This Week in London – JMW Turner’s world at the Tate; ‘Unknown Warrior’ centenary marked at National Army Museum; and, model making from the ‘age of railways’…

JMW Turner, ‘The Burning of the Houses of Parliament’ (c 1834-35), oil paint on canvas, Tate (accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856)

A landmark exhibition on the work – and times – of JMW Turner opens at the Tate Modern in Millbank today. Turner’s Modern World features some 160 works and attempts to show how the landscape painter found “new ways to capture the momentous events of his day, from technology’s impact on the natural world to the dizzying effects of modernisation on society”. Highlights include war paintings such as The Battle of Trafalgar (1806-8) and Field of Waterloo (1818), works capturing political events like The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (1835) and maritime disasters like A Disaster at Sea (1835) and Wreck of a Transport Ship (c1801), as well as works related to the industrial advances taking place such as Snow Storm (1842), The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ (1839), and Rain, Steam and Speed (1844). Admission charge applies. Runs until 7th March (online booking required). For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

An exhibition at the National Army Museum in Chelsea marks the 100th anniversary of the Unknown Warrior being laid to rest in Westminster Abbey. Using objects, paintings, photography and personal testimony, Buried Among Kings: The Story of the Unknown Warrior tells the story of the creation of this symbolic memorial dedicated to the hundreds of thousands of British servicemen who died during World War I. Highlights include a union flag on loan from the Railton family (it was Chaplain David Railton who conceived the original idea for an Unknown Warrior following an encounter in 1916 with a wooden cross on the Western Front which was inscribed ‘An Unknown British Soldier’), a Bible carried by Chaplain George Kendall during the selection of the Unknown Warrior, a fragment of the original wooden Cenotaph erected in 1919-1920, and Frank O Salisbury’s large scale painting, The Passing of the Unknown Warrior, which depicts the procession of the Unknown Warrior from Victoria Station to Westminster Abbey. In connection with the exhibition, Victoria Station is hosting a pop-up display between 9th and 16th November on the journey of the Unknown Warrior from the Western Front to Westminster Abbey (the coffin actually arrived in London on 10th November, 1920). Admission charge applies (at Chelsea). Runs until 14th February (online booking required). For more, see www.nam.ac.uk.

Model steam locomotive, 1:12 scale, working, represents a standard passenger type locomotive c.1837, made by Mr. J. Dawson, District Superintendent at Southampton of the London & Southampton Railway.

Model making in the “age of the railways” is the subject of a free exhibition now on at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Brass, Steel and Fire features intricate models from the Science Museum Group Collection as well as stunning miniature locomotives and a display of almost 200 tools used by model-maker Keith Dodgson. Highlights include ‘Salamanca’, the world’s oldest model locomotive (on loan from Leeds Museums and Galleries), a model of ‘Fire King’ – made in the 1840s by apprentice Josiah Evans who used his experience to later build full size locomotives, and the world’s oldest working model steam engine, the Etherley winding engine model. The exhibition is free and runs until 3rd May. Online booking required. For more, see sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/brass-steel-and-fire.

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This Week in London – King’s maps go online; life at Tower Bridge; Wildlife Photographer of the Year; and, the Gruffalo at Kew…

• Treasures including a hand-drawn map of New York City presented to the future King James II in 1664, Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural drawings for Castle Howard and some London churches, and Italian Jesuit Matteo Ripa’s massive 1719 Kangxi Map of China are among thousands of maps and views The British Library have placed online. The library is now nearing the end of the project to put 40,000 early maps and views online and most can now be accessed via the library’s Flickr Commons collection website. The documents are all part of the Topographical Collection of King George III, itself a distinct segment of the King’s Library which was donated to the Nation by King George IV in 1823. Other highlights to go online include Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto’s drawings of the town of Lucca, dating from about 1742, James Cook’s 1763 large manuscript map of the islands of St Pierre and Miquelon, and watercolours by noted 18th century artists including Paul Sandby and Samuel Hieronymus Grimm. PICTURED: Nicholas Hawksmoor, [An elevation and plan for St George, Bloomsbury]. London, between 1712 and 1730. Maps K.Top 23.16.2.a.

• A new exhibition celebrating the lives of those who work behind the scenes at Tower Bridge and the visitors who walk its floors opens in the iconic bridge’s Engine Rooms on Friday. Lives of a Landmark features images commissioned in 2019 to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the bridge. Photographer Lucy Hunter spent several months at the bridge, recording daily life there and this display is the result. Admission charge applies. For more, head here.

