kewaMore than 60,000 lights are being used to illuminate Kew Gardens this Christmas in a mile long trail through the foliage. The trail features eight newly commissioned installations from UK and international artists including Bloom – a display of 1,700 swaying flowers by the group Squidsoup (above), and the roaring scented Fire Garden – a display themed around the Twelve Days of Christmas by And Now: (pictured below are three French hens from the installation). The trail also features Wolfgang Buttress’ bee-inspired installation, known as the The Hive (pictured second below), which has been lit with 1,000 LEDs that pulsate and glow against the night sky, and finishes with an “explosion” of brightly coloured laser beams across the Palm House Pond (pictured third below). There’s also a panto featuring Santa and his elves and a Victorian carousel. The night lights can be seen until 2nd January. Admission charge applies (and there’s timed entry). Kew is also running a program of family-oriented Christmas activities during the day across the period. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew.

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An award-winning art installation exploring the world of the British bee has been installed at Kew Gardens in west London. Designed by artist Wolfgang Buttress and created by BDP, Simmonds Studio and Stage One, the Hive was the centrepiece of the UK Pavilion at the 2015 Milan Expo and has become the first British pavilion to be brought home and reused. The 17 metre-high, 40 tonne installation, which has been set in a flower meadow, twists into the sky suggesting the shape of a swarm of bees. Inside, thousands of flickering LED lights create a sense of what life is like inside a beehive while a soundtrack inspired by the deep humming of the bees fills the air. Both sound and light inside the hive will change in intensity as energy levels in a real beehive located elsewhere in the gardens changes, providing a unique insight into life inside a bee colony. Between 2nd July and 30th October, the installation is being accompanied by a ‘Pollination Trail’ across the gardens which explores the relationship between bees and plants and a series of specially trained ‘hive explainers’ will also be on hand inside The Hive. The gardens are also hosting a series of special talks, films, workshops and ‘lates’ as well as special, family-oriented events. For more see, www.kew.org. PICTURES: Jeff Eden, RBG Kew.

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Kew-GardensIt was Queen Charlotte who first dressed the branches of a Christmas tree in Kew Palace in the 1790s and, drawing on that tradition, Kew Gardens is once again hosting a mile long winter light experience. Visitors can walk through ribbons of light, count the festooned Christmas trees and listen to a holly bush choir as well as see larger than life winter flora such as snowdrops and Christmas roses and pause at the scented Fire Garden for a moment of reflection. Santa and his elves are appearing on stage at the Princess of Wales Conservatory and a Victorian carousel and other rides are located at the White Peaks Cafe where visitors can sample goodies like mulled wine, spiced cider and roasted chestnuts.  The after-dark event runs from 5pm to 10pm on select dates until 2nd January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: The Palm House at Kew Gardens lit up for Christmas. Courtesy Kew Gardens.

What’s in a name?…Kew…

September 21, 2015

Kew-PalaceFamed as the location of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a Thames-side suburb in London’s west.

It’s the riverside location which gives the area its name – Kew is apparently a corrupted form of Cayho, a word first recorded in the early 14th century which is itself made of two words referring to a landing place (the ‘Cay’ part) and a spur of land (the ‘ho’ part). The latter may refer in this case to the large “spur” of land upon which Kew is located, created by a dramatic bend in the Thames. The former may refer to a ford which crossed the river here (explaining the name of Brentford on the other side).

While the area had long been the home of a small hamlet for the local farming and fishing community, more substantial houses began to be developed in Kew in the late 15th and early 16th centuries thanks to the demand for homes for courtiers attending the King Henry VII and his successors at nearby Richmond Palace (the royal connections of the area in fact go back much further to the early Middle Ages).

But it was during the Georgian era, when the Royal Botanic Gardens were founded and Kew Palace, formerly known as the Dutch House, became a royal residence (it is pictured above), that Kew really kicked off (and by the way, Kew Palace is not the only surviving 17th century building in the area – West Hall, once home of painter William Harriot, is also still here).

While King George II and his wife Queen Caroline used Richmond Lodge, now demolished but then located at the south end of what is now the gardens, as their summer residence, they thought Kew Palace would make a good home for their three daughters (their heir, Frederick, Prince of Wales, lived opposite his sisters at the now long-gone White House). Kew Palace, meanwhile, would later be a residence of other members of the Royal Family as well, including King George III during his bouts of madness.

Other buildings of note from the Georgian era in Kew include Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, a thatched property built between 1754 and 1771 and granted to Queen Charlotte by her husband, King George III (like the palace, it now lies within the grounds of Kew Gardens). St Anne’s Church, located on Kew Green, dates from 1714 and hosts the tombs of artists Johann Zoffany and Thomas Gainsborough.

