This Week in London – Borealis at Guildhall Yard; princess panto costumes; and ancient Greeks at the Science Museum…

Borealis. PICTURE: Doug Southall

A dazzling light show inspired by the Northern Lights – one of the seven natural wonders of the world – can be seen in the Guildhall Yard this December. Borealis – which can be seen between 11th and 22nd December – is the work of artist Dan Acher and is one of a number of light displays which is illuminating London this winter as part of Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ‘Winter Lights’ campaign. Others include an animal-themed display bringing to life the beasts that once lived at the Tower of London, an outdoor programme of installations and video art projections illuminating the Southbank Centre’s site, the ‘Illuminated River’ display lighting up nine of London’s bridges in what is be the longest public art project in the world, and a free Canary Wharf ‘Winter Lights Spectacular’ in January which will feature 20 new light commissions by some of the most innovative artists across the globe. In Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, thousands of illuminated white roses will form an ‘Ever After Garden’ designed by fashion designer Anya Hindmarch while traditional favourites like the Hyde Park Winter Wonderland as well as winter markets and ice rinks at locations like the Natural History Museum and Somerset House are also once again returning to the city. London’s red buses are an easy way to see the Christmas lights this year with routes 12, 94, 98, 139 and 390 all travelling through Oxford Circus. Free tickets to Borealis can be booked at www.visitlondon.com/Borealis while, for more on the best bus routes, see https://londonblog.tfl.gov.uk/festive-bus-routes/. For more information on all the light shows and events (some of which are already underway), see visitlondon.com    .

Costumes worn by then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Princess Margaret in wartime-era pantomimes are at the heart of a new display at Windsor Castle this Christmas. The princesses spent much of their time at Windsor during World War II – away from the Blitz in London – and, between 1941 and 1944, they performed in and helped to stage a series of pantomimes to raise money for the Royal Household Wool Fund which supplied knitting wool to make comforters for soldiers fighting at the front. Six of the costumes they wore have been brought together for the first time and are being displayed in the castle’s Waterloo Chamber where the pantos were originally performed. The costumes on show were worn in the last two pantos – Aladdin, which was performed in 1943, and Old Mother Red Riding Boots which was performed in 1944. Also on show are 16 large scale pictures of fairy-tale characters that were pasted around the walls to create the space for the performances. Visitors to Windsor this Christmas will also see State Apartments decorated for the festive season and a 20 foot high Christmas tree in St George’s Hall. The Semi-State Rooms, created for King George IV and now used for official entertaining, are also now open to visitors. The costumes can be seen until 31st January. Admission charges apply. For more on the Christmas activities at Windsor, including a ‘Mary, Queen of Scots at Christmas Family Activity Day’ on 18th December, see www.rct.uk/whatson/. Meanwhile, Buckingham Palace is offering guided tours of the State Rooms over winter with special family guided tours available for the first time. The tours run until 30th January. Admission charge applies. For more on the guided tours, head here and for more on the family tours, head here.

• The ancient Greeks’ pursuit of knowledge is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened at the Science Museum in South Kensington. Ancient Greeks: Science and Wisdom takes visitors on a journey in which they will sail the perilous seas with a statue of Hermes that was discovered on a shipwreck off the island of Antikythera, experience the lost music of the aulos instrument through interactive displays and an exclusive video that reimagines its ancient sounds, and gaze at the starry cosmos through ancient Greek eyes via a beautiful and rare silver globe depicting the known constellations and a Byzantine sundial-calendar – the second oldest known geared mechanism in the world. The free display can be seen until 5th June. Tickets are required – to book head to sciencemuseum.org.uk/ancient-greeks.

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This Week in London – Faberge eggs; Royal jeweller Garrard; and, Christmas at Kew…

The Alexander Palace Egg, Fabergé. Chief Workmaster Henrik Wigström (1862-1923), gold, silver, enamel, diamonds, rubies, nephrite, rock crystal, glass, wood, velvet, bone, 1908 © The Moscow Kremlin Museums

• The largest collection of Faberge’s Imperial Easter eggs to be displayed together in a generation go on show at the V&A from Saturday. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution is the first major exhibition devoted to the international prominence of Russian goldsmith, Carl Fabergé, and his little-known London branch. Divided into three sections which cover everything from the techniques and detailing synonymous with the Faberge name to his time in London, the royal patronage he received, and the impact of the Great War and Russian Revolution on the business. The display features more than 200 objects with highlights including a prayer book gifted by Emperor Nicholas II to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna on his Coronation Day, the only known example of solid gold tea service crafted by Fabergé, a rare figurine of a veteran English soldier commissioned by King Edward VII, and a “kaleidoscopic display” of 15 of the Imperial Easter Eggs. The latter include several that have never before been shown in the UK including the largest Imperial Egg – the Moscow Kremlin Egg – which was inspired by the architecture of the Dormition Cathedral, the Alexander Palace Egg – which features watercolour portraits of the children of Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra and contains a model of the palace inside (pictured), the recently rediscovered Third Imperial Egg of 1887 (found by a scrap dealer in 2011) and Empress Alexandra Feodorovna’s Basket of Flowers Egg. Runs until 8th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

The Royal Family’s relationship with the jeweller Garrard is the subject of a new exhibition which has opened in Kensington Palace’s ‘Jewel Room’. Going on display for the first time are examples of the firm’s ledgers which document royal commissions dating back to 1735 while other highlights include Queen Mary’s fringe tiara which was made in 1919 using diamonds taken from Queen Victoria’s wedding gift to Queen Mary and which was subsequently worn by Queen Elizabeth II on her wedding day. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensington-palace.

