As well as the huge, famous museums in the centre, London has a number of smaller museums dotted around the city. One place I’d never heard of until fairly recently was the Freud Museum, located near Finchley Road.
Most people will have heard of the ‘Father of Psychoanalysis’ Sigmund Freud. Though he lived and worked in Vienna for many years, his Jewish background meant that he and his family were vulnerable to persecution from the Nazis when they annexed Austria in 1938. He emigrated to England along with several members of his household, and spent the last year of his life in this house at 20 Maresfield Gardens in Hampstead, where he died in 1939. His daughter Anna, herself an influential and respected child psychoanalyst, lived in the house until her death in 1982.
The house is large, comfortable and welcoming, and I imagine it would be a very pleasant place to spend time in. Letters and documents belonging to and relating to both Sigmund and Anna, including Sigmund’s suit, are displayed. I thought the study was the most interesting room: it was where Freud saw his patients, but it seems more like a library, with shelves of books and archaeological artefacts. Sigmund Freud apparently had a strong interest in archaeology, which he compared to the study of the human mind.
I loved the landing in between the two floors, where there was a table next to the large window. The upstairs rooms also had some interesting information, including a Freud family tree, photos and books relating to Anna Freud and a temporary art exhibition.
Yesterday I visited the Fan Museum in Greenwich, and found out more information than I ever thought existed about fans. It’s the UK’s only museum dedicated solely to fans, and has more than 4,000 fans in its collection. It opened in 1991 in a restored 18th century Grade II listed building in Greenwich town centre.
The permanent collection displays notable and interesting fans and fan-related paraphernalia, as well as information about the different kinds of fans in existence and the materials and techniques used in their construction. Interesting items include a fan painting by Paul Gaugin and a ceremonial Chinese fixed fan.
The museum has a programme of temporary exhibitions and the current exhibition is called The Fan in Europe: 1800-1850. Most fans in this period were relatively small and there are some absolutely exquisite examples of fans on display. This is one of them.
If you’re in Greenwich, it’s worth taking a break from the big attractions and paying a visit to this little specialist museum.
Address: 12 Crooms Hill, Greenwich, London, SE10 8ER
The British Library is open late on Tuesday evenings, and I took advantage of this to pay a visit to the small, free exhibition Murder in the Library: An A-Z of Crime Fiction in the Folio Gallery. The exhibition looks at crime fiction throughout the ages, from the first crime novels in the nineteenth century, through the genteel mysteries of the early to mid twentieth century and ending with the ‘Nordic Noir’ craze of modern times. The exhibition was made up of manuscripts and early editions of some interesting crime novels, including the first book to feature a professional lady detective, The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester, first published in 1864, and a manuscript of one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I read lots of Enid Blyton as a child and was pleased to see some of her books included too, such as the Five Find-Outers series. I was also interested to see one of Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano novels – after watching the TV series I wouldn’t mind reading some of the books.
I’ve just got back from a weekend in Luxembourg. I realised I hadn’t been abroad since I went to Portugal in summer 2011, so I decided to rectify this. I also thought it would be a good time to tick London City Airport DLR station off my tube station list. City is the only airport in central London and the only one (apart from Heathrow) to be located on a tube map. After using it, I would encourage everyone to fly from City at least once. The view over central London – taking in the Thames, the O2, the London Eye and the famous bridges – is not to be missed.
Luxembourg is the world’s only Grand Duchy. It is a tiny little state bordered by Belgium, Germany and France. The inhabitants speak Luxembourgish (yes, that is a real language), French and German and there are several temporary and permanent immigrants contributing other languages and cultures to the place – a real melting-pot.
The flight from City took an hour and twenty minutes. It left at eight so I had to get up ridiculously early in the morning – I actually caught the first Tube train of the day out of Ealing Broadway, which made me feel oddly thrilled. I was surprised at how many people were actually around at that time of the morning. Luxembourg is an hour ahead of the UK, so by the time I arrived and caught the bus into the centre of town it was getting on for eleven – which still left me with practically a full day ahead of me.