In 1840, the gardens which surrounded the palace were opened to the public as a national botanic garden and the area further developed with the opening of the railway station in 1869, transforming what was formerly a small village into the leafy largely residential suburb which we find there today (although you can still find the village at its heart).

As well as Kew Gardens (and Kew Palace), Kew is today also the home of the National Archives, featuring government records dating back as far as 1086.

It’s all about big masted ships at Greenwich this Bank Holiday weekend as up to 15 ships drop anchor at the Royal Greenwich Tall Ships Festival. Two tall ships, the Dar Mlodziezy and Santa Maria Manuela, will be moored on Tall Ships Island in the river at Maritime Greenwich (accessed via MBNA Thames Clippers) while an additional 13 ships will be taking people on cruises from their base at Royal Arsenal Woolwich (tickets can be booked via Sail Royal Greenwich). On Saturday, a free family festival will be held in Woolwich Town Centre and at Royal Arsenal Riverside with music, roving entertainers, food and other activities including a fireworks display on the river at 10pm (fireworks can also be seen on Thursday, Friday and Sunday nights on the river at Maritime Greenwich at around 9.15pm). For more information – including how and where to book tickets, see www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/tallships2015.

An immersive art project allowing visitors to engage with paintings in a multi sensory experience opened at Tate Britain on Milbank yesterday. Tate Sensorium has won this year’s annual IK Prize, presented by the Tate and supported by the Porter Foundation, awarded for a project which uses innovative technology to enable the public to explore the gallery’s collection in new ways. The display features four works by celebrated figures in 20th century painting: Francis Bacon’s Figure in a Landscape (1945), David Bomberg’s In the Hold (c 1913-1914), Richard Hamilton’s Interior II (1964) and John Latham’s Full Stop (1961). As part of the experience, which has been produced by creative studio Flying Object in conjunction with a cross-disciplinary team, visitors are offered the chance to wear biometric measurement wristbands to record the emotional impact of the experience. Admission to exhibition in gallery 34 is free but tickets are limited. Runs until 20th September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/sensorium.

A series of detailed paintings of fruit, vegetables and edible plants from all over the world goes on show at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens on Saturday. Nature’s Bounty features works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections including works from the 19th century text, Fleurs, Fruits et Feuillages Chosis de la Flore et de la Pomona de L’ile de Java drawn by botanical artist Berthe Hoola Van Nooten as well as works from the Shirley Sherwood and Kew collections. The exhibition runs until 31st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org.

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Dunkirk-Little-Ships-More than 20 Dunkirk Little Ships will gather at London’s Royal Docks this weekend ahead of their Return to Dunkirk journey marking the 75th anniversary of the Dunkirk evacuations. The event, which is part of the UK’s annual festival of late openings Museums at Night, will see the ships parade around Royal Victoria Dock on Saturday night with the Silver Queen offering twilight trips and the chance to step on board some of the other ships (the Little Ships will continue with their own festival on Sunday commencing with a church service by the quayside at 11am). Other events being offered in London as part of Museums at Night include ‘Dickens After Dark’ in which the Charles Dickens Museum will open its doors to visitors for night of Victorian entertainment on Friday night and a night of music featuring the Royal College of Music at Fulham Palace (also on Friday night). Among the other London properties taking part are the Handel House Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the Wellcome Collection, Museum of the Order of St John, and the National Archives in Kew. For a full list of events, check out http://museumsatnight.org.uk

Meanwhile, Dulwich Picture Gallery in south London is holding its first weekend culture festival, MayFest: Men of Mystery, as part of Museums at Night. On Friday and Saturday nights, there will be tours of the gallery’s new exhibition featuring the work of artist Eric Ravilious followed by outdoor cinema screenings of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and The 39 Steps as well as free swing dance lessons, street foods and a pop-up vintage shop which will help people get the vintage look. Visitors are being encouraged to dress up in styles of the 1930s and 1940s with a prizes awarded to those with the “best vintage style”. The gallery will also be inviting visitors to take part in a mass installation drop-in workshop held in the gallery’s grounds over the weekend and Saturday morning will see special events for children. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk/whats-on/.

A major new work by acclaimed artist Cornelia Parker goes on display in the entrance hall of the British Library in King’s Cross tomorrow to mark the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta. The almost 13 metre long Magna Carta (An Embroidery) replicates the entire Wikipedia entry on the Magna Carta as it was on the 799th anniversary of the document and was created by many people ranging from prisoners and lawyers to artists and barons. It accompanies the library’s exhibition Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy. Entry to see the artwork is free. For more, see www.bl.uk/cornelia-parker.