Winning images from The Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year – including Sergey Gorshkov’s Grand Title winner, a rare glimpse of Siberian tigress – go on show at the South Kensington-based museum from Friday. The exhibition features the 100 images, selected from more than 49,000 entries, that were short-listed for the 56th annual competition, the results of which were announced in a virtual ceremony earlier this week. Runs until 6th June. Admission charge applies. For more, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

The Gruffalo is the subject of a new “curated journey” taking place over the half-term break in Kew Gardens’ Arboretum. Visitors are encouraged to play the role of the “little brown mouse” and follow a trail to track down the Gruffalo, along the way encountering some of the other characters from Julia Donaldson’s famous book including Fox, Owl and Snake. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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This Week in London – ‘Dub London’; exploring Sin; and, COVID-19 explored at Science Museum Late…

Channel One Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival 2019. PICTURE © Eddie Otchere / Museum of London

Dub music and the impact it’s had on London’s identity and people is the subject of a new, long delayed, exhibition which opened at the Museum of London late last week. Dub London: Bassline of a City, which had been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, charts how, from its roots in Jamaican reggae, dub music went on to influence multiple genres and played a key role in the development of punk bands like The Clash. The display includes the iconic speaker stack belonging to Channel One Sound System that has appeared yearly at Notting Hill Carnival since 1983 (pictured above) and a specially created bespoke record shop with a selection of 150 vinyl records chosen by 15 London based independent record shops which can be listened to. Runs until 31st January. Admission is free but must be booked in advance (and bring your own headphones). For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/museum-london/whats-on/exhibitions/dub-london.

The concept of sin is at the heart of a new free exhibition at The National Gallery. Sin brings together 14 works dating from the 16th century to now by artists ranging from Jan Brueghel the Elder and William Hogarth to Andy Warhol and Ron Mueck. Among the paintings on show are Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Adam and Eve (1526), Hogarth’s The Tête à Tête and Marriage A-la-Mode, Diego Velázquez’s Immaculate Conception, William Holman Hunt’s The Scapegoat (1854-55), and Ron Mueck’s sculpture Youth (2009). The display can be seen in Room 1. For more, see nationalgallery.org.uk.

The science of the coronavirus is explored in a special night event at the Science Museum next Wednesday, 14th October. Staff from the Francis Crick Institute will be joining with those from the Science Museum in exploring how the immune system remembers and evolves and how the Crick was turned from a biomedical research centre into a COVID-19 testing facility. Visitors can also hear from NHS transplant surgeon Pankaj Chandak who has been using 3D printing tech to make life-saving PPE for frontline staff while the Leonard Cheshire charity shows how assistive eyegaze technology has played a vital role in helping to keep people with access needs connected. There will also be a chance to make a facemask as part of the museum’s #MaskSelfie campaign and the opportunity to explore the museum’s new Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries. Admission charge applies and pre-booking is essential. Head to sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/lates.

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This Week in London – Family fun at London Transport Museum Depot; and, Science Museum reopens…

The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton Town has flung its doors open for 10 days of “special family fun”. The depot, which houses more than 320,000 items from the city’s transport history including vintage London buses and classic Tube trains, now features a special family-friendly trail for the 10 day season which takes a look at historic vehicles from the past 200 years including a yellow 1881 horse drawn ‘garden seat’ bus and a red 1938 Stock Tube train. The London Transport Miniature Railway will be running and all children visiting will receive a special sealed pack including a craft kit. Admission charges apply and tickets must be prebooked for times between 11am and 6pm until Sunday, 23rd August, and from Wednesday, 26th to Sunday 30th August. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/depot-summer.

The Science Museum in South Kensington reopened its doors this week after a closure of five months. As well as the innovative Wonderlab: The Equinor Gallery – which features interactive exhibits and live, socially-distanced science demonstrations – and the world’s largest medical galleries – Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, visitors will be able to take in the temporary exhibition, Driverless: Who is in control?, the season of which has been extended to January next year. Tickets, which are free, must be pre-booked online and social distancing measures apply in the museum. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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This Week in London – V&A reopens; institution reopenings; and, ZSL London Zoo looks for volunteers…

The V&A in South Kensington reopens its doors to visitors today in the first phase of a staged reopening strategy. All of the ground floor galleries are reopening including the Medieval & Renaissance Gallery, the Cast Courts, The Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art and Fashion Gallery, as well as the Europe 1600–1815 galleries on lower ground floor. The first and second floor collection galleries including The William and Judith Bollinger Jewellery Gallery, Theatre & Performance Galleries, and the Photography Centre as well as the museum’s Paintings, Tapestries and Silver Galleries are all scheduled to open on 27th August as well as the exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk, which had closed just two weeks into its run.  For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: M.chohan (Public domain). 

Other recent and upcoming reopenings include: the Horniman Museum, the Foundling Museum, the National History Museum, The Queen’s House in Greenwich (Monday, 10th August) and the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich (exhibitions only; galleries coming later).

ZSL London Zoo is calling for volunteers to help assist visitors as they make their way around the zoo via three new one-way trails. The move, which follows a successful fundraising effort fronted by Sir David Attenborough, is aimed especially at people still furloughed and students forced to cancel gap year travel plans. Those interested in volunteering are asked to commit to a minimum of half a day each fortnight. For more, see  www.zsl.org/volunteering.

