February 26, 2016
Recently conserved by the National Archives, Shakespeare’s last will and testament is at the heart of a new exhibition on show at Somerset House.
By Me William Shakespeare: A Life In Writing, the first joint exhibition of the National Archives and King’s College London, features four of the six known signatures of Shakespeare still in existence and, along with his last will and testament, shows some of the most significant Shakespeare-related documents in the world tracking his existence as everything from a London citizen, businessman, family man, servant to possibly even a thief and subversive.
But back to the will. While not written in the Bard’s hand, the will is signed by him in three places and indicates the wealth and status he had garnered by the time of his death on 23rd April, 1616.
Evidence shows that Shakespeare revised his will as his estate changed, and just before his death, he added personal bequests including that a silver bowl be given to his second eldest daughter Judith, memorial rings to actor friends in London and his second best bed to his wife Anne. He left most of his property to his eldest daughter, Susanna, although his will, according to the National Archives, indicates that he had hoped to establish a male legacy.
Other beneficiaries named in the will include his sister Joan and her sons and his grand-daughter Elizabeth Hall while Susanna and her husband John Hall were named as his executors.
The exhibition, which is being held in the Inigo Jones Rooms in Somerset House’s East Wing as part of the series of events being held to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, runs until 29th May. Admission charge applies.
Other documents featured in the display – all of which are registered with UNESCO – include accounts listing the grant of four-and-half yards of red cloth to Shakespeare by King James I for participation in his coronation procession in 1604, accounts from the Master of Revels showing when plays were performed at court (useful for helping to date when Shakespeare wrote particular plays), and a document recording testimony Shakespeare gave in court when his landlord, Christopher Mountjoy, failed to provide his son-in-law with a dowry for his daughter’s hand (Shakespeare is likely to have played a role in arranging the marriage).
For more on the exhibition, see www.bymewilliamshakespeare.org.
February 25, 2016
• John Dee (1527-1609), the enigmatic Elizabethan “mathematician, magician, astronomer, astrologer, imperialist, alchemist and spy”, is the subject of an exhibition currently running at the Royal College of Physicians Museum in Regent’s Park. Scholar, courtier, magician: the lost library of John Dee explores his life through remnants of his personal library and features mathematical, astronomical and alchemical texts, many of which he elaborately annotated and even illustrated. The texts are drawn from the collection of the college library which has more than 100 of the doctor’s volumes and which forms the largest collection of Dee’s books in the world. The books represent only a fraction of the more than 3,000 books and 1,000 manuscripts he claimed to own before his library was, so Dee claimed, sold off illicitly by his brother-in-law Nicholas Fromond after he gave them into his care when he travelled to Europe in the 1580s. Many of them apparently fell into the hands of Nicholas Saunder, possibly a former student of Dee’s and later passed into the hands of book collector Henry Pierrepont, the Marquis of Dorchester, whose family gave his entire library to the Royal College of Physicians after his death in 1680. The free exhibition runs until 29th July. For more, see www.rcplondon.ac.uk.
• Botticelli’s drawings for Dante’s epic poem, the Divine Comedy, are at the heart of a new exhibition which opened earlier this month at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House. Botticelli and Treasures from the Hamilton Collection, which is being run in collaboration with the Kuperferstichkabinett (Prints and Drawings Museum) in Berlin, features treasures which were sold to Berlin by the 12th Duke of Hamilton in 1882 despite efforts by Queen Victoria to prevent the transaction. They include a selection of 30 of Botticelli’s drawings – which date from about 1480-95 – as well as illuminated manuscripts including the Hamilton Bible. Said to be one of the most important illuminated manuscripts in the world, it is being returned to the UK for the first time since 1882. The exhibition, which coincides with Botticelli Reimagined opening at the V&A next month, runs until 15th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sandro Botticelli – Beatrice explains to Dante the order of the cosmos (Divine Comedy, Paradiso II), around 1481-1495/© Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kupferstichkabinett/Philipp Allard.
• The stories of women in times of war form the heart of a new display on show at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth. Eleven Women Facing War features photographs and films taken by award-winning British photographer and film-maker Nick Danziger. He first photographed the 11 women, who all lived in conflict zones, in 2001 for an International Committee of the Red Cross study documenting the needs of women facing war before setting out 10 years later to find each of the women and see what had become of their lives. The exhibition features 33 photographs and 11 short films from conflict zones including Bosnia, Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Hebron (West Bank), Sierra Leone, Colombia and Argentina. Among the stories told are those of Mah Bibi, a 10-year-old orphan who was begging for food for herself and two brothers when first photographed in Afghanistan and who, 10 years later, had vanished and is believed to have died in 2006. Another is that of Mariatu, who was struggling to rebuild her life in Sierra Leone after her hands had been forcibly amputated by guerrilla soldiers at the age of 13 when she was photographed in 2001 and who 10 years later had moved to Canada. The exhibition runs until 24th April. Admission is free. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
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This Week in London – Norway on show at Dulwich; Bruegel the Elder at the Courtauld; and, Kew Gardens celebrates the orchid…
February 4, 2016
• The first UK show dedicated to the works of Norwegian landscape painter and printmaker, Nikolai Astrup, opens at the Dulwich Picture Gallery tomorrow. Painting Norway: Nikolai Astrup (1880-1928) features more than 120 paintings, woodcuts and archive material – many of public display for the first time. Astrup is described as one of Norway’s finest 20th century artists and long with Munch, expanded the possibilities of woodcuts to capture the wild landscapes and traditional way of life in his western Norway home. Works on show include everything from the woodcut A Clear Night in June (1905-07), the many coloured masterpiece A Night in June in the Garden (1909), and the celebratory Midsummer Eve Bonfire (1915). Runs until 15th May. Admission charges apply. The gallery is also hosting a series of related events. For more, head to www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk. PICTURE: Marsh Marigold Night, c.1915 – The Savings Bank Foundation DNB/The Astrup Collection/KODE Art Museums of Bergen. Photo © Dag Fosse/KODE.