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the temperature. It is mid-March after all, and I had assumed that the weather would have been vaguely spring like. This was not the case. It was colder than in Britain (although the temperature did improve over the next couple of days), and there was snow on the ground, though it didn’t actually snow while I was there.
I walked into the centre and picked up a Luxembourg Card from the tourist information office. This card is amazing and I recommend it to anyone who visits. For 27 Euros (for three days; one-day and two-day cards are cheaper) you get unlimited travel on public transport, plus free admission to most of the museums in the country, and discounts on the rest. I used mine constantly and, with the exception of the 2 Euros I paid to take the bus from the airport, didn’t spend another penny on sightseeing or transport throughout my trip.
This first day, I spent some time wandering around town and getting a feel for the place. There seemed to be a lot of scaffolding, so I suspect they are jazzing the place up in preparation for the summer. The Old Town – which is UNESCO-listed – reminded me of Bruge, although I didn’t think it was quite as nice.
The first thing I did was visit the Bock Casemates, down towards the eastern edge of the Old Town. These are fortifications built into the rock several hundred years ago which were designed for defence at a time when the castle on the hill was chosen for its suitability in this respect. I found them interesting to explore but got rather spooked at some points and had to make a hasty exit – or would have, if I hadn’t had trouble finding it.
After a quick stop off for a Panini and a cup of coffee, I headed to the Musée National d’Histoire et d’Art (National Museum of History and Art). This huge museum was well laid-out and fascinating, with five floors below telling the story of Luxembourg from prehistoric times to the present day, and five above, displaying the fine art collection and temporary exhibitions. There was an English guide available for the information boards on the lower floors, which came in handy, and I particularly liked the impressive Roman mosaic on display.
Unfortunately the medieval galleries were closed, but I enjoyed the others, including an in-depth prehistoric section with details of archaeological discoveries. The fine art collection was wide-ranging and varied: there were even a couple of Turner watercolours there, as well as a sculpture by Rodin and an artwork by Picasso. One temporary exhibition was about Japanese art of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and was fascinating, and the other was concerned with the Dutch landscape painter Barend Cornelis Koekkoek.
After my visit I walked through the town and came across an amazing café that I just had to go into. You choose a flavour of chocolate, select a block with a wooden spoon embedded into it, and dip it into a cup of hot milk. They should definitely get something like that over here. I had chilli chocolate flavour and it was delicious.
Afterwards I headed towards the station and checked into my hotel. Once I’d unpacked and had a rest, I headed out to find something to eat. I managed to find a nice Italian restaurant, not too busy but not to quiet either, and with other solo diners, so I didn’t feel too self-conscious. I am afraid I took the easy option and went for the mushroom pizza – as much as I would like to sample the local cuisine, I understand that Luxembourgish specialities tend to include meat, so they’re off the menu for me.
Whenever I go abroad, I always like to check out the supermarkets to find out what the locals like to eat. I love looking at all the weird and wonderful foods that are so like, and yet so unlike, the stuff you get in the UK. I saw one lady carrying a Dr Oetker frozen pizza with what looked like salmon on top – it looked lovely and I am disappointed you can’t get that variety here!
I always make a point of trying some local alcohol and chocolate. At least, I try – I don’t think the chocolate I managed to find was from Luxembourg, but I’d never seen it before, so I thought it would do. The wine was local, though.
Not wanting to hang out in a bar full of drunken individuals, I sat in my room with a book, some chocolate and wine, and had a perfectly lovely evening.
The following day, I dragged myself down to breakfast and demolished some rolls with chocolate spread and jam. I also had some waffles, but since the toaster didn’t work these weren’t as nice as they might have been! Sufficiently full-up, I wandered over to the rather impressive station. I had plans to go to Vianden for the day, and knew that I had to catch the train to Ettelbruck and then a bus to the town of Vianden.
