The Court of Redonda

13 May – 26 November 2017
Collateral Event of the 57th International Art Exhibition La Biennale di Venezia

Ca’ Dandolo, Grand Canal, San Polo 2879, San Tomà, Venezia

Stephen Chambers’ vast installation The Court of Redonda envisages a utopian society dominated by those who create things. Shown for the first time as a Collateral Event of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, the 101 individuals that constitute his imaginary court are drawn from different epochs and cultures and are rendered as oil on panel portraits.

The work is inspired by a literary legend that has developed around a tiny, uninhabited island in the Caribbean Sea. Redonda was claimed in 1865 by a merchant trader who established an honorary monarchy that has been passed to present times through a literary lineage. The novelist Javíer Marias, who was until recently a King of Redonda, has written about the collisions between fact and fiction involved in the legend.

Chambers’ exhibition has been selected as one of only 23 Collateral Events at the Biennale Arte 2017, alongside Philip Guston (Philip Guston and the Poets), Shirin Neshat (The Home of My Eyes) and Pierre Huyghe (A Journey That Wasn’t)The collected Collateral Exhibitions extend the vision of the Biennale’s Artistic Director Christine Macel who has forefronted the collaborative practice of many different kinds of creativity throughout Venice under the statement Viva Arte Viva.

(Emma Hill)

24 February – 20 May 2018
The Heong Gallery, Downing College, Cambridge

3 December 2020 – 7 May 2021
Hastings Contemporary


“…Perfect for this dreamy mercantile city Chambers has woven a wonderful “collision between fact and fiction” worthy of Italo Calvino…”

(Elephant Magazine, article by Sue Hubbard)

“…The return of the figurative, the traditional, and historical can be seen all over Venice, that city which has never really let them die, despite codes of contemporary practice. Their alibis are the allegorical and literary, smuggling in such representational content in guise of archive. This can be seen in Stephen Chambers’s rich paintings of the Court of Redonda at Ca’Dandolo, portraits of the imaginary aristocracy of an invented island kingdom—one which writer Javier Marías has long claimed as his own…”

(ArtCritical, June 13th, 2017, article by Adrian Dannatt)

“…Finally, Stephen Chambers has painted 100 panel portraits of figures from the imaginary court of Redonda – an island off Antigua. Installed in an enormous tableau across two walls of the piano nobile of the 17th-century palazzo Ca’ Dandolo, it is this Biennale’s most exquisite fusion of fantasy and fiction…”

(Financial Times, May 08, 2017, article by Catherine Milner)

“…Chambers work is strikingly relevant because he takes the familiar and puts it on a bigger scale. The personal and the universal are stories closely weaved and inextricably bound…”

(The London Magazine, May 8, 2017, article by Lucy Binnersley)

Elephant Magazine

El País 19/11/2017

The Daily Telegraph

Press Release (in English and Italian)


Stephen Chambers

The Court of Redonda

Collateral Event of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia


Ca’Dandolo,Grand Canal, San Polo 2879,30100 Venice


13 May – 26 November 2017

Press View: 11 May, 5.30 – 8pm


The Court of Redonda is a major solo exhibition of new work by the British artist Stephen Chambers, presented by The Heong Gallery at Downing College in the University of Cambridge as a Collateral Event of the 57th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia.

Curated by Emma Hill, The Court of Redonda centres on an enormous collective portrait of an imaginary court of writers, artists, film-makers and thinkers. The installation of over 100 individual paintings articulates the role played by artists in envisaging a world not how it is, but how it could be.

Redonda is a tiny, uninhabited island in the Eastern West Indies, around which an extraordinary literary legend has grown. It first took proper shape as a fantasy in the mind of Matthew Dowdy Shiell, a merchant trader who claimed the island in 1865 and elected himself monarch – effectively building castles in the air that others would add to and populate. His son M.P. Shiel, a writer of science fiction, determined that the kingship would be passed through a literary succession, and anointed the English poet John Gawsworth as his successor. Gawsworth went on to bestow honours to his friends, creating a court of writers, poets, artists and ne’er-do-wells.

Chambers has described his work as ‘the ignition point of unresolved narratives’ and has found in the concept of Redonda a labyrinthine weave of visual possibilities. He was introduced to the legend through the writings of the novelist Javier Marías – a former king of Redonda, who appointed many creative individuals to his honorary court, including Pedro Almodovar, A.S. Byatt and W.G. Sebald. Sparked by a ‘mental collaboration’ with Marías, Chambers has envisioned his own court of luminaries.

As Rod Mengham describes it: ‘The art of Stephen Chambers makes visible the patterns of meaning that activate the individual imagination from within and without; his patterns refer us to the stories uniting us as a group, even when they are stories of division and rivalry: stories about islands, and their relationship to bigger land masses…

The Redondan ‘court’ is counterpointed with three large canvases entitled State of the Nation that were made before, during, and after Britain’s referendum about whether to remain in the European Union. The paintings hint at the precarious state of the modern world through their motifs of a falling rider.

Stephen Chambers was elected to the Royal Academy of Art, London, in 2005 and was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Downing College in the University of Cambridge, in 2016. The Court of Redonda will be shown at The Heong Gallery at Downing College in February 2018, and follows solo exhibitions at the Royal Academy, London (2012) and the Pera Museum, Istanbul (2014).

The exhibition will be accompanied by an illustrated catalogue with essays by Dr Rod Mengham and Kathleen Soriano.

Says curator Emma Hill: ‘It is fitting that the installation should find its place as a Collateral Event at the Biennale Arte 2017, which takes the exclamatory statement Viva Arte Viva as its title – for this expression of the necessity and freedom of the creative imagination, for art’s ability to reflect to us the moment we are living in, for an individual artist’s statement to carry the weight of this, is at the heart of the images Chambers presents us with in the faces of his imaginary courtiers.’

Read or download the full ENGLISH version of the press release here

Read or download the full ITALIAN version of the press release here


The Court of Redonda: Stephen Chambers in conversation with Tim Marlow