George Shaw and Thomas Bewick at Cherryburn


Project Info


  • George Shaw
  • Thomas Bewick


  • National Trust
  • Ikon

An exhibition by George Shaw at Cherryburn – the birthplace of artist Thomas Bewick.

As a long-time admirer of Thomas Bewick, and having been inspired by his works, George Shaw recalls first visiting Cherryburn and the connection he felt with his own experience of home:

“Visiting Cherryburn for the first time reminded me of the last time I saw my own family home; silent, emptied out and as Philip Larkin writes in his poem ‘Home is So Sad,’ “shaped to the comfort of the last to go as if to win them back.” Our homes call to us across distances measured in miles and years. All houses are haunted I suppose, and we all end up as ghosts of one kind or another.”

Home is Unspent includes new, intimate paintings of Shaw’s childhood home following the death of his mother, capturing the spaces that remain and the shapes we leave behind.

“You couldn’t get much more of a contrast between a 1950s council house and a National Trust 18th Century property that’s preserved and has all that history. But I can imagine similar things happened in both of them.”

“I can remember birthdays and various incarnations of furniture. I remember exactly where I was sitting on a settee when my newly born sister came back from hospital.” – George Shaw quoted in Cultured North East, interviewed by D. Whetstone

The works respond directly to the intimacy of Cherryburn and the exhibition also includes the creation of a bird outline on the flagstones, with Shaw drawing on the hearth just as Bewick did. Themes of loss, isolation and the natural world are explored in a series of Shaw’s paintings, A History of Dead British Birds, created during lockdown at the artist’s Dartmoor home, and referencing Bewick’s illustrations for History of British Birds (two volumes, 1797 and 1804). Shaw’s paintings of children’s gravestones speak to one of Bewick’s ‘tale-pieces’, presented as part of Home is Unspent which shows a group of children in party hats riding gravestones. A further tale-piece attracts particular interest as it features a small scene with a house and figure on horseback almost totally obscured by the artist’s engraved thumb-print.

This exhibition has been organised with Arts&Heritage as a partner, and in collaboration with Ikon (Birmingham). Ikon presented an exhibition of paintings by George Shaw, What I did this Summer, in 2003 and the first exhibition devoted entirely to Thomas Bewick’s vignettes, Tale-pieces, in 2009.

The exhibition is open at Cherryburn from 15 July – 28 October 2022.

Set in a tranquil garden with views across the Tyne Valley, Cherryburn is the birthplace of the artist Thomas Bewick, a wood engraver and naturalist who revolutionised print art in Georgian England.

Whilst surrounded by the natural world that inspired his work, visitors can discover Bewick’s tiny birthplace cottage and farmyard, plus a traditional 19th century farmhouse – the later home of the Bewick family, now a museum – with an unrivalled collection of his work and an exhibition about his life.

Cherryburn is a National Trust property.

The Artist

George Shaw was born in Coventry in 1966 and graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Sheffield Polytechnic in 1989, completing an MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art, London in 1998. Shaw has held many group and solo exhibitions, both internationally and across the UK. Public collections of his work include Tate, The British Museum and Yale Center for British Art, USA.

Thomas Bewick was born in Cherryburn, near Mickley, Northumberland in 1753, and worked in Newcastle until his death in 1828. Influenced by his childhood on a farm close to the River Tyne, Bewick’s love of the countryside is reflected in his detailed woodcuts of animals, birds and rural scenes.