It took me some time to decipher all the signs, but eventually I got myself on the right train and enjoyed a relaxing journey to Ettelbruck. I didn’t have to wait too long for the bus when I got there – it was a relatively short journey to my destination.
Vianden is gorgeous. It is a small compact village full of quaint little houses, with a river flowing through the centre and a curved bridge crossing it. Above it all, the castle overlooks the town high on a hill. I decided to visit the castle first, in order to get the climb out of the way. This was a good decision, as it was exhausting, and I don’t know if I’d have been able to manage it later!
Looking over the castle didn’t take ages, as there were few information boards or other things to see, but it was definitely worth it. The castle was apparently sold by its nineteenth-century owner and dismantled, leaving it in a state of disrepair not rectified until the twentieth century when it was rebuilt. It still looks pretty good, considering. The place is just how I would have imagined a fairytale castle to be, with round towers and a stunning hillside location.
After a crepe vegetarienne in a local café I popped into the Victor Hugo Museum for a quick look around. The great writer stayed in the town on several occasions, and some of the letters he wrote here are on display. His study has been recreated in the room facing the castle. Unfortunately the displays were all in French so I couldn’t understand them, but it was still exciting just to be in a place connected with the man.
I caught the bus back to the town of Diekirch, which my guidebook said was full of museums. The major attraction was the Museum of Military History, covering the Battle of the Ardennes (better known perhaps as the Battle of the Bulge) of 1944-45. I knew my mam, who is really interested in the war, would have been fascinated by the museum. I had a good look round, but the place went into a lot of depth (it is used by military historians as well as the general public) and I skimmed a lot of it. The personal testimonies and modelled recreations of real-life scenes (taken from photographs) were moving and really brought home what life would have been like during the battle.
I popped into the town’s own museum too, but the boards were in French and German so I couldn’t actually understand anything. However, the museum is next to the church and you can actually get into the crypt via the museum, which I thought was quite exciting. I then visited a bizarre museum, home to a selection of classic cars and a selection of Diekirch beer glasses. I had planned to sample a beer in the little café, but there seemed to be some sort of event on, with lots of people arranged in chairs and sandwiches wrapped in cling film, so I made a hasty exit.
Though there was no castle, there were several quaint little streets and I grew to quite like Diekirch. Apparently the town’s mascot is a donkey, which explains the fun statue which lets you move the limbs of the donkeys into whichever position you choose.
I had planned to eat in the Old Town when I returned to Luxembourg City, but I couldn’t find anywhere that was both quiet and cheap. On the way back to my hotel I stopped at a decent-looking place and had – you’ve guessed it – another mushroom pizza. Well, it was either that or a cheese omelette.
My evening passed much as the previous one did, with wine and chocolate and books. I had debated trying to get tickets to a concert or a theatre performance, but I couldn’t decipher the leaflets, and thought it would probably be really expensive anyway.
The next day – my last – it was raining. I walked through the Old Town for the last time, taking in the view, and visited the Musée d’Histoire de la Ville de Luxembourg (Luxembourg History Museum). This has been cleverly built within a number of buildings from different periods of the city’s history, with stone from the old defences forming part of the basement. I loved the video installation exploring the landscape and nature of the city. I could have sat looking at it for hours.
After a couple of floors exploring the city’s past, the museum began to look at different themes relating to Luxembourg, including its role in industry, within Europe and the natural world. Finally, the temporary exhibition was ‘The ABC of Luxembourg’ – exploring the national identity of the Grand Duchy through an irreverent and entertaining alphabet. I thoroughly enjoyed this excellent museum and I’m glad I made the effort to look for it, tucked away on a back street.