• Bruegel the Elder’s only three surviving grisaille paintings have been brought together in a new exhibition opening at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House today. The works, painted in shades of grey, include the Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery as well as The Death of the Virgin (brought from the National Trust-managed Upton House) and Three Soldiers (borrowed from the Frick Collection in New York. They’re among the less than 40 works attributed to the artist (c1525-1569) and while The Death of the Virgin was owned by his friend, map-maker Abraham Ortelius, Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery was one of few paintings kept by the artist himself. The exhibition Bruegel in Black and White: Three Grisailles Reunited also includes replicas made by Bruegel’s sons as well as other grisailles while other works by Bruegel from the Courtauld’s collection will be displayed in the Butler Drawings Gallery. Runs until 8th May. Admission charges apply. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.
• Head to Kew Gardens for a splash of colour as the annual Orchid Festival kicks off in the Princess of Wales Conservatory on Saturday. And, following the success of last year’s events, the conservatory will once again throw its doors open after dark on the 11th, 18th and 25th February and 3rd March for Orchid Lates at Kew Gardens (there’s also a special Valentine’s Late at Kew Gardens on 13th February). Admission charges apply. For more, head to www.kew.org.
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This Week in London – New guides to British Museum; Jean-Etienne Liotard at the RA; and Peter Lanyon’s gliding landscapes…
January 7, 2016
• The British Museum has unveiled a new audio guide to provide the museum’s 6.7 million annual visitors with a new way to interact with its permanent collections. The guide comes in 10 different languages as well as in British Sign Language, an updated and improved audio descriptive guide and a “family game guide” for children to play with their parents. It boasts 70 new commentaries detailing the most recent research on key objects as well as new tours for China and A History of the World, a highlights feature and Top 1o tour, stunning new photography and a ‘My visit’ feature which sends visitors a visual record of their visit by email. The guide is available for hire at the Bloomsbury institution. See www.britishmuseum.org for more.
• On Now: Jean-Etienne Liotard. This exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts’ Sackler Wing of Galleries off Piccadilly, which closes at the end of the month, features more than 70 works by the 18th century Swiss artist including works in pastels (of which he was an undisputed master), oil paintings, drawings and miniatures. The exhibition is divided into six sections – they include a detailed look at the artist and his family, his four year sojourn in Constantinople and his royal portraits which include Archduchess Marie-Antoinette of Austria, painted in 1762 (pictured). Runs until 31st January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk. PICTURE: Bettina Jacot-Descombes/RA
• On Now: Soaring Flight: Peter Lanyon’s Gliding Paintings. The first exhibition devoted to the post-war artist’s gliding paintings, this display at the Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House explores Lanyon’s (1918-1964) pioneering artistic breakthroughs in landscape painting as he created works inspired and influenced by his own gliding experiences in West Cornwall. The display features 15 major paintings from public and private collections around the world. Closes on 17th January. Admission charges apply. See www.courtauld.ac.uk.
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This Week in London – Rarely seen Goya at the Courtauld; Wolsey Angels saved; and, A Victorian Obsession…
February 26, 2015
• A “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.
February 3, 2015
Detail of the stonework on the facade of Somerset House, on the north bank of the Thames. For more on Somerset House, see our earlier post here.
Constructed on the site of the Duke of Somerset’s Tudor-era mansion, Somerset House as we know it today owes its origins to a national scheme aimed at creating public buildings in London which would rival those of Continental cities.
The campaign led to the passing of an Act of Parliament in 1775 for the construction of a new public building at Somerset House to house government agencies such as the Navy Office, Salt Office, Surveyor General of Lands, the King’s Bargemaster and the offices of the Duchy of Lancaster and Cornwall as well as various learned societies.
The former building – which had been worked on by the likes of Sir Christopher Wren and which had been used as a residence for the likes of King Charles II’s queen, Catherine of Braganza, following his death, had fallen into a state of considerable disrepair and was demolished in 1775.
William Robinson, secretary of the Office of Works, was initially given the job of designing the new building (much to the discontent of some) but after his sudden death the same year, the task was given to Sir William Chambers, comptroller of the Office of Works and one of England’s leading architects.
The basic design was as it appears today – four ranges built around a central court (now named the Edmond J Safra Fountain Court). The Strand Block, located to the north and the most highly decorated of the buildings inside and out, was built first and largely completed by 1780, the Embankment Building (home of the Navy Office) in 1786 and the east and west ranges two years later.
