This Week in London – Seminal moments in Shakespearean performance; Maria Merian’s Butterflies; and, British conceptual art…
April 14, 2016
• It’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death (in case you missed that), and among the many events marking the occasion comes a major exhibition at the British Library focusing on 10 key performances that it says have made the Bard the “cultural icon” he is today. Shakespeare in Ten Acts, which opens on Friday, focuses on performances which may not be the most famous but which represent key moments in shaping his legacy. They span the period the first performance of Hamlet at the Globe theatre in around 1600 to a radical interpretation of the same play from US theatre company The Wooster Group in 2013. Among the exhibition highlights are a human skull which was given to the actress Sarah Bernhardt by writer Victor Hugo (and which she used as Yorik’s skull when she played Hamlet in 1899), a dress worn by Vivien Leigh playing Lady Macbeth in the 1955 production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the only surviving play script written in the Bard’s own hand and rare printed editions including Shakespeare’s First Folio and the earliest printed edition of Hamlet from 1603 (one of only two copies in the world). The exhibition, which runs until 6th September, is accompanied by a season of events. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.bl.uk. PICTURE: Shakespeare’s First Folio 1623 British Library Photo by Clare Kendall.
• Still talking exhibitions commemorating Shakespeare’s death and a manuscript of William Boyce’s Ode to the Memory of Shakespeare will be on display at The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery from tomorrow. The work, which was composed in 1756, was performed annually at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The manuscript, the first page of which was thought to be lost until it was acquired in 2006, formerly belonged to Samuel Arnold, who compiled the first complete edition of Handel’s works. Runs at the Bloomsbury-based museum until 30th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• Exquisite watercolours depicting the natural world go on show in The Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace from tomorrow. Maria Merian’s Butterflies features 50 works produced by the eighteenth century German artist and entomologist Maria Sibylla Merian. The works – many of which record the flora and fauna of the then Dutch colony of Suriname in South America, were published in the 1706 work Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium (The Metamorphosis of the Insects of Suriname) and partially printed, partially hand-painted versions of the plates were purchased by King George III for his library at Buckingham House (later Buckingham Palace). As well as insects, the works – which were based on a visit Merian made to the colony in 1699, depict lizards, crocodiles and snakes as well as tropical plants such as the pineapple. The exhibition runs until 9th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/the-queens-gallery-buckingham-palace.
• The evolution of conceptual art in Britain is the subject of a new exhibition at Tate Britain in Milbank Conceptual Art in Britain 1964-1979 features 70 works by 21 artists and positions conceptual art “not as a style but rather a game-changing shift in the way we think about art, how it is made and what it is for”. Highlights include Michael Craig-Martin’s An Oak Tree (1973) and Roelof Louw’s Soul City (Pyramid of Oranges) (1987) as well as Victor Burgin’s Possession (1976), Mary Kelly’s Post-Partum Document (1974-78) and Conrad Atkinson’s Northern Ireland 1968 – May Day 1975 (1975-76). Admission charge applies. Runs until 29th August. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.
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This Week in London – The Clowns’ Service has a new venue; Sir Jacob Epstein at the Foundling Museum; Mark Boxer’s caricatures at the Cartoon Museum…
January 29, 2015
• The 69th annual Clowns’ Service will be held this Sunday – but the venue has changed. An annual tradition since 1946, the service is held in memory of Regency performer (and man hailed as the “inventor” of the modern clown), Joseph Grimaldi (1778-1837). It has been held at Holy Trinity Church in Dalston since 1959 after the previous building where it was held – St James’ Chapel in Pentonville Road; site of Grimaldi’s grave – was gutted in a fire (permission was given for clowns to attend in costume in 1967) but this year, due to repairs at Holy Trinity, the service is being held at sister church All Saints, Livermore Road, in Haggerston (E8 4EZ) (www.trinitysaintsunited.com). Kicks off at 3pm but you’ll have to be early to find a space. About 60 clowns usually attend and a clown show for children follows.