I debated whether to catch the bus, but I ended up walking to the next museum, which I’d passed en route to the centre from the airport. The Musée Dräi Eechelen tells the story of this fort overlooking the city, with armour, swords and a frightening-looking guillotine all displayed. I popped into the MUDAM (Museum of Modern Art) next door, too, but the exhibitions were in the process of changing over. The building itself was very impressive, though.
I could have caught the bus back into the centre, but frankly I couldn’t be bothered, so I just went straight to the airport. I spent a couple of hours there recharging and writing up my holiday diary (which I keep religiously every time I go abroad) before going through security and spending far too much on chocolate and liqueur to bring back with me.
Okay, so I’m a lifelong fan of The Wizard of Oz. It’s one of the earliest films I remember watching – the moment when Dorothy steps out of the door of the farm into the colourful world of Oz is forever imprinted on my memory. The Eighties sequel, Return to Oz, is completely different but just as good – terrifying and disturbing but brilliant. Once I found out that the films were based on a series of books by L. Frank Baum, I got hold of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (surprised to learn that the ruby slippers were originally silver shoes) and later obtained a volume of the entire Oz collection.
Also, I own three pairs of red glitter shoes.
The Returning to Oz season at the BFI, therefore, was a dream come true for me. Incorporating a number of early black and white films and other movies inspired by the world of Oz, a documentary, and a discussion forum, I booked up for almost everything. Unfortunately Return to Oz (1985) couldn’t be shown as it is no longer available for distribution in the UK, and I didn’t get to see The Wiz (1979) as I was busy on both of the nights it was showing. However, I made the most of everything else.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1910)
This early adaptation of the first Oz novel was the first movie version, a single-reel programme that compresses the story into a short film. It came about when Baum, trying to settle his debts, sold the rights to his story. Directed by Otis Turner, the film was produced by William Selig and the Selig Polyscope Company. This version departs in several ways from the original story: for instance, Dorothy meets the Scarecrow when she is still in Kansas and the two of them along with Toto the dog and a couple of farm animals (a cow and a horse, played by actors in costume) are blown to Oz. I did like the scene in which Dorothy rescues the Scarecrow from his perch, and the swirling haystack effect is a lot of fun. However, the moment of Dorothy’s melting of the Witch Momba is rushed through and although the Wizard’s escape from Oz in a balloon is shown, Dorothy’s return isn’t portrayed, although she doesn’t seem too worried about this. This film doesn’t strike me as a classic, but it is an entertaining first glimpse at Oz on film.
The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1914)
This feature-length Oz story was produced by L. Frank Baum himself, and the Oz Film Company. Directed by J. Farrell MacDonald, it incorporates elements from several different Oz stories. The basic plot involves a young boy and his uncle journeying to the Emerald City in search of food; on the way they meet a wizard who has been brewing a magic potion for six years designed to bring things to life. The wizard’s wife sews a doll and uses the potion on her. In the ensuing chaos, several individuals are turned to stone and the rest of the characters set off on a quest to gather the ingredients for the potion that will restore them to life.
This film is confusing in parts, and isn’t always coherent or understandable. It didn’t do particularly well at the time, possibly because of the reliance on stage conventions, such as the troupe of dancing girls who accompany the characters for no reason at all. It also cost a lot of money to recruit Pierre Couderc, the French acrobat who played Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of the title. However, some of the special effects are pretty impressive, such as the doll assembling itself, the cast members disappearing into a magic wall, and the set of furniture assembling itself. I also loved the character of the Woozy, which was like a cat constructed with numerous cardboard boxes.