Botanical illustrations from the archives at Kew Gardens are brought to life on a canvas consisting of a selection of spectacular trees from the arboretum as part of this year’s Christmas display. Christmas at Kew also includes Spheric – a 15-metre-wide dome of light covered in more than 2,000 individually controlled LED pixels which sits on a reflective water pool and allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in a unique mirrored illusion as they cross the lake, a new installation for Holly Walk which will illuminate the night sky for over 200 metres overhead as it replicates the enchanting visual phenomenon of the Aurora Borealis, a vibrant rainbow tree illumination which brings to life the 12 Days of Christmas, and the ever-popular Fire Garden. The display can be seen until 9th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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10 sites of (historic) musical significance in London – 6. Royal Albert Hall… 

PICTURE: Raphael Tomi-Tricot/Unsplash

Arguably the grandest music venue in London, the Royal Albert Hall, named in memory of Queen Victoria’s husband Prince Albert, has been hosting musical events since it first hosted a concert in 1871.

The Grade I-listed hall, which has a seating capacity of more than 5,000 and which did suffer from acoustic problems for many years (until mushroom-shaped fibreglass acoustic diffusers were hung from the ceiling following tests in the late 1960s), has been the setting for some of the most important – and, in some cases, poignant – music events of the past 150 years, not just in London but the world at large.

Among some of the most memorable are the Titanic Band Memorial Concert – held on 24th May, 1912, just six weeks after the sinking of the iconic ship to remember the 1514 people who died with a particular focus on the eight musicians who played on as the stricken vessal sank, the ‘Great Pop Prom’ of 15th September, 1963 – only one of a handful of occasions when The Beatles and Rolling Stones played on the same stage, and Pink Floyd’s gig of 26th June, 1969 – coming at the end of a UK tour, the on-stage antics saw the band banned (it was short-lived, however, they returned just a few years later in 1973).

Other musical figures to have taken to the stage here include everyone from composers Richard Wagner, John Philip Sousa, and Benjamin Britten to the Von Trapp family, jazz greats Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, and the likes of Shirley Bassey, Bob Dylan and Elton John – a veritable musical who’s who of the past 150 years. The venue also hosted the 13th Eurovision Song Contest in 1968.

Of course, Royal Albert Hall is famous for The Proms, an annual festival of classical music which was first performed here in 1941 after the venue where it had been held since 1895 – the Queen’s Hall on Langham Place – was lost to an incendiary bomb during World War II.

Prom stands for ‘Promenade Concert’,  a phrase which originally referred to the outdoor concerts in London’s pleasure gardens during which the audience was free to walk around while the orchestra was playing (there are still standing areas during performances). The most famous night of the season is the ‘Last Night of the Proms’ which, broadcast by the BBC, features popular classics and ends with a series of patriotic tunes to stir the blood.

This Week in London – The ‘RRS Sir David Attenborough’ at Greenwich; the Amazon explored at the Science Museum; and, Christmas at The National Gallery…

The RRS Sir David Attenborough in Liverpool. PICTURE: By Phil Nash from Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0 & GFDL.

Find out what it’s like to live and work in the Earth’s polar extremes at Greenwich from today. The three day ‘Ice World Festival’ centres on the British Antarctic Survey’s vessel, the RRS Sir David Attenborough, which is visiting Greenwich before beginning its first mission to the Antarctic. Visitors will also be able to meet real polar scientists and explorers and see the Boaty McBoatface submersible as well as treasures from the National Maritime Museum’s polar collection including relics from HMS Erebus and Terror and items belonging to Captain Scott and Ernest Shackleton. While the ship can be seen from the dockside, a limited number of tickets are available for walk-up visitors to the festival (advanced booking tickets have sold out). Runs from today until 30th October. Admission is free. For more information, head here.

More than 200 images – captured by Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado over seven years – explore the rich diversity of the Amazon in an exhibition at the Science Museum. Amazônia provides a close-up look at one of the most unique environments on the planet through Salgado’s eyes, including panoramic scenery and the Indigenous peoples of the region (Salgado spent time with 12 different Indigenous groups over his period in the Amazon). Runs until March next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/amazonia.

Father Christmas with return to The National Gallery for selected dates in November and December. The gallery’s Christmas experience will provide children with the chance to have their photo taken with Santa in his grotto, listen to an elven story in the winter forest set and receive a special token which they can exchange for a gift at the Elven Sorting Office. Meanwhile, Hendrick Avercamp’s painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle (about 1608–9) will be enlarged and reproduced on a canvas to provide a scenic backdrop for the activities. Admission charge applies. Bookings are now open. For more, head to www.nationalgallery.org.uk/whats-on/meet-father-christmas.

