Heath Robinson exhibition at Mottisfont

Discover the quirky machinery and exquisite paintings of William Heath Robinson in our gallery. In the 1930s, Heath Robinson became known as "The Gadget King", and he is still most widely remembered for his detailed drawings of eccentric, over-complicated contraptions. But he was also a talented painter.

Heath Robinson: Dreams and Machines runs from 20 January – 15 April 2018, 11am-4pm (5pm from 5 February). Normal property admission price only. For visitors unable to access the second floor gallery, we have digital versions of exhibitions on iPads which are available on lower levels.

Please note that our car park and some areas of the grounds are very wet and muddy at the moment due to recent weather conditions. Wellies or stout footwear are advised when you visit.

From cartoons to illustrations

Our exhibition features over 60 original pieces covering the extraordinary breadth of his work, from witty cartoons to dream-like watercolour landscapes and illustrations, including scenes from Shakespeare.

We've collaborated with the Heath Robinson Trust to create this show, with works on loan from the Heath Robinson Museum.

Trained at the Royal Academy School, Heath Robinson’s ambition was to become a landscape painter. However, in order to establish himself financially, the artist turned to book illustration, and, later, comical drawings for magazines, which proved extremely popular and gained him acclaim.  

'Courteous consideration of party of old Beaux throwing their weight into the prevention of a serious motor accident'
A detail from a comic illustration by Heath Robinson
'Courteous consideration of party of old Beaux throwing their weight into the prevention of a serious motor accident'

His talents as a humourist were greatly in demand for the rest of his career, and he continued to create illustrations for magazines, commercial art and advertisements. But he also continued to paint for pleasure. 

Our exhibition includes some of Heath Robinson’s earliest published works, including illustrations for The Adventures of Uncle Lubin (1902), which he both wrote and illustrated. This book brought his imaginative wit to the fore, and included early examples of his contraptions.   

Many of you will recognise the humorous works on show. There are a number of the classic, unnecessarily complex processes achieving simple objectives, such as ‘Doubling Gloucester cheeses by the Gruyere method in an old Gloucester cheese works - when cheese is scarce’. 

'Doubling Gloucester cheeses by the Gruyere method in an old Gloucester cheese works - when cheese is scarce'
A detail of a humorous drawing by Heath Robinson
'Doubling Gloucester cheeses by the Gruyere method in an old Gloucester cheese works - when cheese is scarce'

Our exhibition also includes the artist’s wartime cartoons, which used gentle satire and absurdity to counter propaganda and fear. These proved immensely popular both for soldiers on the front and civilians at home, and helped establish Heath Robinson as a humourist. 

Illustrations from a 1935 book created with writer K.R.G. Browne, How to Live in a Flat, feature classic Heath Robinson mechanisms designed to make use of limited living spaces – comedy which still very much resonates today.

But our exhibition reveals another side to the artist, alongside his more well-known comic works. Heath Robinson created sumptuous book illustrations for, amongst others, Twelfth Night, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Water Babies; some exquisitely painted in colour, and all full of rich detail. 

A Heath Robinson illustration for Shakespeare's Twelfth Night
An illustration for Twelfth Night by Heath Robinson
A Heath Robinson illustration for Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

You'll also discover a series of exquisite landscape works. While his popular illustrations provided his main income, Heath Robinson never lost his love for painting, which he would pursue in his spare time throughout his life. Our exhibition includes beautiful, impressionistic watercolour scenes, proving his pure artistic skill.

One of Heath Robinson's impressionistic watercolours
An impressionistic painting by Heath Robinson
One of Heath Robinson's impressionistic watercolours