• Bronze sculptures and drawings of babies and children by Sir Jacob Epstein (1880-1959) form the basis of a new exhibition opening tomorrow at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Sir Jacob Epstein: Babies and Bloomsbury features portraits of Epstein’s own children and grandchildren and those of friends and contemporaries. The artist lived in Bloomsbury himself between 1914 and 1927 during which time he had five children from a series of extramarital affairs (interesting his long-suffering wife Margaret, herself unable to have children, brought up the youngest and oldest of these and put up with his affairs until her death in 1947 – although she is believed to have shot his long-term lover Kathleen Garman, later his wife and Lady Epstein, in the shoulder with a pearl-handled pistol. Also opening at the Foundling Museum tomorrow is a display of four rarely-exhibited portraits of Georg Frideric Handel and contemporaries Corelli, Geminiani and Daniel Purcell which are on-loan from the Royal Society of Musicians and which once hung in the royal box of King George III. Both exhibitions run until 10th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• On Now: The Caricatures and Cartoons of Mark Boxer. This exhibition at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury features more than 100 of Boxer’s caricatures and cartoons from The Times, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The New Statesman, The London Review of Books and The Observer. Among the more than 80 caricatures on display – works for which he is particularly noted – are those of Prince Charles and Queen Elizabeth II, Antonia Fraser, Seamus Heaney, Tony Benn, Clive James, Barry Humphries and David Frost. Runs until 22nd March. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
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This iconic church on the edge of Trafalgar Square, known for its musical associations, is another of the works of architect James Gibbs and, as with St Mary le Strand, the current building was constructed in the first half of the 18th century to replace an earlier building.
The first references to a church on the site of the present building date back to the 13th century when, constructed upon a Roman burial site, it was apparently used by monks from Westminster. It was replaced by King Henry VIII around 1542 and enlarged in 1602 before finally being demolished in 1721.
Gibbs’ apparently first suggested the design feature a round nave with a dome over the top but the proposal was rejected as too expensive and a simpler, rectangle-shaped church was subsequently agreed upon and eventually completed in 1726. Part of the design inspiration comes from Sir Christopher Wren, although Gibbs’ integration of the tower into the church was a departure from Wren’s designs (the church spire rises 192 foot into the air).
Among the features of the interior are ceiling panels in the nave which feature cherubs and shells and are the work of ceiling experts Giuseppe Artari and Giovanni Bagutti. Other items of interest include Chaim Stephenson‘s sculpture, Victims of Injustice and Violence, remembering all victims during apartheid in South Africa (it was dedicated by Desmond Tutu in 1994), a statue of St Martin and the Beggar by James Butler, and, on the porch, Mike Chapman‘s sculpture marking the millennium, Christ Child. Paintings include one of James Gibbs himself by Andrea Soldi and dating from 1800.
Among those buried in the church are furniture-maker Thomas Chippendale, sculptor Louis-François Roubiliac and notorious robber Jack Sheppard (he’s buried in the churchyard). The crypt also contains a life-sized marble statue of Henry Croft, London’s first pearly king, which was moved there from St Pancras Cemetery in 2002.
As well as being the location of the first religious broadcast, its musical heritage includes performances by Handel and Mozart and being the location of the first performance of its namesake chamber orchestra, the Academy of St Martin in the Fields.
Since the early 20th century, the church has been noted for its work with the homeless (thanks in particular to the work of Vicar Dick Sheppard). Meanwhile, its connections with music – which date back to its rebuilding – continue in the concerts held in the crypt cafe. The crypt also hosts art exhibitions.
The church underwent a £36 million renewal project in the Noughties. Additions included the new east window by Shirazeh Houshiary.
WHERE: St Martin-in-the-Fields on the north-east corner of Trafalgar Square (nearest tube stations are Charing Cross, Leicester Square and Embankment); WHEN: Open weekdays and weekends – times vary, see website for details; COST: free; WEBSITE: www.stmartin-in-the-fields.org.
February 6, 2014
• A new exhibition exploring German-born George Frideric Handel and his association with the royal family opens at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow to mark the 300th anniversary of the coronation of King George I. The museum says no composer has been more closely associated with the British monarchy than Handel, whose anthem Zadok the Priest has been performed at every coronation since King George II in 1727 and whose Water Music was performed on the River Thames during the Diamond Jubilee for Queen Elizabeth II in 2012. By George! Handel’s Music for Royal Occasions features treasures from the Gerald Coke Handel Collection and loans from the British Library, the National Portrait Gallery, the British Museum and Westminster Abbey. Runs until 18th May. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
• A landmark exhibition of David Bailey photographs opens at the National Portrait Gallery today. Bailey’s Stardust – one of the gallery’s largest scale photographic exhibitions, it occupies most of the gallery’s ground floor – features more than 250 portraits including a new portrait of Kate Moss and previously unseen images from Bailey’s travels to the Naga Hills in India in 2012. There’s also rooms devoted to portraits of the Rolling Stones and Catherine Bailey, images from Bailey’s trip to Papua New Guinea in 1974 and from east Africa which Bailey visited in 1985 in support of Band Aid. Admission charge applies. Runs until 1st June. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
• A new exhibition at the British Museum explores how six key artists redefined the notion of art in Germany in the Sixties and Seventies. Germany divided: Baselitz and his generation features some 90 works including some 45 by George Baselitz as well as works by Markus Lupertz, Blinky Palermo, AR Penck, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter. Thirty-four of the works, including 17 by Baselitz, have been donated by Count Christian Duerckheim while a loan of some 60 additional works from the Duerckheim Collection makes up the rest of the exhibition. Runs in Room 90 until 31st August. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
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May 4, 2012
First laid out in the mid 17th century, Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, on the east bank of the Thames just south of Lambeth, rose in fame to become one of London’s leading public entertainment venues.
