The Royal Academy of Art’s Summer Exhibition – coordinated by Grayson Perry in this, the institution’s  250th anniversary year – opened this week. The world’s largest open submission contemporary art show, this year’s display features more than 1,300 hand-picked artworks in an array of mediums including a monumental sculpture by Anish Kapoor, large scale works by David Hockney and Joana Vasconcelos as well as others by the likes of Mona Hatoum, Tal R, Wolfgang Tillmans, Mike Nelson, Tracey Emin, Rose Wylie, Ed Ruscha and Bruce Nauman. The display extends across the newly extended campus off Piccadilly and can be seen until 19th August. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Grayson Perry, Selfie with Political Causes (Woodcut
200 x 300cm The artist and Paragon | Contemporary Editions Ltd.)

Beloved children’s author, PL Travers – she of Mary Poppins fame – has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque was installed at 50 Smith Street in Chelsea where the Australian-born Travers lived for 17 years and which is said to have been the inspiration for the Banks’ family home in the Disney film, Mary Poppins. Travers took up residence in the house in 1946, after returning to the UK from the US where she’d lived during World War II. It was here that she raised her adopted son, John Camillus Hone, and it was the property she was living in when she negotiated with Walt Disney for the rights to make a film about her famous book. She left the premises in 1962. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

An exploration of how symbols encapsulating Egypt’s ancient past have been appropriated in more modern times has opened at the British Museum. The Past is Present: becoming Egyptian in the 20th Century brings together 31 objects gathered through the museum’s ‘Modern Egypt Project’ as it explores how the nation has branded itself by drawing on the past. The items on show include pasta packaging and cigarette boxes depicting the pyramids, milk bottles with a Cleopatra logo, and the emblem of the Banque Misr (Bank of Egypt), the first bank owned and operated by Egyptians. This Asahi Shimbun Display is free to see and can be viewed in Room 3 until 30th September. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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Celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, The Royal Academy of Arts opens its “new” expanded £56 million campus on Saturday.

Designed by Sir David Chipperfield, the new two acre Royal Academy campus features 70 per cent more public space than the RA’s original Burlington House blueprint which will enable the institution to expand its programs of exhibitions and events and create new free displays of art and architecture.

One of the key features of the redevelopment is the new Weston Bridge between the institution’s landmark property, Burlington House, and the RA’s formerly “unloved” building at 6 Burlington Gardens which unites the two-acre campus and creates a new route between Piccadilly and Mayfair.

The Grade II-listed building on Burlington Gardens, which the RA bought in 1991 and which was previously home to, among other things, the Museum of Mankind, has been refurbished and a 250 seat lecture theatre, the Benjamin West Lecture Theatre, inserted along with a new architecture studio within The Dorfman Senate Rooms – restored by architect Julian Harrap – for free architectural displays.

A new public route through the campus has integrated the Royal Academy Schools into the visitor experience with the new Weston Studio, a public project space for students and alumni, and provides views of the Schools’ Corridor and the newly landscaped Lovelace Courtyard, providing visitors with a “greater insight into Britain’s longest established art school”.

It also takes visitors through the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries, a suite of three day-lit galleries for temporary exhibitions (Tacita Dean’s LANDSCAPE, the inaugural display, opens Saturday) and past the new Royal Academy Collection Gallery where works by the likes of Michelangelo, Reynolds, Kauffman, Thornhill, Constable, Gainsborough and Turner can be seen. There’s also a new Clore Learning Centre.

New places to eat and drink within the complex include the Senate Room bar and restaurant, and cafes and shops located on either side of the Burlington Gardens entrance.

The Royal Academy was founded by King George III in 1768 after he was presented with a petition by architect Sir William Chambers which had been signed by 36 artists and architects seeking to “establish a society for promoting the Arts of Design”. Initially based in Pall Mall, the institution’s first official home was in the new Somerset House. In the 1830s, it moved to Trafalgar Square where it shared premises with the newly created National Gallery and in 1867, the institution has moved to Burlington House where it’s been located ever since.

To celebrate the opening of the “new” Royal Academy, there will be a weekend-long “art party” this weekend with free workshops, tours, displays, late-night performances and DJs. Highlights will include performances by The Uncollective and Rachael Plays Disco; collaborative mural drawing, party hat making, architectural model making, RA Collection gallery tours, and a family printmaking workshop in the new Clore Learning Centre. The Annenberg Courtyard will host street food and cocktail bars.

For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk/plan-your-visit.

PICTURES: Top – The Weston Bridge and The Lovelace Courtyard/Below – The Benjamin West Lecture Theatre. (Both images by Simon Menges).