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LondonLife – Listening to London…

The first recorded soundscape of London’s busy streets was created in 1928 as part of a Daily Mail campaign calling for noise restrictions. Recordings were made at five sites – Whitechapel East, St George’s Hospital at Hyde Park Corner, Leicester Square, Cromwell Road and Beauchamp Place in South Kensington – in a collaborative project between the Mail and the Columbia Graphophone Company. Now, more than 90 years later, the sounds at the five original locations – or rather the lack of sounds during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown – have been captured again, this time as binaural recordings, a method of recording sound that uses two microphones to create a 3D stereo sound. It’s all part of the Museum of London’s ongoing ‘Collecting COVID’ project and was created in collaboration with String and Tins, an award-winning team of sound designers, composers, sound supervisors and mix engineers. Both the 1928 recordings (now digitised) and the modern recordings have been made available to listen to in their entirety for the first time on the Museum of London’s website. There are accompanying photographs by Damien Hewetson as well as historic imagery from the museum’s archive. PICTURE: A sparsely populated Leicester Square in an image taken in May this year during the coronavirus lockdown (ACME/licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0)

This Week in London – ‘Disease X’ online; explore the world of the kimono; and, National Gallery announces extensions and deferrals…

The Museum of London is offering the chance to explore its previous exhibition, Disease X: London’s next epidemic?, online. The exhibition, which was first shown at the museum in between November, 2018, and March, 2019 to make the 100th anniversary of the second wave of the Spanish flu, draws on the museum’s collections as well as historical research and expert views to explore if the city was at risk from an unknown ‘Disease X’. Among the objects in the display are the mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria to mark the shock passing of her grandson Prince Albert Victor due to ‘Russian Flu’, a 17th century pomander used to waft away the foul vapors thought to cause diseases like the plague and a poster advertising ‘Flu-Mal’, a supposed cure for both influenza and malaria. To see the exhibition, head to https://virtualexhibitions.museumoflondon.org.uk/disease-x/. The online exhibition is part of the museum’s mission to bring online content to people at home while its doors are closed under the banner of the ‘Museum for London’. PICTURE: Influenza conquered by Flu-Mal. Advertising Poster © Museum of London.

The V&A has launched a series of five films that take viewers on a behind-the-scenes tour of its exhibition Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk. Curator Anna Jackson guides viewers through the exhibition spaces and provides personal insights into the making of the show, some of the star exhibits and the history of the kimono. The exhibition tracks the “sartorial and social significance” of the kimono from the 1660s to the present day in both Japan and elsewhere around the world and features international designer fashions and iconic costumes from films and performances. Highlights include a kimono created by Living National Treasure Kunihiko Moriguchi, the Alexander McQueen dress Björk wore on the cover of her album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo. To watch, head here.

The National Gallery has announced it has extended its landmark exhibition Titian: Love, Desire, Death which had been due to close on 14th June, having been open for just three days before lockdown measures were put in place. The gallery has also announced the exhibition Nicolaes Maes: Dutch Master of the Golden Age will also be extended while dates for upcoming exhibitions including Sin, Conversations with God: Copernicus by Jan Matejko, and The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Raphael have been pushed back. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Mushrooms online; call for homemade signs; and, write a lockdown letter to the National Trust…

Somerset House is releasing a new virtual tour of its exhibition Mushrooms: The Art, Design and Future of Fungi so people can explore the world of the mushroom and its role in the world’s survival from home. The exhibition, which will go live online on Monday to mark International Museum Day, features highlights including Beatrix Potter’s watercolours of mushrooms, conceptual artist Carsten Höller’s spinning, solar-powered mushrooms, a psychedelic film by Adham Faramawy, Seana Gavin’s hand-cut collages of mushroom-human hybrids and, shoes and shades made from mycelium, the fungal mass which lies beneath the earth under mushrooms. The exhibition will be released online on 18th May at www.somersethouse.org.uk. PICTURED: Kristen Peters, Mycoshoen, courtesy of the artist.

The V&A are seeking homemade signs created during the coronavirus lockdown – everything from children’s rainbow signs to handwritten notes placed in public spaces – to add to its permanent collection. Noting the commonplace nature of such signs during the emergency, the V&A have said that “[w]hether they state temporary closure of a business, express messages of hope or critique, or raise awareness for a good cause, these signs have become a prominent way for us to communicate with the outside world during lockdown”. Through collecting the signs, the museum is aiming to “create and preserve a rich portrait of life under lockdown expressed through visual imagery.” Selected signs will be chosen to join the museum’s collections. Signs can be submitted to homemadesigns@vam.ac.uk while people are also encouraged to share signs they’ve come across on social media using #homemadesigns.