The gardens, initially known as New Spring Gardens, are believed to have opened around the time of the Restoration of 1660 on a site which had been formerly an estate owned by vintners John and Jane Vaux (Jane was apparently widowed).
Initially apparently no more than an ale-house with a garden attached, the gardens grew to span several acres and featured a central hub and long avenues for strolling. Admission was initially free with money made from food and drink sold there. Among the earliest recorded visitors to the gardens was John Evelyn in 1661, describing it as a “pretty contrived plantation” and diarist Samuel Pepys, who wrote of a visit he made on 29th May, 1662 (he is known to have returned numerous times).
From 1729, the gardens came under ownership and management of John Tyers, entrepreneur, property developer and patron of the arts, and it was he who, until his death in 1767, oversaw the transformation of the area into an arts hotspot which included sculpture (in particular a fine statue of the composer Handel), music, painting and architecture. Thanks partly due to the patronage of Frederick, Prince of Wales, the gardens become the fashionable place to be seen.
The variety of entertainment on offer at the gardens – the name of which was only officially changed to Vauxhall Gardens in 1785 – grew substantially over the years: from concerts and fireworks displays to performances by tight rope walkers and lion tamers and even re-enactments of famous battles. The gardens became renowned as site for balloon ascents and, for its architecture – the number of buildings there grew over the years to include a rococo ‘Turkish tent’, Chinese pavilion, and, another rococo building, the Rotunda (where concerts could be held in wet weather). There was also a cascade and private ‘supper boxes’ for those who could afford them; those who couldn’t could dine at tables set under the trees.
From the outset, Vauxhall was known as a place where the sexes could mix freely and, therefore, for romantic assignations – in fact, one area of the gardens became known as the ‘Dark Walk’ for the fact it was, unlike other areas of the gardens, never illuminated by lamps and it was in this area, frequented by prostitutes, that many of the more illicit liaisons took place.
By the late 1700s and early 1800s, the gardens, one of a number of pleasure gardens in London, had reached the height of their popularity with reportedly more than 60,000 people said to have attending a fancy dress party held one night in the late 1700s.
Those who attended events in the gardens included royalty as well as the likes of Samuel Johnson and James Boswell (see Thomas Rowlandson’s image above, Vauxhall Gardens, showing the likes of Johnson and Boswell, along with Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, and the future King George IV, at the gardens in about 1779) as well as, much later, Charles Dickens (by the time Dickens visited, however, the heyday of the gardens was already well over).
The gardens closed in 1859 due apparently to declining popularity and were eventually replaced with housing. After being badly bombed in World War II, however, the site once again returned to being a garden, known as Spring Gardens. The gardens (pictured) still occupy the site not far from Vauxhall tube station – part of them is used by the Vauxhall City Farm as paddocks for horses and livestock and they also contain a multi-use games court.
For an authoritative and comprehensive work on the Vauxhall Gardens, try David Coke and Dr Alan Borg’s Vauxhall Gardens: A History. There’s also much more information on David Coke’s website here. There’s also a detailed history here.
David Coke is curating an exhibition at The Foundling Museum, The Triumph of Pleasure, which looks at the way in which the gardens and the establishment of the Foundling Hospital in 1739 “changed the face of British art forever”. Runs from 11th May to 9th September. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.
PICTURES: Wikipedia and David Adams
Canaletto’s image of Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames (1750-52) is among almost 400 paintings, manuscripts and objects selected to be part of the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Royal River: Power, Pageantry & The Thames.
Curated by historian David Starkey, the exhibition, part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, focuses on the use of the river across five centuries covering events including Anne Boleyn’s coronation procession and Admiral Lord Nelson’s stately funeral through to the evolving Lord Mayor’s pageant and the ‘Great Stink’ of the mid-1800s.
