Magic Worlds Exhibition, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

4th May 2013

4th May – 29th September 2013. This summer, New Walk Museum & Art Gallery explores Magic Worlds. The exhibition will delve into the captivating world of magic, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the imaginary and fantastical realms of witches, wizards, fairies, elves, dragons, magicians and illusionists.

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On display will be costumes, tricks, paintings, ceramics, beautifully illustrated books and posters, games, optical toys and dramatic puppets.

The exhibition will look at three different aspects of magic that permeate childhood and beyond: Fantasy, Illusion and Enchantment. It will explore the origins and history of magic and will show how magical themes have influenced artists and writers in creating fantasy realms over the centuries.

Dipping into the magic worlds of Harry Potter, Cinderella, the Lord of the Rings, Aladdin and more, Fantasy will look at the many different interpretations of old and new magical tales.

For hundreds of years, magic and fantasy worlds have featured heavily in literature, particularly in children’s books and stories. Fairy and folk tales from the traditional oral tradition were collected and written down most famously by writers such as Hans Christian Andersen, the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault. Original fantasy writing began in the mid-nineteenth century and since then there has been a steady increase in the production of this genre.

There are three major types of magical worlds in literature: those that run alongside the real world such as the ones written about by J K Rowling; those into which ordinary children are thrust, such as Narnia and Never Never Land; and those that are purely fantasy, for example JRR Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The Fantasy section will feature books, illustrations, games and toys representing many aspects of fantasy.


From the simplicity of the cup and ball trick to modern illusion on a grand scale, adults and children alike have always been in awe of magic and its practitioners.There has been a long and enduring fascination with optical toys and illusions such as magic lanterns and mechanisms for tricking the eye into seeing and believing the appearance of movement. For many people in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, these optical illusions were considered to be true magic. Using the museum’s collection of optical toys the Illusion section examines the fascination of magic and illusion during the last 200 years.

The nineteenth century, particularly in Britain, saw the rise of the professional magician. Magicians and illusionists developed from the humble beginnings of fairground tricksters to celebrated performers at the best theatres in town. The exhibition will explore famous illusions and show an array of original posters. The story of magicians will be brought right up to date with a look at modern magic and the role of the Magic Circle.

Having seen adult performances of “real magic”, children were keen to copy this in play. Magic sets and conjuring tricks became available as toys and children could dress up and perform. Children have been given magic and conjuring sets as presents for over 100 years and Illusion will present a range of these and examine the classic tricks still employed and enjoyed by children today.


Do you believe in fairies? Many people did, and some still do! Enchantment examines the impact of fairies and other fantastical creatures on both the artistic and the ordinary world.

Wizards, witches and fairies have always fascinated writers, artists and illustrators. Representations of the fairy world were popular subjects particularly during the Victorian period. This section includes stunning paintings, drawings and lustreware ceramics from the V&A’s collection alongside Mabel Lucie Atwell childrens’ bowls, Nordic dragons and a 1920s fairy costume.

The public was fascinated with the supposedly real photographs of the Cottingley fairies taken by Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths in Northern England in 1917 and 1920. This story will be examined and illustrated with the amazing images of the girls with their magical companions.

The exhibition will be accompanied by an events programme including opening weekend activities inspired by the themes of the exhibition. Magic Worlds is a Touring exhibition from V&A Museum of Childhood, curated by Catherine Howell and designed by Pippa Nissen Studio.

Magic Worlds Events

A programme of events will take place at the museum to complement the themes of the Magic Worlds exhibition.

For more details on the events programme visit

Magic Worlds Opening Weekend: Alice in Wonderland

Saturday 4th, Sunday 5th & Monday 6th May
11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm
New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

On the opening weekend of the Magic Worlds exhibition the museum enters the world of Alice in Wonderland. Themed on the Fantasy section of the Magic Worlds exhibition, the theme is classic fantasy literature with bunny ears, top hats and the Queen of Hearts. For more information call 0116 225 4900. Free entry to the exhibition, £2.50 for activities.

Magic Worlds: Half-Term Events

Monday 27th May – Friday 31st May
11.00am – 1.00pm & 2.00pm – 4.00pm

Half-Term events inspired by the fantasy section of the Magic Worlds exhibition (wizards of Harry Potter) and the classic fantasy literature. Activities include making wands and spell making parchment with invisible writing pens. For more information call 0116 225 4900. Free entry to the exhibition, £2.50 for activities.

New Walk Museum & Art Gallery
53 New Walk
0116 225 4900

Images © V&A Museum of Childhood

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