Anthony van Dyck, Charles I, 1635-6, Oil on canvas, 84.4 x 99.4 cm, RCIN 404420 Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

A landmark exhibition which reunites one of the most extraordinary art collections ever assembled opens in the main galleries of the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly this Saturday. Presented in partnership with the Royal Collection Trust, Charles I: King and Collector features about 150 of the most important of the works collected by King Charles I during his reign, spanning the period from 1600 to 1649. They are among 1,500 paintings and 500 sculptures he collected  prior to his execution in 1649, after which the collection was offered for sale and dispersed across Europe. Many of the works were retrieved by King Charles II during the Restoration but others now form the core of collections at institutions such as the Musée du Louvre and the Museo Nacional del Prado. Among those on show in this exhibition, which includes more than 90 works borrowed from the Royal Collection, are several monumental portraits of the king and his family by Anthony van Dyck as well as the artist’s most celebrated portrait of the king, Charles I (‘Le Roi a la chasse’) (pictured), which returns to England for the first time since the 17th century. Other works include Peter Paul Rubens’ Minerva Protects Pax From Mars (‘Peace and War’) – this was commissioned by Charles and painted between 1629-30, Andrea Mantegna’s series, The Triumph of Caesar (c1484-92), and Titian’s Supper at Emmaus (c1530) while artists including Correggio, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein the Younger and Pieter Bruegel the Elder are also represented. The exhibition also shows off the celebrated Mortlake tapestries depicting Raphael’s Acts of the Apostles (c1631-40) and paintings, statuettes, miniatures and drawings once kept in the Cabinet at Whitehall Palace. Runs until 15th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

• John Constable’s oil sketch, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, 1829–31, is one of 10 works which have gone on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery as part of its Victorian Landscapes exhibition. The painting takes centre-stage in the display in the gallery’s Temple Room; other works on show include John Brett’s Echoes of a Far-Off Storm (1890); Edward William Cooke’s Triassic Cliffs, Blue Anchor, North Somerset (1866), and Benjamin Williams Leader’s The Church at Betwys-y-Coed (1863). The paintings can be seen until early May. For more, follow this link.

Eighteenth century satire portrayed on ceramics and prints is the subject of a new free display at the British Museum. Pots with Attitude: British Satire on Ceramics, 1760-1830 features some 80 objects, some of which have not been on show for decades, including mugs and jugs (which make up the bulk of the items on show) as well as items like a cotton handkerchief printed with the “Peterloo Massacre” of 1819 and a rather grisly folding fan showing hidden profiles of executed French sovereigns (1794). Other objects show off copies of prints by satirists such as James Gillray and Charles Williams, with one of the latter’s showing a colossal Napoleon about to cross the Channel into England but prevented from doing so by a pint-sized, sword-carrying John Bull, who has sliced off his toes and is telling him, ‘Paws off, Pompey’ – the comment a reference to a lap-dog known as Pompey the Little who was the hero of a popular novel at the time. The display can be seen in Room 90a, Prints and Drawings Gallery, until 13th March. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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PICTURE: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

Established back in the early nineteenth century, James Smith & Sons Umbrellas is a West End institution in London and is certainly among the oldest, if not the oldest, surviving business established to sell umbrellas.

The original shop was founded by James Smith in Foubert’s Place, off Regent Street, in 1830 with the umbrellas made in a rear workshop and then sold at the front. The shop then moved to Saville Place but when this building had to be knocked down to make way for road widening, it moved to Burlington Street near Piccadilly Circus.

Business boomed following the invention of Samuel Fox’s lightweight steel frame umbrellas in 1851 and in 1867, a second shop was opened at 53 New Oxford Street (in Hazelwood House, where it remains today). The Burlington Street branch, meanwhile, continued to be operational until it was destroyed by a bomb in World War II, leaving just the shop in New Oxford Street.

The New Oxford Street shop still sells a plethora of types of umbrellas as well as made-to-measure walking sticks. Some of the umbrellas – which include antique and more contemporary models – are reportedly assembled on site.

In the shop you’ll also find a portrait of Jonas Hanway, said to be the first man who owned an umbrella in London. Being an early adopter of this imported fashion trend from France, he apparently attracted the ridicule of London society as well as that of coach drivers who saw the threat to their trade he represented. But history was on Hanway’s side and while the umbrella has survived the past couple of centuries, the coach as a means of transportation has not.

PICTURE: Top –  Jorge Royan/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0/ Right – Ewan Munro/licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

We’ve finally reached numbers 1 and 2…

2. Lost London – The Mermaid Tavern…

1. 10 (more) fictional character addresses in London – 4. 138 Piccadilly…

Wishing all our readers a very happy and safe start to 2018. Our usual coverage resumes on Tuesday!

The Science Museum is commemorating 70 years of India’s independence with Illuminating India, a season of exhibitions, specially commissioned artworks and events telling the stories of Indian innovators and thinkers who have often been overlooked or written out of Western versions of history. The exhibition Illuminating India: 5000 Years of Science and Innovation celebrates India’s central role in the history of science and tech by surveying its contributions to subjects ranging from space exploration to mathematics, communication and engineering while Photography 1857-2017 is the first exhibition to provide a survey of photography from its beginnings in India in the mid-19th century through to the present day and pivots around two key dates in India’s history – 1857 and 1947. Alongside the exhibitions, artist Chila Kumari Burman has been commissioned to create a special series of artworks and there is a comprehensive program of related public events, some of which are free. The Illuminating India season runs until 31st March. For the full programme of events, head to www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/indiaseason.

To mark the return of Sir Anthony van Dyck’s self-portrait (pictured) to the National Portrait Gallery after a three year nationwide tour, contemporary artist Julian Opie has been invited to present his works in dialogue with the painting. Julian Opie After Van Dyck features new and recent works including Faime (2016), Lucia, back 3 (2017) and Beach head, 6 (2017). The free display in the seventeenth century galleries opens tomorrow and runs until 7th January. It’s the final of three displays held in the gallery as part of the three year tour following the purchase of the Van Dyck self-portrait, painted in about 1640, in 2014. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: National Portrait Gallery.