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This Week in London – The extraordinary story of George King; Guildhall statues survive (with explanations); and, Wildlife Photographer of the Year…

The extraordinary story of 18th century foundling and sailor George King, who fought in the Battle of Trafalgar, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow. Fighting Talk: One Boy’s Journey from Abandonment to Trafalgar features King’s hand-written account of his life, a fragment of the flag from Nelson’s coffin, letters between the Foundling Hospital’s matron and Lady Emma Hamilton (annotated by Nelson himself) and two rare Naval General Service Medals, of which only 221 were awarded retrospectively when the medal was first issued in 1849, belonging to King and the foundling William South, who served aboard HMS Victory. There is also a display of works by contemporary artist and photographer Ingrid Pollard – Ship’s Tack – which reflects on the Foundling Hospital’s connections with Empire, trade and the Navy and which includes newly commissioned work responding directly to George’s autobiography. Runs until 27th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Two Guildhall statues portraying figures with links to the slave trade will be retained but have information added detailing those links. The City of London Corporation’s Court of Common Council voted last week to keep the statues of William Beckford and Sir John Cass which will have plaques or notices placed alongside them containing contextual information about the two men’s links to slavery. William Beckford was an 18th century slave owner and two-time Lord Mayor of London, while Cass – an MP and philanthropist – was a key figure in the Royal African Company, which traded in slaves in the 17th and 18th centuries. Sir John Cass’s Foundation Primary School in the City and the nearby Cass Business School have already changed their names to remove the association with their founder and his links to slavery.

•  French underwater photographer and biologist Laurent Ballesta has won the Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year for an image showing camouflage groupers exiting their milky cloud of eggs and sperm in Fakarava, French Polynesia. The image was selected out of 50,000 entries from 95 countries and is being displayed with 100 images in an exhibition opening at the museum on Friday. Meanwhile 10-year old Vidyun R Hebbar, who lives in Bengaluru, India, was awarded the Young Wildlife Photographer of the Year 2021 for his colourful image, Dome home, showing a tent spider as a tuk-tuk passes by. The exhibition can be seen until 5th June next year. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.

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This Week in London – Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots; Ellen and William Craft honoured; and, Kehinde Wiley’s ‘Portrait of Melissa Thompson’…

Ink and pencil drawing of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots at Fotheringhay Castle, 8th February, 1587 © British Library (Additional MS 48027, f. 650r)

• The complex relationship between Queen Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots, is the subject of a new exhibition opening at the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow. Highlights of Elizabeth and Mary: Royal Cousins, Rival Queens, the first major exhibition to consider both women together, include Queen Elizabeth I’s 1545 handwritten translation of her stepmother Katherine Parr’s Prayers and Meditations – a gift for her father King Henry VIII, a sonnet by Mary, Queen of Scots, which was handwritten the night before she was executed in 1587 (possibly the last thing she ever wrote), the ‘Penicuik Jewels’ which she is thought to have given away on the day of her death and Robert Beale’s eye-witness drawing depicting her entering the hall, disrobing, and placing her head on the block (pictured right). Other items on show include King Henry VIII’s Great Bible (dating from 1540, it was later inherited by Elizabeth I), Elizabeth I’s mother-of-pearl locket ring (c1575) containing miniature portraits of herself and her mother Anne Boleyn, and the warrant confining Mary, Queen of Scots, in Lochleven Castle in 1567. The exhibition is accompanied by a programme of events. Runs until 20th February. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk/events/elizabeth-and-mary.

Nineteenth century African-American abolitionists Ellen and William Craft have been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at their former Hammersmith home. The Crafts escaped from enslavement in Georgia in the US in December, 1848, and fled to Britain, settling in a mid-Victorian house at 26 Cambridge Grove where they raised a family and campaigned for an end to slavery. The Crafts returned to the US following the end of the American Civil War and the emancipation of enslaved people and settled in Boston with three of their children. In 1873, they established the Woodville Cooperative Farm School in Bryan County, Georgia, for the children of those who had been emancipated. Ellen died in Georgia in 1891 and William in Charleston in 1900.

Melissa Thompson standing beside Kehinde Wiley’s Portrait of Melissa Thompson, 2020, now on display at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum

American artist Kehinde Wiley’s monumental Portrait of Melissa Thompson has gone on display in the V&A’s British Galleries, alongside William Morris’s Wild Tulip designs that inspired it. The massive oil painting, which was created as part of Wiley’s series The Yellow Wallpaper and was first exhibited at the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow in 2020, was acquired earlier this year and is being displayed as part of a series of initiatives marking the 125th anniversary of William Morris’s death this October. The painting will be displayed in the William Morris Room (room 125) until 2024, after which it will move to its permanent home at V&A East Museum in 2025. Admission is free. For more, head to vam.ac.uk.