The Wizard of Oz (1925) This Twenties version of the Oz story was adapted by L. Frank Baum Jr. (the author’s son) and produced by Chadwick Pictures Corporation. It was directed by Larry Semon, who also took on the role of the toymaker which bookends the film, and that of the Scarecrow, while his wife Dorothy Dwan plays a young adult Dorothy. This adaptation differs significantly from the original book: in it, Dorothy is a princess from Oz who was left on Uncle Henry and Auntie Em’s doorstep as a baby. She is due to find out the truth about who she is on her eighteenth birthday, which proves the catalyst for her return to Oz along with Uncle Henry, a corpulent grump, and three farmhands, with two of whom she is embroiled in a love triangle. The rest of the tale relates how Prime Minister Kruel, aided by Lady Vishus, attempt to stop her taking the throne alongside her true love Prince Kynd. In this version, the Scarecrow, Tin Man and Cowardly Lion are the disguises of the three farmhands who travel to Oz, and the Tin Man is notably played by Oliver Hardy in his pre-Laurel & Hardy days.
This film was entertaining with quite a lot of slapstick, although I felt too much time was spent in Kansas before the group actually got to Oz. I also would have liked to see more of Oz, rather than just the palace and the basement. I wasn’t impressed with the way Dorothy treated the Scarecrow, who went out of his way to help her and didn’t come to the best end! However, I thought the bookend story of the toymaker and his granddaughter was clever and well done.
The Wizard of Oz (1933)
This eight-minute animation, directed by Ted Eshbaugh, wasn’t particularly memorable but is notable for being the first film to portray Kansas in black and white and Oz in colour. I thought the style of characters bore quite a lot of resemblance to Mickey Mouse.
The Wizard of Oz (1939)
What can I say about the most famous Oz movie? This is my favourite film of all time; it’s just wonderful. However, The Wizard of Oz as we know it nearly didn’t happen. The role of Dorothy almost went to Shirley Temple; luckily, she couldn’t sing well enough and Judy Garland got the part. The original director Richard Thorpe was temporarily replaced by George Cukor, who got rid of the blonde wig and false nose Garland had been encumbered with in order to make her look more like the Dorothy of the books. The role of the Tin Woodsman was originally played by Ray Bolger, who felt he was miscast and swopped with Buddy Ebsen to take on the role of the Scarecrow, whose acrobatics were more suited to Bolger’s talents. However, Ebsen came down with aluminium poisoning owing to the makeup used to costume him for the role, and while he was recovering he was replaced by Jack Haley. The film’s chief director was Victor Fleming, but he was replaced towards the end by King Vidor, whose direction of the black and white scenes at the beginning of the movie – including the iconic ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ section – made a lasting impact on the film.
This catalogue of near-disasters and major changes makes me wonder if it was fate that the film turned out so brilliant as it did. Would it have been anything like as good as it was under different circumstances? I can’t help thinking that it wouldn’t.
Oz: The Tin Woodman’s Dream (1967)
This short segment is what remains of an unfinished movie co-animated, during the psychedelic Sixties, by Joanne Ziprin and Harry Smith, who also directed. Produced by The Film-Makers’ Cooperative, the movie was abandoned on the death of major backer Arthur Young. This bizarre film drew on a wide range of sources including the drawings of Hieronymous Bosch, Tibetan mandalas and sketchings of microscopic life by biologist Ernst Haeckel.
The beginning of this short film was intriguing, with the Tin Woodman and Toto the dog moving through a bizarre, ever-changing landscape. However, this soon changed into kaleidoscopic images whirling and repeating themselves, and while this was interesting at first, it soon grew tedious. Perhaps it looked better if you were on drugs.
In Search of Oz (1994)
This documentary, directed by Brian Skeet, was shown on the BBC in the early 1990s. It featured writers such as Salman Rushdie, Gore Vidal, Martha Coolidge, Ray Bradbury and Geoff Ryman, as well as others associated with Oz including relatives of Baum. The documentary featured clips of several Oz films and atmospheric shots of the Kansas skyline; it put forward some interesting theories about the significance of different aspects of the story – Rushdie maintains that the Wizard represents the disappointing parent who is all show and bluster.
