It was tough, but I’ve finally finished Proust’s massive tome, In Search of Lost Time. Despite the length it was a worthwhile read, if an occasionally tedious one. The narrator was fairly irritating at times, but the depth of description and the minute dissection of feelings was really powerful, I thought.
On Friday I was due to go to the National Maritime Museum for a visit to the Caird Library and Archive (librarianship being my day job) and, having not visited the NMM proper for several years, I decided to take the entire day off and go around the museum before my library visit was due to begin. The museum, the main part of which is free to enter, was established by Act of Parliament in 1934, opening to the public in 1937. The site, encompassing the Naval College and the Royal Observatory, is a World Heritage site, and the buildings started out in 1807 as a school for the children of seafarers, though the most recent addition, the Sammy Ofer Wing, was only completed a few years ago.
The Museum’s collections include many and varied items relating to the history of Britain at sea, including art, maps, manuscripts, ship models and plans, a maritime reference laboratory, and seafaring objects including figureheads.
The central galleries have some fascinating exhibits on display. One of my favourites was Prince Frederick’s barge. This was used on the Thames by the Royal family for many years, often for pleasure cruises.
After wandering about the bright, airy central area of the Museum for a while, I checked out the different galleries. Voyagers: Britons and the Sea had varied artefacts from different time periods relating to how people on this island surrounded by sea saw their relationship to the water. Guiding Lights: 500 years of Trinity House and safety at sea looked at lighthouses and other ways of helping ships avoid the rocks, while Maritime London: 1700 to now is a chronological exploration of how London developed as an important port.
I then moved upstairs to the top of the building, where I looked at the Nelson, Navy, Nation gallery. Probably most notable for displaying the coat Nelson was wearing when he died at Trafalgar, the gallery also looked at the lead-up to the battle and the aftermath. I then popped into Forgotten Fighters: the First World War at Sea, which was a bit dry for my tastes, but an appropriate commemoration of World War I. Back on the first floor, the Great Map caught my eye. Children and families can play games and use tablets to interact with the map, but I contented myself with just looking at it. Next to it was the Environment Gallery, informing us about existing and possible future damage to our seas.
Two particularly detailed galleries, The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire and Traders: the East India Company and Asia look at the wider context of Britain’s relationship with the sea and the lands that sailors were able to explore and exploit. Finally, I ended my journey around the museum with a look at the restored Baltic Exchange Memorial Glass, damaged in the 1992 bomb that led to the demolition of the Baltic Exchange (the gherkin now occupies that site).
Plenty for all ages to see and do (there are also childrens’ play areas): not bad for a free museum.
Address: Romney Road, Greenwich, SE10 9NF
Opening Hours: 10am-5pm
Prices: Free (except for special exhibitions)
The final exhibition I saw at Tate Britain was Salt and Silver: Early Photography 1840 – 1860. It was a fascinating exhibition with some of the earliest photographs ever taken on display. William Henry Fox Talbot pioneered a method of taking pictures with salted paper prints in 1839, the same year as Louis Daguerre invented the daguerrotype. Talbot’s images included pictures of china, glass, paper and people – including his daughter – as he explored the potential of the new medium. Other photographs on display include fascinating Paris landmarks including the Arc de Triomphe, images of India and the American Civil War, and the construction of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square.
Later, Gustave Le Gray improved the salted paper print method by using waxed paper negative proofs. Further images displayed showcase the extra detail this method offered: the pyramids of Egypt, the Crimean war and ordinary life, in the shape of some Newhaven fishwives, are pictured. Early photography was inspired by portraiture when it came to pictures of people: pictures were often posed, but they were unique in being able to capture individuals, particularly children, at a specific moment in time. Most of the pictures are of ordinary people, but there is one notable image of French author Victor Hugo.
A fascinating exhibition, this is a must-see for anyone interested in photography or history.
During my day out at Tate Britain, I visited a great many exhibitions including Sculpture Victorious. This exhibition looks at the development of the art form during the Victorian era. Victoria and Albert encouraged and commissioned work, as did the state, and this helped to encourage a “golden age” of sculpture.