The friendship and works of Salvador Dali and Marcel Duchamp are explored in a new exhibition opening at the Royal Academy tomorrow. Dali/Duchamp features more than 80 paintings, sculptures, “readymades”, photographs, drawings, films and archival material and is organised into three thematic sections – ‘Identities’, ‘The Body and the Object’ and, ‘Experimenting with Reality’. Among the highlights is Duchamp’s The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes (1912), Fountain (1917/1964), and The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915), as well as Dali’s The First Days of Spring (1929), Lobster Telephone (1938) and Christ of Saint John of the Cross (c1951). Runs until 3rd January and then moves to The Dali Museum in St Petersburg, Florida. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

The first tranche of tickets to see this year’s New Years Eve fireworks event over the River Thames in central London were released late last week. The display will feature more than 12,000 fireworks, and involve 2,000 lighting cues and 30 tonnes of equipment on three barges (and, despite the renovation work, the New Year will still be rung in by the bongs of Big Ben!). The tickets, which are available for £10 each, provide access to a range of specific areas – some of these are already sold out. The full cost of the tickets goes towards costs associated with the ticketing system. People can book up to four tickets at www.london.gov.uk/nye.

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A special tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales – who died 20 years ago this month, is included in this year’s Summer Opening of Buckingham Palace. Located in the Music Room, the display features the desk at which the Princess worked in her Kensington Palace sitting room along with selected objects, many of which have been chosen by her two sons, Prince William and Prince Harry. They include a silver Cartier calendar – a gift to the Princess from President Ronald Reagan and his wife Nancy when the Prince and Princess of Wales visited in 1985, a wooden tuck box which belonged to the then Lady Diana Spencer when she was at school, her childhood typewriter, and small round enamel boxes which were commissioned as gifts for the Princess to give to hosts on official overseas trips – among those shown are one decorated with an image of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue which was taken on a 1991 official visit to Brazil. Meanwhile, this Saturday, a special family festival is being held at the palace, and adjoining Royal Mews and Queen’s Gallery. Featuring drop-in arts and crafts activities, dance and drama workshops and story-telling sessions, the festival runs from 10.30am to 3pm. Entry is included in the admission price. For more on the festival, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/whatson/event/847051/Family-Festival. The summer opening of the palace, and the special exhibition on Royal Gifts, runs until 1st October. See www.royalcollection.org.uk for more. PICTURE: Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017 .

An exhibition exploring how artist Henri Matisse’s personal collection of treasured objects were both subject matter and inspiration for his work opens at the Royal Academy of Arts this Saturday. Matisse in the Studio features about 35 objects displayed alongside 65 of Matisse’s paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints and cut outs. The collection of objects includes everything from a Roman torso and African masks to Chinese porcelain and North African textiles, with most of them on loan from the Musée Matisse in Nice. The display is arranged around five thematic sections – ‘The Object as an Actor’, ‘The Nude’, ‘The Face’, ‘The Studio as Theatre’ and ‘The Language of Signs’. Runs until 12th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

On Now – Plywood: Material of the Modern World. This exhibition in the V&A’s Porter Gallery celebrates that most versatile of building materials – plywood – and features more than 120 objects ranging from the fastest plan of World War II – the de Havilland Mosquito – to the downloadable, self-assembly WikiHouse. While fragments of layered board have been discovered in ancient Egyptian tombs, plywood really came into its own during the 19th century and has since been used to construct everything from an experimental elevated railway in mid-19th century New York to tea chests, hat boxes, and surfboards. Highlights include a 1908 book printed during Ernest Shackleton’s Nimrod expedition to Antarctica and bound with plywood covers, pieces by modernist designers including Alvar Aalto, Marcel Breuer, Grete Talk, Robin Day and Charles and Ray Eames, and striking examples of transport design including a 1917 moulded canoe, a 1960s British racing car with plywood chassis and some of the first ever surf and skate boards. A cluster of ice-skating shelters designed in plywood by Patkau Architects can be seen in the John Madejski Garden during the exhibition. Admission is free. Runs until 12th November. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/plywood.

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The lives of three German princesses whose marriages into the British royal family during the Georgian era placed them right at the heart of progressive thinking in 18th century Britain are the subject of a new exhibition which opens at Kensington Palace today. Enlightened Princesses: Caroline, Augusta, Charlotte and the Shaping of the Modern World looks at how these three women – committed patrons of the arts and sciences – “broke the mould” in terms of their contributions to society, through everything from advocating for the latest scientific and medical advances to supporting the work of charities, changing forever the role women played in the British royal family. Caroline and Charlotte became queens consort to King George I and King George III respectively while Princess Augusta was at various times Princess of Wales, Regent and Princess Dowager (as mother to King George III) and between them, they had more than 30 children. But alongside their busy family lives, they also were at the centre of glittering courts where the likes of writers Alexander Pope and Jonathan Swift, scientist Isaac Newton and composer George Frideric Handel as well as successive Prime Ministers and international statesmen were welcomed. The display features almost 200 objects owned by the princesses, such as Charlotte’s hand-embroidered needlework pocketbook, pastels painted by their children and artworks and fine ceramics commissioned by some of the greatest artists and craftsmen of their day. The exhibition, which has previously been at the Yale Center for British Art, runs until 12th November. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/.

