Gundestrup_Whole-ImageThe story of the Celts and their culture is being explored in a new exhibition which opens at the British Museum in Bloomsbury today. Celts: Art and Identity, being run in partnership with National Museums Scotland, is the first British exhibition on the Celts in 40 years. Highlights of the display include a hoard of four gold torcs found at Blair Drummond in Stirling in 2009, Christian artefacts including iron handbells used to call people to prayer, elaborately illustrated Gospels, carved stone crosses and, a gilded bronze processional cross which, dating from 700-800 AD and coming from Tully Lough in Ireland, will be on show for the first time in Britain. Also present will be the Gundestrup cauldron, which dates from 100 BC-1 AD and comes from Denmark (pictured), London artefacts such as the Waterloo helmet and Battersea shield, and works created more recently which reflect on an often mythical Celtic past such as George Henry and Edward Atkinson Homel’s 1890 painting The Druids: Bringing in the Mistletoe. Runs until 31st January in the Sainsbury Exhibition Gallery (Room 30). Admission charge applies. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org. PICTURE: © The National Museum of Denmark.

A new exhibition exploring the myth and reality of the ‘fallen woman’ in Victorian Britain opens at the Foundling Museum in Bloomsbury tomorrow. The Fallen Woman features works by artists including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Richard Redgrave, George Frederic Watts and George Cruikshank, displayed alongside stereoscopes and depictions of the fallen woman in the era’s popular media. It also looks at the petitions of women applying to the Foundling Hospital, bringing to life the real ‘fallen women’ of the period through a specially-commissioned sound installation by artist and musician Steve Lewinson. The exhibition runs until 3rd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.foundlingmuseum.org.uk.

The London Transport Museum’s Depot in Acton hosts its autumn open days this weekend. The day includes the chance to see the original printing blocks used for the Johnston font – London Transport’s iconic typeface, expert talks on transport vehicles, a chance to see how the moquette – the seat covering on the tube – is made and film screenings from the LTM archive. From 11am to 5pm Saturday and Sunday. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.

The Worshipful Company of Woolmen will be holding their annual  sheep drive across London bridge this Sunday. The event, free to watch, kicks off at 10am and runs until 5pm. For more, see www.woolmen.com.

• On Now: Ai Weiwei. This landmark exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in Piccadilly celebrates the work of Honorary Royal Academician and leading Chinese artist Ai Weiwei with significant works from 1993 onwards and new, site specific installations. Among the key exhibits is Straight (2008-12), a body of work related to the Sichuan earthquake of 2008, fabricated from 90 tonnes of bent and twisted rebar which was collected by the artist and straightened by hand. Runs until 13th December.  Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.

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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.

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Eighteenth century physician Dr Richard Mead is noted not only for his attendance on the rich and famous of his time – including royalty – but also for his philanthropy, his expansive collections and, importantly, his contributions in the field of medicine.

Born in Stepney, London, on the 11th August, 1673, as the 11th of 13 children of nonconforming minister Matthew Mead, Mead studied both Utrecht and Leiden before receiving his MD in Italy. Returning to England in 1696, he founded his own medical practice in Stepney.

He married Ruth Marsh in 1699 and together the couple had at least eight children, several of whom died young, before her death in 1720 (he subsequently married again, this time to Anne, daughter of a Bedfordshire knight, Sir Rowland Alston).

Having published the then seminal text – A Mechanical Account of Poisons – in 1702, the following year Mead was admitted to the Royal Society. He also took up a post as a physician at St Thomas’ Hospital, a job which saw him move to a property in Crutched Friars in the City – his home until 1711, when he relocated to Austin Friars.

It was after this that he become friends with eminent physician John Radcliffe who chose Mead as his successor and, on his death in 1714, bequeathed him his practice and his Bloomsbury home (not to mention his gold-topped cane, now on display at the Foundling Museum – see note below).

Following Radcliffe’s death, in August of that year Dr Mead attended Queen Anne on her deathbed. Other distinguished patients over his career included King George I, his son Prince George and daughter-in-law Princess Caroline – in fact he was appointed as official physician to the former prince when elevated to the throne as King George II – as well as Sir Isaac Newton, lexicographer Dr Samuel Johnson, Alexander Pope, Sir Robert Walpole and painter Antoine Watteau.

Mead, who had been named a governor of St Thomas’ in 1715 and elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1716, was over the years recognised as an expert in a range of medical fields – including, as well as poisons, smallpox, scurvy and even the transmission of the plague.

Among the many more curious stories about Dr Mead is one concerning a ‘duel’ (or fistfight) he apparently fought with rival Dr John Woodward outside Gresham College in 1719 over their differences in tackling smallpox and others which concern experiments he conducted with venomous snakes to further his knowledge of venom before writing his text on poisons.

Dr Mead was also known for his philanthropy and became one of the founding governors of the Foundling Hospital (as well as being its medical advisor) – a portrait of him by artist Allan Ramsay (for whom he was a patron), currently hangs at the museum.

