This Holborn square was laid out in the 1680s by property speculator Nicholas Barbon and took its name from the Red Lion Inn which once stood here.

The inn, incidentally, is said to be the place where the exhumed bodies of Oliver Cromwell, his son-in-law (and Parliamentarian general) Henry Ireton and John Bradshaw, president of the parliamentary commission to try King Charles I, lay the night before they were taken to Tyburn where they were desecrated (there’s a story that the bodies were switched that night and the real men lay buried in a pit in a square).

The square was laid out on what had been known as Red Lion fields and there were apparently some physical scuffles between the workmen, led by Barbon, and lawyers of Gray’s Inn who objected to the loss of their rural vistas.

The square, meanwhile, soon became a fashionable part of the city – among early residents was Judge Bernard Halle – but by the mid-19th century, its reputation had slumped only to move up again in later years.

Famous residents included Dante Gabriel Rossetti in 1851 and William Morris who lived in a flat on the southern side of the square with Edward Burne-Jones in the later 1850s. The art deco Summit House was built in 1925 on the former residence of John Harrison, inventor of the marine chronometer. Jonas Hanway, the first man to walk London’s streets with an umbrella, apparently also lived on the square.

The square today is home to the Royal College of Anaesthetists and Conway Hall, home of the Conway Hall Ethical Society (in fact, it was Conway Hall which was at the centre of one of the most famous incidents in the square – clashes between anti-fascist protestors and National Front members and subsequent police response which took place on 15th June, 1974, and left a university student, Kevin Gately, dead.

The garden in the centre of the square features a statue of anti-war activist Fenner Brockway and a bust of philosopher, essayist and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell.

PICTURE: Top – View across part of the square (Google maps)/Below – Fenner Brockway statue (Matt Brown/licensed under CC BY 2.0)

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The V&A has reopened its ‘Europe 1600-1815’ galleries to the public this week following a major £12.5 million refurbishment. The seven transformed galleries, located close to the South Kensington museum’s grand entrance, tell the story of how France succeeded Italy as the “undisputed leader” of fashionable art and design in Europe in the late 17th century and how Europeans systematically “explored, exploited and collected” resources from Africa, Asia and the Americas. Featuring more than 1,100 objects, the galleries – redesigned in conjunction with architectural practice ZMMA – include four V&A2large rooms introducing the story of Europe across the period and three smaller rooms focusing on specific activities – ‘collecting in the Cabinet’, ‘enlightened thought in the Salon’, and ‘entertainment and glamour in the Masquerade’. Objects on display include a highly ornate Rococo writing cabinet made from Augustus III (on show for the first time since it has undergone a conservation work), a newly conserved 18th century bed from the Parisian workshop of George Jacob – furniture maker to Napoleon, a 17th century Venetian table by Lucio de Lucci and Pierre-Denis Martin’s oil painting, The Visit of Louis XIV to the Chateau de V&A3Juvisy (both on show for the first time) as well as several large recently cleaned tapestries including the 1860s Gobelins tapestry, The infant Moses tramples on Pharoah’s crown. The display also includes three recreated period rooms – a 17th century French bedchamber, Madame de Sérilly’s cabinet and a mirrored room from 18th century Italy – while in the Salon can be found a contemporary installation, The Globe. A curved architectural sculpture, it is the creation of Havana-based artist collective Los Carpinteros and forms a “room within a room” within the ‘Salon’. It will be used for events and discussions. Entry to the galleries is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk/europegalleries. PICTURES: David Grandorge/©Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

On Now: A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón collection. This exhibition at the Leighton House Museum – former home of artist Frederic, Lord Leighton – features more than 50 works by leading Victorian artists, some of which are rarely exhibited. The paintings, which include six works by Leighton himself as well as works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais and John William Waterhouse, all form part of the collection of Mexican Juan Antonio Pérez Simón who has the largest private collection of Victorian art outside the UK. The highlight of the exhibition, however, is Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Roses of Heliogabalus, being shown in London for the first time since 1913. Admission charge applies. The exhibition at the property on the edge of Holland Park runs until 6th April. For more, see www.leightonhouse.co.uk.

On Now: Handel’s Performers. This display of portraits and documents in The Foundling Museum’s Handel Gallery is a showcase of celebrities and singers who brought the work of composer George Frideric Handel’s work to the public in the 18th century. Among those depicted are Anastasia Robinson and Senesino, among the highest paid singers of their time, Anna Maria Strada, a leading soprano, Gustavus Waltz, a bass singer who sang at the benefit performance of Handel’s Messiah at the Foundling Hospital in 1754, and John Hebden, who played in the orchestra during benefit performances of the Messiah in 1754 and 1758. Runs at the Bloomsbury museum until 1st May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.