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This Week in London – Prince Albert’s papers online; behind the scenes at the London Transport Museum; and, the Marble Arch Mound’s light installation…

Statue of Prince Albert on the Albert Memorial, South Kensington. PICTURE: Amy-Leigh Barnard/Unsplash

• Some 5,000 papers and photographs relating to the life and legacy of Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria, have been published online. The move, which marks the completion of the Prince Albert Digitisation Project, means some 22,000 archival documents, prints and photographs from the Royal Archives, the Royal Collection and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 are now publicly available, many for the first time, through the website Prince Albert: His Life and Legacy which was launched in mid-2019 to mark the 200th anniversary of the Prince’s death. The new items predominantly consist of the Prince’s private and official papers and correspondence as well as excerpts from Albert’s now lost diaries, spanning the years from 1841 to 1852. Highlights include a note he wrote to Victoria on October, 1858, which reads: “I declare that I have every confidence in you. A”; a letter from 10-year-old Princess Louise to her father from Swiss Cottage, the life-sized playhouse he had installed for his children at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight, in which she reports cooking and making “some wafers and schneemilch” (a type of Austrian pudding); and, an annotated list of candidates for the role of Master of the Household in which Albert lists why they are unsuitable with reasons including ‘too old’ and ‘too useful to the Navy’ and ‘bad temper’ and ‘French mistress’.

London Transport Museum are offering people the chance to go behind the scenes at its depot in Acton, West London, this weekend. The depot, which houses more than 320,000 objects from London’s transport history, will play host to a programme of events – ‘Underground Uncovered’ – which includes talks, vintage vehicle displays and family activities. Highlights include a talk by Siddy Holloway, a disused station history expert and co-presenter of the new Secrets of the London Underground TV series, the chance to try your hand at being a train operator in the Victoria Line driving cab, and the opportunity to watch a demonstration of restored London Underground signalling frames. The open days are being held from today until Sunday, 11am to 5pm. Admission charge applies. To book and see the full programme of events, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/visit/depot/events.

W1 Curates and artist Anthony James’ light exhibition inside the Marble Arch Mound has opened to the public with free entry to what has been a somewhat controversial attraction to continue. James’ Lightfield installation involves a series of 12 cubed light sculptures in three rooms inside the mound through which visitors will make their way after first visiting the viewing platform on top. James, who has described the cubes as alluding to the “mycorrhizal nature of birch tree forests”, says it’s the first time his works have been displayed and viewed in such a “fully immersive way”. Visitors are asked to book an entry time at www.themarblearchmound.com.

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This Week in London – NHM’s Our Broken Planet’s finale; West End LIVE at Trafalgar Square; and, Helen Frankenthaler at Dulwich…

Juvenile European bison © The Trustees of The Natural History Museum, London

The third and final part of the free exhibition, Our Broken Planet: How We Got Here and Ways to Fix It, has opened at the Natural History Museum. Following on from sections exploring the food we eat and the products we use, the third phase of the display explores the energy humans consume and how we can we create a greener, cleaner future. Specimens in the display include a juvenile European bison, illustrating an experimental rewilding project in Kent which is investigating if bison feeding habits will improve the forest’s biodiversity and store more carbon in the soil, blue-green algae collected during Captain Scott’s famed RRS Discovery expedition which is being used in the study of climate change, and the recently extinct Chinese paddlefish, a casualty of the global boom in hydroelectric dams. Entry to the South Kensington museum is free but visitors are encouraged to book a time ticket in advance to ensure entry. For more, see www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/our-broken-planet.html.

The West End comes to Trafalgar Square this weekend with a line-up of free performances from top shows taking to the stage. Forming part of Westminster City Council’s Inside Out Festival and the Society of London Theatre’s #BackOnStage campaign, the West End LIVE event will feature the first ever West End LIVE appearances from award-winning musicals Hamilton and The Book Of Mormon, as well as an exciting roster of new shows including The Prince Of Egypt, Dear Evan Hansen, Cinderella, Back To The Future: The Musical and Pretty Woman. More than 30 acts will be involved in the free and unticketed event. For the full programme, see www.westendlive.co.uk.

The first major UK exhibition of woodcuts by the leading abstract expressionist, Helen Frankenthaler, opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. Helen Frankenthaler: Radical Beauty brings together more than 30 works on loan from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation which span the artist’s career from her first ever woodcut in 1973 to her last work published in 2009. Works include including Madame Butterfly (2000), East and Beyond (1973), Cameo (1980) and Freefall (1993). The display can be seen until 18th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.

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LondonLife – Beauty in stone…

Detail from the Natural History Museum interior, South Kensington. PICTURE: Diane Picchiottino/Unsplash

LondonLife – Wildlife snapshots…

Lynx on the threshold. PICTURE: © Sergio Marijuán, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A selection of entries into this year’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year have been released ahead of the opening of the annual exhibition at the Natural History Museum in October. Among the images selected from the more than 50,000 entries in the 57th competition is that of Sergio Marijuán’s Lynx on the threshold depicting a young Iberian lynx pausing in the doorway of the abandoned hayloft where it was raised in Sierra Morena in Spain (pictured above), Gil Wizen’s Beautiful bloodsucker depicting a female ornamented mosquito in the process of biting (below), and Laurent Ballesta’s Deep feelers showing a vibrant community of narwhal shrimps in deep waters off the French Mediterranean coast (far below). The winners will be announced at a ceremony on 12th October. The exhibition at the South Kensington museum opens on 15th October at the Natural History Museum. To book tickets for the exhibition, head to www.nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html. The 2021 competition opens on 18th October.