The National Trust is asking people to write letters to its Director General Hilary McGrady, about their lockdown experiences in order to add a selection of them to its collection of historic letters. People are asked to write about what they have most missed since lockdown began and about what solace they may have drawn from nature, art, creativity and any forms of social contact. The National Trust is asking writers to scan or photograph their letter and email it to lettersfromlockdown@nationaltrust.org.uk or share it via the National Trust’s social media channels using @nationaltrust to ease pressure on the postal service. The Trust says it will request postal hard copies from selected authors at a later date.

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This Week on London – New Blue Plaques for women; Aubrey Beardsley at the Tate; and, the kimono scrutinised…

Two World War II spies, one of the 20th century’s greatest artists and and a leading figure in the British military’s women’s corps in World War I are among women being honoured with Blue Plaques this year. English Heritage unveiled plans this week for six female-focused plaques with the first to celebrate Dame Helen Gwynne-Vaughan (1879-1967), a botanist and leader of women in the armed forces during the ‘Great War’. Others will honour Christine Granville (1908-1952) – who served as Britain’s longest-serving female SOE agent in World War II, Noor Inayat Khan (1914-1944) – Britain’s first Muslim war heroine and the first female radio operator working in Nazi-occupied France, and ground-breaking 20th century sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). Blue Plaques will also be unveiled at the former headquarters of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in Westminster and the Women’s Social and Political Union in Holborn. While only 14 per cent of the more than 950 Blue Plaques in London commemorate women, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. This year will be only the second the organisation has unveiled as many as six plaques honouring women. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The brief career of controversial artist Aubrey Beardsley (1872-98) is the subject of a new exhibition which opened at Tate Britain this week. Aubrey Beardsley features some 200 works in the largest display of his original drawings in more than 50 years and the first exhibition of his work at the Tate since 1923. Highlights include key commissions that defined Beardsley’s career – a new edition of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur (1893-4), Oscar Wilde’s play Salomé (1893) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1896) – as well as bound editions and plates of the literary quarterly The Yellow Book, of which he was art director. There’s also a collection of Beardsley’s bold poster designs and his only oil painting. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: Aubrey Beardsley (1872-1898) The Peacock Skirt – illustration for Oscar Wilde’s ‘Salome’ (1893), lineblock print on paper, Stephen Calloway Photo: © Tate

The first major UK exhibition on the kimono – described as the “ultimate symbol of Japan” – has opened at the V&A. Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk examines the sartorial and social significance of the kimono spanning the period from the 1660s to today. Highlights include a kimono created by ‘Living National Treasure’ Kunihiko Moriguchi, an Alexander McQueen-designed dress worn by Björk on the cover of the album Homogenic, and original Star Wars costumes modelled on kimono by John Mollo and Trisha Biggar. There are also designs by Yves Saint Laurent, Rei Kawakubo and John Galliano. The exhibition features more than 315 works including kimonos but also paintings, prints, films and dress accessories. Can be seen in Gallery 39 and the North Court until 21st June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/kimono.

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LondonLife – ‘Station Squabble’ and other natural wonders…


A startling image revealing two mice battling it out over a crumb on a platform at a London Underground station has won the Natural History Museum’s ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year LUMIX People’s Choice award’.
Taken by Bristol-based photographer Sam Rowley, the image was voted the winner from a shortlist of 25 images selected by the Natural History Museum out of the more than 48,000 entries. Rowley, who visited multiple platforms over the course of week to get the image, said it the encounter between the two mice lasted for just a split-second before one scurried away, triumphant with the crumb. ‘I’m so pleased to win this award. It’s been a lifetime dream to succeed in this competition in this way, with such a relatable photo taken in such an everyday environment in my hometown,” he said. “I hope it shows people the unexpected drama found in the most familiar of urban environments.” Four other images were highly commended including Aaron Gekoski’s image of an Orangutan being exploited for performance, Michel Zoghzhogi’s picture of a mother jaguar and cub with a captured anaconda, Martin Buzora’s portrait of a special moment between a conservation ranger and a baby black rhino, and Francis De Andres’s image of a group of curious white arctic reindeer. The images can all be seen at the Natural History Museum until 31st March. For more, head to www.wildlifephotographeroftheyear.com.

 


10 (lesser known) monuments featuring animals in London – 7. Jim and Tycho…

Set into a wall of the V&A’s John Madejski Garden in South Kensington are two small plaques – one dedicated to “Jim” and another to “Tycho”. Both, as one of the plaques records, were dogs, at least one of which belonged to the museum’s first director, Sir Henry Cole.

Jim was a Yorkshire terrier who died at Sir Henry’s home on 30th January, 1879, at the age of (as the plaque records) 15 years.

Sir Henry wrote in his diary on that day that “Jimmy”, who died very quietly apparently of “asthma and cold”, had been portrayed in Punch with him (although it was actually in Vanity Fair in 1871) and “was a character in the Museum”.

While Jim’s story is fairly well known, there’s a little more mystery surrounding the identity of Tycho, which the plaques records as a “faithful dog” who who died in 1885.

