Home > What we do > Exhibitions and Events > Auction Exhibitions

Auction Exhibitions

The Black Page Exhibition/Auction - 2009

In 2009 The Black Page exhibition at Shandy Hall celebrated the 250th anniversary of Vols I & II of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne (2009).
Page 73 of Volume I is a Black Page which marks the death of Parson Yorick.

In the first edition, published in York and overseen by Sterne, the ‘blackness’ is printed on both sides of the leaf with what appears to be a solid woodblock.

Because the black page falls on page 73 of the first edition, 73 artists/writers were each asked to create a ‘Black Page’ for exhibition and sale by auction. The pages were all exhibited and auctioned anonymously, and a catalogue was then published which revealed which artist did which work. A list of contributors and images of the 73 ‘black pages’ can be found on the Black Page blog, and copies of the Black Page Catalogue, a boxed collection of prints of each of the 73 commissions along with the artist or writer’s information and materials, are available in the online shop.

The Black Page exhibition/auction website

Catalogue available here


The Emblem of My Work (Marbled Page) Exhibition/Auction - 2011

169 artists celebrate the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s marbled page.

Following the success of the first two volumes of Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne was commissioned to produce more. James Dodsley, the London bookseller who had sold copies of Volumes I and II, published Sterne’s sermons under the title ‘The Sermons of Mr. Yorick’ in 1760. In January 1761, Volumes III and IV of the novel became available to purchase, so 2011 marks not only the publishing of the volumes but also the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s most remarkable literary stroke of genius – the marbled page contained in Volume III.

The marbled page in every copy of Vol. III (in every edition*) is different – each impression being a unique hand-made image. The marbler folded in the edges of the page (thereby creating margins) and rested it on a mixture of inks. When dry, the page was refolded so that the reverse could also be marbled. The page numbers, 169 and 170, were then hand-stamped. If you carefully examine page [169 ] in Vol. III in the original edition, four fold marks define the edges of the marbling and also create the surrounding margins. The central section of p.169 was laid upon the marbled mixture in order that a coloured impression could be taken as cleanly as possible. It was left to dry and then reverse-folded so the other side of the paper could also receive a marbled impression. This side of the paper became page [170].

To keep costs down, modern editions of the novel do not feature a page marbled in this way. Some do not include one at all.

In the text opposite the marbling (p.168), Sterne tells the reader that the next marbled page is the ‘motly emblem of my work’ – the page displaying a visual confirmation that his work is endlessly variable, endlessly open to chance.

2011 was the 250th anniversary of Sterne’s marbled page.  Since the marbled page appears on page 169 of Volume III, 169 artists and writers were invited to design the Emblem of their own work.

Each contributor generously donated the result to raise funds for the Laurence Sterne Trust in an anonymous auction.

In 2009, 73 artists, writers and composers had created a new black page to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the black page in Vol I.  The Emblem of My Work continued this tribute to Sterne’s visualisation of ideas by asking 169 artists / writers / composers to create an Emblem of their work for display in the gallery at Shandy Hall.  Each of the 73 original contributors were invited to participate again – and to propose a fellow practitioner.  An exhibition that celebrates chance – that involves chance.  The list of participants appeared on the ‘Emblem of My Work’ blog along with images of the work – but who made which Emblem? This was only revealed with the publication of the catalogue.

Exhibition was in collaboration with ‘Art in Yorkshire’ supported by Tate. Supported by The Heritage Lottery Fund.

The Emblem of My Work (Marbled Page) exhibition/auction website

Paint Her To Your Own Mind (The Blank Page) Exhibition/Auction - 2016

147 artists responded to Laurence Sterne’s ‘blank page’ for a fundraising exhibition at Shandy Hall Gallery in 2016

Continuing the theme of the two previous exhibitions (The Black Page  & Emblem of My Work) Paint Her to Your Own Mind invited 147 artists / writers to join in creating 147 different representations of beauty.

Laurence Sterne’s experimental approach to narrative is attractive to both writers and artists – he uses images and ‘devices’ that are astonishingly modern for a novel of the eighteenth century. The Paint Her to Your Own Mind exhibition was based on Sterne’s request to create an image of ‘beauty’ on a blank page. A truly interactive game with the reader.

By Volume VI Sterne’s exuberant and provocative approach to telling the story of Tristram’s life and opinions has reached the point where he surrenders all responsibility and allows the reader to do all of the work. Page 147 is blank. Sterne wants to stimulate the creation of the most beautiful woman that ever existed and invites the reader :

To conceive this right, —call for pen and ink— here’s paper ready to your hand, —Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind—as like your mistress as you can —as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you—‘tis all one to me— please but your own fancy in it.

There, ready and waiting, is the blank page for you to ‘paint’ her.  Sterne’s clever phrasing makes the suggestion ambiguous – you can imagine her (paint her to your own mind, to your imagination) or you can actually make the image of her (paint her the way you think she should be depicted).  Artists were invited to do this in any way they wished – in words, collage, musical notation, oil, poetry, photography, watercolour… and so they did.