When Chambers died with the work unfinished in 1796, it was carried to completion by James Wyatt and declared complete in 1801, despite the fact elements of Chambers’ design were still outstanding. It had cost more than £460,000, in excess of three times Robinson’s original estimate.
One of the first new occupants – thanks to a decision by King George III – was the fledgling Royal Academy of Arts (it had been one of the last occupants of the former premises) and its focal point was the Great Exhibition Room where exhibitions were held until 1836. Others in the new building included The Royal Society (it remained until 1837 when, like the RA, it moved to Burlington House) and the Society of Antiquaries (it moved to Burlington House in 1874).
As well as being home to various offices of the Navy Board (the southern building, where it was housed, contains the stunning, now restored, Nelson stair), Somerset House was also home to the Inland Revenue.
New additions were made to the original design in the nineteenth century – the extension of the south block to the east and addition of a New Wing to the west – and the construction of the Victoria Embankment (see our earlier post here) meant the two watergates Chambers had designed became landlocked. Somerset House no longer rose directly from the water as he’d intended but from a roadway (as it does today – we’ve mentioned this before but you can see the original riverbank by looking through the glass floor of the building’s Embankment entrance).
Somerset House is these days home to a range of cultural and artistic organisations – from the British Fashion Council to the National Youth Orchestra and, in the north wing, the Courtauld Institute of Art. And as well as hosting various art installations, the central courtyard is host to an ice-skating rink over winter.
For more on Somerset House, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.
December 2, 2013
While the designation of London’s oldest public library depends on your definition, for the purposes of this article we’re awarding the title to the Guildhall Library.
Its origins go back to about 1425 when town clerk John Carpenter and John Coventry founded a library – believed to initially consist of theological books for students, according to the terms of the will of former Lord Mayor, Richard (Dick) Whittington (for more on him, see our previous post here).
Housed in Guildhall (pictured above), this library apparently came to an end in the mid-1500s when Edward Seymour, the Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector for the young King Edward VI, apparently had the entire collection loaded onto carts and taken to Somerset House. They were not returned and only one of the library’s original texts, a 13th century metrical Latin version of the Bible, is in the library today.
Some 300 years passed until the library was re-established by the City of London Corporation. Reopened in 1828, it was initially reserved for members of the Corporation but the membership was soon expanded to include”literary men”.
By the 1870s, when the collection included some 60,000 books related to London, the library moved into a new purpose-built building, located to the east of Guildhall. Designed by City architect Horace Jones, it opened to the public in 1873.
The library lost some 25,000 books during World War II when some of the library’s storerooms were destroyed and after the war, it was decided to build a new library. It opened in 1974 in the west wing of the Guildhall where it remains (entered via Aldermanbury).
Today, the 200,000 item collection includes books, pamphlets, periodicals including the complete London Gazette from 1665 to the present, trade directories and poll books as well as the archive collections such as those of the livery companies, the Stock Exchange and St Paul’s Cathedral and special collections related to the likes of Samuel Pepys, Sir Thomas More, and the Charles Lamb Society.
The library also holds an ongoing series of exhibitions.
Where: Guildhall Library, Aldermanbury; WHEN: 9.30am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday; COST: Entry is free and no membership of registration is required but ID may be required to access rarer books; WEBSITE: www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/things-to-do/visiting-the-city/archives-and-city-history/guildhall-library/Pages/default.aspx.
Around London – The Georgians at the British Library; wartime artist on show; Regent Street’s Christmas lights; Westminster’s new organ; and, celebrating success at the NPG…
November 7, 2013
• The Georgians are under the spotlight in a new exhibition opening at the British Library tomorrow. Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain explores the ways in which the Georgian world influenced pop culture in Britain today, everything from fashion and theatre-going to our obsessions with celebrity scandals. The display features more than 200 artefacts from the library’s collection and includes Jeremy Bentham’s violin, Joseph van Aken’s An English Family at Tea, rare books and magazines, and illustrations and designs of landmark building’s such as Sir John Soane’s home (and now museum) in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The exhibition, which is accompanied by a series of events (see the library website for details) comes ahead of the 300th anniversary of the accession of King George I next year. Runs until 11th March. Admission charge applies. Meanwhile, to mark the exhibition, the library has joined with Cityscapes in launching a new Georgian garden installation on the library’s piazza. Titled Georgeobelisk, the six metre high installation, will remain on the piazza for five months. A tribute to the four King Georges, it also serves as a reminder that it was also during the Georgian era that the British love of gardening was cultivated. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/georgiansrevealed/index.html. PICTURE: Spectators at a Print shop in St Paul’s churchyard © British Museum.
• Painting normally housed in “Britain’s answer to the Sistine Chapel” go on display in Somerset House today. The artworks, described as the “crowning achievement” of wartime artist Stanley Spencer, usually grace the walls of Sandham Memorial Chapel but are on display in London while the National Trust carries out restoration work at the Berkshire property. Spencer painted the works – which combine realism and visions from his imagination and were completed in 1932 – after serving as a hospital orderly during World War I. The free display – Stanley Spencer: Heaven in a Hell of War – can be seen until 26th January. For more, see www.somersethouse.org.uk.