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Dorothy-Wilding-1952A special photographic display has opened at Buckingham Palace this week to commemorate the fact that Queen Elizabeth II has this week become Britain’s longest-reigning monarch. The outdoor photographic display Long To Reign Over Us features a selection of photographs spanning the period from 1952 to today including informal family moments, official portraits and visits of the Queen to places across the UK and Commonwealth. Highlights include a black and white portrait by Dorothy Wilding from the start of the Queen’s reign in 1952, Cecil Beaton’s official Coronation Day portrait from 1953 and a 2006 image of the Queen with her Highland Ponies. The displays, which are also being shown as Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, can be seen by visitors to Buckingham Palace’s summer opening until 27th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalcollection.org.uk. PICTURE: Dorothy Wilding. Royal Collection Trust/© William Hustler and Georgina Hustler/National Portrait Gallery, London 

Still celebrating the Queen becoming Britain’s longest reigning monarch, and a new film installation celebrating the reigns of Queen Elizabeth II and Queen Victoria – whose reign she has now surpassed – has opened at Kensington Palace. The film installation explores key moments in the reigns of both – coronations, weddings, births as well as other key moments in their public lives –  and also examines the impact of new technologies in the reigns of both queens. For more, see www.hrp.org.uk/kensingtonpalace.

Richmond Park in London’s south-west is holding its annual open day this Sunday with a range of activities for kids including pony rides, the opportunity to see inside a bug hotel with a fibro-optic camera and the chance make pills in a restored Victorian pharmacy. The Holly Lodge Centre, normally reserved for schools and learning groups, will open its doors to the general public will be at the centre of the day, offering a range of activities for children while there will also be a guided walk led by the Friends of Richmond Park, vintage car displays, and a World War I re-enactment. The day runs from 11am to 4pm. Entrance to the Royal Park is free but parking is £5. For more, see www.royalparks.org.uk.

This Saturday is Redhead Day UK 2015 and to mark the occasion, the Guildhall Art Gallery in the City of London is inviting visitors to celebrate by taking a selfie with Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s iconic redhead La Ghirlandata. Painted by Rossetti in 1873, the artwork, said to be one of the finest pre-Raphaelite works in the world, is on permanent display at the gallery. The painting features on the cover of Jacky Colliss Harvey’s new book Red: A Natural History of the Redhead, three copies of which will be given away in a special draw at the gallery. Entry is free. For more, see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visit-the-city/attractions/guildhall-galleries/Pages/guildhall-art-gallery.aspx.

A six metre high ceramic installation created for the V&A by artist Barnaby Barford has gone on display in the museum’s Medieval & Renaissance Galleries in South Kensington. The Tower of Babel is composed of 3,000 small bone china buildings, each of which depicts a real London shop. Bamford photographed more than 6,000 shopfronts in the process of making the work, cycling more than 1,000 miles as he visited every postcode in London. The work can be seen until 1st November. Admission is free. See www.vam.ac.uk.

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He-can-no-longer-at-theA “ground-breaking” exhibition of works of 18th and 19th century Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya opens to the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House today. Goya: The Witches and Old Women Album brings together the previously widely scattered pages of one of the artist’s most celebrated private albums in the first exhibition to ever recompile one of them. The album – which features themes of witchcraft, dreams and nightmares and has been reconstructed into its original sequence – is thought to have been made between 1819-23, a period during which Goya completed the murals known as the Black Paintings. Runs until 25th May. Admission charges applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/goya. PICTURE: © The Courtauld Gallery (He can no longer at the age of 98, c. 1819-23, J. Paul Getty Museum).

The ‘Wolsey Angels’ have been “saved for the nation” after a campaign to acquire them by the V&A. The museum has reported that more than £87,000 was raised in a national public appeal – around £33,000 of which was raised via donations and through the purchase of badges at the South Kensington premises – which, along with grants including a £2 million National Heritage Memorial Fund grant and a £500,000 Art Fund grant, will be used to acquire the four bronze angels which were originally designed for the tomb of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, chief advisor to King Henry VIII. The four bronze angels, which have been in display at the V&A, will now undergo conservation treatment before going back on display. For more on the history of the angels, see our earlier post here. For more information on the V&A, see www.vam.ac.uk.

Closing Soon – A Victorian Obsession: The Pérez Simón collection at Leighton House Museum. This exhibition at the former Holland Park of Lord Leighton presents more than 50 rarely exhibited paintings by leading Victorian artists including Albert Moore, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, John Everett Millais, John William Waterhouse, Edward Pointer, John Strudwick and John William Godward as well as six pictures by Leighton himself and the highlight, Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Roses of Heliogabalus. Runs until 29th March. Admission charge applies. See www.rbkc.gov.uk/subsites/museums/leightonhousemuseum/avictorianobsession.aspx for more.