The first section explores images of Queen Victoria herself, from Francis Chantrey’s 1839 young and sensual marble bust to Alfred Gilbert’s 1887-9 marble bust and Edward Onslow Ford’s 1897 bronze bust, made only a few years before Victoria died. Her image was familiar to all her subjects as it was dispersed throughout the country on cameos, medals and coins – some of which are displayed here, including Canadian and Indian coins, a Crimea medal and a Great Exhibition medal – as well as large and small busts. The item I found particularly interesting was Benjamin Cheverton’s 1842 bust, a copy of Chantrey’s made using Cheverton’s ingenious “reducing machine”.
The nineteenth century saw a growth of interest in Britain’s history, particularly its medieval past. This was evident in the Houses of Parliament, designed in a Gothic style, and the fascination with the “Age of Chivalry” and church history. The House of Lords was decorated with models of the Magna Carta barons by James Sherwood Westmacott, including the Earl of Winchester (d. 1219), whose model has been loaned to this exhibition. Edmund Cotterill’s Eglinton Trophy is a beautiful and intricate example of medieval-inspired design, while many medieval tombs were conserved and their casts displayed at the Crystal Palace, including that of Eleanor of Aquitaine.
The classical world also inspired the Victorians, particularly the Parthenon marbles, casts and miniatures of which were sold and toured the country. Hamo Thornycroft’s bronze sculpture of Teucer (1881), a Greek archer named in the Iliad, was well received while John Gibson, a leading British neoclassicist, created Hylas surprised by the Naiades (1826-c.36) in marble. The Devonshire Parure (1856), a glorious collection of jewels, was inspired by classical style while Frederic Leighton’s bronze An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877) is particularly impressive.
The Great Exhibition showcased fine examples of sculpture from Britain and abroad. Minto & Co.’s Peacock (1873) and Elephant (1889) are attractive and bright; made of lead and tin-glazed earthenware, they exemplify the link between sculpture and manufacturing. Mid-19th century ivory sculptures from Barhampur in India are ornate and beautiful, while Thomas Wilkinson Wallis’s Partridges and Ivy (1871), made of limewood, is breathtakingly delicate and stunning. Sculptures of a Greek slave and an American slave helped to fuel the anti-slavery campaign. I was particularly impressed by Raffaele Monti’s Veiled Vestal (1847), a marble sculpture with remarkably realistic drapes veiling a young woman’s face.
The Victorian era saw the construction of more public statues than any other, designed largely for commemorative purposes. Still famous to this day is Alfred Gilbert’s 1893 Shaftesbury monument, a memorial to Lord Shaftesbury, most commonly known as the Statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. A statue of King Alfred by Hamo Thornycroft was erected in Winchester in 1901, accompanied by a carefully choreographed unveiling, and Alfred Stevens won the Wellington Commission to create a memorial to the Duke of Wellington in St Paul’s Cathedral.
The final section of the exhibition looks at individual craftsmanship, with examples including A Royal Game (1906-11) by William Reynolds-Stephens, an impressive piece of bronze, wood and stone showing Elizabeth I and Philip II of Spain playing chess. Another piece that caught my eye was Perseus and the Graiae (1877-88) by Edward Burne-Jones.
I have an interest in the Victorian period and this exhibition allowed me to learn about an area of Victorian art that I hadn’t really thought about before. Definitely recommended.
At Tate Britain in order to attend some exhibitions, I came across a photography exhibition called Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process. The exhibition consists of a selection of photos taken by Waplington at McQueen’s invitation, concerning the latter’s final ready-to-wear collection for A/W 2009 known as The Horn of Plenty! Everything But the Kitchen Sink. As I have a ticket for the McQueen exhibition at the V&A later this year, I thought it would be a good idea to visit this one too.
The exhibition documents the process of creating the collection from start to finish, beginning with pictures of rubbish tips and ending with images of the catwalk. In between you see McQueen and his assistants designing, creating and constructing the costumes. The collection acted as a satirical and provocative retrospective of his career, with costumes made from fine silks designed to look like rubbish bags and an exaggerated emphasis on the models’ features. I found the exhibition interesting and it whetted my appetite for the larger exhibition at the V&A later on.