The UK’s first major exhibition featuring the watercolours of Anglo-American artist John Singer Sargent in almost 100 years has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London. Sargent: The Watercolours features almost 80 works produced between 1900 and 1918, what was arguably his greatest period of watercolour production. Sargent mastered the art during expeditions in southern Europe and the Middle East and the show features landscapes, architecture and figurative scenes, drawing attention to the most radical aspects of his work – his use of close-up, his unusual use of perspective and the dynamic poses of his figures. The works include The Church of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice (c1904-1909), the mountain landscape Bed of a Torrent (1904), and figure study The lady with the umbrella (1911). The exhibition runs until 8th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: John Singer Sargent – Pool in the Garden of La Granja, c. 1903, Private Collection

The 249th Summer Exhibition has opened at the Royal Academy with Mark Wallinger, Yinka Shonibare and Antony Gormley among those with works on show. About 1,200 works are featured in the display with highlights including Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture VI, a new large scale work from Gilbert & George’s ‘Beard Speak’ series and, for the first time, a focus on construction coordination drawings, showing the full complexity of a building, in the Architecture Gallery. Runs until 20th August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Albemarle Street in Mayfair is generally believed to be the first street in London made into a one-way street.

The decision to make the street one-way apparently stems from the popularity of a series of science-oriented lectures at The Royal Institution of Great Britain given in the early 19th century by Sir Humphry Davy, inventor of the miner’s lamp and the first lecturer appointed at the RI following its inception in 1799.

Such was the crush of carriages in Piccadilly to attend Davy’s lectures that in response, the powers that be at The Royal Institution gave instructions to coach drivers about the direction of travel in the street and paid for constables to enforce their ruling.

The concept of the one-way street, however, does apparently go back much further. The Spectator reports that in 1617, Pudding Lane – the site of the start of the famous Great Fire of London in 1666, was among numerous laneways around Thames Street which were designated as one-way only for carts to ease congestion.

Above: The Royal Institution as it is today, where Friday night lectures caused the introduction of one-way traffic in the street. PICTURE: Gryffindor /CC BY-SA 3.0

 

diana-her-fashion-storyThe fashions of Diana, Princess of Wales, go on show at Kensington Palace tomorrow in a new exhibition, 20 years after her death. Diana: Her Fashion Story traces the evolution of her sense of style from the demure outfits of her first public appearances to the “glamour, elegance and confidence” of her later life and explores how she used her image to engage and inspire people as well as champion the causes she cared out. The display features everything from glamorous 1980s evening gowns to her “working wardrobe” of the 1990s and original fashion sketches created for her by her favourite designers. Highlights include a pale pink Emanuel blouse worn for Lord Snowdon’s 1981 engagement portrait, a ink blue velvet gown designed by Victor Edelstein and famously worn during a visit to the White House when the princess danced with John Travolta, and a blue tartan Emanuel suit worn for an official visit to Venice in the 1980s. The latter goes on public display for the first time, having recently been acquired at auction by Historic Royal Palaces. Complementing the exhibition, gardeners have created a temporary ‘White Garden’ in the palace’s Sunken Garden with flowers and foliage inspired by the princess’s life, style and image. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace/. PICTURE: Courtesy Historic Royal Palaces.

Works chronicling life in the United States of America during the decade after the Wall Street crash of 1929 go on show at the Royal Academy of Arts on Saturday. America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s features 45 works by some of the foremost artists of the era which have been sourced from collections across the US. They include Grant Wood’s American Gothic (1930) – the first time it’s being exhibited outside of the US, Georgia O’Keeffe’s Cow’s Skull with Calico Roses (1931), Edward Hopper’s Gas (1940) and works by Jackson Pollock, Philip Guston, Alice Nee and Thomas Hart Benton. Organised by the Art Institute of Chicago, in collaboration with the Royal Academy and Etablissement public du musée d’Orsay et du musée de l’Orangerie in Paris, the exhibition in The Sackler Wing of Galleries can be seen until 4th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

Landscape drawings created over the century spanning 1850 to 1950 are the subject of a new free exhibition which opens at the British Museum today. Places of the Mind: British watercolour landscapes 1850-1950 features more than 125 works from the museum’s department of prints and drawings, over half of which have never been published or exhibited before. Artists represented include George Price Boyce, Alfred William Hunt, John Ruskin, James McNeill Whistler, Philip Wilson Steer. Graham Sutherland and Henry Moore. The display can be seen in Room 90 until 27th August. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.

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eon-house2This address would have been one to avoid. In Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic novel, Dracula, the evil Count Dracula owns a mansion on Piccadilly, one of numerous homes he purchases in London.

The address believed to be that of the mansion, based on information and architectural details given in the book, has apparently been identified – by people reportedly including Bernard Davies, co-founder of The Dracula Society, no less – as a property at number 138.

After arriving in England – landing at Whitby, Dracula had first moved into a property called Carfax House located at Purfleet on the River Thames, just to the east of London.

But after he was spotted in London, it is discovered that he has a property in Piccadilly (identified, though never named in the book, as 138). Those hunting him – including the unfortunate Jonathan Harker and vampire hunter Abraham Van Helsing – break in to the property with the intent of destroying some of the many boxes filled with earth Dracula brought to England with him from Transylvania (he needs them to keep alive). They do so and there find keys to numerous other properties in the city as well, dispatching two of their number to go and destroy any boxes they find there.

