• A new website has been launched to showcase the UK’s vast national collection of oil paintings. While the website, which is a partnership between the BBC, the Public Catalogue Foundation, and participating collections and museums, currently hosts around 60,000 works, it is envisaged that by the end of 2012 it will carry digitised images of all 200,000 oil paintings in the UK (in an indicator of how many there are, the National Gallery currently has around 2,300 oil paintings, about one hundredth of all those in the nation). The works on the site will eventually include almost 40,000 by British artists. The 850 galleries and organisations participating so far include 11 in London – among them the National Gallery, the Tate Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Bank of England, the Imperial War Museum and Dr Johnson’s House. For more, see www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/

• Arctic explorer John Rae has had a Blue Plaque unveiled in his honor at his former home in Holland Park. Although his feats were relatively unsung in his lifetime, the explorer’s expeditions in the Canadian Arctic saw him travel 13,000 miles by boat and foot and survey more than 1,700 miles of coastline. He is also credited with having “signposted” the only north-west passage around America that is navigable without icebreakers. Rae, who died in 1893, lived at the property at 4 Lower Addison Gardens in Holland Park for the last 24 years of his life.

Transport For London is calling on Londoners to share experiences of “kindness” that they have witnessed or participated in while travelling on the Underground. Artist Michael Landy has created a series of posters which are calling on people to submit their stories. Some of the stories will then be shown at Central Line stations (the first four posters go up on 23rd July at stations including Hollard Park, Holborn and Liverpool Street). For more, go to www.tfl.gov.uk/art.

On the Olympic front, the City of London Corporation has announced Tower Bridge will be bedecked with a set of giant Olympic Rings and the Paralympic Agitos during the 45 days of next year’s Games. Meanwhile, the Corporation has also unveiled it will host next week the launch of a London-wide campaign to get people involved in sport and activity in the lead-up to the Games. More to come on that.

On Now: Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril Beyond the Moulin Rouge. The Courtauld Gallery, based at Somerset House, is running an exhibition celebrating the “remarkable creative partnership” between Jane Avril, a star of the Moulin Rouge in Paris during the 1890s, and artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. Lautrec created a series of posters featuring Avril which ensured she became a symbol of Lautrec’s world of “dancers, cabaret singers, musicians and prostitutes”. Runs until 18th September. See www.courtauld.ac.uk for more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Famous for its literary, intellectual and artistic heritage, Bloomsbury covers an area in central London which lies between Holborn and Euston Road.

The area, which became a fashionable residential district in the 17th and 18th centuries, derives its name from an earlier era and is named after William de Blemund (‘Blemundsbury’ means the manor of Blemund), who acquired land there in 1201.

It was later owned by the Earl of Southampton, who had begun developing the area in the 1660s – a task which was continued when the land passed, through the marriage of his daughter, into the hands of the Dukes of Bedford. Successive dukes were then involved – to varying degrees – in the development of series of residential squares and streets which eventually included the likes of Bedford, Russell and, of course, Bloomsbury Squares.

In the early 20th century, the area become home to what is known as the Bloomsbury Group – its members included the writers Virginia Woolf, Lytton Strachey and EM Forster. These days the area is noted for being home to the British Museum (first opened to the public in 1759) and the University of London.

The man behind what is perhaps the most famous quote about London – “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life” – Samuel Johnson was a noted writer, critic and raconteur of the 18th century whose work included a then unparalleled English language dictionary.

Often simply referred to as “Dr Johnson”, Johnson was also the subject of one of the most famous biographies ever written – that of his friend James Boswell’s aptly named Life of Samuel Johnson.

Born in 1709 in Lichfield, Staffordshire (the home is now a museum), Johnson – who often struggled with poor health and depression – was the son of a bookseller who managed to help fund his brief time at Pembroke College in Oxford before lack of funds meant he had to leave without a degree (he was later awarded an honorary degree).

He worked with his father and as a tutor before eventually, in 1737, heading to London with his friend and former pupil, actor David Garrick, and there worked for the rest of his life as a writer producing works including magazine articles and essays, poetry, sermons, and biographies.

In 1746, he was commissioned to produce the dictionary and rented  a property at 17 Gough Square, not far from Fleet Street, where he would spend the nine years working in it. Published in 1755, the dictionary was a remarkable work which not only won him acclaim ever since but also resulted in King George III granting Johnson a modest pension for the rest of his life (he had previously been arrested for debt).

The Gough Square house is these days open to the public and includes an exhibition on Johnson’s life, particularly with regard to his time there (there’s a statue of his cat Hodge in the square itself). Other sites which Johnson is known to have frequented include Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street, the Anchor Inn in Bankside, the Theatre Royal Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) in Bow Street where the Beefsteak Club met, and St John’s Gate in Clerkenwell where he once had an office.

Johnson married an older widow, Elizabeth Porter, in 1735, but she died in 1752 and it was following her death that Francis Barber, a former Jamaican slave, moved in as his servant, eventually becoming Johnson’s heir.

Johnson’s friends included some of the great luminaries of the time, including artist Joshua Reynolds, philosopher Edmund Burke, poet Oliver Goldsmith, and, of course, Boswell.

Following a series of illnesses, Johnson died in 1784 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. The 300th anniversary of his death was marked with a series of events last year including a re-enactment of the walk Johnson and Garrick made from Lichfield to London.

Dr Johnson’s House (17 Gough Square, nearest tube is Temple, Holborn or Chancery Lane) is open Monday to Saturday, 11am-5.30pm (5pm from October to April). Entry costs £4.50 an adult, £3.50 for concessions, £1.50 for children and family tickets are available for £10. For more information, see www.drjohnsonshouse.org.