The works of Peter Kennard, described as “Britain’s most important political artist”, are on display in a new exhibition which opens at the Imperial War Museum in London today. Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is the first major retrospective exhibition of his work and features more than 200 artworks and other items drawn from his 50 year career including an art installation, Boardroom, created especially for the display. Works on show include his iconic transposition of Constable’s painting Haywain which he showed carrying cruise missiles about to be deployed in Greenham Common, the Decoration paintings created in 2004 in response to the Iraq War of 2003, his seminal STOP paintings which reference events of the late 1960s such as the ‘Prague Spring’ and anti-Vietnam war protests and his 1997 installation Reading Room. The free exhibition runs at the Lambeth institution until 30th May next year. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk/london.

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Kenwood House in north London is being reopened to the public today following a £5.95 million restoration project which has seen the library returned to what Scottish architect Robert Adam had intended it to be. The project, which saw the Hampstead property closed since March last year, has also seen the restoration of three other Robert Adam-designed rooms – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber or entrance to the library – as well as the redecoration of four rooms in 18th century style, repainting of the exterior and the repair of the home’s roof – a job aimed at protecting the rooms and its stellar

Kenwood-House-Librarycollection of artworks by the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer. English Heritage has also endeavoured to make the property more homely, replacing ticket desks and rope barriers with an open fire, warm rugs and leather couches on which visitors can relax. The library (pictured) was built and decorated to Adam’s designs between 1767 and 1770 as part of a wider remodelling of the villa for its owner Lord Chief Justice William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield. Redecorated many times since, it was restored in the 1960s but this redecoration was later found to be inaccurate. The Caring for Kenwood restoration project, which has also seen restoration of the Kenwood Dairy, was funded by a £3.89 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as support from the Wolfson Foundation and other donors. To coincide with the reopening, a new app exploring Kenwood House has been released which can be downloaded for free from the iTunes store. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/kenwood/. PICTURE: English Heritage/Patricia Payne.

Head out on a “robot safari” this weekend with a special free event at Science Museum in South Kensington. Robot SafariEU, part of Eurobotics week, features 13 biometric robots from across Europe including an underwater turtle robot, a shoal of luminous fish robots, a robotic cheetah cub and Pleurobot, a robotic salamander. Roboticists from across Europe will be on hand to help visitors interact with the bots. Suitable for all ages, the event kicked off on Wednesday night and runs again on the weekend. Admission is free but timed tickets are required. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/RobotSafari.

A memorial to author, scholar and apologist CS Lewis was dedicated at Westminster Abbey last Friday – the 50th anniversary of his death. Conducting the service, the Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said Lewis was “one of the most significant Christian apologists of the 20th century” and the author of stories that had “inspired the imagination and faith of countless readers and film-goers”. Douglas Gresham, younger stepson of Lewis, read from the author’s book, The Last Battle, at the service. The memorial is located in Poet’s Corner in the abbey’s south transept. For more see www.westminster-abbey.org.

A Blue Plaque commemorating Al Bowlly – described as “Europe’s most popular crooner and famous radio and record star” – will be unveiled at his home in Charing Cross Road this week. Bowlly, who lived between 1899 and 1941, was the voice beyond songs like Goodnight Sweetheart and The Very Thought Of You. The English Heritage Blue Plaque will be unveiled at Charing Cross Mansions, 26 Charing Cross Road – his home during the pinnacle of his career. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.

Kew Gardens has opened its gates after dark for the first time with a “captivating show of lights, sound and landscape” this festive season. A mile long illuminated trail, created in partnership with entertainment promoter Raymond Gubbay, will take visitors’ through the garden’s unique tree collections, kicking off at Victoria Gate where a Christmas village (and Santa’s Woodland Grotto) is located. The gardens will be open every Thursday to Sunday until 23rd December and then be open every night from 26th December to 4th January from 4.45pm to 10pm. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.kew.org/Christmas.

VivienLeighActress Vivien Leigh is the star of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the National Portrait Gallery. Starring Vivien Leigh: A Centenary Celebration tells her story with a focus on her Academy Award-winning role in 1939’s Gone With The Wind. The display features more than 50 portraits of Leigh by the likes of Cecil Beaton, Angus McBean and Madame Yevonde – many of which have never been exhibited in the gallery before – and a selection of memorabilia including magazine covers, vintage film stills and press books. Among the photos will be a newly acquired image of Leigh and her husband, Laurence Olivier, taken by British photojournalist Larry Burrows at a garden party in 1949 (pictured), along with two rarely seen portraits of Leigh – one taken on the set of The School for Scandal by Vivienne in 1949 and the other by Paul Tanqueray in 1942. The exhibition will be held in Room 33 and runs until 20th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.npg.org.uk. PICTURE:  Copyright – Larry Burrows Collection 2013.

