The National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery

On the same day I visited the Supreme Court, I decided to pop into the National Portrait Gallery. I’ve been there a few times in the past, but it’s been a while since I’ve gone through it thoroughly.

The NPG was founded in 1856 and was the first portrait gallery in the world. It moved to its current site in 1896. As the name suggests, it contains portraits of the great and the good from the late medieval period onwards – the pictures have been chosen for the significance of the sitter, not the artist. It’s interesting to see how this changes over time: in the sixteenth century it’s mainly monarchs, with the odd courtier; later on the litany includes scientists, artists and poets, and the modern day portraits include celebrities: singers, actors and sports people.

The Gallery is arranged chronologically from the top to the bottom, so I headed to the top floor via the escalator. The first things you see are casts from the tombs of medieval kings, this from a time before portraits were common. From then it’s straight into the Tudor era, starting with a few Tudor-era portraits of medieval kings. I still remember the first time I saw this part of the Gallery: I was fresh from studying the Tudors at A Level, and it was amazing to see the paintings I’d only ever seen in textbooks in the flesh. Queen Elizabeth has a strong presence but there are also famous pictures of Henry VIII and Mary, Queen of Scots.

Paintings dating from the Jacobean period onwards cover monarchs as well as famous scientists, writers and artists, including the famous Chandos portrait of Shakespeare and one of my favourites – a dramatic painting of poet John Donne. I naturally gravitate towards the writers – I love the picture of Lord Byron towards the end of these galleries.

Statue of Victoria and Albert
Statue of Victoria and Albert

Works from the Victorian era can be found on the floor below; these are very, well, Victorian. There is a room for politicians and a corridor for famous public faces, plus many representations of Queen Victoria herself. My favourite room here is the writers’ room, which contains Branwell Brontë’s painting of his three famous sisters, as well as a picture of another of my favourite authors, Thomas Hardy. Another of my favourites is the dashing portrait of a young Lord Tennyson.

The early twentieth-century gallery has recently been refurbished, and it was good to see it looking refreshed. In general this isn’t my favourite artistic period, but there are some interesting portraits here of the likes of Virginia Woolf, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Winston Churchill.

The Gallery hosts regular special exhibitions (for which a charge is made) and offers late-night opening on Thursdays and Fridays. It’s smaller and a bit less daunting than the nearby National Gallery, but it’s well worth a visit.

FACTS

Address: St Martin’s Place, London, WC2H 0HE

Website: npg.org.uk

Opening Hours: Daily 10am-6pm, open until 9pm Thurs & Fri

Price: Free (charge for special exhibitions)

Walker Art Gallery

Walker Art Gallery

While I was in the Walker Art Gallery visiting the Mucha exhibition, I thought I might as well explore the place thoroughly. After all, it is host to one of the largest art collections in the country outside London. The collection dates from 1819, when the Liverpool Royal Institution came into possession of 37 works belonging to businessman William Roscoe, who had to sell his collection. Over the next few years the collection grew, and the building opened in 1877, named after its leading benefactor, Sir Andrew Barclay Walker.

There are two downstairs galleries, craft and design and sculpture, which are interesting to see. Upstairs are the majority of the works, mostly paintings, which are arranged in chronological order, from medieval and Renaissance art through to Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite and modern art. Highlights for me include the Pelican portrait of Elizabeth I and the large portrait of Henry VIII, as well as the painting of actor David Garrick as Richard III.

I’ve been to Liverpool twice before, only on brief flying visits so I’d never previously had a chance to visit. The Walker Art Gallery is a gem, though, and I’m glad I finally had the chance to check it out.

FACTS

Address: William Brown Street, Liverpool, L3 8EL

Website: liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/walker

Opening Hours: 10am-5pm daily

Price: Free

Tate Britain

Tate Britain

Following my visit to Tate Modern a few weeks ago, I decided to head to Tate Britain in Pimlico. This gallery, which specialises in British art, does hold more attractions for me than Tate Modern does, and has some of my all-time favourite pictures.

Inside Tate Britain

Inside Tate Britain

The bulk of the permanent collection forms the ‘Walk Through British Art’ which allows the visitor to explore 500 years of art chronologically. I do like this ordered way of doing things. Naturally enough, I started at the beginning.