• Regent Street’s Christmas lights – a preview of the upcoming DreamWorks film Mr Peabody and Sherman – will be turned on this Saturday night. Actor Ty Burrell, director Rob Minkoff and singer Leona Lewis will have the task of switching on the lights at about 7.15 pm while performers will include Passenger, Eliza Doolittle and former Spice Girls Emma Bunton and Melanie C. The event will be hosted by radio presenters Bunton and Jamie Theakston. The street will be traffic free all day and from 3pm to 7pm, Regent Street retailers will be showcasing fashions on a catwalk located just North of New Burlington Street. Programmes will be available from information points on the day.
• A new organ was dedicated in Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel on Tuesday. The organ was commissioned by the Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford, as a gift to the Queen to mark the 60th anniversary of her coronation in 1953. The Queen agreed the organ, which had briefly resided at the Lord Mayor’s residence the Mansion House, should be installed permanently in the Lady Chapel, built by King Henry VII. The new organ was dedicated by the Earl of Wessex. For more, see www.westminster-abbey.org.
• Now On: Achievement: New Photographs 2011-2013. Inspiring Britons at the peak of their professions are the subject of an exhibition running at the National Portrait Gallery. The display of recently acquired and previously un-exhibited photographs depict the likes of writer and presenter Charlie Brooker (by Chris Floyd), actress Gina McKee (Mark Harrison) and Skyfall director Sam Mendes (Anderson & Low). Admission is free. Runs until 5th January in Room 37a. For more, see www.npg.org.uk.
Around London – Sculpture in the City; Taste of London; Paddington’s 1st Festival; and, Gauguin at the Courtauld…
June 20, 2013
• A free outdoor exhibition of nine artworks by world famous artists can be seen in the City of London from today. Works featured in this year’s Sculpture in the City exhibition – the third year the event has run – include Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE sculpture (found at 99 Bishopsgate), Shirazeh Houshiary’s five spiralling stainless steel ribbons String Quintet (St Helen’s Square), and three giant steel dinosaurs, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, made by the Jake & Dinos Chapman (30 St Mary Axe). Other artists whose work is featured include Antony Gormley, Keith Coventry, Richard Wentworth, Jim Lambie and Ryan Gander. The works will be on display in the Square Mile for the next 12 months. For more – including the locations of all nine installations – see www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/sculptureinthecity. PICTURE: Robert Indiana ‘LOVE’ (1966) ∏ Morgan Art Foundation, Artists Right Socienty (ARS), New York – DACS, London. Photograph – A et cetera
• The 10th Taste of London festival – London’s biggest outdoor food festival – kicks off in Regent’s Park today and runs over the weekend. This year sees amateur BBQ enthusiasts going head-to-head in a “battle of the BBQs” on Saturday while professionals will hit the grills on Sunday with the winners crowned champions of the Weber BBQ Challenge. Meantime, visitors can experience the food of 40 of the city’s top restaurants, shop at 200 food and drink stalls, enjoy fine wine tasting and watch demonstrations by some of the world’s top chefs including three generations of the Roux dynasty – Albert Roux, Michel Roux Jr and Emily Roux – as well as Rene Redzepi, Raymond Blanc, Ben Tish, Pascal Aussignac and Bruno Loubet. For more, see www.tastefestivals.com/london.
• The first ever Paddington Festival – an 11 week showcase of art and culture supported by the City of Westminster – kicks off this weekend. Events include a “puppet theatre barge” at Little Venice and a launch event featuring an appearance by Chucky Venn (Eastenders) and steelpan and performances from local dance group, The Phoenix Dancers, at the Maida Hill Market. For more on the festival and for the full programme, see www.paddingtonfestival.co.uk. Other festivals kicking off this weekend include Shubbak 2013 – an international festival of Arab culture (www.shubbak.co.uk).
• On Now: Collecting Gauguin: Samuel Courtauld in the 20s. Opening today, this exhibition at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House features the gallery’s collection of works by the Post-Impressionist master Paul Gauguin. The most important collection of Gauguin’s works in the UK, it was assembled by Samuel Courtauld between 1923 and 1929 and includes major paintings and works on paper by along with one of only two marble sculptures the artist ever created. The exhibition, the gallery’s “summer showcase”, also features two important works formerly in the Courtauld’s collection and now on loan – Martinique Landscape and Bathers at Tahiti. Runs until 8th September. Admission charges apply. Meanwhile, The Courtauld Institute of Art’s MA Curating the Art Museum programme is also launching its annual exhibition, Imagining Islands: Artists and Escape, in response to the gallery’s summer showcase. A “trans-historical” exhibition displayed in two rooms, it explores artists’ fascination with other worlds and the search for utopia. Works include a 1799 engraving of Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Adam and Eve in Paradise, Barbara Hepworth’s 1957 work Icon and John Everett Millais’ 1862 painting, The Parting of Ulysses. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk.