They then wait in ambush for the Count at the “vile smelling” Piccadilly property but he manages to elude their attack and escape. Their chase then leads them to leave London and to pursue Dracula across Europe before he is finally defeated back at his home in Transylvania.

The Grade II-listed, three storey property at 138 Piccadilly, located opposite Green Park, is now known as Eon House and is located next door to the Hard Rock Cafe. It originally dates from the late 18th century and was remodelled in the early 1890s – just before the book was written.

The book, Dracula, is, of course, also associated with other London locations – including the London Zoo and Hampstead Heath.  And Stoker himself lived in London for much of his life, spending 27 years as an acting manager and business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in the West End. An urn containing his ashes is at the Golders Green Crematorium.

PICTURE: Google Maps

 

A Tudor-era bowling ball, Roman iron horse shoes and late 19th century ginger jars are among hundreds of historic objects unearthed during the Crossrail construction project to go on show at the Museum of London Docklands tomorrow. Tunnel: the archaeology of Crossrail presents highlights from among the more than 10,000 objects which have been discovered during the project, the largest infrastructure project currently underway in Europe, since it kicked off in 2009. The finds, which span 8,000 years of human history, also include prehistoric flints found at North Woolwich, medieval animal bone skates and human remains found in the former 17th century Bedlam cemetery. The objects, which can be seen until 3rd September, are displayed in accordance to where along the new Elizabeth line they were found. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

bolshevik This year is centenary of the Russian Revolution and to mark the occasion, the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly is hosting a landmark exhibition on Russian art which takes in the period between 1917 – the year of the October Revolution – and 1932 when Josef Stalin began his violent suppression of the avant-garde. Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 features the works of the likes of avant-garde artists Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and Kazimir Malevich and social realists like Isaac Brodsky and Alexander Deineka. More than 200 works are on show including loans from the State Russian Museum of St Petersburg and the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, many of which have never been seen in the UK before. Highlights include Chagall’s Promenade (1917-18), Kandinsky’s Blue Crest (1917) and Malevich’s Peasants (c. 1930). Alongside the paintings, the display features photography, sculpture, film, posters and porcelain. Admission charge applies. Runs until 17th April. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Boris Mikailovich Kustodiev, ‘Bolshevik’ (1920) © State Tretyakov Gallery.

More than 100 robots are on display at the Science Museum in South Kensington as part of a new exhibition spanning 500 years of robotic history. Robots, which explores how robots have been shaped by religious belief, the industrial revolution, 20th century popular culture and dreams of the future, features everything from a 16th century mechanical monk to a 2.4 metre tall robot named Cygan dating from the 1950s, and one of the first walking bipedal robots. Visitors will be able to interact with 12 working robots and go behind the scenes to see recent developments in robotic research as well as speculate on what robots of the future might be like. Admission charge applies. Runs until 3rd September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/robots.

A major exhibition celebrating the work of early 20th century UK modern artist Vanessa Bell – a central figure in the so-called ‘Bloomsbury Group’ – has opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London’s south this week. About 100 oil paintings as well as ceramics, fabrics, works on paper, photographs and related archival material are featured in the exhibition with the works arranged thematically so as to reveal Bell’s “fluid movement” between the fine and applied arts and focusing particular attention on her most distinctive period of experimentation from 1910 onwards. Vanessa Bell, which runs until 4th June, is presented alongside a photography display which brings together Bell’s photographic work with that of American musician, writer and artist Patti Smith. Legacy: Photographs by Vanessa Bell and Patti Smith features 17 photographs by Smith – who has long found inspiration in the work and lives of the Bloomsbury Group – and a selection of Bell’s photo albums. Both can be seen until 4th June. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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tower-of-londonA new “family friendly” permanent exhibition, Armoury in Action, opens today on the top floor of the White Tower at the Tower of London. The display, presented by Royal Armouries and Historic Royal Palaces, brings to life 1,000 years of history in a hands-on experience in which visitors can explore the weapons, skills and people from the Norman through to the Victorian eras. Featured are a master mason who explains the building of the White Tower – constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror, a medieval longbowman who explains the different types of arrows, a Civil War artillery captain who guides visitors through the process of firing a cannon, and a Victorian superintendent of firearms from the Ordnance Office who invites visitors to design their own musket. There’s also the chance to have a go at drawing back a medieval longbow, to dress King Henry VIII in his armour, to fire a half-sized Civil War cannon and sharpen sword skills against cabbages in an immersive interactive installation. The exhibition can be seen as part of a visit to the Tower. Meanwhile the Tower of London ice rink has opened once more in the fortress’ moat while, between 27th and 31st December, King Richard III and Queen Anne Neville are roaming the tower with their court as well as jesters and minstrels. Admission charges apply (ice-skating is separate to tower entry). For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/ or www.toweroflondonicerink.co.uk. PICTURE: HRP. 