Beautiful bloodsucker PICTURE: © Gil Wizen, Wildlife Photographer of the Year
Deep feelers. PICTURE: © Laurent Ballesta, Wildlife Photographer of the Year

A Moment in London’s History – The opening of Royal Albert Hall…

Crowds gathered at the Opening of Royal Albert Hall, on 29th March, 1871, as seems in the Illustrated London News, on the 8th April, 1871.

Next week sees the Royal Albert Hall’s 150th anniversary concert taking place, one of a number of events to mark the anniversary of the hall’s opening.

This spectacular building in South Kensington was officially opened on 29th March, 1871, as The Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences (the opening was actually brought forward from 1st May – 20th anniversary of the opening of the Great Exhibition – at the request of Queen Victoria).

The Queen had laid the foundation stone in 1867 and the work on the building, the creation of which was partly funded by profits from the Great Exhibition of 1851, was complete by the end of 1870 (at least its structure – much of the interior decoration was apparently added later).

An image of the interior of the hall during the opening ceremony on 29th March. 1871. The illustration originally appeared in The Graphic. PICTURE: Via Wikipedia.

Queen Victoria and members of the Royal Family left Buckingham Palace in a line of state carriages for the event at noon escorted by the Royal Horse Guards Blue. Large crowds lined the route of her passage and a guard of honour composed of the Grenadiers stood opposite the entrance.

On arriving, the Queen was met by the Edward, the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VII), members of the building committee and some of those who has served as commissioners of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The Queen processed to a dais inside the building’ auditorium where some 8,000 dignitaries and invited guests waited in the audience. But she was apparently too overcome by memories of her late husband – Prince Albert, after whom the building as named – to give a speech. So it was the Prince who did so, although the Queen did reportedly add her own comments, saying according to an account in The Guardian: “I cannot but express my great admiration for this beautiful building, and my earnest wishes for its complete success.”

A battery of artillery performed a salute in nearby Hyde Park after which the Queen and Royal Family took their seats in the Royal Box to watch the musical program that followed. The Queen then returned to Buckingham Palace.

Interestingly, the first concert at the hall, held to test acoustics, actually took place month earlier on 25th February for an audience of some 7,000 people made up of those who had worked on the building and their families as well as officials and various invited members of the public.

This Week in London – New statue of Princess Diana; V&A’s new Design 1900 gallery; a Blue Plaque for Jean Muir; and, police boxes reimagined…

A new statue of the late Princess Diana is being unveiled today at Kensington Palace. The statue will be unveiled in the Sunken Garden at Diana’s former home. The garden – originally created on the orders of King Edward VII in 1908 – has been redesigned by designer Pip Morrison to provide a more reflective setting for the memorial. This included planting more than 4,000 of Diana’s favourite flowers including forget-me-nots and tulips. The statue, which is the work of sculptor Ian Rank-Broadley, is expected to be unveiled by Diana’s two sons, William and Harry, who commissioned it in 2017.

The V&A’s new gallery, Design 1900. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A new permanent gallery has opened at the V&A which explores the role design plays in shaping, and being shaped by, how we live, work, travel and communicate. Design 1900 is housed within the museum’s former 20th Century Gallery and, among the displays are new acquisitions including Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s iconic British road signage system, Kim Kardashian’s Selfish book, Nike’s Nigeria football shirt for the 2018 World Cup and a one-of-a-kind desk designed by Future Systems for Condé Nast Chairman Jonathan Newhouse. The display also includes items from the Rapid Response Collecting programme such as 3D-printed door openers, designed to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus, and the I Believe in Our City bus shelter posters that highlighted increased anti-Asian bias. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Twentieth century dressmaker and fashion designer Jean Muir has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at the Mayfair address she worked for 30 years. The plaque was unveiled at 22 Bruton Street, the location of the showroom and office she operated out of from 1966 to 1995, by her house model, friend and client Joanna Lumley. Others among Muir’s clientele included actress Patricia Hodge and writer Lady Antonia Fraser. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

The City of London Corporation has unveiled the design for new ‘Digital Service Points’ which will reimagine the concept of the traditional police boxes. ‘The London Stones’, the work of architecture and design studio Unknown Works, will include information screens, life saving emergency equipment and serve as hubs for City of London Police officers and community events. Details from buildings, stories and images of the Square Mile will be collected and ‘digitally carved’ into the exterior of the ‘stones’ which will also be home to a vast array of lichen colonies and species expected to evolve in their colour and appearance as they grow.

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This Week in London – Royal gowns; first ‘blossom garden’; and, the brightest colours ever created…

A view of the Royal Style in the Making exhibition. PICTURE © Historic Royal Palaces.

A stunning wedding dress worn by Diana, the Princess of Wales – including its 25 foot long sequin encrusted train – and a rare surviving ‘toile’ – a working pattern – of the 1937 coronation gown of Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, are among star items on display in a new exhibition in Kensington Palace’s Orangery. Royal Style in the Making features some never-before-seen items from the archives of some of the most celebrated royal couturiers of the 20th century as well as original sketches, fabric swatches and unseen photographs from the Royal Ceremonial Dress Collection, a treasure trove of more than 10,000 items of dress and design history cared for by Historic Royal Palaces. Admission charge applies. The display can be seen until 2nd January. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk.