Around London – Celebrating London’s architecture; space at the NMM; Tate Britain redux; remembering Waterloo at Apsley House; and, ‘Coins and the Bible’ at the British Museum…
June 6, 2013
• The London Festival of Architecture has returned with a month long celebration of the city’s built form in a program of events including talks, tours and exhibitions. Among the latter is Lesser Known Architecture – A Celebration of Underappreciated London Buildings – a free exhibition at the Design Museum which runs until 22nd July and looks at 10 structures ranging from London Underground Arcades and Cabmen’s Shelters (one of which is pictured) to Nunhead Cemetery. Other events include an exhibition at Somerset House – Nicholas Hawksmoor: Methodical Imaginings – looking at churches designed by Hawksmoor in the late 17th and early 18th centuries (this runs until 1st September), and The Secret Society – A Sculptural Banquet, a large scale installation by artist and designer Kathy Dalwood at Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing, west London (ends this Sunday). For more on the festival, check out www.londonfestivalofarchitecture.org or for fringe events, http://londonarchitecturediary.com.
• A new exhibition featuring more than 100 images from space – including images of the colourful dust clouds in which new stars are formed, the aurora on the surface of Saturn and the sight of Earth from the International Space Station – opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich tomorrow. Visions of the Universe takes visitors on a “visual trip through our solar system” with images of the moon, sun, plants and distant galaxies. It looks at the development of telescopy and photography and examines our understanding of our place in the cosmos. Space scientists including Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees and The Sky at Night‘s Chris Lintott introduce each section of the exhibition which has at its centre a 13×4 metre curved wall known as the ‘Mars Window’. It has the latest images from NASA’s Mars Curiosity Rover projected onto it. There is a programme of events accompanying the exhibition which runs until 15th September. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• Tate Britain is undergoing an overhaul this year with the opening of new galleries and a rearrangement of the institution’s collection. Last month, a new chronological presentation of the institution’s British art opened across more than 2o of the institution’s galleries. BP Walk through British Art features around 500 artworks, dating from the 1500s to present day, by artists ranging from Sir Joshua Reynolds and William Hogarth to JMW Turner, John Constable, Lucien Freud and David Hockney. Meanwhile new galleries have opened dedicated to the works of sculptor Henry Moore and artist William Blake. Around 30 of Moore’s works are featured in the rooms as well as more than 40 of Blake’s works. For more see www.tate.org.uk.
• Apsley House, regency home of the Duke of Wellington, is hosting a series of events every weekend in June in the lead-up to the anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. Interpreters will be at the house, known as Number 1 London, this weekend to discuss the dress and manners of the era while next weekend (15th and 16th June) visitors have the chance to meet some of Wellington’s soldiers and their wives. Gentry from the Napoleonic era will be celebrating the victory at Waterloo on 22nd and 23rd June while on the final weekend of the month, the focus will be on the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Vitoria in 1813, which led to eventual victory in the Peninsular War. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/apsley-house/.
• On Now: Coins and the Bible. This free exhibition at the British Museum looks at how money was referred to in the Old and New Testament, and the use of Christian symbols such as crosses or monograms derived from Greek letters on later coins. These include the first coin, dating from about 450 AD, to depict an image of Jesus (the coin, on loan from the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow, is included in the exhibition). There are also early Biblical fragments on papyrus and vellum lent by the British Library and an ivory panel dating from the early 400s AD which includes an image of the purse of 30 pieces of silver Judas received after his betrayal of Jesus. Held in Room 69a, the exhibition runs until 20th October. For more, see www.britishmuseum.org.
Around London – Museums at night; Propaganda at the BL; MoL Docklands celebrates 10 years; and, Steadman at the Cartoon Museum…
May 16, 2013
• Expect people to be out and about around London at all hours this weekend with the kick-off tonight of Museums At Night, Culture24’s annual festival of after hours visits. This year’s packed program features everything from ‘Arts on Ice’ – a look at the Victorian ice trade – at the London Canal Museum to art nights at the Government Art Collection building, nocturnal tours of Greenwich’s Old Royal Naval College, and, for the first time, the chance for adults to sleep over at Hampton Court Palace and kids at Kensington Palace. Other London organisations taking part include the Handel House Museum, the Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Benjamin Franklin House, the National Gallery and Somerset House (and that’s just a few off the list!). For more information on the night – including a full program of events – check out the Culture24 Museums at Night website.
• Government spin comes under the spotlight in a major new exhibition which opens tomorrow at the British Library in King’s Cross. Propaganda: Power and Persuasion examines how state have used propaganda in the 20th and 21st centuries and features more than 200 exhibits including Nazi propaganda and everyday objects such as banknotes and badges. Admission charge applies. There’s a series of events running to coincide with the exhibition which runs until 17th September. For more, see www.bl.uk/whatson/exhibitions/propaganda/index.html.
• It’s 10 years since the Museum of London Docklands opened in a converted Georgian warehouse on West India Quay and to celebrate they’re holding an exhibition celebrating the Thames estuary. Titled (appropriately enough), Estuary, the exhibition features the work of 12 artists in a variety of mediums – from film and photography to painting. Entry is free. The exhibition, which opens tomorrow, runs until 27 October. The museum is also holding a special day of family activities to celebrate its creation this Saturday. For more, see www.museumoflondon.org.uk/Docklands/.
