8 October 2011 – 4 March 2012

The exhibition invited visitors to delve into the realms of fantasy, illusion and enchantment, revealing how magic has been embraced for hundreds of years.

Magicians were and are held in high regard, some as popular entertainers and some as higher beings. From the Indian rope trick to Derren Brown’s modern take on illusion, adults and children alike have always been in awe of magic and its practitioners.

Magic Worlds explored the world of fairy tales and fantasy literature, the history and origins of magic and how themes of magic have influenced many artists and writers. The exhibition took visitors on a journey into miniature magical worlds, complete with witches, wizards, fairies and magical creatures. Objects on display included costumes, tricks and illusions, film merchandise, optical toys, paintings and ceramics, otherworldly dolls and puppets and illustrated books, together with interactive hands-on activities.


A world of marvellous tales and exciting adventures. To enter a fantasy world is to step outside reality and expect things to be different. Fairy stories are pure fantasy. These are old tales passed down originally by word of mouth and later collected together by people such as Charles Perrault and Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm.

Fantasy literature started in the mid 19th century. Some of these stories are about completely separate worlds – some that exist in their own right, like Middle Earth, and  some, like Narnia, that ordinary people step into. In others, the real and fantasy worlds exist side by side, as in the Harry Potter books, operating for the most part exclusive of each other.


A world where you cannot believe your eyes. People have always been fascinated by illusion and trickery. Optical devices, particularly in the 19th century, used scientific principles and were designed to both educate and entertain. They are still as intriguing today.

Magicians and magic have long been associated with Eastern countries. The tricks of Indian street markets were brought back to England during the 19th century and quickly gained a foothold in the world of variety theatre. Magicians became the film stars of their day and performed to the highest in the land. Today magic as spectacle has become commonplace and magicians appear regularly on television.


A world of magical creatures and beings. It is above all a place of the imagination.

People can experience wonder in everyday life but still actively seek it out in the worlds of fantasy and magic. Fairies and other magical figures inspire artists to produce work that can be beautiful or sinister, or both, reflecting the different aspects of enchantment.

Fairies, elves and pixies are usually regarded as kind creatures associated with the natural world. Witches and dragons generally belong to the darker side of magic. Other figures, such as wizards, mermaids and unicorns, lie somewhere in between.

See a virtual tour of the exhibition