• The first in a series of ‘blossom gardens’ has been opened by the National Trust in Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London’s east. The garden features 33 trees including cherry, plum, hawthorn and crab apple which represent the city’s 32 boroughs and the City of London itself. The garden, which was opened last month by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, will be followed by further gardens planted over the next five years across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The brightest colours ever created are dazzling eyes at Kew Gardens. Naturally Brilliant Colour, an exhibition in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art, explores the origins of colour and vision and showcases how botanical artists have depicted the brightest and most intense colours found in nature. Works by Robert John Thornton (1768-1837) and contemporary artist Julia Trickey are on show as well as the world’s first botanical artwork to accurately reproduce natural structural colour (it features flakes of ‘Pure Structural Colour’ which artificially replicates how microscopic structures within the surface layers of plants and animals reflect sunlight in a specific way to generate bright colours). Runs until 26th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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This Week in London – Nero at the British Museum; Stephen Hawking’s office to be recreated at the Science Museum; and, Blue Plaque for Indian engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia…

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Head from a bronze statue of the emperor Nero. Found in England, AD 54– 61. PICTURE: © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze head of the Roman Emperor Nero found in the River Alde in Suffolk – long wrongly identified as being that of the Emperor Claudius – and the Fenwick Hoard – which includes Roman coins, military armlets and jewellery – are among the star sights at a new exhibition on Nero at the British Museum. Nero: the man behind the myth is the first major exhibition in the UK which takes Rome’s fifth emperor as its subject. The display features more than 200 objects charting Nero’s rise to power and his actions during a period of profound social change and range from graffiti and sculptures to manuscripts and slave chains. Other highlights include gladiatorial weapons from Pompeii, a warped iron window grating burnt during the Great Fire of Rome of 64 AD, and frescoes and wall decorations which give some insight into the opulent palace he built after the fire. The exhibition, which opens today, runs until 24th October in the Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org/whats_on/exhibitions/nero/events.aspx.

The office of late theoretical physicist Professor Stephen Hawking will be recreated at the Science Museum, it was announced this week. The contents of the office, which Hawking, the author of the best-selling A Brief History of Time, occupied at Cambridge’s department of applied mathematics and theoretical physics from 2002 until shortly before his death in 2018, includes reference books, blackboards, medals, a coffee maker and Star Trek mementoes as well as six of his wheelchairs and the innovative equipment he used to communicate. The museum, which reportedly initially plans to put the objects on display in 2022 and later recreate the office itself, has acquired the contents through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme, which allows families to offset tax (his archive will go to the Cambridge University Library under the same scheme).

Nineteenth century civil engineer Ardaseer Cursetjee Wadia – the first Indian Fellow of the Royal Society – has been honoured with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former Richmond home. The plaque, which can be found on 55 Sheen Road – the villa Cursetjee and his British family moved to upon his retirement in 1868, was installed to mark the 180th anniversary of his election as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Cursetjee is considered the first modern engineer of India and was the first Indian at the East India Company to be placed in charge of Europeans. He was at the forefront of introducing technological innovations to Mumbai including gaslight, photography, electro-plating and the sewing machine. Cursetjee first visited London in 1839 and travelled regularly been Mumbai (formerly Bombay) and London until his retirement. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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This Week in London – V&A celebrates Alice; life under Nazi air raids; and, carbon capture at the Science Museum…

A view of the Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser exhibition at the V&A. PICTURE: Courtesy of the V&A

A landmark exhibition focusing on the iconic work of literature, Alice in Wonderland, opens at the V&A on Saturday. Alice: Curiouser and Curiouser features more than 300 objects encompassing film, performance, fashion, art, music and photography and explores the cultural impact of Alice in Wonderland and its ongoing inspiration for everyone from Salvador Dalí to The Beatles, Vivienne Westwood and Little Simz. Highlights of the exhibition, which boasts theatrical sets and immersive environments including a special VR experience, include Lewis Carroll’s handwritten manuscript, illustrations by John Tenniel, Ralph Steadman and Mary Blair for Walt Disney’s iconic 1951 film adaptation, Royal Opera House stage costumes, fashion from Iris van Herpen and photography from Tim Walker. Admission charges apply. Runs in The Sainsbury Gallery until 31st December. For more, see vam.ac.uk/alice.

Artworks which shine a new light on the experience of ordinary people forced into new patterns of living by Nazi air raids during World War II are the subject of a new exhibition which opened in the Churchill War Rooms this week. Wartime London: The Art of the Blitz includes newly acquired drawings from Henry Moore, as well as works from other British artists including William Matvyn Wright, Eric Ravilious, Ernest Boye Uden, Mabel Hutchinson, Evelyn Gibbs, Evelyn Dunbar, and Leila Faithfull. Admission charge applies. Runs until 12th September. For www.iwm.org.uk/events/wartime-london-art-of-the-blitz.

A prototype mechanical tree that absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere is among objects on display in a new exhibition Our Future Planet – at the Science Museum. The exhibition offers visitors a look at the cutting-edge technologies and natural solutions being used to mitigate the impacts of climate change and, as well as Klaus Lackner’s Mechanical Tree – on display in the UK for the first time, it features experts including leading ecologists studying ancient forests, engineers at Arizona State University who developed the earliest versions of carbon capture machines, and chemists at C-Capture who are working to remove carbon dioxide from emissions at the UK’s largest power plant. This free exhibition runs until 4th September, 2022. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/see-and-do/our-future-planet.