Tate Britain

The early pictures in the collection suffer in my mind from a comparison with the National Portrait Gallery. They’re similar in style but unlike the NPG, they aren’t of anyone famous. One exception is the picture of Elizabeth I, and I was amused by an angular painting of a pair of identical twins holding their babies, apparently born on the same day.

Elizabeth I
Steven van der Meulen, Steven van Herwijck. Portrait of Elizabeth I, c.1563
Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers
Henry Fuseli. Lady Macbeth Seizing the Daggers, ? exhibited 1812

The rooms take you through the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, featuring such artists as Lely, Gainsborough, Hogarth and Constable. Along the way I popped into a room to view John Martin’s incredible apocalyptic canvases.

The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum
John Martin. The Destruction of Pompei and Herculaneum, 1822

I came to my favourite room in the gallery, which focuses on nineteenth century and Pre Raphaelite art. I’ve been reading a book about poetical deaths recently, so I was fascinated to see the picture of Chatterton. Millais’ picture of Ophelia, one of my favourites, is also displayed here as well as Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose, which always reminds me of The Family From One End Street.

1890 room
My favourite room
Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth
John Singer Sargent. Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889

As well as familiar favourites, I came across a few unfamiliar pictures which I really loved.

Beyond Man’s Footsteps
Briton Riviere. Beyond Man’s Footsteps, exhibited 1894
The Doctor
Sir Luke Fildes. The Doctor, exhibited 1891

The next few rooms cover later art, which isn’t generally as interesting to me, although I find Francis Bacon’s picture of a man screaming rather chilling. Also, I quite like a Lowry.

Study for a Portrait
Francis Bacon. Study for a Portrait, 1952
The Pond
L.S. Lowry. The Pond, 1950

Before leaving I ventured to the back of the gallery to see the Turner Collection and the works of William Blake, both of which have their own spaces.

Turner Collection
Turner Collection
The Ghost of a Flea
William Blake. The Ghost of a Flea, c.1819–20

After my visit, my conclusion is that I should go to Tate Britain more often. There are some incredible paintings here, including some of my favourites, and while I can readily view them online, nothing compares to the real thing.

FACTS

Address: Millbank, London, SW1P 4RG

Website: tate.org.uk/visit/tate-britain

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Mon-Sun

Prices: Free (there is a charge for special exhibitions)

Tate Modern

Tate Modern

I love visiting art galleries in the summer. They’re lovely and cool when it’s hot outside. I popped into the Tate Modern one Sunday afternoon before going to the Globe. I’ve been before, but these days I don’t normally visit except to see the odd special exhibition. I decided to take another look at the permanent collection.

Welcome to Tate Modern

Tate Britain had been running for several years when the Tate Trustees announced their intention to create a new gallery for international modern art in London. The former Bankside Power Station was chosen as the site and the gallery opened in 2000. Recently, an extension to the gallery was unveiled, the Blavatnik Building at the rear (the original building is known as the Boiler House).

Turbine Hall

I entered the gallery via the River Entrance and came upon the Turbine Hall. This is one of the most impressive and iconic parts of the museum, its vast space playing host to a variety of installations. It’s also a lovely place to be during hot weather, as it’s nice and cool.

Thames

I worked my way through the various rooms in the Boiler House. Frankly many of them reminded me of how much I tend to dislike modern art, but there were a few gems, such as Salvador Dali’s lobster phone, pictures by Henri Matisse and Walter Sickert and sculptures by Edgar Degas. Rooms focus on themes such as ‘Artist and Society’, ‘Materials and Objects’, and ‘New Acquisitions’.

Blavatnik Building

I made my way over to the other side in order to explore the new extension, known as the Blavatnik Building. This was impressive but best thing about it is the roof terrace which offers great views over London (and also, infamously, into neighbouring flats).

View from the Tate Modern extension

Truthfully, modern art isn’t really my thing, but if you are a fan then the Tate Modern is a great place to go. For everyone else, it’s still worth visiting for the views.

