Clare Hall Art Exhibitions

Regular art exhibitions have been held at Clare Hall since its very beginning in the late 1960s. In exchange for the free use of the exhibition space, the artist usually donates one of the exhibited works. Together with other donated, purchased or loaned works, the College has in this way built up a sizeable art collection of great interest and diversity.  

Submissions for exhibitions are welcomed and are vetted by the Art Committee. Artists wishing to submit a proposal for an exhibition should contact the Secretary of the Art Committee, Fiona Blake at


Current Exhibition

Barrington Tobin: Retrospective

24 September – 7 November 2019

For this exhibition at Clare Hall, Barrington Tobin has selected paintings and pastels from across three decades of his working life. Almost from the start of his career, he discovered that if an idea proved fertile, then he liked to work with variations on the same theme. One of his series was titled ‘Magic Boxes’, partly because each painting seemed to contain an element that he had neither intended nor could explain. Not surprisingly the earliest painting in this show bears the title ‘Hidden Workings’.

At first sight, there seems to be no emphatic signature style to Tobin’s art. Gradually, however, a certain mood emerges, one of enquiry, openness and exploration, and it is this that characterises, not so much his personal style but his approach.  He brings to his art the memory of experiences encountered while reading, listening to music, while walking London’s streets or along the Cornish coast. He also brings to his work a deep love of colour and rhythm, enriched by his love of early polyphony in music and his wide-ranging interest in art, the latter acquired while travelling abroad and through regular visits to museums and galleries in this country. The famous art historian Ernst Gombrich once pointed out that there is no such thing as an innocent eye: when Tobin begins a fresh canvas, the marks he makes must often be weighted with the experience of all his looking.

His most recent series has grown from a sudden fascination with the complex feelings aroused by Rilke’s Sonnets of Orpheus. These were written in 1922 after Rilke had chanced upon a small engraving of Orpheus with his lyre in a shop window. He bought it and hung it in the dining-room window at the Château de Muzot, a twelfth-century stone tower in Switzerland’s Valais, where he spent a solitary winter. Although the sonnets are known to be shaped partly by news of the death of a young woman, the Orpheus engraving nevertheless became a catalyst, around which, Rilke said, the sonnets in a flash grouped themselves. It is hardly surprising that this great project caught Tobin’s attention and fired his own lyric gift.

Members of the college are invited to the drinks reception, in the common-room and internal courtyard of the main building, which marks the formal opening of the exhibition on Tuesday 24th September. Short speeches at 6.30 will be followed by a brief conversation between the artist and his daughter, Dr Claudia Tobin, currently Leverhulme Early Career Fellow in English and a Research Associate at Jesus College, Cambridge.

The Clare Hall art space is open to the public daily from 9 am to 6 pm.


Previous Exhibitions and Events