Dr Mead, who by this stage lived in Great Ormond Street in Bloomsbury (the property, which backed onto the grounds of the Foundling Museum and which Mead had moved into after his first wife’s death, later formed the basis of the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children), is also noted for the large collection he gathered of paintings – including works by Dürer, Holbein, Rembrandt, and Canaletto, a library of more than 10,000 books, antiquities and classical sculpture as well as coins and jewels, all of which scholars and artists could access at his home (it took some 56 days to sell it all after his death).

While Dr Mead – who died on 16th February, 1754 – was buried in the Temple Church, there is a monument to him – including a bust by Peter Scheemakers – in the north aisle of Westminster Abbey.

Dr Mead is currently being honoured in an exhibition at the Foundling Museum – The Generous Georgian: Dr Richard Meadwhich runs until 4th January. There’s an accompanying blog here which provides more information on his life and legacy.

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

An artist with a social conscience, William Hogarth’s sketches and paintings summed up much of what was rotten with 18th century England – the society in which he lived – much as Dickens’ writing did in the following century.

Hogarth was a native Londoner – he was the son of Richard Hogarth, a Latin teacher and publisher, in Smithfield in 1697. Despite the ups and downs of his father’s fortunes (during Hogarth’s childhood, Richard Hogarth was confined to the Fleet Prison for debt for five years following an unsuccessful venture running a coffee house), at the age of 16 William was apprenticed to an engraver named Ellis Gamble.

Following his apprenticeship, he set up his own shop in 1720 and it was at this time that he started producing political satires. Hogarth was also painting  and around this time met with artist Sir James Thornhill. He became a regular visitor to Thornhill’s art academy in Covent Garden and their friendship grew, so much so that Hogarth eventually married Thornhill’s daughter Jane in 1729.

In the early 1730s, having established himself as a painter – both of portrait groups and some early satirical painting – Hogarth turned to painting his ‘moral tales’, the first of which, A Harlot’s Progress, was published in 1732 and tells the story decline of a country girl after coming to London. It was followed by A Rake’s Progress in 1733-35 (now at the Sir John Soane’s Museum).

In 1735 Hogarth was also successful in lobbying to have an act passed to protect the copyright of artistic works – it was unofficially known as “Hogarth’s Act”. The same year he also established St Martin’s Lane Academy – a school for young artists and a guild for professionals.

In the late 1730s, Hogarth turned his hand to individual portraits of the rich and famous. Among his most famous works at this time is a magnificent portrait of Captain Thomas Coram (founder of the Foundling Hospital – it can still be seen at what is now the Foundling Museum), and another of actor David Garrick as Richard III for which he was paid the substantial sum of £200, an amount he apparently claimed was more than any other artist had received for a single portrait.

In 1743, Hogarth completed his landmark work Marriage a-la-mode, a series of six paintings which can now be seen at the National Gallery. He was also painting historical scenes – like Moses brought before Pharoah’s Daughter (for the council room of the Foundling Hospital) and Paul before Felix (for Lincoln’s Inn). In 1747, he published a series of 12 engravings, Industry and Idleness, which tells the parallel stories of two apprentices – one successful, the other not – and this was followed by a series of prints such as Beer Street, Gin Lane, and The Four Stages of Cruelty illustrating some of the less savory aspects of everyday life.

Other works completed around this time included The March of the Guards to Finchley – which looks back to the mid-1740s when the Scottish Pretender’s Army was believed to be about to threaten London, The Gate of Calais – which draws on Hogarth’s own experience of being arrested as a spy when he visited France in 1748, and the Election series – four painting which take for their subject the Oxfordshire election of 1754.

There were some clouds on his horizon at this time with unfavourable criticism of his works and beliefs about art but even as he was engaging in a robust debate with critics of his works (largely through a written work he produced called The Analysis of Beauty), Hogarth was appointed in 1757 to the post of Sergeant-Painter to King George II (he commemorated the event in a painting).

Hogarth ran into further trouble in his later years with works deliberately created to provoke – among the more famous was The Times, a work which led to a breach in his friendship with influential MP John Wilkes who then launched a personal and devastating attack on Hogarth in his newspaper The North Briton. Hogarth responded with a non-flattering engraving of Wilkes.

His last work – The Bathos, an apocalyptic piece – seems to capture his gloomy mood at the time, and having suffered a seizure in 1763, Hogarth died at his house in Leicester Fields on the 25th or 26th October, 1764, possibly of an aneurism. Buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas in Chiswick, he was survived by his wife Jane to whom he left his properties – these included his country home in Chiswick, now known as Hogarth’s House. She made her living reprinting his works until her own death five years later.

Hogarth’s legacy lies in the impact of his works which not only attacked some of the evils of his day but have since inspired countless artists and been adapted in all manner of artistic endeavours over the ensuring centuries. Hogarth’s works can still be seen at various galleries around town – including that of the Foundling Museum – and there is a fine statue of him and his pug dog, Trump, in Chiswick High Road (pictured) as well as a bust in Leicester Square.

A ship-builder and New World colonist of some renown, Thomas Coram is primarily remembered now as the founder of London’s Foundling Hospital.

While details of Coram’s early life are sketchy, it is known that he was born in Dorset, possibly in Lyme Regis, in 1668 and was believed to be the son of a merchant seaman, John Coram.

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.