The documentary paved the way for the panel discussion The Radical Land of Oz, which took place later that same evening. It was chaired by season curator Rhidian Davis – this man makes some excellent choices, he curated the Hitchcock season last year and is responsible for the forthcoming Gothic season. Guests included the novelist Geoff Ryman, who wrote Was (1992), a book based on the Oz myth; Matthew Beaumont, a senior lecturer at UCL; and Sophie Mayer, an author and contributor to Sight & Sound.
The discussion was really interesting and enlightening, with each of the contributors bringing a different perspective to the Oz world. I particularly liked Sophie Mayer’s insight into Return to Oz, which is one of my favourite Oz films. I have to say that the concept of a lesbian subtext in this film had never crossed my mind!
I thoroughly enjoyed the season, which seemed to coincide with resurgence in interest in the Oz world – just before, a production called Dorothy in Oz opened at the Waterloo East Theatre which I attended (and reviewed here). The production transported Dorothy and her friends to a mental health institution, and bore something of a resemblance to Return to Oz, in which Dorothy is committed to an asylum. Also, the new Disney film Oz: The Great and Powerful has just been released – I saw this on Sunday night and, while it lacked the magic of earlier Oz films, it had several brilliant touches including a great performance from James Franco as the title character, a travelling ‘magician’ who is blown into Oz and hailed as the Wizard who will save the inhabitants from the Wicked Witch. I also loved that they stuck to the black and white=Kansas and colour=Oz formula. I was less impressed by the idea that Glinda needed a man to come and rescue the inhabitants of Oz at all, and Mila Kunis’ character was unfortunately underdeveloped. The film as a whole looked beautiful, though.
Manet: Portraying Life at the Royal Academy of Arts was the last exhibition I saw on Sunday. I had originally planned to visit on Friday night a couple of weeks ago, but like so many exhibitions recently, it was sold out so I decided to book in advance for a later date.
This is the first major exhibition in the UK dedicated to the work of Eduoard Manet (1832-1883). It focuses on his career as a portrait painter. Although I was aware of Manet before the exhibition, I always imagined him as a landscape painter, so this aspect was interesting to me.
Manet came from a wealthy family and didn’t have to live by his art, but he still sought approval from the Paris Salon, which was, however, often rejected. He used elements of the Old Masters and the new Impressionists, creating an art that was different from both with an unique style. Though photographic portraits were growing in popularity during the time in which he worked, Manet still believed that painting offered opportunities that photographs didn’t in evoking the personality of the individuals painted.
Manet painted several portraits, including pictures of his friends and family: his wife, Suzanne Leenhoff, and stepson, Léon, appear frequently, as do a number of studies of friends including Antonin Proust (no relation to Marcel). Some of his pictures are status portraits of political or other celebrity figures; several of these are unfinished as their sitters could not offer the time that Manet required to model for them. Some of my favourite pictures are those of the writers and artists who were Manet’s friends, including Stéphane Mallarmé and Emile Zola.
My favourite Manet pictures, however, were those which included models rather than important or celebrity figures, particularly those of Victorine Meurent, who appears in the fascinating painting The Railway (1873), in which a red-haired woman gazes at the viewer while the child beside her stands facing the other way, watching the approaching steam train whose presence is indicated by a cloud of smoke. Manet’s style is modern but influenced by older painters, striking and memorable.
Manet: Portraying Life is on until the 14th of April.
I’d originally planned to see Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind on Friday night a few weeks ago, but when I went along to the British Museum after work I found that the exhibition was completely sold out. I ended up buying an advance ticket for the 10th of March, so that I could visit before going to the Manet exhibition a bit later on.
Although timed entry was in operation, the exhibition hall was still really full and there was a bit of queuing and waiting around. I was surprised at how popular this exhibition was. What struck me about most of the exhibits was how small they were: some of them were only as big as a finger, very few larger than my fist. I suppose it would be easier to transport these smaller pieces from wherever they are held permanently, but I also found myself wondering if they were made so small to make them easier to carry around at the time, whether as pieces of jewellery or amulets, or just because smaller items were easier to transport in a nomadic society.