Highlights include the oldest known copy of Handel’s Water Music, the sixteenth century Pearl Sword (which the monarch must touch on entering the City of London), a stuffed swan, treasures from the City’s livery companies, and another Canaletto work – this time his famous view of the river filled with boats getting ready for the Lord Mayor’s Day, seen as an inspiration for this year’s Diamond Jubilee Pageant and on show in the UK for the first time since its completion.
As well as celebrating the Diamond Jubilee, the exhibition also marks the 75th anniversary of the opening of the National Maritime Museum by King George VI on 27th April, 1937. The king’s speech from that day and his Admiral of the Fleet uniform also feature in the exhibition.
WHERE: National Maritime Museum Greenwich (nearest DLR station is Cutty Sark); WHEN: Daily 10am to 5pm (opening times may vary during the Paralympic and Olympic Games) until 9th September; COST: £11 adult/£9 concession/family ticket £24.50; WEBSITE: www.rmg.co.uk.
PICTURE: © National Maritime Museum, London
January 4, 2012
Contrary to what some may, St Katharine Cree is not named after a person of that name (or at least not entirely). St Katherine, certainly, but the addition of ‘Cree’ is simply a medieval corruption of ‘Christ Church’.
The name Christ Church, abbreviated to Cree, was applied to this church because it was the prior of the Augustinian Priory of the Holy Trinity in Aldgate, also known as Christ Church, who founded St Katharine Cree in 1280 for the use of the area’s parishioners (apparently their use of the priory church was causing problems).
The current building dates from 1630 (although the tower dates from 1504), making it the only surviving Jacobean church in London.
It was consecrated by William Laud, then Bishop of London (and later beheaded for, among other things, his support of King Charles I). He is commemorated in one of the church’s chapels.
Unlike so many other of London’s churches, St Katharine Cree was not destroyed in the Great Fire of London and only suffered minor damage in the Blitz. But structural problems meant it did need substantial restoration in the 1960s.
Inside, is a mid 17th century font and stained glass dating from the same era which depicts a Catherine wheel (St Katherine/Catherine is said to have died strapped to a spiked wheel when martyred during the time of the Roman Empire.).
There is also a rose window which was modelled on that of old St Paul’s Cathedral (before it was destroyed by the Great Fire). Parts of the organ, which was restored in the early Noughties, date from the 17th century and the original was played by none other than George Frideric Handel and Henry Purcell. The six bells were restored in 2009 following an appeal.
Among those buried at St Katharine Cree are Sir Nicholas Throckmorton, a 16th century diplomat (his monument is inside), and the artist Hans Holbein the Younger (his grave is also claimed by St Andrew Undershaft).
The church today has no parish but is the Guild Church to Finance, Commerce and Industry (its rector is that of St Olave Hart Street). Among its annual events is the Lion Sermon given in October, a tradition that dates back to 1643 and owes its origins to the former Lord Mayor of London, Sir John Gayer, who decided to finance the sermon after he survived an encounter with a lion in Syria.
WHERE: Leadenhall Street, London (nearest Tube stations are Aldgate and Tower Hill); WHEN: See website for service times; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.sanctuaryinthecity.net/St-Katharine-Cree.html.
September 19, 2011
A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.
Coram’s mother apparently died while he was still young and he went to sea at the age of just 11. Following his father’s remarriage, however, the family moved to Hackney in East London and it was after that move that Coram was apprenticed to a shipwright working beside the Thames.
In 1694, having previously worked for the Government auditing troop and supply ships, a group of merchants asked Coram to establish a new shipyard in Boston, Massachusetts. He did so and spent the next 10 years building ships in Boston and Taunton. But, a staunch Anglican living among Puritans, he apparently make some enemies while doing so (this led to lawsuits and even apparently an attempt on his life). It was during this time that he also married a Bostonian, Eunice Wait.
Following his return to England in 1704, Coram found further success as a merchant and was soon commanding merchant ships during the War of the Spanish Succession (it is believed it was during this time that he acquired the title of captain). Throughout the following years he continued to conduct business in the New World colonies – particularly Massachusetts and Maine – as well as in London.
It was after he had moved to Rotherhithe in 1719 that Coram’s eyes were opened to the plight of abandoned children – he would apparently see them when travelling into London – and, his heart obviously moved, he began to advocate for the creation of a foundling hospital similar to those he had seen on the continent during his travels.
While his efforts initially came to nothing, Coram eventually received the backing of Queen Caroline, wife of King George II – an important step for the plain-speaking seaman. Having presented numerous petitions to the king, His Majesty finally signed the Foundling Hospital Charter on 14th August, 1739. The first meeting of the governors – which included notables such as artist William Hogarth and prominent physician Dr Richard Mead – was held at Somerset House that November.