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This Week in London – Raphael Court to reopen at V&A; naming a Tower raven; and, Caroline Norton’s Blue Plaque…

The V&A has unveiled its refurbished Raphael Court – home to the world famous Raphael Cartoons – after a renovation last year to mark the 500th anniversary of the artist’s death. The gallery, which reopens to the public along with the rest of the museum on 19th May, transforms the way visitors will encounter the large scale cartoons on loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection. The new gallery features state-of-the-art LED lighting, acoustic panelling and bespoke furnishings. There are also high-resolution images of the cartoons which can be explored at the gallery as well as online. The cartoons were created by Raphael in 1513 after he was commissioned by Pope Leo X to create a set of 10 designs for a series of tapestries to hang in the the Sistine Chapel. Illustrating scenes from the lives of Saints Peter and Paul, each of the cartoons – which were sent to the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels to be made into tapestries – measures around five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of them survive and were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I). They were first lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865. For more, see vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

People across the globe are invited to help name a baby female raven, one of a pair born at the Tower of London during lockdown. Until 18th May, people are invited to vote for their favourite name on the Ravenmaster’s shortlist – from Matilda (the name of a medieval queen) to Florence (named for Florence Nightingale), Brontë (named for the writing family), Winifred (named for Winifred Maxwell, the Countess of Nithsdale, who plotted her husband Lord Nithsdale’s escape from the Tower in 1716 disguised as a woman) and Branwen (a figure from Celtic mythology). The poll can be found at http://bit.ly/NameOurRaven and the winning name will be announced as part of the reopening of the Tower on 19th May.

Nineteenth century women’s rights campaigner Caroline Norton has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. The plaque is located on a townhouse at 3 Chesterfield Street in Mayfair, the home from where Norton fought for the rights to own the proceeds of her own work as a writer. Her abusive marriage and subsequent separation from George Chapple Norton was one of the most highly publicised cases in 19th-century Britain. It led to Norton successfully lobbying for legal rights for married women and, as a result of her campaigning, mothers were eventually granted custody of children under seven (and access thereafter) in cases of divorce or separation. For more on Blue Plaques, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques.

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This Week in London – V&A reimagines its online experience; ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year’; and, most viewed works at The National Gallery…

More than 1.2 million items from the V&A’s vast collections can now be seen online in a new digital platform, Explore the Collections. The new platform, which launched in beta form this week and brings together previous online options in a single site, reimagines the online experience of the V&A in a story-led approach with users able to search for specific objects or allow the site to recommend options based on their interests. The platform will be continually developed and updated over the coming months. You can access it here –  www.vam.ac.uk/collections.

‘Bushfire’ by Robert Irwin, Australia. Winner 2020, Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

Australian photographer Robert Irwin has won the 56th Natural History Museum’s ‘Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award’ with an image of bushfire in northern Australia. More than 55,000 people voted for one of 25 short-listed images selected from the more than 49,000 submitted works. Irwin, who used a drone to take the aerial image near the Steve Irwin Wildlife Reserve in Cape York, Queensland, said he was incredibly excited by the win. “For me, nature photography is about telling a story to make a difference for the environment and our planet,” he said. “I feel it is particularly special for this image to be awarded, not only as a profound personal honour but also as a reminder of our effect on the natural world and our responsibility to care for it.” Irwin’s and four other highly commended images will be shown at the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition at the Natural History Museum when the museum reopens. For more, see nhm.ac.uk/visit/exhibitions/wildlife-photographer-of-the-year.html.

Jan van Eyck’s masterpiece, The Arnolfini Portrait, has topped a list of the National Gallery’s most viewed paintings since March last year. Others in the top 10 included Holbein’s The Ambassadors and Van Gogh’s Sunflowers along with works by Turner, Leonardo, Velázquez, Titian, Constable, Botticelli, Monet, Caravaggio and Vermeer. The data was collected between 19th March last year – when the gallery first closed in a lockdown – and the start of February. The gallery houses more than 2,300 works. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

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This Week in London – Exploring the ‘Raphael Cartoons’; using art to bridge Brexit divide; a 21st century police box; and, COVID’s viral tweets…

One of the Raphael Cartoons depicting ‘The Death of Ananias (Acts 5: 1-5)’, by Raphael, 1515 –16, Italy. Photo: © Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Courtesy Royal Collection Trust / Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2021as.