The first half of the exhibition displayed art from 40, 000 to 20, 000 years ago, the majority of it from Siberian Russia or central Europe. Several pieces stood out for me: the ‘Lion Man’, which, in its representation of something that does not exist in reality, reveals the creative and imaginative capabilities of Ice Age humans, and a flute, which shows that they enjoyed playing music. Several animals, such as bison, lions or mammoths, are depicted, a reflection of the world in which these people lived, and in fact many of the sculptures are made of mammoth ivory.
Images of nude women abound in Ice Age art, and it’s unclear whether these represent real women or a symbol. Their nudity clearly indicates an artistic convention – in Ice Age society, clothes were a necessity – but were they made for and by women, perhaps to protect them in pregnancy and childbirth, or did they serve some other purpose?
Later in the exhibition, art from the later time of 20, 000 to 10, 000 years ago is displayed. The sheer number of horse sculptures and pictures are astounding, and some of them are really beautiful. The exhibition questions whether these pictures are designed to represent individual horses, or the horse, a symbolic creature. Horses were undoubtedly hugely important to Ice Age people, and it is possible that they worshipped a deity that took the form of a horse. Perhaps we’ll never know.
The reasons for and meanings behind many of the sculptures and artworks here are shrouded in mystery. We can only speculate as to the purpose they served and the role they played in the lives of Ice Age society. However, we can certainly appreciate the artistic ability of their creators, and if it is true that the ability to make art is what distinguishes modern humanity from the animals, then these artworks are crucially important in helping us understand how we evolved.
Alongside the ancient artworks, several modern pieces from the 20th century are displayed. I don’t feel these are really necessary, but they do seem to illustrate that in some ways art has come full circle – the representations of the body, for instance, in several modern sculptures and images closely resembles those of the Ice Age.
Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind is on at the British Museum until 26th May.
I was at the V&A yesterday in order to buy advance tickets for the Bowie exhibition (my parents are coming down at the end of May and my dad in particular really wants to see it), and while I was there I thought I might as well visit the new exhibition Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars. I am very interested in history – I have a degree in the subject and actually studied the Tudors at A Level – and I am fascinated by anything to do with Russia, so this exhibition sounded ideal for me.
The background to the exhibition is that the Tudor era was when relations with Muscovy – now Russia – began to be established. The explorer Richard Chancellor reached Muscovy in 1553, while looking for the north east passage – his route took him over Norway and Sweden rather than via the Baltic – and this kick-started the diplomatic and economic relationship between the two powers. In 1556 the English Court House was founded in Moscow and from then until the end of the reign of Charles I, English ambassadors were a regular presence in the city. Relations soured during Oliver Cromwell’s rule – Russian powers were appalled that the English had executed their monarch (understandably, given what would happen in 1918!) – but were reinstated at the Restoration of Charles II.
The exhibition attempts to convey the nature of the treasures of the Tudor and Stuart courts via displays of armour (including an impressive suit worn by the portly Henry VIII), beautifully wrought jewels and miniatures, and impressive pictures. As soon as you enter you see a pair of magnificent stone leopards that once graced one of Henry VIII’s palaces – they reminded me of the two living leopards that attend Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Just beyond are four large animal heralds belonging to the Dacre family – Thomas, Lord Dacre, fought for Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth. Impressive as these riches all were, I did wonder what they had to do with the Russian Tsars (other than the fact that they were from the same time period) – I thought the exhibition title was slightly misleading. Maybe that was just me?
Eventually, I came to a selection of displays that did have a clear connection to Russia, including diplomatic gifts that have been kept in the Kremlin in Moscow for years. Interestingly, their presence in Russia ensured their survival during the English Civil War – had they remained in this country, they would almost certainly have been destroyed. Some beautiful silver was on display, and a small replica – alongside video footage – of a magnificent carriage given to the Tsar Boris Godunov (immortalised in Alexander Pushkin’s play). I also enjoyed looking at the manuscript records and sources, including a record that Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was performed – possibly for the first time – on Twelfth Night 1601 in honour of the Russian ambassador Gregory Mikolin.