But according to Nicholas Smith, an archivist based at the V&A Archive and his meticulously researched blog post on the matter, Tycho is also mentioned in Cole’s diary – not as his own dog but as that of his son Alan. Indeed, one diary entry records Tycho fighting with another dog (presumably Cole senior’s) named Pickle. Which as Smith points out, begs the question of why no plaque for Pickle?

Both Jim and Tycho are believed to be buried in the garden where the plaques can be seen (which may explain the lack of a plaque for Pickle).

PICTURE: Steve and Sara Emry (licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

 

Treasures of London – One of the world’s first stethoscopes…

Now found in the newly opened Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries at the Science Museum in South Kensington, this stethoscope was made by the French physician René Laennec in about 1820.

Several years earlier, Laennec, working in a hospital in Paris, wanted to listen to a young woman’s heart beat but, for the sake of propriety he didn’t want to put his ear to her chest as was common practice. In sudden inspiration, he used a rolled up piece of paper with one end placed over her heart and his ear on the other open end.

It proved a good way to amplify sound and Laennec was so impressed he followed up by making brass and wooden versions like the one at the Science Museum., drawing on the skills he used, no doubt, he had previously used in making flutes.

Laennec called his invention the “stethoscope” (from the Greek word for chest, “stethos”). His invention was succeeded in the following decades by the creation of the modern binaural stethoscope with its two earpieces and dial for listening.

The Science Museum stethoscope is labelled. It reads: “This is one of Laennec’s original stethoscopes, and it was presented by him to Dr Bégin a French Army surgeon whose widow gave it to me in 1863.”

WHERE: Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries, Science Museum, Exhibition Road, South Kensington (nearest Tube is South Kensington); WHEN: 10am to 6pm daily; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

PICTURE: Laennec stethoscope made by Laennec, c1820. Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

This Week in London – Flying cars and iconic vehicles at V&A; 150th anniversary of the Cutty Sark’s launch; and, Eco-Visionaries at the RA…

An autonomous flying car is among exhibits at a new exhibition focusing on the automobile at the V&A on Saturday. The flying car is one of 15 vehicles in Cars: Accelerating the Modern World which also features the first production car in existence – a 1925 Ford Model-T, a converted low-rider and a Firebird I concept car from 1953 (pictured). There’s also 250 associated objects to see – everything from a 1920s cloche hat designed for car travel to a series of hood ornaments produced by René Jules Lalique in the 1920s and a Michelin travel guide from 1900 –  in an examination of how the car changed our relationship to speed, the way we make and sell, and the landscape around us. Runs until 19th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: General Motors Firebird I (XP-21) © General Motors Company, LLC

The 150th anniversary of the launch of tea clipper, Cutty Sark, is being celebrated in Greenwich this weekend. Along with family friendly events including face painting, storytelling and craft, there will be an after dark anniversary classical concert and bespoke birthday cupcakes in the cafe. Admission charge applies (except for the 150th visitor who will go free as well as residents of Greenwich and Dumbarton, where the ship was built in 1869 – provided they have ID). For more, see www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark

Artists, designers and architects from across the globe come together in a new exhibition at the Royal Academy addressing humanity’s ecological impact on the planet. Eco-Visionaries features works by 21 international practitioners in a range of media including film, sculpture, immersive installation, architectural models and full-scale prototypes. Highlights include the UK debut of the Rimini Protokol’s win > < win (2017) featuring a tank of live jellyfish, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg’s The Substitute (2019) in which visitors come face-to-face with a life-size digital reproduction of the now extinct northern white rhinoceros, Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson’s The ice melting series (2002), and New York-based architecture studio WORKac’s 3.C.City: Climate, Convention, Cruise (2015). Admission charge applies. Runs until 23rd February. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Blake at the Tate; London’s scientific contributions explored; and, dining out in the Tower moat…

The largest survey of the work of visionary artist and poet William Blake to be seen in the UK in a generation has opened at the Tate Britain in Millbank. William Blake features more than 300 works with highlights including The Spiritual Form of Nelson Guiding Leviathan (c1805-9) and The Spiritual Form of Pitt Guiding Behemoth (c1805) which, in a bid to see them as Blake intended, have been digitally enlarged and projected onto the gallery’s wall, providing them with the sort of the scale he had envisaged for them but never realised. The actual works themselves are displayed nearby in a recreation of the artist’s only significant attempt to acquire a public reputation as a painter – his ill-fated exhibition of 1809 which took place in a room over his family’s hosiery shop. The exhibition also provides a focus on London, described as a “constant inspiration” for Blake, and highlights the vital role of his wife Catherine played in the creation of his engravings and illuminated books with illustrations to Pilgrim’s Progress (1824-27) and a copy of the book The complaint, and the consolation Night Thoughts (1797) on display, both of which are thought to have been coloured by Catherine. Other highlights include what is thought to be the only self-portrait of Blake – exhibited in the UK for the first time, the work Albion Rose (c1793) depicting the mythical founding of Britain, illuminated books such as Songs of Innocence and of Experience (1794) and some of his best-known paintings including Newton (1795-c1805 – pictured above) and Ghost of a Flea (c1819-20). The exhibition closes with The Ancient of Days (1827), a frontispiece for an edition of Europe: A Prophecy, which was completed only days before Blake’s death. Runs until 2nd February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk. PICTURE: William Blake (1757-1827) Newton 1795-c1805 (Colour print, ink and watercolour on paper, 460 x 600mm Tate).