An in-depth exploration of the so-called ‘Raphael Cartoons’ has gone online at the V&A ahead of the reopening of the newly transformed Raphael Court later this year. Among the greatest Renaissance treasures in the UK, the cartoons were commissioned by Pope Leo X for the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican shortly after his election in 1513. The Pope asked artist Raphael to create a series of 10 designs illustrating the lives of St Peter and St Paul which could then be turned into tapestries to grace the walls of the chapel. Created in the workshop of merchant-weaver Pieter van Aelst in Brussels, the 10 tapestries were each five metres wide and 3.5 metres high. Seven of Raphael’s original cartoons survive – they were brought to Britain in the early 17th century by the Prince of Wales (later King Charles I) and remained behind closed doors in the Royal Collection until they were lent to the South Kensington Museum – now the V&A – by Queen Victoria in 1865 in memory of Prince Albert. The cartoons have been on public display in the museum ever since. The new online offering traces the story of the cartoons and using ultra- high-resolution photography, infrared imagery, and 3D scans, and is the first time people have been able to explore the cartoons in such detail. It was produced as part of the V&A’s ‘Raphael Project’, marking the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death in 2020, which includes a landmark renovation of the Raphael Court – home to the cartoons. The refurbished gallery will be unveiled when the museum reopens. To see the new online display, head to vam.ac.uk/raphael-cartoons.

A participatory art project exploring the relationship between the UK and France in a post-Brexit world has commenced this week. I Love You, Moi Non Plus – presented in partnership by Somerset House, Dover Street Market London, The Adonyeva Foundation, Collectif Coulanges, Eurostar and coordinated by Sabir, invites artists to share their interpretation of what the British-French relationship means to them with works to be displayed in a new online gallery alongside bespoke pieces from “project ambassadors” including Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, fashion designer Stella McCartney, English electronic musician Brian Eno, English National Ballet artistic director Tamara Rojo,and British artist Bob and Roberta Smith. The project seeks to highlight how art and creativity can “maintain connections between communities across the channels, unifying voices from across Britain and the EU”. Participants are asked to contribute either by sharing their creations on social media with hashtags #ILoveYouMoiNonPlus, #ILYMNP and #LifeAfterBrexit or submit them directly to the website here

Does this mean a new Tardis for Dr Who? The City of London Corporation is calling on architects, landscape architects, designers and artists to submit ideas for the design of a “21st century police box”. The competition, which is being run by the City in conjunction with the City of London Police, New London Architecture (NLA) and Bloomberg Associates, aims to provide “a modern and engaging way to provide information and safety” to the Square Mile’s residents, workers and visitors. Up to six shortlisted teams will be awarded funding to develop their idea into a design proposal and the winning design will be unveiled in the summer. For more, head to nla.london/submissions/digital-service-point-open-call-competition.

The Museum of London has acquired 13 tweets shared by Londoners during the initial coronavirus-related lockdown as part of its ongoing ‘Collecting COVID’ project. The tweets, which were collected under the ‘Going Viral’ strand of the Collecting COVID project, now form part of the museum’s permanent collection and lay bare what people were experiencing during 2020. The Going Viral project focused on collecting text, memes, videos and images that were ‘shared’ or ‘liked’ on Twitter more than 30,000 times. Additional tweets will be considered for acquisition this year.

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This Week in London – Museum of London takes delivery of ‘Trump Baby’; and, a call-out for African fashions…

As the inauguration of US President Joe Biden took place in the US this week, the Museum of London announced it had taken possession of the larger-than-life ‘Trump Baby’ balloon. The blimp first appeared at protests in July, 2018, during then-US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the city, and has since followed the President around the world. The museum said it will now form part of its protest collection which also includes objects relating to the Suffrage movement, banners, flags, and tents that belonged to Houses of Parliament protestor Brian Haw and placards used recently by protestors against public spending cuts. Sharon Ament, director of the museum, said: “From the Suffragettes of the early twentieth century to the anti-austerity marches, free speech and Black Lives Matter most recently – the capital has always been the place to have your say. By collecting the baby blimp we can mark the wave of feeling that washed over the city that day and capture a particular moment of resistance – a feeling still relevant today as we live through these exceptionally challenging times – that ultimately shows Londoners banding together in the face of extreme adversity.” The Trump Baby team added that it was their hope the blimp “will stand as a reminder of when London stood against Trump – but will prompt those who see it to examine how they can continue the fight against the politics of hate”. “Most of all we hope the Trump Baby serves as a reminder of the politics of resistance that took place during Trump’s time in office.”

Kofi Ansah ‘Indigo’ Couture 1997 – Narh & Linda – PICTURE: © 1997 Eric Don-Arthur http://www.EricDonArthur.com

The V&A is seeking to contact people who have worn fashions designed by the likes of Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah, and Alphadi – a group who, along with their peers, represent the first generation of African designers to gain international attention. The call out comes as the South Kensington museum announces plans to hold an exhibition, supported by GRoW @ Annenberg, which aims to celebrate the creativity, ingenuity and global impact of contemporary African fashions in June. The display will feature more than 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of African fashion creatives, alongside textiles and photographs from the V&A’s collection (many of which are being displayed for the first time). Alongside the objects, the museum is seeking a range of items – and the stories that go with them – from the public. They include Chris Seydou’s 1980s experimental garments in bògòlanfini, 20th century kente, bògòlanfini, khanga and commemorative cloths from the independence and liberation years in Africa, and family portraits and home movies showing African and African diasporic fashion trends. Members of the public with objects that fit the above description are asked to get in touch by email at africafashion@vam.ac.uk, and to share their pictures and memories on social media, using the hashtag #AfricaFashion. For the full list of sought after items, head to www.vam.ac.uk/blog/news/va-africa-fashion-call-out.

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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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