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A remarkable Pre-Raphaelite painting has been found painted on the wall of a Bexleyheath house lived in by artist William Morris. The bedroom wall painting at Red House, which is believed to have been painted by Morris and other Pre-Raphaelites, was hidden behind a wardrobe and covered by wallpaper for years with only two figures from the painting visible. But following two months of conservation work by the National Trust – which acquired the property in south-east London in 2003 – a six by eight foot image has been discovered depicting Biblical characters such as Adam and Eve, Noah, and Rachel and Jacob. Designed to resemble a hanging tapestry, the image also contained faded and incomplete lines of text which have been identified as being from the Biblical book of Genesis (chapter 30, verse six). Morris lived at the house between 1860 and 1865, during which time Pre-Raphaelite artists such as Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his wife Elizabeth Siddal, Edward Burne-Jones and Ford Madox Brown were regular visitors. It is understood his friends helped decorate the property’s walls, ceilings and items of furniture with wall paintings and patterns. While it is thought Jacob was painted by Morris, Rachel possibly by Elizabeth Siddal and Noah by Madox Brown, further research is being undertaken to help identify who painted which image. For details on visiting times and how to get to the property, check out www.nationaltrust.org.uk/red-house/. PICTURES:  © National Trust / James Breslin and, © National Trust.

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Laus Veneris (1873-8) by Edward Burne-Jones was inspired by Algernon Swinburne’s poem Laus Veneris which relates the tale of a knight who falls in love with Venus (shown in red) but then decides to leave her. Usually found in the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle upon Tyne, it’s among the 180 or so works on display at Tate Britain on Millbank as part of its recently opened exhibition, Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant-Garde. The exhibition, the largest survey of the group in almost 30 years, locates the Pre-Raphaelites as the UK’s first modern art movement and traces the group’s development from its formation in 1848 through to their Symbolist creations of the 1890s. Other works on show, some of which have been rarely seen in the UK, include John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, William Holman Hunt’s The Lady of Shalott, and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Found. There are also works by Madox Brown and William Morris and as well as paintings, the display includes sculpture, photography and the applied arts. Runs until 13th January next year. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.tate.org.uk.

A sensual and vivid masterpiece, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s La Ghirlandata, hangs in the main hall of the Guildhall Art Gallery at the heart of the city.

The portrait, which is alive with the imagery of sexual attraction including honeysuckle and roses around the top of the harp and the harp itself – representing music, a common metaphor for love, was one of several depicting women playing musical instruments painted by Rossetti in the early 1870s.

It was painted in oils in 1873 at Kelmscott Manor in Gloucestershire, a property part-owned by Rossetti and his friend William Morris. There Rossetti, a founder of the Pre-Raphelite Brotherhood, had come after having what has been described as a mental breakdown in 1872.

Morris was not at the property when the painting was made but his wife Jane, with whom Rossetti was in love and who was one of his key muses, was. The model, however, was Alexa Wilding while the angels bore the face of Jane’s young daughter May.

PICTURE: Courtesy of Guildhall Art Gallery, City of London

WHERE: Guildhall Art Gallery, Guildhall Yard (off Gresham Street) (nearest Tube stations are Bank, Mansion House, Moorgate and St Paul’s); WHEN: 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday/12pm to 4pm Sunday (excluding some public holidays); COST: Free (fees may be charged for some temporary exhibitions); WEBSITE: www.guildhallartgallery.cityoflondon.gov.uk/gag/

A love letter Romantic poet John Keats wrote to his beloved Fanny Brown will be returned to the house in which it was written. Keats wrote the letter in 1820 while living next door to her at Wentworth House in Hampstead, north London – his home from 1818 to 1820 and the setting that inspired some of his most memorable poetry including Ode to a Nightingale. The City of London Corporation, who manage the house – now a museum known as Keats House, recently purchased the letter with the support of the Heritage Lottery Fund for £80,000. They say it will now be returned to the house and displayed there. In the letter Keats wrote: “I shall Kiss your name and mine where your Lips have been – Lips! why should a poor prisoner as I am talk about such things.” He said his consolation was “in the certainty of your affection”. See www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk.

Amid the host of souvenirs and trinkets up for sale in the lead-up to the wedding of Prince William and Catherine Middleton comes news of a unusual offering from Transport for London – a limited edition royal wedding Oyster card. The card, which will go on sale in the week leading up to the ceremony, features a portrait of the couple and their wedding date – 29th April, 2011. More than 750,000 of the cards will be offered for sale. The move is not without precedent – in 1981, a unique ticket was produced for the marriage of Prince Charles and Lady Diana.

• Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, the youngest Spitfire pilot to take part in the Battle of Britain, was granted the Freedom of the City of London at a ceremony at Guildhall last week. Wellum was just 18-years-old when he joined the RAF in August 1939. Serving in a frontline squadron, he flew many combat missions including dogfights during the Battle of Britain and was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

• On Now: The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in . Said to be the “most comprehensive” exhibition ever staged on the Aesthetic Movement in Britain, it brings together masterpieces in painting as well as sculpture, design, furniture, architecture, fashion and literature of the era and explores some of the key personalities  involved in the movement – from William Morris and Frederic Leighton through to James McNeil Whistler, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones and Oscar Wilde. Organised in collaboration with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the exhibition runs until 17th July. Tickets are £12 (concessions available). See www.vam.ac.uk.