A new gallery exploring how London’s scientists and artisans transformed our understanding of the world over 250 years spanning the period from the mid-16th century to the end of the 18th century opens at the Science Museum in South Kensington today. The 650 square metre gallery, known as ‘Science City 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery’, features iconic objects such as Sir Isaac Newton’s famous work, Principia Mathematica, Robert Hooke’s microscope (pictured), and objects including an air pump and ‘Philosophical Table’ which were commissioned by King George III as the king conducted his own scientific investigations. There’s also a range of machine models including one of a pile driving machine used in the construction of Westminster Bridge in the 1740s. The gallery is free to visit. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.ac.uk. PICTURE: Microscope designed by Robert Hooke, 1671-1700 formerly in the George III collection, King’s College London © Science Museum Group

The Tower of London Food Festival is being held in the fortress’ dry moat this weekend. Culinary talents including Chris Bavin and Emily Roux are among those offering live cookery demonstrations while visitors can put their own skills to the test with masterclasses. There’s also wine and sherry tasting sessions, an expanded array of food and drink to sample, activities for kids including cookery classes, games and face painting, and the Bandstand is back with deckchairs to relax in. Admission is included with entry to the Tower. Closes on Sunday. For more, see www.hrpfoodfestivals.com.

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This Week in London – Extinction Rebellion at the V&A; and, helping the homeless in the City of London…

Objects relating to climate change protest group Extinction Rebellion have gone on display at the V&A. The items, which can be seen in the V&A’s Rapid Response Collecting Gallery, range from the open source ‘Extinction Symbol’ created by street artist ESP in 2011 and adopted by the group, known as XR, in 2018 through to the first ‘Declaration of Rebellion’ pamphlet and flags carried during demonstrations. The objects – which also include a child’s high-vis jacket worn during a peaceful XR protest which has gone on display at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green – were given by the Extinction Rebellion Arts Group, a coalition of graphic designers, artists and activists responsible for XR’s design programme. The exhibition is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: © V&A London

The City of London has launched an alternative giving campaign aimed at helping the City’s homeless and rough sleepers, establishing four contactless card points where people can donate £3 a time. The contactless devices, which donate the money to homelessness charity Beam, are located at the City of London Information Centre in St Paul’s Churchyard, the Barbican Library, the Tower Bridge’s engine room and the Guildhall West Wing reception window. The campaign will run for three months.

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This Week in London – 16th century altar piece on display for first time in a century; Tudor sports at Hampton Court; and, the most expensive British-made watch…

One of the major surviving altarpieces created by Italian Renaissance painter and sculptor Giovanni Martini da Udine in the early 16th century has gone on display at The National Gallery. The Virgin and Child with Saints, said to date from about 1500–25, has undergone an extensive seven year conservation process – described as one of the longest and most complex in the gallery’s history – prior to going on show for the first time in 100 years. The process involved removing old varnish and repaints, dividing the altarpiece into its original three boards and cleaning and repairing them before putting them back together with an additional support and then finally filling and retouching the original paintwork and adding a frame to ensure it can be moved in the future. The painting depicts the Virgin and Child with St James on one side and St George on the other while a man, most likely the artist’s patron, kneels in front. Known as a ‘sacra conversazione’ (holy conversation), this type of painting become increasingly popular over the course of the 15th century. The work can be seen in Room 56. Admission is free. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Installation of The Virgin and Child with Saints by Giovanni Martini da Udine in Room 56./©The National Gallery, London

Join in some Tudor sports this weekend at Hampton Court Palace. Until Sunday, families are invited to head to the East Front Gardens where they can try their hand at shooting a crossbow or a bow and arrow, practice some traditional sword fight, and watch demonstrations in hand to hand combat by King Henry VIII and his courtiers. There will also be some falconry displays. Admission to ‘Henry VIII’s Sporting Academy’ is included in general admission charge. For more, check out www.hrp.org.uk/hampton-court-palace/.

