Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon – Royal Academy of Arts

When I visited the Royal Academy in order to see the Joseph Cornell exhibition, I also popped into Burlington House’s Weston Rooms to see the smaller exhibition entitled Daniel Maclise: The Waterloo Cartoon. This exhibition, which runs until 3 January, marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and is free with a ticket to one of the other major exhibitions at the RA.

The cartoon was made by Daniel Maclise, an Irish painter and illustrator, in 1858-59 in preparation for a commission at the Houses of Parliament (the finished wall art is still there), The Meeting of Wellington and Blücher After the Battle of Waterloo. The cartoon, which has recently undergone conservation treatment, is one of the largest surviving cartoons in the UK and shows the meeting of the two generals after their victory over Napoleon. Accompanied by staff and soldiers, the work showcases the intensive research Maclise undertook during his preparation, which included eyewitness accounts of the battle. The result is not always 100% accurate but is fairly close nevertheless. The size of the drawing makes an impact, as does the representation of soldiers in all states, including severely injured. The work seems to be trying to evoke an awareness of the heroism of the soldiers involved in the battle, even as it celebrates victory.

Alongside the cartoon, there are a selection of French and Italian prints representing the battle as viewed from the “other side”. Including satirical prints of British soldiers and less flattering images of the generals, they provide an interesting contrast. The exhibition is certainly worth popping into if you’re visiting the RA for Joseph Cornell or Ai Weiwei

Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited – Terrace Rooms, Somerset House

I spent some time during my day off at Somerset House, which always has plenty of exhibitions to see, and visited the Terrace Galleries to view the exhibition Unseen Waterloo: The Conflict Revisited. This is a collection of photographic portraits taken by Sam Faulkner to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo.

Faulkner has taken pictures of participants in the annual re-enactment of the battle that takes place in Belgium. Those who take part dress in historically-accurate uniforms, paying close attention to detail. The portraits could have been taken at the time of the battle itself – if photography had been invented then. From teenage drummer-boys to old and grey-haired generals, the exhibition really emphasises the humanity of those who took part.

The pictures explore how we remember those who died in war before the invention of photography, and I thought they were very effective in bringing home the individuality and personality of each soldier. Sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend the humanity of the 54,000 soldiers who died at the Battle of Waterloo, the last major European battle which was not recorded in photography (the Crimean War of the 1850s marked the entrance of the war photographer, bringing home the human cost of battle. Seeing so many pictures alongside each other, each representing a dead soldier, was sobering.

 

Alice’s Adventures Underground

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I love immersive theatre and recently I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, a show held at The Vaults in Waterloo, performed by Les Enfants Terribles to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I’ve written a review here, but I thought I would go into my experience in more detail, as I want to be sure of remembering it all. Please note, the following may contain spoilers!

I arrived at the venue and, after a short wait in the bar, we were taken to the first room of the experience, a gorgeous Victorian study full of books, papers and developing photographs – perhaps in homage to Lewis Carroll’s interest in photography? Even here, it was obvious that nothing was quite as it seems – the bookcases were curved as if to fit a rabbit hole, with nothing but magic to keep the books from falling out.

There was a mirror in the corner of the room, and we could see Alice, trapped and unable to get out. The clock chimed and a hidden door in the wall flew open, revealing a passageway lined with the pages of books. We made our way tentatively through the tunnel, to find ourselves “falling” down the rabbit hole, as Carroll’s words were read out by a hidden voice somewhere above us.

Once again the doors flew open and we found the White Rabbit waiting for us; he introduced us to Wonderland and invited us to eat or drink to determine the route we would take. The set here was incredibly clever, using visual tricks to make it look as if you really were growing smaller or larger depending whether you chose the “Eat Me” or “Drink Me” route. I chose “Drink Me” and followed the White Rabbit, who smuggled us into Wonderland away from the eyes of the Queen’s border guards. I was hoping to keep my little “Drink Me” bottle as a souvenir, but sadly it was taken away.

did get to keep my playing card: we were each given one of these which determined the group we would belong to for the rest of the evening. In a small woodland area we all met the Cheshire Cat, an incredible puppet who was chilling and magical.

We then split into our groups: I was a Club, and we first of all visited the Duchess in her kitchen, complete with pig baby. We helped to make some “soup” and were hustled into the office of the Knave of Hearts, in which we ended up having to eat the evidence – a plate of jam tarts. Again, the detail in each room was astounding, and all the characters were incredibly well drawn.

A visit to Tweedledum and Tweedledee saw us huddle down in an attempt to avoid the brothers swinging about over us, and squirting us with water pistols. Fortunately our next visit was much more relaxing: a trip upstairs to lounge with the Caterpillar (another amazing puppet) in his lair.

Throughout all of this, we were aware that we were part of the rebel forces fighting against the Queen – who was trying to stamp out all the “nonsense” in Wonderland – and we had to learn a special Raven hand signal. We were introduced to “Bill” the Lizard, the leader of this gang, before we made our way into the garden – full of white roses being painted red – and then a spooky vault containing a long table: the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

Following some party antics, we were taken through to the courtroom for the grand finale. It was at this point that I really began to appreciate the amount of thought and care that had gone into the production. It became apparent that the Clubs (of which I was one) and the Spades belonged to the rebels, while the Hearts and the Diamonds were on the side of the Queen. Each group had their own role to play in the ensuing conflict – would the Queen be defeated and Alice be released?

I thought this experience was truly amazing, one of the most detailed and best thought out immersive theatre experiences I’ve ever enjoyed. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything, and I wonder if I could manage to get back before it closes at the end of August to take the “Eat Me” route…