Three iconic outfits worn by former PM Margaret Thatcher have gone on show in the fashion galleries at the V&A in South Kensington. The outfits, which were worn by Baroness Thatcher at significant moments in her public and private life, are among six outfits donated to the museum earlier this year by her children. The outfits include a distinctive blue wool Aquascutum suit she wore to the Conservative Party Conference in Blackpool in 1987 and again to place her vote in the general election that year, a custom-designed brocade suit and taffeta opera cape with sweeping train designed by Marianne Abrahams for Aquascutum which she wore when delivering the keynote speech at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at London’s Guildhall in 1988, and a wool crepe suit in striking fuchsia-pink by Starzewski that she wore to the Women of Achievement reception at Buckingham Palace on 11th March, 2004. There’s also a black slub silk hat with feathers and velvet-flecked tulle designed by Deida Acero, London, that she wore to the funeral of her husband, Sir Denis Thatcher, in 2003. The display is free to visit. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

On Now: Intrigue: James Ensor by Luc Tuymans. The first major exhibition of Belgian artist James Ensor’s work in the UK in 20 years, the exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly features some 70 paintings, drawings and prints by the modernist artist, who lived between 1860 and 1949, and is curated by contemporary Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. The display features three of his most important works – The Intrigue (1890), The Skate (1892) and Self-Portrait with Flowered Hat (1883). Runs until 29th January. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Now a Piccadilly institution, Fortnum and Mason’s origins (which we dealt with in 2011 in a London’s oldest post but couldn’t resist looking at again) famously go back the early 17th century when Hugh Mason rented out a spare room to William Fortnum, a Footman in the household of Queen Anne.

fortnum-masonThe entrepreneurial Fortnum decided to supplement his income by selling Queen Anne’s half-used candle wax (new candles were required every night) for a small profit. It was he who convinced his landlord, who also had a small shop in St James’s Market, to join with him in a joint venture – the first Fortnum & Mason – in Duke Street in 1707.

Initially founded as a grocery store, Fortnum & Mason, which moved to its current site at 181 Piccadilly in 1756, become known for its high quality and rare goods – in particular tea – and during the 18th and 19th centuries supplied the gentry who were in London for the ‘season’. Departments inside the store have included a rather bizarre ‘Expeditions Department’ which apparently supplied King Tut’s finder Howard Carter and a 1922 expedition to Mount Everest.

It has held numerous Royal Warrants since the mid 1800s with the first granted in 1863 when the firm was appointed as grocers to the then Prince of Wales.

A supplier of British officers during the Napoleonic Wars, Fortnums was also active during the Crimean War when Queen Victoria had shipments of “concentrated beef tea” sent to Florence Nightingale for use in her hospitals there.

Other claims to fame include the creation of the first Scotch egg in 1738 as a food for travellers and that in 1886, it became the first store in Britain to stock tins of Heinz baked beans. It also operated a post office between 1794 and 1839 when the General Post Office was founded.

The iconic clock which hangs on the facade of the building was commissioned in 1964 by Canadian businessman Garfield Weston who bought the business in 1951. Every hour models of Mr Fortnum and Mr Mason come forth and bow to each other. Other features on the building itself include four colonies of bees which have lived on the roof since 2008 in uniquely-designed hives.

The store, now famous for its luxury food hampers, underwent a £24 million restoration in the lead-up to its 300th anniversary in 2007. As well as the flagship store, it also now operates stores in St Pancras (2013) and Heathrow Airport (2015) as well as, since last year, in Dubai (it did open a store on Madison Avenue in New York in the 1930s but the business was short-lived thanks to the Depression). Fortnum & Mason products can also be found in a growing number of department stores around the world.

The Piccadilly store houses a number of eateries including The Parlour, The Gallery and The Wine Bar as well as, since it was opened by Queen Elizabeth II herself in 2012, the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon – already famous for its afternoon teas.

See www.fortnumandmason.com.

PICTURE: Gryffindor/Wikimedia/CC BY-SA 4.0

Sydney_Opera_House_under_construction_6_April_1966__Robert_Baudin_for_Hornibrook_Ltd._Courtesy_Australian_Air_PhotosThe stories behind some of the world’s most iconic buildings – from the Sydney Opera House to the Centre Pompidou in Paris – and engineering projects like London’s Crossrail will be exposed in a new exhibition at the V&A on the work of Ove Arup – arguably the most influential engineer of the 20th century. Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design, which is being staged on conjunction with the global engineering and design company he founded – Arup, surveys the life, work and legacy of Arup (1895-1988) and features more than 150 previously unseen prototypes, models, films, drawings and photographs as well as new immersive digital displays featuring animations, simulations and virtual reality. As well as presenting information relating to a selection of Arup’s most ground-breaking projects – including collaborations with architects such as Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, the display, which is divided into several distinct sections arranged chronologically, also explores the pioneering work of Arup today on projects like Crossrail, technologies for acoustics studies like SoundLab and SolarLeaf – an experimental bio-reactive facade system that uses micro algae to generate renewable energy. The first major exhibition led by the V&A’s new Design, Architecture and Digital Department, Engineering the World runs at the South Kensington museum until 6th November. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/EngineeringSeason. PICTURE (above): Sydney Opera House under construction, 1966; © Robert Baudin for Hornibrook Ltd. Courtesy Australian Air Photos.

