Works including a recently acquired portrait of Prince Edward (later King Edward VIII) which was painted on the Western Front during World War I, a self-portrait in stained glass of artist and actor Pauline Boty (pictured), and three life-sized World War I portraits of military officers which have been reunited for the first time in decades, are among highlights of the National Portrait Gallery’s new early 20th century galleries. Four new rooms – split into the ‘Early 20th Century’, ‘The Great War’, ‘The Interwar Years’, and the ‘Second World War and Post-War Recovery’ – hold 121 portraits which have been hung chronologically and feature everyone from Virginia Woolf to Sir Winston Churchill, Dame Christabel Pankhurst to Sir Ernest Shackleton. Along with Frank O Salisbury’s oil sketch of Prince Edward, Boty’s stained glass portrait (the gallery’s first), and the three group portraits from World War I,  highlights of the gallery include a 1913 portrait of the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace by Sir John Lavery, a 1931 portrait of Aldous Huxley by Vanessa Bell and a portrait of Roald Dahl in RAF uniform by Matthew Smith. Admission to the galleries is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE: Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery.

The “most comprehensive” exhibition of the work of French artist Amedeo Modigliani opens at the Tate Modern today. Modigliani features 100 works including portraits, some of his lesser known sculptures and 10 of his controversial nude paintings, the largest group of such ever shown in the UK. The exhibition re-evaluates Modigliani’s work and experimentation and includes well known and lesser known works with more than 40 of them never seen in the UK before. The works on show include Bust of a Young Woman (1908), Jean Cocteau (1916), and Boy with a Blue Jacket (1919). Runs until 2nd April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

Former iconic Carnaby Street shop Lord John has been honoured with a City of Wesminster Green Plaque. Lord John, which dressed everyone from The Rolling Stones to the Beatles and The Kinks, was opened by brothers Warren, David and Harold Gold in 1964. The plaque can be seen at 43 Carnaby Street.

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There are numerous memorials to Sir Winston Churchill around London and today we’ll look at a handful of them (while next week we’ll take a look at a couple of the most unusual memorials). We’ve already looked at the most famous statue of him in Parliament Square (in an earlier post here), but here’s some more…

Allies1 AlliesMayfair. These almost life-size bronze statues, located at the juncture of Old and New Bond Streets, depict Churchill and US President Franklin D Roosevelt in an informal pose, sitting and talking together on a bench. The sculpture was a gift from the Bond Street Association to the City of Westminster and was unveiled by Princess Margaret on 2nd May, 1995 commemorating 50 years since the end of World War II. It is the work of US sculptor Lawrence Holofcener. There’s a space between the two World War II leaders where the passerby can sit and have their picture taken between them.

• Member’s Lobby, House of Commons. We’ve already mentioned this bronze statue (see our previous post here), erected in 1969, which stands just outside Churchill Arch opposite one of another former PM, David Lloyd George.  It is the work of Croatian-born sculptor Oscar Nemon who also created numerous other busts of the former PM now located both in the UK (one of which is mentioned below) and around the world.

Great Hall, Guildhall. Commissioned by the Corporation of the City of London and unveiled in 1955, this bronze statue shows Churchill, wearing a suit and bow tie, seated in an armchair and looking ahead. Another work of Nemon’s, it was commissioned as a tribute to “the greatest statesman of his age and the nation’s leader in the Great War of 1939-1945”.

Outside former Conservative Club, Wanstead. A very thick-necked bust of Churchill, erected in 1968, sits outside the 18th century mansion in Wanstead High Street, north-east London, which was once the Conservative Club and is now occupied by a restaurant. The bigger than life-sized bust is the work of Italian artist Luigi Fironi and stands on a plinth once part of old Waterloo Bridge. Churchill was the Conservative member for this area between 1924-1964 and based at the club from 1930 to 1940.

 • Woodford Green. Another tribute from his former constituents, this full length bronze statue in north-east London is the work of Scottish artist David McFall and was unveiled in 1959 in the presence of Churchill himself and Field Marshal Viscount Montgomery. Churchill was the MP for Woodford between 1945 and 1964.