• On Now: STEADman@77. This exhibition at The Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury looks at the work of graphic artist Ralph Steadman (who is celebrating his 77th birthday) and features more than 100 original works published in magazines ranging from Private Eye to Rolling Stone, Punch and the New Statesmen as well as his illustrated books (these include Sigmund Freud, Alice in Wonderland Through the Looking-Glass, I, Leonardo, The Bid I Am, and Animal Farm). Runs until 8th September. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
We’ve already mentioned these two riverside embankments as part of our previous piece on Sir Joseph Bazalgette’s revolutionary sewer system. But so important are they to the shape of central London today – not to mention a great place to take a stroll – that we thought they’re also worth a mention in their own right.
As mentioned, the Victoria and Albert Embankments (the latter is pictured right) – named, of course, for Queen Victoria and her by then late consort, Prince Albert, who had died in 1861 (see our previous post What’s in a name?…Victoria Embankment) – were located on opposite sides of the River Thames and involved reclaiming a considerable amount of the river so new sewers could be laid.
Construction of Victoria Embankment – which was also seen as a way to relieve traffic congestion in the central London area – started in the mid 1860s and was complete by 1870. Running along the north and western banks of the Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars bridges, its creation involved the demolition of many riverside buildings as a new walk and roadway were constructed behind a wall.
Numerous monuments have since been located along this promenade – they include the Battle of Britain Monument, RAF Memorial and the mis-named Cleopatra’s Needle (see our earlier post to find out why) – as well as a number of permanently berthed ships including the HQS Wellington – the base of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners – and the HMS President.
The walkway also features original decorative lamps – interestingly, Victoria Embankment was the first roadway in London to be permanently lit by electric-powered lighting (from 1878).
The parks, collectively known as Victoria Embankment Gardens, contain numerous statues and monuments (including one to Bazalgette himself – it’s located close to the intersection with Northumberland Avenue) as well as a bandstand. They also contain the remains of York Watergate – once fronting on to the river, it shows how much land was reclaimed for the project (you can also visit the riverside entrance to Somerset House to gain a feel for where the river once was – look through the glass floor and you’ll see the old riverbank below).
Albert Embankment, meanwhile, runs between Vauxhall and Westminster Bridges on the eastern side of the river. Constructed around the same time as Victoria Embankment, it was designed to prevent flooding of the low-lying areas of Vauxhall and Kennington and to help in Bazalgette’s sewage system plan (although it apparently doesn’t have the same large sewers as can be found on the other side of the river).
Sadly, the demolition did see the centre of what was once the village of Lambeth removed to make way for the new promenade and roadway. But like Victoria Embankment, Albert Embankment features delightfully decorative lamps along the riverfront promenade and is a great place for a walk in any weather.
Around London – Celebrating the art of the Underground and art on the web; Picasso at the Courtauld; and, Frederic Church at the National…
February 14, 2013
• A new exhibition celebrating the art of the Underground opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs showcases 150 posters with examples taken from each decade over the past 100 years. Artists include the likes of Edward McKnight Kauffer, Paul Nash and Man Ray. The posters were selected from the museum’s archive of more than 3,300 by a panel of experts. Visitors to the exhibition will be able to vote on their favorite poster as well as online with the most popular poster to be revealed at the end of the exhibition. The last major exhibition of Underground posters – the first commission of which was in 1908 – was held in 1963 to celebrate the system’s centenary. The exhibition is based around six themes – ‘Finding your way’, ‘Brightest London’, ‘Capital culture’, ‘Away from it all’, ‘Keeps London going’ and, ‘Love your city’. Runs until 27th October. Admission fee applies. For more on the exhibition and surrounding events, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
• The external facade of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square was decorated with artworks last Friday night (pictured right) in celebration of the completion of Your Paintings – a website which hosts the UK’s entire national collection of oil paintings (more than 210,000!). The projections – which were happening in 28 UK cities simultaneously – featured two National Gallery paintings – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers and Gainsborough’s Mr and Mrs Andrews. To see the website, head to www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/. PICTURE: © The National Gallery, London.
• On Now: Becoming Picasso: Paris 1901. This exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery in Somerset House on The Strand tells the story of Pablo Picasso’s break-through year as an artist – 1901 – when the then 19-year-old launched his career in Paris at a summer exhibition. The display follows Picasso from his debut and into the start of his Blue period. Works exhibited are among the first to bear his famous signature. Runs until 26th May. There is an admission charge. For more, see www.courtauld.ac.uk/gallery/index.shtml.
• On Now: Through American Eyes: Frederic Church and the Landscape Oil Sketch. This free exhibition of 30 works at the National Gallery focuses on the work of Frederic Church (1826-1900), a member of the Hudson River School of artists and considered by many to be the greatest of the American landscape oil sketch artists. Works on display include those made at exotic locations such as Ed Deir, Petra, painted in Jordan in 1868, and Distant View of the Sangay Volcano, Ecuador, painted in 1857, as well as the paintings created closer to home, such as Hudson, New York at Sunset, painted in 1867. The exhibition is held in Room 1. Runs until 28th April. For more see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
December 20, 2011
The Trafalgar Square Christmas Tree – donated by the people of Oslo each year since 1947 as a thanks for the support Britain gave to Norway during World War II. On the left is the Olympic countdown clock.
A giant hedge-like reindeer outside Covent Garden, a market since at least the 1600s but once the site of a large kitchen garden for the monks of the Convent of St Peter, Westminster (see our earlier post for more).