A temporary hospital opened it’s doors at Hatton Garden on 25th March, 1741, and the first foundlings were baptised Thomas and Eunice Coram. But it was only four and a half years later – in October, 1745 – that a purpose-built hospital opened its doors in an area known as Bloomsbury Fields. As well as Hogarth (who painted Coram in 1740 – the picture can still be seen in the Foundling Hospital today), the hospital also attracted the support of composer George Frideric Handel.
Coram’s role in the governance of the hospital effectively came to an end in 1741-1742 (he is said to have made some indiscreet comments about some of his fellow governors) but – despite being still engaged in numerous business activities – he continued to visit the hospital regularly and, as well as being Godfather to more than 20 of the foundlings, the story goes that he found the time to sit in an arcade at the hospital and pass out pieces of gingerbread to the children.
Captain Thomas Coram died on 29th March, 1751, in lodgings on Spur Street near Leicester Square (his wife Eunice had died earlier, in July 1740, and the couple had no children). He was buried in the Foundling Hospital chapel.
One of the best places to visit to find out more about Captain Coram and his life is the Foundling Museum, housed in part of the former hospital. For our previous story on the hospital, follow this link. A statue of Coram (pictured above) stands outside in Brunswick Square.
Opened in 2004, the Foundling Museum was created to look after the former Foundling Hospital’s collection of art and artifacts and provides a unique and deeply moving insight into the work of the hospital and those who came under its care.
The Foundling Hospital’s origins go back to the 1720s when former mariner and ship-builder Captain Thomas Coram, shocked by the number of abandoned babies he saw in London (it’s estimated that in the early 1700s, there were as many as 1,000 babies being abandoned every year), began a campaign to found a hospital for “exposed and deserted young children”, that is, ‘foundlings’.
The hospital was founded in 1739 after King George II granted it a royal charter and, from that date until its closure in 1953, had some 27,000 children pass through its doors.
The museum’s story is not an easy one to tell for while the hospital was founded with the best of intentions, the life of the children who came into its care – even in the 20th century – remained far from easy; it was not, as one of those who formerly lived at the hospital notes, a life they would wish on anyone else. But the museum handles their story – as well as that of those behind the hospital’s founding – with care and dignity.
Located at 40 Brunswick Square – close to the site of the original hospital, the museum is spread over four floors. On the ground floor is an exhibition which details the hospital’s history and features objects including a series of sketches by the controversial 18th century artist William Hogarth, an ardent supporter of the hospital’s work and later one of the many artists who became a governor, as well as the founding charter document itself.
Among the most poignant of the artifacts to be found in the museum are the tokens mothers left with their children so they could later identify them (these were removed from the children on being taken into the hospital, however, to ensure the child’s anonmity).
The lower ground floor has a space for temporary exhibitions – at present this contains the ‘Foundling Voices’ exhibition in which those who once lived under the care of the hospital tell their stories firsthand in what is an emotional journey into the hospital’s relatively recent past (the exhibition runs until 30th October). It is also home to the reconstructed Committee Room, built as part of the original hospital in the mid-1700s, dismantled and then reconstructed in the new headquarters.
Upstairs (the stairs themselves were taken from the boy’s wing of the original hospital), is a reconstruction of the hospital’s original Picture Gallery which was London’s first public art gallery and was instrumental in raising the profile of the work of the hospital. Among the works it contains is Hogarth’s 1740 portrait of Captain Thomas Coram. Nearby is the Court Room, another reconstruction from the original hospital, this time of the building’s most splendid room, used for meetings of the Board and Governors and other special occasions. It too contains numerous artworks.
The top floor of the building houses the Gerald Coke Handel Collection, said to be the greatest collection of artifacts relating to composer George Frideric Handel in the world. Handel’s assocation with the museum goes back to 1749 when he offered a performance of his music to help fund the hospital’s completion. He held another the following year, this time performing the Messiah, and after that Handel agreed to an annual benefit performance – a practice which continued until his death in 1759.
Key artifacts in the Handel collection include the composer’s will and codicils, written in his own hand, as well as programme from the first performance of the Messiah along with other documents and artworks.
WHERE: The Foundling Museum, 40 Brunswick Square, Bloomsbury (nearest Tube station is Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm, Tuesday to Saturday/11am to 5pm Sunday (closed Mondays); COST: £7.50 an adult/£5 concessions/children under 16 free; WEBSITE: www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.