New-Tate-ModernThe new Tate Modern opens its doors to the public tomorrow following a £260 million renovation and expansion. Designed by architects Herzog & de Meuron (who also designed the original conversion of the Battersea Power Station which opened in 2000), the new Switch House building increases the size of the Tate Modern by 60 per cent. As well as redisplaying the 800 works previously on show, the revamped Tate Modern – which still features the Turbine Hall at its centre – also offers a range of new experiences for visitors, from the  subterranean concrete ‘Tanks’ – the first permanent museum spaces dedicated to live art, and a panoramic public viewing terrace on level 10. The museum’s reopening will be celebrated by a free programme of live performances, new commissions and other special events and the museum will stay open until 10pm each evening this weekend when events will include a specially commissioned choral work being performed by more than 500 singers from community choirs around London at 5pm on Saturday. Entry to the Tate Modern on Bankside is free. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern. PICTURE: © Hayes Davidson and Herzog & de Meuron/Tate 

English Heritage blue plaques were unveiled to ballet dancer Dame Margot Fonteyn and choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton earlier this month. Dame Margot’s plaque was unveiled at her former flat at 118 Long Acre in Covent Garden (conveniently close to the nearby Royal Opera House where she performed) while Sir Frederick’s plaque was unveiled at his former property at 8 Marlborough Street in Chelsea. The pair’s 25 year relationship produced many of her most celebrated performances and his greatest ballets, including Daphnis and Chloe (1951), Sylvia (1952) and Ondine (1958). The unveiling coincided with the release of a new free Blue Plaques app which, as well as helping users to find blue plaques and uncover the stories of those they commemorate, is also intended to provide an expanding series of walking tours. The first, ‘Soho’s Creatives and Visionaries’, follows a route from Oxford Circus to Tottenham Court Road Station, taking in the property where Karl Marx began writing Das Kapital, the house where Canaletto lived and the attic rooms where John Logie Baird first demonstrated television in 1926. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The 248th ‘summer exhibition’ – featuring the work of 15 international artistic duos in a display curated by leading British sculptor Richard Wilson – opened at the Royal Academy of Arts this week. On display in the Piccadilly institution’s main galleries, the exhibition’s highlights include a new large scale, suspended kite sculpture by Heather and Ivan Morison, two hand-coloured prints from Jake and Dinos Chapman’s Human Rainbow II series, and, an atmospheric photographic installation from Jane and Louise Wilson’s seminal Chernobyl series. Turkish film-maker and artist Kutlug Ataman’s monumental multi-image video installation, THE PORTRAIT OF SAKIP SABANCI, featuring 10,000 LCD panels will also be displayed. Can be seen until 21st August. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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Giorgione A survey of some 50 works from the Venetian Renaissance will go on show at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly on Saturday. In the Age of Giorgione features works from the first decade of the 16th century by artists including Giorgione, Titian, Giovanni Bellini, Sebastian del Piombo and Lorenzo Lotto as well as those of lesser known painters like Giovanni Mariani. Highlights include Giorgione’s paintings Portrait of a Man – only one of two known painting bearing a contemporary inscription identifying the artist (from The San Diego Museum of Art) and Il Tramonto (The Sunset) (from London’s National Gallery) as well as Titian’s works Christ and the Adultress (Glasgow Museums), and Jacopo Pesaro being Presenting By Pope Alexander VI to Saint Peter (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp). The exhibition will be divided into four sections. Runs until 5th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see Cwww.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Attributed to Giorgione, Portrait of a Young Man, c. 1505.

Art at the Bridge returned to Tower Bridge this week with an all-female exhibition launched on International Women’s Day. Building Bridges: The Female Perspective, which is being run in collaboration with the Southwark Arts Forum and represents the 7th ‘edition’ of Art at the Bridge, features the work of 15 artists in a variety of media. They include Charlotte Timms, a mixed media artist who takes her inspiration from living on an historic barge on the Thames, print artist Donna Leighton whose work The New Baby is a commentary on the bridges a mother must build with a new baby, and photographer Pauline Etim-Ubah who explores the career of civil engineering through a series of images. Exhibition runs until 31st July. Included in normal bridge admission price. For more, see www.towerbridge.org.uk.

Gain new insights into life inside the City of London Corporation in photographs taken by Martin Parr, the City of London’s photographer-in-residence. Opening at the Guildhall Art Gallery last week, Unseen City: Photos by Martin Parr provides insight into the City of London Corporation’s private ceremonies, ancient and modern traditions, processions, banquets and other public occasions as well as more informal times. Twenty of the works on show will be acquired for the gallery’s permanent collection following the closure of the exhibition on 31st July. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.

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Monet A major exhibition looking at the role of gardens in the paintings of Claude Monet and his contemporaries opens at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly on Saturday. Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse spans the period from the 1860s to the 1920s and includes more than 120 Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Avant-Garde works including 35 by Monet as well as “rarely seen” masterpieces by Paul Klee, Emil Nolde, Gustav Klimt and Wassily Kandinsky. Highlights include Monet’s Agapanthus Triptych (1916-1919) as well as his Water Lilies (1904) and Lady in the Garden (1867), Auguste Renoir’s Monet Painting in His Garden at Argenteuil (1873) , Kandinsky’s Murnau The Garden II (1910) and Pierre Bonnard’s Resting in the Garden (1914). The exhibition, which has previously been at The Cleveland Museum of Art in Ohio, runs until 20th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Claude Monet, Lady in the Garden, 1867;  © The State Hermitage Museum/Vladimir Terebenin.