Christmas tree near the ice-skating rink at Somerset House, now an arts and cultural centre but originally built on the site of a Tudor palace in the late 1770s as a home for three “learned societies” – the Royal Academy of Arts, the Royal Society, and the Society of Antiquaries – as well as government offices (including the Navy Board).
Christmas lights in Regent Street, one of the city’s premier shopping streets, in the West End. It’s current shape was designed by architect John Nash in the early 19th century.
Christmas decorations on the exterior of Cartier in Old Bond Street, Mayfair. The area takes its name from the May Fair once held there and is now one of the most expensive areas within London (see our earlier post for more).
Looking for a book about London? See The Exploring London Little List of Books for Christmas…
November 16, 2011
And so we come to the final entry in our special series on Royal Parks – Bushy Park (Royal Parks also look after Brompton Cemetery, but given it’s not strictly a park, we’ll deal with that in an upcoming post).
Lying off the beaten track near Hampton Court in south-west London, Bushy Park’s location means it’s perhaps the least glamourous of the Royal Parks we have looked at. Yet, like the other parks, its connection with royalty goes back a long way – in this case to the time of King Henry VIII.
The park was included as part of the Hampton Court estate given to the king by Cardinal Wolsey. Henry immediately transformed what had been farmland (complete with artifical medieval rabbit warrens, the remains of which can still be seen) into a deer chase and enclosed the park with a brick wall (a section of the original wall lies on the north side of Hampton Court Road).
The character of the park was altered again in 1610 when King Charles I ordered the creation of the Longford River, a 12 mile ornamental canal designed to bring water from the River Colne in Hertfordshire to the park’s water features.
Christopher Wren had a hand in the park’s design in 1699 when he designed Chestnut Avenue – a mile long formal roadway which runs through the centre of the park. He also added the round pond at its end and placed a fountain topped with a statue in its midst.
Known as the Diana Fountain after the Roman goddess of hunting, the statue (pictured above with Chestnut Avenue behind) actually represents one of Diana’s nymphs Arethusa. It was commissioned by King Charles I for his wife, Queen Henrietta Maria, and originally stood at Somerset House before Oliver Cromwell moved it to the Privy Garden at Hampton Court and Wren then moved it to its current location.
The 17th and 18th century also saw the appearance of houses at the park to be used as hunting lodges (and the ranger’s home), and gardens were added.
Worth noting here is the story of shoemaker Timothy Bennet. A resident of nearby Hampton Wick, in 1752, when an old man, he successfully fought to ensure a public right-of-way through the park after the then ranger, Lord Halifax, ordered it closed to the public. There’s a monument to him outside Hampton Wick Gate and a walking path which runs across the park at perpendicular to Chestnut Avenue is still known as Cobbler’s Walk.
More gardens were added in the 20th century including the Waterhouse and Pheasantry Plantations. Other areas include the tranquil Woodland Gardens and the Water Gardens which are comprised of a Baroque-style collection of pools, cascades, basins and the canal. There are also a series of ponds – including a pond for model boats – to the east of Chestnut Avenue.
The park saw service in both World Wars. During the first, Canadian troops were stationed there (there’s a totem pole in the Woodland Garden marking this) and other areas within the park were used for growing produce as part of the “Dig for Victory” campaign.
During the second, it was used again for food production and in 1942 became a US base and later Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces – the location where General Dwight Eisenhower planned Operation Overland, the reinvasion of Europe which kicked off with the D-Day landings. There are memorials concerning this connection in the park’s north-east corner.
Facilities today include the Pheasantry Welcome Centre, which opened in 2009, and includes a cafe, toilets and information. There are also sporting facilities, a small cafe near the carpark and a children’s playground.
WHERE: The park lies north of Hampton Court Palace, just west of Kingston and Hampton Wick and south of Teddington (nearest train station is Hampton Wick or Hampton Court). WHEN: 24 hours except in September and November when it’s open between 8am and 10.30pm; COST: Free; WEBSITE: www.royalparks.gov.uk/Bushy-Park.aspx
October 10, 2011
Now one of the major thoroughfares of the West End, the origins of the roadway known as the Strand go back to the Roman times leading west out of the city.
Later part of Saxon Lundenwic which occupied what is now the West End, it ran right along the northern shore of the Thames and so became known as the Strand (the word comes from the Saxon word for the foreshore of a river). During the following centuries the river was pushed back as buildings were constructed between the road and the river, leaving it now, excuse the pun, ‘stranded’ some distance from where the Thames flows.
Sitting on the route between the City of London and Westminster, seat of the government, the street proved a popular with the wealthy and influential and during the Middle Ages, a succession of grand homes or palaces was built along its length, in particular along the southern side.
All are now gone but for Somerset House – originally the home of the Dukes of Somerset, it was built in the 16th century but rebuilt in the 18th century after which it served a variety of roles including housing the Navy Office, before taking on its current role as an arts centre. Others now recalled in the names of streets coming off the Strand include the Savoy Palace, former residence of John of Gaunt which was destroyed in the Peasant’s Revolt, and York House, once home of the Bishops of Norwich and later that of George Villiers, favorite of King James I (see our earlier Lost London entry on York Watergate for more).
