NPG_920_1362_RobertLouisSteA major exhibition of the works of John Singer Sargent has opened at the National Portrait Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends – which has been organised in conjunction with the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – brings together a collection of the artist’s intimate and informal portraits of his friends including Robert Louis Stevenson, Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin. Sargent (1856-1925), born the son of an American doctor in Florence, studied in Italy and France before scandal led him to move to England where he established himself as the country’s leading portrait painter. He made several visits to the US during his career, painting portraits as well as decorative paintings for public buildings including the Boston Public Library and Museum of Fine Arts. The exhibition runs until 25th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of the Taft Museum of Art, Cincinnati, Ohio

It’s Chinese New Year and the celebrations kick off in London’s Chinatown in Soho this Sunday. The day starts with a parade at 10am which runs from Duncannon Street to Shaftesbury Avenue featuring floats and Chinese lion and dragon teams. It will be followed by a free programme of events in Trafalgar Square which, starting at noon, include music, dance, acrobatics and martial arts. Other events are taking place at a range of locations across the West End. For more information, check out www.london.gov.uk/get-involved/events/chinese-new-year-2015.

Ever wondered how your appetite is shaped by food? A new free exhibition at the Science Museum in South Kensington, Cravings: Can Your Food Control You? explores how the brain, ‘gut brain’ and bacteria influence our diets. Along with personal stories and objects as well as the use of science and tech to present the display, those who attend the exhibition will also be able to take part in a ground-breaking neurogastronomy experiment to explore how our senses influence appetite (the experiment is also available online – follow the link below). There’s also a digital quiz where you can consider the ethical challenges that cravings, appetite control and food regulations pose. Runs until January next year. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/cravings.

The history of the Foundling Hospital’s Boy’s Band is the subject of a display at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury. Foundlings at War: Military Bands is part of a series of exhibits supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund exploring the hospital’s links with the military. The Boy’s Band was established in 1847 and boys who joined increasingly went on to serve in the military. Runs until 10th May. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

Send all items for inclusion to exploringlondon@gmail.com.

One of 12 casts made of an original which stands in Calais, France, this sculptural group commemorates one of the most poignant moments of the bloody Hundred Years War.

Burghers-of-CalaisThe original work, by the renowned Auguste Rodin who beat five others with his design, was completed in 1889 and stands outside Calais’ town hall. This cast was produced in 1908 and presented to the nation in 1914 by the National Art Collections Fund. It stands in Victoria Tower Gardens, just to the south of the Houses of Parliament in Westminster.

The sculpture commemorates an event which took place in 1347. Calais, then, as now, an important French port, had been besieged by the English for more than a year and, in a desperate situation as the townspeople starved (and despite orders from the French King Philip IV to hold out), the city authorities were seek terms from the English king, Edward III, still flushed with the success of the Battle of Crecy the year before.

Edward’s conditions for their surrender were harsh – six of the city’s leaders had to be handed over and the rest of the city would be spared. But more than that, the six had to leave the city stripped of almost all their clothes, wearing nooses around their necks and carrying the keys to the city and castle.

Six burghers, led by Eustache de Saint Pierre and also including John Daire and brothers James and Peter Wisant, did so and it is the scene of them making their way to King Edward that Rodin has captured. Their bravery was rewarded – while King Edward apparently order them to be beheaded, his pregnant English Queen, Philippa of Hainault, intervened on their behalf and they were spared execution, dressed and fed before they were safely escorted away.

Only 12 casts of the group were ever permitted under French law – the London cast was the third to be made.