The most expensive British watch ever made has gone on show at the Science Museum in South Kensington. The 18ct gold-cased watch, known as the Space Traveller II, was handmade by George Daniels in 1982 and named in honour of the Moon landings. It sold for £3.2 million at auction in 2017. The watch, which has been loaned by a private donor, is being displayed in the Clockmakers’ Museum and sits in an exhibit about Daniels, a former master of the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers who is credited with helping to revive independent watchmaking in the late 20th century. While Space Traveller I was sold soon after its completion, Space Traveller II was used by Daniels until his death in 2011. It displays both solar and sidereal (star) time and also shows the phase of the Moon, an annular calendar, the equation of time and features a stopwatch which functions with either solar or sidereal time. Entry to the Clockmakers’ Museum is free. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.

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10 sites from Victoria and Albert’s London – 6. The South Kensington Museum…

Better known today as the Victoria and Albert Museum following its renaming in 1899, the South Kensington Museum was created in the aftermath of the success of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Initially located in Marlborough House on the Mall, it moved to its South Kensington site in 1857, opening to the public on 22nd June that year. Recorded among the visitors in the initial couple of years was Queen Victoria – who visited twice in February, 1858, and then again open 14th April when she was accompanied by Prince Albert.

The purpose of the later visit was to open the Art Rooms on the ground floor of Sheepshanks Gallery, a building which had been specifically constructed to house paintings given by John Sheepshanks (the building, located on the eastern side of the John Madejski Garden now contains sculptures on the ground floor and silver and stained glass on the first floor).

One interesting connection between the Queen and the museum can be found in a six metre tall plaster cast of Michelangelo’s David. The cast was given to Queen Victoria as a gift from the Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1857 but she didn’t want the trouble of housing the giant figure (and she was apparently shocked by its nudity – more on that in a moment). So the Queen gave the statue to the museum where it was installed in a prominent position (and can today be seen in Room 46b).

But ah, yes, the nudity. The story goes that in response to the Queen’s shock, a proportionally accurate plaster fig leaf was commissioned to cover David‘s nether regions whenever the Queen visited (apparently by being hung on two small hooks on the cast). The fig leaf, like the statue, can still be seen – it’s housed in a small case on the back of the plinth David‘s standing on.

David is one of only a few items in the V&A’s collection today which once belonged to the Queen or Prince Albert. Others include the Raphael cartoons which she loaned to the museum in 1865 (and are still on loan from the current Queen).

As part of the redevelopment of the museum in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (when it was also renamed the Victoria and Albert Museum despite the Queen’s wishes it be called the Albert Museum), statues of the royal couple were installed above the museum’s main entrance in Cromwell Road with Prince Albert positioned just below the Queen who is flanked  by St George and St Michael (see above).

PICTURES: Courtesy V&A

WHERE: Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road (nearest Tube stations are South Kensington and Gloucester Road); WHEN: 10am to 5.45pm daily (Fridays to 10pm); COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.vam.ac.uk

This Week in London – Self-driving vehicles; Sir Thomas Gresham explored; and, Spanish artist Bartolomé Bermejo…

Self-driving vehicles of all descriptions are under scrutiny in a new exhibition which opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington this week. Driverless: Who is in control? looks at the rise of self-driving cars alongside autonomous flying drones and underwater vehicles like the Natural Environment Research Council’s Autosub Long Range fleet (which includes the delightfully named Boaty McBoatface). There are three specific zones in the display – Land, Air and Water, with each section exploring the different technology solutions already available, the motivations of their developers, and their potential to transform a range of activities and industries. Among highlights are a 1960 Citroen DS19 which was modified in an early experiment in self-driving, autonomous flying drones being developed to clear minefields by the Mine Kafon project and prototype vessels designed to monitor ocean plankton and map the sea floor. The free display can be seen until October next year. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.ac.uk. PICTURE: Autosub Long Range (ALR) Boaty McBoatface © National Oceanography Centre (NOC).

Described as “one of the most over-looked 16th century merchants and financiers”, Sir Thomas Gresham is the subject of a new exhibition at the Guildhall LibrarySir Thomas Gresham (1519-1579): Tudor, Trader, Shipper, Spy, which marks the quincentenary of his birth and coincides with the release of a major new biography by Tudor historian Dr John Guy – Gresham’s Law: The Life And World Of Elizabeth I’s Banker. Gresham was a financial advisor to four Tudor monarchs, founder of the Royal Exchange, and, through a bequest left after his death, the founder of Gresham College. The free exhibition can be seen until mid-September. For more, head here.