The exhibition didn’t take very long to go round, which in a way was a good thing as it meant there wasn’t too much to take in. Although I was disappointed that the connection of some of the displays to Russia was tenuous, I did enjoy it and I don’t regret going.
Treasures of the Royal Courts: Tudors, Stuarts and the Russian Tsars is on until 14 July.
Light Show, the current exhibition at the Hayward Gallery on the South Bank, has been enjoying enormous popularity since it opened on 30 January. Tickets are selling out well in advance, so I decided to buy my ticket a couple of weeks ago in order to visit the exhibition yesterday. Setting my alarm for 8 am on a Sunday morning was torturous, but certainly worth it.
The exhibition explores the use of light to shape space and experiment with different forms. Installations encompassed clear and coloured lights, fluorescent strip lighting, bulbs (including one designed to represent moonlight), mini LED lights, sparkling effects and continuous illumination. Some of the installations were enclosed in different rooms. I was amazed, impressed and enlightened (excuse the pun) by the exhibition.
I had a number of favourite exhibits. One was the very first one I saw – Cylinder II (2012) by Leo Villareal. This consists of strips of LED lights (19,600 in total) arranged in a cylinder, which move in hypnotic and evocative ways. The lights are actually controlled by a computer programme, but they are stunning. Another was Anthony McCall’s You and I, Horizontal (2005). This is in a room of its own and a projector throws out a beam of light – essentially a light sculpture that you can walk through.
Another favourite was Ivan Navarro’s Reality Show (Silver) (2010). This is a small room with four doors, around the size of a telephone box. When you are inside you can look up or down and see mirrors reflecting rows of light endlessly, as if you are in a long column or pipe. You can see yourself in the doors, but outside the sculpture, others can see you inside – a claustrophobic and unsettling experience. Navarro grew up in Chile during Pinochet’s dictatorship and the installation echoes the surveillance and control inherent in the system.
One thing that both surprised and impressed me was the extent to which children seemed to be enjoying themselves. Personally it wouldn’t occur to me to take a small child to a modern art exhibition, but there were loads there on this Sunday morning and they were fascinated by the exhibits – from the small baby amazed by the twinkling lights to the little boys excited by the rooms of coloured light.
Light Show is on until 28th April. You will almost certainly have to book in advance, and I also recommend booking the first slot available and turning up as soon as possible – in theory you can arrive at any time during the hour stated on your ticket, but even with visitor limits the space can get very crowded and early arrival gives you the best chance of beating the crowds. I’m so glad I came here – I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it, but I really did.
Having a National Art Pass, I hear about lots of places to visit that I wouldn’t otherwise have heard of. One of these is Two Temple Place. Located on the bank of the Thames near Temple Station, it is a little-known gem, a beautiful house that was originally built by William Waldorf Astor in the late nineteenth century.
The house hosts free exhibitions of publicly-owned art during the first quarter of each year. The current exhibition is called Amongst Heroes: the artist in working Cornwall, and is a significant exhibition exploring the themes and images represented in Cornish art of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There are some fascinating paintings in the exhibition: some of them are historically significant, showing the way people on the Cornish coast lived (with a strong focus on fishing, mining and other forms of work) and many of them are beautiful, showing the impressive nature of the Cornish landscape.
Even more than the exhibition, I loved the house itself. Though it was designed and built just over a hundred years ago, it has the look of a medieval mansion with lots of panelled wood and ornate fireplaces. Astor clearly loved literature – the staircase is dotted with figures from Alexander Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and scenes from Shakespeare decorate the panels along the top of the wall.
The house is open until 14 April for the duration of the exhibition, after which it will close until next year. I definitely recommend a visit – it’s an unusual and beautiful place.