Around London – Egypt comes to Wellington Arch; Dorothy Bohm at the MoL; Testino at the NPG; and performance art at the Tate Modern…

The influence of ancient Egypt on English architecture and interiors is under the spotlight in a new English Heritage exhibition inside Wellington Arch’s Quadriga Gallery at Hyde Park Corner. Egypt in England reveals that the Egyptian style, while it has been used in 18th century gardens in England, first rose to popularity after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt in 1798, continued when the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922 triggered a new wave of ‘Egyptomania’ and went onto into the later 20th century where its influence can be seen on buildings like cinemas and shops. The exhibition features photographs of Egyptian-style buildings and landmarks from across England – including London sites such as the The Egyptian Avenue and Circle of Lebanon Vaults at Highgate Cemetery and The Egyptian Hall at Harrods – alongside images of the Egyptian sources which inspired them. There are also 19th century travel brochures, a number of shabtis (the small mummy-like figurines placed in tombs which were often taken home by visitors as souvenirs) and Wedgewood ceramics designed in the Egyptian style. The display also tells the story of London landmark Cleopatra’s Needle, a 3,500-year-old obelisk which sits on the north bank of the Thames (see our earlier post on it here). Admission charge applies. Runs until 13 January. For more, see

A new exhibition of photographs taken by celebrated snapper Dorothy Bohm opens at the Museum of London tomorrow. Women in Focus will feature 33 color photographs dating from the 1990s to the present which juxtapose women who work and live in London with the ever-present images of women in advertising, artwork and shop windows. The images show women in their varied roles in society – from parents to professionals – and reflects on how they are seen in London’s public spaces. Runs until 17th February. For more, see

• Now On: Mario Testino: British Royal Portraits. This display at the National Portrait Gallery features eight portraits of Royal Family members taken by Mario Testino between 2003 and 2010. As well an official portrait of Prince Charles taken in 2003, others include a portrait of Prince William taken the same year for his 21st birthday, another of Prince Harry on his 21st birthday, a portrait of Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla commissioned by British Vogue in 2006 and official engagement portraits of Prince William and Duchess Catherine taken in 2010. It is the first time the portraits have all been shown together. The exhibition runs in Room 40 until 3rd February. Admission is free. For more, see

• Now On: A Bigger Splash: Painting after Performance. This newly opened exhibition at the Tate Modern explores the changing relationship between performance and painting, spanning the period from 1950 to today and featuring works from more than 40 artists including David Hockney, Yves Klein, Jackson Pollock and Cindy Sherman. Themes examined in the exhibition include how the painted canvas has been used as an ‘arena’ in which performance is carried out, the use of the human body as a surface and how contemporary artists are using painting to create social and theatrical spaces. Runs until 1st April. Admission charge applies. For more, see

Treasures of London – Cleopatra’s Needle

Sited relatively unobtrusively on the north bank of the Thames at Victoria Embankment, it’s easy to overlook this ancient Egyptian obelisk which was erected on its current site in 1878.

Although it’s commonly known as “Cleopatra’s Needle”, the red granite obelisk is in fact one of a pair originally constructed in the 15th century BC and placed in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis at the behest of Pharoah Thutmose III (the second one is now in New York’s Central Park and is also known by the name, Cleopatra’s Needle). The inscriptions were added later by Ramsses II. Both obelisks were subsequently moved to Alexandria and placed in a temple honoring Mark Antony. They later toppled over (and were covered in sand, which apparently helped with preservation).

The obelisk was given to the United Kingdom in 1819 by the grateful ruler of Egypt and Sudan, Mehemet Ali, in commemoration of British victories over the French at the Battle of the Nile and the Battle of Alexandria in 1801.

After the British government decided not to transport the obelisk to London due to the high expense, it remained in Alexandria until 1877 when Sir William James Erasmus Wilson contributed £10,000 toward the cost in an act of publicly-minded benevolence. After an eventful journey it which at one point it and the iron cylinder it was encased in – dubbed the Cleopatra – were declared sunk before being found again (tragically six crew drowned in the incident), it was finally erected in October 1878.

A time capsule is buried at the base of the obelisk which contains, among other things, a portrait of Queen Victoria, hairpins, copies of the Bible in several languages and a map of London. One of the two bronze sphinxes which these days guard the obelisk, meanwhile, still bears the scars of damage which took place in World War II when a bomb landed nearby.