from the 18th century to the present day, the collection features artists such as Auguste Renoir, Henry Moore and Jacob Epstein. Find out more here >


Under the Same Sky

3rd October 2020 - 27 June 2021


In this art and social history exhibition, discover the local impact of the weather alongside artists depictions of the sky above. Highlights include stories of the founders of the National Meteorological Society, the weather forecasters for the airships at Cardington and the recorders of rainfall, accompanied by artworks by JMW Turner, Alfred Sisley, Eric Ravilious, Paul Nash, Edouard Manet and more. Find out more here > 


RAE Bedford and Concorde

Closed 25th October 2020


Celebrate the 50th anniversary of the British prototype Concorde 002's maiden flight. Explore RAE Bedford's contribution and the evolution of Concorde's design. Find out more here > 



Closed 18th October 2020


Bedford Homeless Partnership proudly presents a photography display by artists with personal experience of homelessness. This promises to challenge perceptions, provoke discussion and raise awareness of what ‘home’ really means to people on the streets, in hostels and refuges. Find out more here >


Dreams and Nightmares

12th October 2019 - 20th September 2020


Discover artists’ depictions of dreams and nightmares in this exhibition drawn from the internationally renowned Cecil Higgins Collection. Explore spiritual visions, spectral images, fairies, witches and romantic dreams with artworks by William Blake, Pablo Picasso, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and more. Find out more >


Edward Bawden - Home and Abroad

9th February 2019 - 26th January 2020


Discover how Edward Bawden's travels around the world have influenced his art. Bawden was inspired by the villages, churches and country lanes of his native rural Essex. He also celebrated London's landmarks, its parks, gardens, bridges and stations. However Bawden's world extended way beyond England with trips to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and more. Each new visit added to his extensive body of work and all are explored in this exhibition. Find out more >


Round and Round the Garden – A Celebration of Horticulture in Art

6th April - 29th September 2019


Celebrate all things gardens and gardening in art. Explore our human fascination with them and how they have provided inspiration for artists including Pre-Raphaelite John Everett Millais, Walter Sickert, Joan Eardley and more. Find out more >


The Journey from Bunyan to the Brickworks

6th April - 29th September 2019


Explore the journey of pride, inspiration and hope made by John Bunyan who was imprisoned for his beliefs, alongside the difficult journeys to Bedford made by those who came to work at the Brickworks after the Second World War. Find out more >


'Paved with Gold': Bedford's Windrush Generation

6th October 2018 - 24th March 2019


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 >


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

6th October 2018 – 24th March 2019


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


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.


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

22nd September - 16th December 2018


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


This 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

24th January – 1st March 2018


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.


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

30th September 2017 - 25th February 2018


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.


Sankofa: Bedfordshire's Black History Uncovered

30th September- 25th February 2018


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.


Edward Bawden and His Studio

11th February 2017 - 28th January 2018


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.


Romance and Rebellion: The Art of the Victorians

6th May 2017 - 17th September 2017


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


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 20thcentury icons such as Matisse and Warhol, and including contemporary artists such as Paula Rego and Mark Hearld.


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

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 

23rd April - 2nd October 2016 


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

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. 


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

Saturday 10th October 2015 – Sunday 10th April 2016


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. 


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.