The world of professional tattooing is the subject of a new display at the Museum of London. Tattoo London, which opens at the City-based museum tomorrow, looks at the history of tattooing in the capital – which dates back to a time before Captain Cook – as well as life inside four contemporary tattoo studios. Also on display will be newly commissioned artworks by tattooists from the studios – Lal Hardy at New Wave, Alex Binnie at Into You, Claudia de Sabe at Seven Doors, and Mo Coppoletta at The Family Business. A series of events are being held in conjunction with the display which runs until 8th May. Entry is free. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk.

A new photographic exhibition exploring the solar system has opened at the Natural History Museum. Otherworlds: Visions of our Solar System features 77 composite images pieced together from date collected on NASA and ESA missions by artist, curator and writer Michael Benson. Highlights include A Plutonian haze – a colourised image of Pluto created from data captured during New Horizon’s flyby of the dwarf planet in July last year, Enceladus vents waters into space – captured in 2009 by NASA’s Cassini mission it shows Saturn’s sixth largest moon Enceladus spraying water into space, and, A Warming Comet – a picture of the twin-lobed comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko venting gas and dust captured by ESA’s Rosetta probe in July last year. The exhibition can be seen until 15th May at the South Kensington museum. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/otherworlds.

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Westminster-Abbey-west-front The biggest ever light festival to hit London opens tonight. Lumber London, produced by Artichoke with the support of the Mayor of London and visitlondon.com, will see a host of international artists transform a series of iconic buildings and locations in four areas across the city – Piccadilly, Regent Street and St James’s, Trafalgar Square and Westminster, Mayfair and King’s Cross. The 30 installations include French collective TILT’s Garden of Light featuring giant illuminated plants in Leicester Square, Patrice Warrener’s The Light of the Spirit which envelopes the west front of Westminster Abbey in colour and light, Deepa Mann-Kler’s Neon Dogs – a collection of 12 neon dogs inspired by the balloon dogs seen at children’s parties, this sits near Trafalgar Square, and, Pipette, a colourful installation by Miriam Gleeman (of The Cross Kings) and Tom Sloan (of Tom Sloan Design) which sits in the pedestrian subway, the King’s Cross Tunnel. Other highlights include Julian Opie’s work Shaida Walking, 2015 which will be permanently located in Broadwick Street, Soho, and Janet Echelon’s enormous net sculpture 1.8 London which is strung between buildings at Oxford Circus. The festival runs from 6.30pm to 10.30pm over the next four nights. You can download a free map on the installations or use the free London Official City Guide app to locate them. For more information – including the full programme – see www.visitlondon.com/lumiere.

A property deed signed by playwright William Shakespeare and one of the most complete first folios of his works have gone on show in the London Heritage Gallery at the Guildhall Art Gallery. Alongside the two documents which dates from 1613 and 1623, the Shakespeare and London exhibition marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death – to be commemorated on 23rd April this year – will also display other documents related to the story of London’s playhouses. The property deed – which relates to a property in Blackfriars – is only one of six surviving documents to bear the playwrights authenticated signature while the first folio is one of five of the most complete copies in existence and is apparently usually only brought out for consultation by Shakespearean scholars and actors. The exhibition runs until 31st March. Admission is free. For more on it and other events being run to commemorate the Bard’s death, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/shakespeare400. For more on other events this year, check out www.shakespeare400.org.

• See your art featured in an upcoming exhibition on the importance of bees and pollination by attending a drop-in workshop at Victoria Tower Gardens next to the Houses of Parliament next week. The workshop, which will be held from 10am to 2pm on 20th January, will see participants create their own 3D flowers based on famous paintings by Vincent Van Gogh and Jan Van Huysum currently in The National Gallery’s collection – all as part of a focus looking at what plants bees are attracted to. The art created in the workshop will be seen in an exhibition A Right Royal Buzz which is the result of a collaboration between The Royal Parks, The National Gallery and Mall Galleries and will be seen across all three venues (Victoria Tower Gardens representing the Royal Parks) from 17th t0 20th February. For more, head to this link.

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The British Museum has unveiled a new audio guide to provide the museum’s 6.7 million annual visitors with a new way to interact with its permanent collections. The guide comes in 10 different languages as well as in British Sign Language, an updated and improved audio descriptive guide and a “family game guide” for children to play with their parents. It boasts 70 new commentaries detailing the most recent research on key objects as well as new tours for China and A History of the World, a highlights feature and Top 1o tour, stunning new photography and a ‘My visit’ feature which sends visitors a visual record of their visit by email. The guide is available for hire at the Bloomsbury institution. See www.britishmuseum.org for more.

Marie-AntoinetteOn Now: Jean-Etienne Liotard. This exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly, which closes at the end of the month, features more than 70 works by the 18th century Swiss artist including works in pastels (of which he was an undisputed master), oil paintings, drawings and miniatures. The exhibition is divided into six sections – they include a detailed look at the artist and his family, his four year sojourn in Constantinople and his royal portraits which include Archduchess Marie-Antoinette of Austria, painted in 1762 (pictured). Runs until 31st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Bettina Jacot-Descombes/RA

On Now: Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings. The first exhibition devoted to the post-war artist’s gliding paintings, this display at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House explores Lanyon’s (1918-1964) pioneering artistic breakthroughs in landscape painting as he created works inspired and influenced by his own gliding experiences in West Cornwall. The display features 15 major paintings from public and private collections around the world. Closes on 17th January. Admission charges apply. See www.courtauld.ac.uk.

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