After the aristocracy decamped further west during the 17th and 18th centuries, the road and surrounding area fell into decline but was resurrected with a concerted building effort in the early 19th century (this included the creation of the Victoria Embankment which pushed the Thames even further away) which saw it become a favorite of the those who patronised the arts, including the opening of numerous theatres. Among those which still stand on the Strand today are the Adelphi and Savoy Theatres (this was apparently the first in London to be fitted with electric lights and sits on a site once occupied by the Savoy Palace).
Among the other landmarks along the Strand are the churches of St Mary-le-Strand (the present building which sits on what amounts to a traffic island) dates from 1717 and was designed by James Gibbs, and St Clement Danes, designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed in 1682 (it is now the Central Church of the Royal Air Force). The Strand is also home to the Victorian-era Royal Courts of Justice (it boasts more than 1,000 rooms), Australia House (home of the oldest Australian diplomatic mission), the Strand Palace Hotel (opened in 1907) and Charing Cross Railway Station.
Around London – Website to showcase UK’s oil paintings; Arctic explorer John Rae gets Blue Plaque; sharing experiences of kindness; and Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril hit the Courtauld…
June 30, 2011
• 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.
And so we come to the final instalment in our series on King James I’s London. This week we’re looking at Westminster Abbey’s Lady Chapel where King James I – who was crowned in Westminster Abbey in 1603 – was laid to rest after his death in 1625.
But before we turn to James himself, it’s worth noting that several members of his immediate family are also buried in the abbey’s Lady Chapel (pictured). These include his eldest son, Henry Fredrick, Prince of Wales, who died in 1612 at the age of 18 (and thus opened the way for his younger brother Charles to become King Charles I). He is buried in the south aisle of the magnificent Lady Chapel which had been added at the behest of King Henry VII between 1503 and 1519 and replaced a 13th century chapel.
Three of James’ daughters are also buried in the Lady Chapel – Mary, who died in 1607, aged two, and Sophia, who died in 1606, aged just three days old. Both of them have monuments in the north aisle while their sister Elizabeth, wife of King Fredrick V of Bohemia, who died much later in 1662, is buried near her brother Henry Fitzpatrick.
As we’ve previously mentioned, King James I also outlived his wife, Queen Anne of Denmark, who died of dropsy at Hampton Court Palace on 2nd March, 1619, at the age of 43. She lay in state at Somerset House until her funeral on 13th May and was then buried in the south-eastern area of the Lady Chapel where her gravesite is marked by a modern stone bearing her name. Her wooden funeral effigy is one of a collection which can still be seen in the Abbey’s Museum.
After James himself died on 27th March, 1625, he was laid in the vault beneath King Henry VII’s monument beside Elizabeth of York, Henry’s wife. No monument was erected to mark his passing save for a modern inscription placed nearby (in fact Queen Elizabeth I was the last monarch to be buried with a monument above the site – see below).
It’s also worth noting that in 1612 – nine years into his reign – James arranged for the body of his mother – Mary, Queen of Scots, who was executed in 1587 on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I – to be transferred from its resting place in Peterborough Cathedral to the south aisle of the Lady Chapel where he had an elaborate tomb erected featuring an elegant white marble effigy showing her wearing a coif, ruff and long mantle.
In the north aisle, James had previously erected a marble monument to his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth I and had her body moved from where it had lain in the vault of her grandfather, King Henry VIII, to a place beneath the new monument. Her half-sister, Queen Mary I, is also buried beneath the monument.
That’s the final in our series on King James I’s London – it’s by no means a comprehensive look at significant sites in the early Stuart period and we shall be looking at more from the period down the track, but it’s a good start. Our new special series starts next week.
WHERE: Westminster Abbey, Westminster (nearest Tube station is Westminster or St James’s Park); WHEN: Open to tourists everyday except Sunday (times vary so check the website); COST: £16 an adult/£13 concessions/£6 schoolchildren (11-18 years), free for children aged under 11/£38 for a family (two adults, two children); WEBSITE: www.westminster-abbey.org
January 28, 2011
There’s several places along Victoria Embankment where it’s possible to see where the River Thames bank stood before the massive mid-19th century project to reclaim land. Not the least of them is located in the downstairs foyer to Somerset House, where looking through the glass floor, you can see the pebbles of the original riverbank.
The mansion, known as York House, was originally located on the southside of the Strand. Originally built in the 13th century, it was later acquired by King Henry VIII and granted to the Archbishop of York, Nicholas Heath, in 1556 (hence its name). The house became the home of George Villiers, the first Duke of Buckingham and somewhat sycophantic favorite of King James I, in the early 1620s.
When the duke was stabbed to death in 1628, the property passed to his son, the second Duke of Buckingham (also George), who later sold it to a land developer. It was apparently as a condition of the sale that the streets there now include the duke’s full name – hence George Court, Villiers Street, Duke Street, the slightly ludicrous Of Alley, and Buckingham Street.
The impressive Italianate watergate, which stands below the junction of Buckingham Street and Watergate Walk just a short walk into the gardens from Embankment tube station, was designed by the irrepressible Inigo Jones and built in 1626. Though weathered, it still bears the coat of arms of the Duke of Buckingham on the front.