JK Rowling to Banksy: Real and Imagined Lives at Bristol's M Shed

By Ben Miller | 08 November 2012
A black and white photographic portrait of a woman sitting in her bedroom
Iris Murdoch by Ida Kar (1957)© National Portrait Gallery, London
Exhibition Preview: Real and Imagined Lives: What is Fact? What is Fiction?, M Shed, Bristol, until January 6 2013

Grabbing a bunch of 16th and 17th century portraits of people whose identities were mistaken or shrouded in mystery, the National Portrait Gallery originally intended to spin out a sense of fiction in its Imagined Lives: Portraits of Unknown People project.

A photo of a painted portrait of a woman in an elaborate dress from the 16th century
Unknown woman, possibly Lady Arabella Stuart, by unknown artist© National Portrait Gallery, London
And in a new, distinctly Bristolian twist on the idea, authors including Terry Prachett and Joanna Trollope have imagined what the lives of each sitter might really have been like, backed by detailed studies by Art History students from the city’s university, working in partnership with the NPG.

The resulting yarns are available in an accompanying paperback. In the second part of the show, Real Lives, photos of 25 prominent local people linked to Bristol – JK Rowling, Tony Benn, Stephen Merchant and Carol Vorderman among them, alongside artistic forces including Banksy and Damien Hirst – have been assembled in a line-up aimed at sparking viewer imaginations.

Banksy’s portrait, naturally, is likely to be the one blurring familiarity and anonymity. The likes of Benn – who will appear at the museum as part of the surrounding events programme – remain notably less mysterious.

  • Open 10am-5pm (6pm Saturday and Sunday, closed Monday). Admission £5/£4 (free for under-16s). Follow M Shed on Twitter @mshedbristol.

More pictures:


An image of a painted portrait of a gentleman in a white shirt from the 16th century
Unknown man, probably Sir Robert Dudley, by unknown artist (1590s)© National Portrait Gallery, London
A photo of a man in a suit and jumper standing next to a portrait on a museum wall
Tony Benn takes a look© M Shed
A photo of a man in a winter coat, scarf and glasses in portrait
Stephen Merchant© Spencer Murphy
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