Dorset Museum to display star painting from Victoria and Albert Museum

April 22, 2022

A star object from the Victoria and Albert Museums collection is due to go on display in a new exhibition being held at Dorset Museum.

A Village Choir, by Thomas Webster. Oil painting. Great Britain, 1847. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Hardy’s Wessex – The Landscapes which Inspired a Writer, running from 28 May 2022 until 30 October 2022, is a partnership exhibition which spans Dorset, Poole, Salisbury and Wiltshire museums. It tells the story of Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, amidst the Wessex landscapes which shaped his view of the world. The exhibition will be the largest collection of Hardy objects to ever be displayed at one time. Each museum will focus on various topics which Hardy covers, with the Dorset Museum focusing on the rural landscapes which inspired Hardy and exploring themes of animal welfare and social tensions.

Thanks to support from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund, each museum will have a ‘star’ loan object. For Dorset Museum this will be A Village Choir, an oil painting by Thomas Webster, 1847 which is on loan from the Victoria and Albert Museum. It depicts a village choir, illustrating the various ‘characters’ who might be found there. The painting captures a snapshot of rural life – similar to the community that Hardy grew up in. It also evokes the kind of characters found in Hardy’s novels such as Far from the Madding Crowd and Under the Greenwood Tree.

Created by the Garfield Weston Foundation and Art Fund, the Weston Loan Programme is the first-ever UK-wide funding scheme to enable smaller and local authority museums to borrow works of art and artefacts from national collections.

Sophia Weston, Trustee of the Garfield Weston Foundation, said: “This exhibition on one of our most celebrated Victorian writers is a wonderful example of what the Weston Loan Programme sets out to do – we are so pleased to be able to support the display of such special objects in the places that inspired and were reflected in, Hardy’s work.”

Dorset Museum’s interim director, Elizabeth Selby, said: “Dorset Museum is thrilled to be receiving Thomas Webster’s 1847 painting A Village Choir on loan from the Victorian and Albert Museum, London, made possible through the Weston Loans Programme. The involvement of Hardy’s family in the local village church choir was extremely important in his upbringing and influenced his work, most importantly the novel Under the Greenwood Tree. The inclusion of this painting in the Dorset Museum section of the exhibition which spans four sites gives a wonderful flavour of the rural landscape in which Hardy grew up.”

Harriet Still, curator of the exhibition for Wessex Museums, said “We are hugely grateful for this funding which is enabling us to display such significant objects…A Village Choir is a snapshot of rural life, capturing the typical local ‘characters’ found in Hardy’s writing.’

“Together with the extensive collections from our partner museums, all these objects will combine to make an immersive, thought-provoking and memorable Hardy experience.”

Discover more about Hardy’s Wessex Exhibition.

Find out more


Special Exhibition

28 May – 30 October 2022

Take a fresh look at the Victorian novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, in the stunning Wessex landscapes that shaped his view of the world. His story will be retold in exciting new ways by our museum collections, from period costumes to personal letters, art to archaeology.

Find out more

Family Activity

31 May 2022, 10:00am - 12noon

Half Term ArtyFacts

Model theatre-making based on Hardy's novels and the model by Thomas Tilley for the Hardy Players in the Hardy's Dorset Gallery.

Find out more


17 June - 11 July 2022, 10:00am - 1:00pm

Hardy’s Wessex: Drawing on the ancient past

This six-week course led by artist Helen Garrett will take you on a creative journey through Thomas Hardy’s work, inspirations and Dorset Museum’s collections.

Find out more


18 June 2022, 11:30am - 4:00pm

Dorset Button making day

Join Dorset button maker and artist Anna McDowell to explore the history of Dorset button-making and take part in a workshop to make your own buttons.

Find out more

Hardy's Wessex

23 June 2022, 7:00pm - 8:00pm

Hardy’s Wessex

Join exhibition curator Harriet Still to hear more about the themes and stories of our landmark Hardy's Wessex exhibition.

Find out more


17 September 2022, 10:00am - 4:00pm

Robin Mackenzie Wood Engraving Workshop

This one-day workshop is perfect for beginners looking to learn a new technique, or for those who have done a little engraving and wish to progress their technique further.

Find out more


14 March to 12 June 2022

A Virus a Day Textile Art by Antje Rook

Antje Rook created the A Virus a Day quilt created in response to Covid-19. The Portland artist embroidered one virus for every day of the first 2020 UK lockdown while she was isolating with her partner.

Find out more

Family Activity

2 June 2022, 10:00am - 12noon

Half Term ArtyFacts

Create your own wooden Victorian decoupage box using Victorian images and decoration in association with the Thomas Hardy exhibition and the Hardy's Dorset gallery. Younger children will be able to create simple Victorian collages.

Find out more


11 June 2022, 10:30am - 12:00noon

Roman Town House Tours

A guided tour of one of the best examples of a Roman Town House in England.

Find out more