One of the most famous painters of his age, Dutchman Sir Peter Lely – currently the subject of an exhibition at London’s Courtauld Gallery – rose to become the foremost portrait painter at the English Court during the latter half of the 17th century.

Born to Dutch parents on 14th September, 1618, in Westphalia (now part of Germany) where his father was serving as an infantry captain, Peter – originally named Pieter van der Faes – studied art as an apprentice in Haarlem in what is now The Netherlands. While there he is believed to have changed his name to Lely based on a heraldic lily which appeared on the gable of the house where his father was born in The Hague.

Lely appeared in London in the early 1640s and, while he initially devoted himself to the sort of narrative-style paintings inspired by classical mythology, the Bible and literature he had been working on in Haarlem but having found no great success there, soon turned his hand to portraiture.

The death of court portraitist Anthony van Dyck in 1641 had left a vacuum he stepped into the gap, soon becoming the most in-demand portrait painter at the Royal Court, his sitters including none other than King Charles I himself.

However, Lely, who was made a freeman of the Painter-Stainers Company in London in 1647, managed to straddle the political divide and after the beheading of King Charles I and the end of the English Civil War in 1651, was able to continue painting portraits of the most powerful people in the land including Oliver Cromwell – whom he painted “warts and all” as per the Lord Protector’s request – and his Cromwell’s brother Richard.

Already renowned as the best artist in the country, following the Restoration in 1660, Lely became Principal Painter of King Charles II, placed on an annual stipend as van Dyck had been before him during the reign of King Charles I.

Lely’s workshop was large and its output prolific, with his students and employees – who at one stage apparently included scientist and architect Robert Hooke – often completing his paintings after he sketched out some details, only painting the sitter’s face in any great detail.

Among his most famous works are a series of 10 portraits known as the Windsor Beauties (currently at Hampton Court Palace), a series of portraits of senior naval officers who served in the Second Anglo-Dutch War, known as the Flagmen of Lowestoft (most of the works at are the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich) and Susannah and the Elders (currently at Burghley House in Cambridgeshire) as well as some of the paintings in the current Courtauld exhibition including Nymphs by a Fountain (usually found at the Dulwich Picture Gallery) and Boy as a Shepherd (also the Dulwich Picture Gallery).

Lely was also known as an avid collector of art and is credited as being the first artist in England to do so in any serious manner – among his purchases were works which formerly formed part of King Charles I’s collection. At the time of his death, he is said to have owned more than 500 paintings, although more than half of these were works of his or his studio.

Sir Peter, who never married but had two children who survived him with a common-law wife Ursula, lived at a house in the north-east corner of Covent Garden from about 1650 until his death in 1680 (some sources have him knighted in this year, others in 1679) but also had a house at Kew and owned property outside of London including in Lincolnshire and The Hague.

He was apparently working at his easel in the studio of his Covent Garden house when he died on 30th November, 1680. He was buried at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden. The monument to him, the work of Grinling Gibbons, was destroyed by fire in 1795.

Peter Lely: A Lyrical Vision – which focuses on some of his early non-portrait works – runs at The Courtauld Gallery until 13th January. For more on the exhibition, visit www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/exhibitions/2012/peter-lely/index.shtml. Running alongside the exhibition is a display of some of the drawings from Sir Peter’s own collection, Peter Lely: The Draughtsman and His Collection.

There’s less than a month to go to the Opening Ceremony of the Olympic Games so we thought it only appropriate to take a look at Kew Gardens’ floral Olympic Rings. Located next to The Orangery, the rings are 50 metres long and made of 20,000 plants including Viola ‘Light Blue’, Viola ‘Clear Yellow’, Viola ‘Black Delight’, apple mint (Mentha suaveolens) and Viola ‘Red Blotch’ plants. Able to be seen from planes on the Heathrow flight path, they were unveiled in April and will be at the gardens until September. For more information on visiting Kew Gardens, see www.kew.org. PICTURE: Courtesy Kew Gardens

• The British Library has paid £9 million for a 7th century text, the St Cuthbert Gospel, which is also the oldest intact European book. The acquisition follows the library’s most successful fund-raising effort ever – it included a £4.5 million grant from the National Heritage Memorial Fund. The book – a Gospel of John bound in beautifully tooled red leather – was produced in north-east England in the late 7th century and was placed in the saint’s coffin after his death on the Isle of Lindisfarne in 698. It was retrieved when the coffin was opened at Durham Cathedral in 1104. The Gospel is on display in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery at the library in St Pancras and following a conservation review, it is anticipated it will soon be displayed with the pages open for the first time. There will be a public event celebrating the acquisition on 15th May. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/events/may12/index.html.