FACTS

Address: Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

Website: tate.org.uk/visit/tate-modern

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm Sun-Thurs, 10am-10pm Fri and Sat

Prices: Free (there is a charge for special exhibitions)

Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky – National Portrait Gallery

I’m hugely interested in Russian culture, and so the National Portrait Gallery‘s exhibition Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky was an absolute must-see for me. The exhibition features pictures loaned from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, paintings of some of the greatest cultural figures Russia has produced, including writers, artists, actors, composers and patrons. It’s also possible to trace the development of Russian art through the exhibition, as it covers the period 1867 to 1914, and features Realism, Impressionism and Cubism.

This relatively small exhibition had several highlights for me. Ilya Repin’s portrait of composer Modest Mussorgsky, painted in 1881 just a few days before Mussorgsky died of alcoholism, is powerfully unnerving. The picture Tolstoy shows the great writer relaxing at his home, while the portrait of Turgenev is urbane and smart. The 1872 portrait of Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov is familiar to me from the cover of the author’s works, and portrays the author as pensive and gaunt. I think my favourite, however, was the 1898 portrait of Anton Chekhov by Iosif Braz. Intellectual and intelligent, the writer stares out of the painting as if challenging the viewer. I kept returning to this picture as I was going round the exhibition. The show was small in size, but contained more cultural giants than any other I’ve seen.

House of Illustration

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The House of Illustration is a relatively new gallery in the recently redeveloped Granary Square in King’s Cross. It is home to changing exhibitions covering the history of illustration in all its forms: recent exhibitions have included images from Ladybird books and the work of Quentin Blake.

I visited in order to see the Main Gallery exhibition, E. H. Shepard: An Illustrator’s War. Shepard is perhaps best known for his classic illustrations of A. A. Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh stories, probably as well-known as the books themselves. I had no idea until very recently that he also produced a great deal of work while serving in the trenches of the First World War.

Shepard’s distinctive style is evident in these wartime artworks, but the subject matter is very different. His pictures include humorous images of soldiers trying to make the best of life in the trenches, stark pictures of bare landscapes, and even topographical works used for strategic purposes. Many of his cartoons were sent to Punch and other publications. Shepard also spent time in Italy towards the end of the war, producing fascinating drawings of the scenes he witnessed, and meeting none other than the author Ernest Hemingway. Some of his work was more personal: he drew pictures in his diaries and in letters to his wife, which are on display for the first time. It was fascinating to see this different side to the familiar illustrator.

While in the building I also visited the exhibition in the South Gallery, Lauren Child’s Dolls’ House. Childs is an author and illustrator most famous for the Charlie and Lola books – I’ve heard of these books even though I don’t have anything to do with small children, which suggests that they are pretty successful. Childs has been working on her own dolls’ house for over 30 years, and it is beautiful – extremely detailed. Alongside the house, sets from the author’s works are displayed: the book The Princess and the Pea was made with photographs of three-dimensional miniature sets.

The House of Illustration is well worth a visit, possibly more than one, as the constantly changing exhibitions ensure that you are likely to go back again and again.

2016_0116HouseofIllustration01

FACTS

Address: 2 Granary Square, King’s Cross, London, N1C 4BH

Website: houseofillustration.org.uk

Opening Hours: 10-6 Tues-Sun

Prices: £7.70 adults, £5.50 concessions, £4.40 children; half price for Art Fund members

Ben Uri Gallery

2016_0116BenUriGallery

After visiting a very interesting exhibition at Somerset House last year, Out of Chaos – Ben Uri: 100 Years in London, I decided to visit the actual Ben Uri Gallery which is located in north London.

The Ben Uri Gallery is an art museum focusing on the work of artists of Jewish descent. It also focuses on the universal themes within these artists’ work, such as identity and migration. The Gallery displays its materials in a programme of temporary exhibitions; the exhibition I saw, which has just ended, was entitled Rothenstein’s Relevance: Sir William Rothenstein and His Circle. It contained impressive works, many of which looked at the concept of Jewish religious worship; others were more traditional portraits or drawing room scenes.

I was surprised at how small the Gallery actually is: it consists of one small ground floor room and another, larger, basement space. Still, with free entry it is certainly worth popping in.

