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The wild and wonderful world of John Burningham at Mottisfont

John Burningham’s Bedtime Stories exhibition and trail will be running from 20 July to 29 September. 


This is an immersive exhibition and outdoor trail celebrate the imagination of award-winning children’s author and illustrator John Burningham. 


·       Over 60 original artworks on show, including some that have never been shown publicly before. 

·       Immersive, interactive exhibition includes cosy reading spaces, a ‘magic bed’, and dressing up, with photo opportunities for family memories. 

·       Outdoor exhibition and activity trail introduces more characters into Mottisfont’s gardens. 


This summer, the National Trust’s Mottisfont in Hampshire celebrates the wild and wonderful world of award-winning children's author and illustrator John Burningham with a family-friendly exhibition and activity trail.  


John Burningham’s Bedtime Stories (20 July – 29 September) will feature over 60 original illustrations on display in a fun, immersive exhibition in the sunny top-floor gallery of this former medieval priory. Some of the artwork on show has never been shown publicly before, including illustrations from one of Burningham's final published books, Mr Gumpy's Rhino


Burningham, whose books have delighted children across the world for five decades, was known especially for the wit and humour in his storytelling and artwork. Themed rooms in Mottisfont’s gallery focus on a number of these stories, immersing families in favourite tales such as the Mr Gumpy series, Avocado Baby (about a super strong baby based on his daughter Emily’s love of avocados), Oi! Get Off Our Train!, and Borka, The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers - Burningham’s first picture book, for which he won the Kate Greenaway Award in 1963. 


Within the playful gallery areas are comfy reading zones for kids to snuggle into with a book, colourful blown-up scenes for family photos, and dressing up inspiration. A life-size ‘magic’ bed will transport young imaginations to far away worlds, inspired by Burningham’s classic story The Magic Bed


“John’s work is completely original, unlike anything before or since. It is unique.” Raymond Briggs 


John Burningham won numerous awards and created over 50 children’s books throughout his 60-year career. He paired eccentric stories with bold illustrations, full of colour and energy. Animals cross into human worlds, and madcap adventures are described as a matter of fact – appealing to the wild imaginations of childhood. But even the most fanciful of narratives carry themes that resonate with multiple generations, from fussy eating in Avocado Baby to the plight of endangered species in Oi! Get Off Our Train!.          


Burningham has been described as one of the great masters of the art of picture-book making, with a fearless, painterly approach to media – he applied car paint spray and boot polish to his Borka artworks – that put him at the forefront of a new and vibrant era of picture books in the 1960s. His wife and fellow illustrator Helen Oxenbury described his art style as “'everything but the kitchen sink’”, incorporating “sprays, glues, inks, pigments and I would sometimes be asked for some flour.”. 


As part of Mottisfont’s exhibition, sketches, annotated works, blotter pads and other personal items, including the artist’s paint palette and brushes, reveal how John Burningham created his much-loved stories. 


The exhibition extends into early autumn, giving school groups and adult visitors the chance to visit outside of the school holidays. 

Outside, the Beech Circle in Mottisfont’s gardens will be transformed into an outdoor garden gallery, decorated with images from Come Away from the Water, Shirley. And an energetic activity trail weaves through Mottisfont’s spacious gardens, introducing families to more characters, with games and challenges to complete. Visitors can play a game of Would You Rather, and step bravely onto a pirate ship like Shirley. £3 per trail. 


Visitors can head to the shop to purchase Burningham books throughout the duration of the exhibition. 


John Burningham’s Bedtime Stories exhibition and outdoor activity trail runs from Saturday 20 July – Sunday 29 September 2024. The gardens are open 10am-5pm and the art gallery opens 11am-4.30pm daily. Normal property admission price applies (free for National Trust members, Art Fund members, and under 5s). 


For more information about Mottisfont visit: or call 01794 340757

Image of Mottisfont by Robert Morris.


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