• London this week marked 100 days until the Opening Ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games. This included unveiling the latest installation of the Olympic rings – made of 20,000 plants the 50 metre long rings are located in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in the city’s west and can be seen from planes on the Heathrow flight path. The organising committee also announced the Red Arrows aerobatic display team will perform a nine-ship flypast in ‘big battle’ formation on the day of the Opening Ceremony (27th July) and stated that the games motto will be ‘Inspire a Generation’. For more, see www.london2012.com.

• The Museum of London’s archaeological archive – known as the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre (LAARC) – is officially the largest in the world according to Guinness World Records. The archive contains more than five million artefacts and the records of almost 8,500 excavations dating back to 1830. Items in the archive include shoes dating back to Roman times, a 200-year-old set of false teeth, ‘witching bottles’ including one with human hair and toenails, and coffin plates from London’s cemeteries. The world record has been recorded as part of World Record London, a series of world record breaking events being held in the run-up to the Olympics. Others have included the Faberge Big Egg Hunt.

• Thousands of people are expected to take part in the Virgin London Marathon this Sunday. The 26.2 mile route starts in Blackheath, passes through Woolwich and Greenwich and crosses the Thames at Tower Bridge before looping around the east end of London, through Canary Wharf, and the west along The Highway (formerly known as The Ratcliffe Highway) and Embankment to Parliament Square, Birdcage Walk and finally to Buckingham Palace. The first London marathon was run in 1981. For more, see www.virginlondonmarathon.com.

• On Now: Turner Inspired – In the Light of Claude. The first major presentation of 17th century artist Claude Gellée’s influence on the English romantic artist J M W Turner, the exhibition focuses on Claude-inspired themes which run through Turner’s work including “the evocation of light and air in landscape, the effect of light upon water and his often radical reworking of contemporary scenes”. The display includes works from large scale oils on canvas through to leaves from Turner’s pocket sketchbooks. Interestingly, the exhibition also explores the story behind the so-called Turner Bequest – that on his death, Turner linked himself to Claude forever by leaving the National Gallery two pictures – Dido building Carthage (1815) and Sun rising through Vapour: Fishermen cleaning and selling Fish (before 1807) –  on condition that they were hung between two pictures by Claude, Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba (1648) and Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebecca (1648). Runs until 5th June. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.

Around London…

July 28, 2010

• A team of archaeologists from the Museum of London have unearthed the remains of a brewhouse close to the purpose-built theatre, known simply as The Theatre, where Shakespeare first acted. The brewhouse could represent what became a dedicated ‘tap room’ aimed at theatre customers and may well have been a watering hole of the Bard himself. It – and a nearby bakehouse – were originally part of Holywell Priory, once one of the richest in England, which was dissolved in 1539. You can follow the dig’s progress here: www.mymuseumoflondon.org.uk/blogs/blog/category/excavations-at-shakespeare’s-theatre/

London’s Dickens Museum has unveiled the long-lost tombstone of a cartoonist who took his own life after he was believed to have been rejected by the famous author. Robert Seymour apparently took his own life after Charles Dickens was believed to have informed him that he would no longer be employed to illustrate The Pickwick Papers (there remains considerable debate over whether Dickens should be blamed for his death). The gravestone had been missing for a century but was reportedly discovered in the crypt of a London church by scholar Stephen Jarvis. It will now be displayed in the back garden of the museum which is housed at 48 Doughty Street in Dicken’s only surviving London home (he lived there between 1837 and 1839 while writing novels including The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist). The museum is preparing to celebrate the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth in 2012.  www.dickensmuseum.com

• Sir William and Sir Joseph Hooker – the father and son responsible for transforming Kew Gardens in the nineteenth century – have been honored with a blue plaque at their former home on Kew Green. The home where Princess Alexandra was to unveil the plaque became the official residence of the garden’s director when Sir William moved there in 1851. Sir William had been appointed director of the Botanic Gardens 10 years before and during his 24 year tenure not only greatly expanded them but also opened them to the public. His son, Sir Joseph, had travelled aboard the HMS Erebus as it explored the southern oceans between 1839-1843 before succeeding his father as director upon his death in 1865. www.english-heritage.org.uk/about/news/princess-alexandra-unveils-blue-plaque-for-former-directors-of-kew-gardens