FACTS

Address: 108A Boundary Road, London, NW8 0RH

Website: benuri.org.uk

Opening Hours: 1-5.30 Mon, 10-5.30 Tues-Fri, 11-5 Sat-Sun

Prices: Free

Whitechapel Gallery

2015_0719WhitechapelGallery
The front of the Gallery

I visited the Whitechapel Gallery on the day of my Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park visit, as I had some time to kill. The Gallery, founded in 1901, is a public museum of modern and contemporary art, and hosts a number of changing exhibitions throughout the year. The current exhibitions are in place until 30 Aug, except for the London Open which runs until 6 September, and A Utopian Stage which is on until 4 October.

When I visited, the London Open 2015 was the major exhibition on display, a triennial open submission show including innovative and contemporary art in a number of formats. The exhibits were certainly varied and to be honest they didn’t really appeal to me, although I thought the brick sculpture built by artist Demelza Watts and her bricklayer father Brian was quite sweet, and I did quite like Eva Stenram’s strange altered photographs.

Following on from this, I entered the room containing the Children’s Commission 2015 by Rivane Neuenschwander, a Brazilian artist who has created outfits to explore childhood fears, collectively entitled The Name of Fear. I found some of these outfits fun to look at and rather enlightening; fears ranged from “heights” and “bees” to “nightmares” and “silence”.

In the next section, James Richards selects from the V-A-C collection, Richard’s presentation from the V-A-C collection in Moscow focuses on Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait (1953) and is entitled To Replace a Minute’s Silence With a Minute’s Applause. It is a rather bizarre sound installation, made up of “silences”, the gaps in between speech, suspenseful pauses in films, church bells and acts of mourning and remembrance. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of all this, but I did find it rather unsettling.

In the screening room, the Artists’ Film International: Summer 2015 includes film by Eduardo Basualdo, Tanya Busse & Emilija Ŝkarnulytė, Brigid McCaffrey & Pallavi Paul. I stayed in here for a few minutes, mainly I admit to have a rest, but I found the film on show engaging and oddly dreamy.

The Archive room was displaying an exhibition entitled A Utopian Stage: Festival of Arts Shiraz-Persepolis. For me this was probably the most interesting exhibition in the Gallery. It looked at the Festival of Arts held in Iran, against the backdrop of the ancient Persian ruins of Persepolis, between 1967 and 1997. It was described by Artforum as “one of the most adventurous and idiosyncratic festivals in the world”, featuring artists from both East and West, and the artefacts on display, including leaflets, posters, programmes and photographs, help to convey something of this.

It’s definitely impressive to have a gallery of this calibre in east London, and it’s an example of how it’s always worth looking beyond central London to get your art fix. The exhibits are thoughtfully curated and would certainly appeal to fans of modern art. Personally, I doubt I’ll be visiting again unless there’s an exhibition I really want to see: I prefer more “traditional” art if I’m honest.

By the way, the café is very nice; I had a very pleasant cup of tea there, and the cakes looked good too.

Facts

Address: 77-82 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX

Website: whitechapelgallery.org

Opening Hours: Tues-Sun 11am-6pm, late opening Thurs until 9pm, closed Mon.

South London Gallery

2014_0518SouthLondonGallery
The South London Gallery

On Sunday I popped into the South London Gallery in Peckham for the first time. I’d heard about an exhibition called Welcome to Iraq, and thought it sounded interesting.

The exhibition was originally shown as part of the National Pavilion of Iraq in the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013. Eleven artists, most of whom work and live in Iraq, were chosen to display their contemporary work. There were some very funny political cartoons, interesting sculptures, and two intriguing rooms upstairs full of furniture made out of cardboard.

The best thing about the exhibition was the homemade, relaxed feel, with comfy chairs and tables laden with books to do with Iraq. There were also refreshments available in the form of Iraqi tea and biscuits – free, but with a donation appreciated (which I was happy to make – the tea and biccies were delicious!).

The Gallery shows a rolling programme of temporary exhibitions, specialising in contemporary art. It is free to enter and has a café and a bookshop. It is open every day, and stays open until 9pm on Wednesdays – a good excuse to pop down after work.

FACTS

Address: 65-67 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UH

Website: southlondongallery.org

Opening Hours: Tues-Sun 11am-6pm (9pm on Wednesdays)

Prices: Free