In the first of a new Wednesday series looking at historic London garden squares, we take a look at what next to Trafalgar Square, is the most famous square in the entire city – Leicester Square.

Located in the heart of the West End, Leicester Square’s history finds its origins back in the 17th history when Robert Sidney, the 2nd Earl of Leicester acquired property on the site where the square now stands. Then known as St Martin’s Field and located within the parish of St Martin’s, Sidney purchased four acres in 1630 and constructed Leicester House on land now located at the square’s northern end.

Leicester-SquareThe earl raised the ire of locals, however, when – having subsequently fenced off the land to prevent people from wandering on to his property – he enclosed what had previously been common land.

The people appealed to King Charles I who appointed three members of the Privy Council to look at the issue. Their decision? That the earl keep a section of his land open for the use of the parishioners of St Martin’s.

First known as Leicester Field, it was this land which later became known as Leicester Square. Fine homes were built around the square (its proximity to the Royal Court and centre of government made it a desirable place to live for the well-to-do and those seeking influence) with the centre enclosed with rails (it’s pictured here in 1750).

The square’s reputation also had a royal boost when, in 1717/1718, Leicester House became home to Prince George (later King George II) and his wife Princess Caroline along with their court after the prince fell out with his father King George I and was banished from St James’ Palace (this story is recounted in marvellous detail in Lucy Worsley’s terrific book, Courtiers: The Secret History of the Georgian Court).

The prince remained at the house for 10 years and was proclaimed King George II after his father’s death at its gate. Interestingly, King George II’s eldest son, Prince Frederick, also lived here for a time after he too fell out with his father (King George II). Apparently their relationship was even worse than the previous generation’s had been.

Despite its royal attractions, even at this stage the square apparently had it’s darker side with some less than savoury characters attending the hotels and livery stables that were built there. But things were to get worse as the wealthy moved out – a situation not helped when Leicester House was demolished in the 1790s.

Leicester Square became known as an entertainment venue in the 19th century (among attractions was the short-lived Royal Panopticon of Science and Art which showcased the best in science and art and Wyld’s Great Globe which contained a gigantic model of the earth) and received a new injection of life when theatres and music halls moved in, bringing the crowds back with them.

Shakespeare-StatueMeanwhile, the status of the square – and whether it could be built upon – remained a matter of debate well into the 19th century. That ended in 1874 when businessman Albert Grant bought the freehold of the land, had the garden created upon it and then donated it to the Metropolitan Board of Works as a gift to the city.

Responsibility for the management of the square now rests with the City of Westminster. The square area – which is now known for hosting film premieres as well as the tourists who inevitably gather there – was pedestrianised in the 1980s and has just undergone a redevelopment and modernisation which was unveiled last year.

Meanwhile, work to restore the 19th century Shakespeare statue and fountain in the square’s centre is about to be completed (pictured). The square also contains a statue of actor Charlie Chaplin in the square as well as busts of scientist Sir Isaac Newton, painter and first president of the royal Academy Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century pioneer surgeon John Hunter, and painter William Hogarth.

The tradition of the entertainment continues in the modern era through the cinemas which now stand in the square and regularly host film premieres (an interesting, if oft-repeated, film-related anecdote connected to the square is that it was in a phone booth located at the square that during the 1960s a young actor Maurice Micklewhite saw a poster for The Caine Mutiny and decided to change his name to Michael Caine).

PICTURES (top) Wikipedia and (below) City of Westminster.

More than 8,500 performers – including those pictured celebrating the launch of London’s Olympic year – took part in this year’s New Year’s Day Parade in London, the wettest in the event’s 26 year history. But the wild weather didn’t put off the more than 500,000 people who turned out to watch the parade as it made its way from the starting point outside the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly via Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square. As many as 19 London boroughs submitted entries in a competition based on the themes of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee with Merton (its entry ‘From Horsepower To High Speed Rail’ featured animatronics) and the City of Westminster (its entry ‘Peter Pan’ involved a giant galleon and the The Sylvia Young Theatre School) announced as joint winners. For more on the parade, see www.londonparade.co.uk.

IMAGE: Courtesy of www.londonparade.co.uk