The Blank Page exhibition/auction website

The Flourish Of Liberty Exhibition/Auction - 2019

A new exhibition at Shandy Hall invited 102 artists to respond to the idea of ‘Liberty’. The theme is taken from Laurence Sterne’s masterpiece The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, the majority of which was written at Coxwold in the North York Moors.

‘Trim’s squiggle’ or ‘The Flourish of Liberty’ in Tristram Shandy (Vol IX p.17) is an exuberant and life-affirming visual declaration.  As he has already done throughout the previous eight volumes, Laurence Sterne invites the reader to join him in an exercise of imagination, understanding and interpretation that brings his novel to life.

On page 17 the reader learns that Uncle Toby and Trim are marching up to the Widow Wadman’s front door where Toby will propose marriage.

Nothing, continued the Corporal, can be so sad as confinement for life – or so sweet, an’ please your honour, as liberty. Nothing, Trim – said my Uncle Toby, musing – Whil’st a man is free – cried the corporal, giving a flourish with his stick thus –

And the story is given a visual jolt – a writhing pathway that represents the pathway of Trim’s cane through the air.  How it hatches in the mind of the reader is up to each individual.  Is it a languid and stately passage?  A rapier-like swish? Is it from top to bottom or bottom to top? The exhibition features the work of internationally acclaimed and award-winning artists, writers and composers who have each responded to the idea of ‘Liberty’.

103 artists responded to our call for entries for the fundraising auction.

The Flourish of Liberty exhibition/auction website


“I Wish . . .” exhibition and auction - 2023

“I Wish . . . ” exhibition and auction opened Summer 2023, in Shandy Hall’s 50th anniversary year.

Artists and writers generously agreed to create an artwork based on ‘I Wish . ..‘ the first two words from Tristram Shandy.

First page of Tristram Shandy
First page of Tristram Shandy

Continuing the theme of the four previous auction exhibitions (The Black Page , Emblem of My Work, Paint Her to Your Own Mind & The Flourish of Liberty)  I Wish . . .  invited 100+ artists and writers to join in creating different ‘wishes’.

The pages on display are anonymous, leaving the visitor to guess which artist/writer created which page.

A wish can express a hope, or a regret. It seems to be part of human nature never to be satisfied by what we have in the here and now, or to be regretting that something could not have been otherwise.

The wish with which Tristram Shandy opens the story of his ‘Life and Opinions’ is, tragicomically, a regret: that his parents had not been concentrating at the point of his conception. Had they been less distracted, he feels, his life would not have been so full of difficulties and disasters.

Sterne’s sermon Hezekiah and the Messengers also ends with the words ‘I wish’ . . . the fruits of love and good will, to the praise of GOD and the happiness of the world, which I wish.” This sentence, with its verb at the end, is unusual in its syntax. It seems striking that Sterne begins his first novel with “I Wish” and that the last sermon he preached ends with the same words.

There are wishes and regrets throughout Tristram Shandy: Mrs Wadman wishing she knew exactly where Uncle Toby had been injured; Uncle Toby wishing everyone could see what prodigious armies they had in Flanders; Tristram promising several times to write his ‘Chapter on Wishes’ – yet never achieving it.

Sterne wished his work should have an influence on future artistic endeavours:

All I wish is that it may be a lesson to the world, ”to let people tell their stories their own way.”  Tristram Shandy Vol IX

It certainly was.

The many different responses in this exhibition, from artists who kindly agreed to create a wish for Shandy Hall in its 50th anniversary year, shows the many things we wish for, and the variety of methods we use to make a wish.

Wishing with a coin, a well, or a wishbone, an incantation, with a four-leaved clover, with crossed fingers; upon a rainbow, a star or a starling. You may find genies and magic lamps, wishes as horses, as secret inscriptions, wishes poignant and wishes flippant, heartfelt, exquisite, puzzled, and joyous. A splendid range of incarnations of this human impulse are here.

They have one thing in common. All are made with a spirit of generosity towards Shandy Hall, and the Laurence Sterne Trust offers grateful thanks to the artists for their wonderful donations.

Works were exhibited anonymously, and were for sale by auction, with bids accepted until noon on the 31st August 2023.

Each maker signed their work, but the identity of each artist was only revealed to the highest bidder.

Each winner received a unique work of art, and the proceeds went towards preserving Shandy Hall for another 50 years.

Thanks to all who came to the launch on 20th May 2023 – and for candle blowing and wish making!

The exhibition is still viewable online here.

We owe a great deal to the participating artists, writers and musicians who kindly contributed to the Auction exhibitions, each one reflecting the imagination of Laurence Sterne.
Visitors to the exhibitions, both in the gallery at Shandy Hall and online were surprised and delighted by the quality of the works and enjoyed trying to work out which artist was responsible for which work, and bid on their favourites. Thanks to all.

Some of the catalogues from these exhibitions may still be on sale in the Shop