Selected works of Spanish artist Bartolomé Bermejo (c1440–c1501) have gone on show at The National Gallery as part of its Spanish season. Bartolomé Bermejo, commonly known as Bermejo (which means ‘reddish’ in Spanish), was likely a converso (a Jew who converted to Christianity) and led an itinerant life, partnering with local artists to access painters’ guilds and obtain religious commissions as he visited cities in Aragon including Tous, Valencia, Daroca, Zaragoza, and Barcelona. The display includes six works never before seen outside of Spain including the masterpieces Triptych of the Virgin of Montserrat (probably 1470–75), and the recently restored Desplà Pietà (1490), as well as four panels depicting scenes from Christ the Redeemer – Descent of Christ into Limbo, Resurrection, Christ entering Paradise and Ascension. At the centre of exhibition is the National Gallery’s Saint Michael Triumphant over the Devil with the Donor Antoni Joan (1468) which is being displayed for the first time since a year long conservation. The free display can be seen in Room 1 until 29th September. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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This Week in London – The Moon up close; a new Children’s Garden for Kew; and, FOOD at the V&A…

Artist Luke Jerram’s installation Museum of the Moon goes on show at the Natural History Museum in South Kensington from tomorrow. Marking the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing, the six metre spherical sculpture can be found in the museum’s Jerwood Gallery where visitors are invited to watch – or join in – a performance piece called COMPANION: MOON by interactive theatre makers Coney. The sculpture, which depicts the far side the Moon, is accompanied by a surround-sound composition by BAFTA-winning composer Dan Jones. The sculpture is part of a season marking the 1969 Moon landing including lunar-inspired yoga classes for kids, a series of expert space-related talks and museum late openings. The installation can be seen until 8th September. Entry is free. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/moon. PICTURE: Image credit for all: Trustees of the Natural History Museum 2019 (Dare & Hier Media).

A giant new ‘Children’s Garden’ featuring more than 100 mature trees and a four metre high canopy walk wrapped around a 200-year-old oak opens at Kew in London’s west this weekend. The 10,000 square metre garden – the size of almost 40 tennis courts – has been designed around the four elements plants need to grow: earth, air, sun and water. The Earth Garden features a giant sandpit and play hut village with tunnel slides; the Air Garden has winding paths, giant windmill flowers, pollen spheres, hammocks and trampolines and a mini amphitheatre; the Sun Garden features a large open space with cherry trees and pink candy floss grass as well as pergolas with edible fruits; and the Water Garden has water pumps and water lily stepping stones. Aimed at children aged between two and 12 years.  Entry included in admission. For more, see www.kew.org.

A “sensory journey through the food cycle”, FOOD: Bigger than the Plate opens at the V&A on Saturday. The exhibition explores how the way we grow, distribute and experience food is being reinvented and, split into four sections, features more than 70 contemporary projects, new commissions and creative collaborations by artists and designers who have been working with chefs, farmers, scientists and local communities. Highlights include GroCycle’s Urban Mushroom Farm installation, a pedal-powered Bicitractor developed by Farming Soul to support small-scale farming, a working version of MIT’s Food Computer, and Christina Agapakis and Sissel Tolaas’ Selfmade project which cultures cheese from human bacteria. Admission charge applies. Runs to 20th October. For more see vam.ac.uk/food.

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This Week in London – Easter in London; Chihuly at Kew; Sean Scully and JMW Turner; and, Mary Quant…

Wishing all of our readers a very happy Easter!

Easter is being celebrated in London through a range of events over the long weekend. They include an ‘Easter Extravaganza’ treasure hunt for children at The Royal Mews, Buckingham Palace, and a special Easter-themed trail at the Russia: Royalty & the Romanovs exhibition in the Queen’s Gallery, Lindt Gold Bunny Hunts at royal palaces including Hampton Court Palace and Kensington Palace, and, of course, all the pageantry of Easter services at the city’s many churches.

A major new exhibition of the work of contemporary glass artist Dale Chihuly has opened at Kew Gardens in London’s west. Chihuly at Kew features 32 works by the Seattle-based artist at 13 locations across the gardens. Highlights include Sapphire Star – located at the Victoria Gate, Drawings, the Rotolo series and Seaforms – all located in the Shirley Gallery of Botanical Art and a new, specially-designed sculpture as well as nine other installations in the Temperate House. An interactive trail designed for families takes visitors around the installations and there will be special night-time viewings from 15th August. Kew is also running family activities during Easter. Chihuly runs until 27th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

New works by Irish-born but American-based artist Sean Scully have gone on show at the National Gallery. Sea Star: Sean Scully at the National Gallery was inspired by the artist’s love for JMW Turner’s painting The Evening Star and features new and recent large scale multi-panel works that include his celebrated Landline paintings as well as Robe Blue Blue Durrow (2018), which suggests the seventh-century Book of Durrow from his native Ireland, and Human 3 (2018), inspired by the New York subway. Admission is free. Runs until 11th August. For more, see www.national gallery.org.uk.

On Now: Mary Quant. This exhibition at the V&A focuses on the 20 years between 1955 and 1975 and reveals how Dame Mary Quant democratised fashion for a new generation as she popularised the miniskirt, colourful tights, and tailored trousers. The display brings together more 120 garments as well as accessories, cosmetics, sketches and photographs, most of which have never been on display. Highlights include 35 objects from 30 people received after a public call-out to track down rare Quant items from wardrobes across the nation and 50 photographs of women wearing their Quant clothes. Runs until 8th March, 2020. Admission charge applies. For more, see vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/mary-quant.

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