Ylva111's Blog

Fast track mail, power of opera and a discovery at the RA

October 13, 2017
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The Postal Museum opened in London in June and is on track to become a top attraction. Not so much for its exhibitions but for the Mail Rail experience – a trip in the miniature mail trains which ran under London’s streets for 75 years.  The tunnels were built in the 1930s to avoid traffic congestion.  That’s hardly improved but the level of mail, which once stood at 3.6 billion items per year, has declined considerably.

The new museum is located on two sites in Farringdon, with the Museum and Café in a new building, and across the road, backing onto the old Mount Pleasant sorting office, the Mail Rail experience. We started with a coffee in the already popular museum café and then moved on to the exhibition.  The first part covers the history of postal services as they developed during the reign of Henry VIII from ad hoc royal deliveries to regular mail coaches across the country.  This section was rather noisy with audio commentaries and interactives aimed, it seemed, mainly at children.  But as we progressed into a mail service for all, through the invention of the Penny Black stamp in 1840 by Rowland Hill, there was more information, a section on the two world wars, and excellent interactives and films which explored individual subjects in depth, for example, the introduction of postcodes.

Towards the end there is a temporary exhibition focusing on what an individual letter might mean with examples from across the world. Here I expected more information on the organisation’s past as well as looking to the future – the separation of the Post Office into Royal Mail and British Telecommunications, privatisation, what’s happening to post offices and the impact of the digital explosion.  Maybe that will come later.

Across the road the Mail Rail exhibition is located in the original basement premises of the network with more history displays on the development of the underground train service for mail bags and also the real trains with Royal Mail carriages where post was sorted overnight as they sped north. You can try this for yourself in a “moving” carriage! Some people will remember the Great Train Robbery of 1963 which has its own display.  Book early if you wish to experience the ride down the dark tunnel!  Well worth it, apparently, although your blogger did not try it this time. http://www.postalmuseum.org

 

Power of opera

Opera: Power, Passion and Politics, the latest exhibition at the V&A, is a wonderful visual and audio experience. The designers have taken full advantage of the new underground space unveiled last month – a huge plain box –  and created seven distinct areas exploring the magic of opera.

Your headphones vibrate with music as you walk through the exhibition and wall posters provide information. Monteverdi’s Venice starts the show, which then moves to Handel’s London, stopping later in Vienna.  Here a scene from the Marriage of Figaro is played out on the screen with the wonderful music on your headphones.  Then it’s on to Milan and Verdi’s Nabucco – revealing the power of the collective voice for Italian unification.  Paintings, costumes and other objects in each city area illustrate the theme of passion and politics.

As we reach the 20th century a chaise long is the centre piece, while the gruesome but wonderful Salome is shown on the screen, followed in the next section by equally brutal scenes from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a murderous story in Stalin’s Russia.  Plenty of passion here!

There is so much more to experience, so allow plenty of time for this exhibition, linger and enjoy the music. It continues until 25 February 2018.  www.vam.ac.uk

Footnote from the Royal Academy

On a re-visit to Matisse’s Studio – my favourite exhibition this year (closing on 12 November), your blogger discovered the new Ladies toilets – top-marks to the RA for space and comfort…..the big redevelopment rolls on.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk

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Inside out at Tate Britain and other news

September 29, 2017
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Rachel Whiteread’s sculptures now at Tate Britain are spaciously displayed in the upstairs gallery – walls removed to give head room to the large objects. Smaller pieces are ranged round the walls and include a mattress, bookshelves and torsos cast in hot water bottles!  “Untitled Stairs” rise magnificently in the centre – on their way to nowhere.  There is some colour among the smaller objects but overall this is a white and grey exhibition.  Don’t miss the information on public commissions outside and the inside out shed in the garden.  Whatever it is, it’s not boring!

At Tate Britain until 21 Jan 2018 – http://www.tate.org.uk

Inside Matisse’s Studio

This smallish exhibition at the Royal Academy is thoughtful and engaging. Some of you may remember your blogger visiting the Matisse Museum a few years ago on a wonderful South of France tour with Martin Randall Tours but I was not so impressed with the museum which was cold and impersonal.  This is the opposite.  The RA has created an intimate experience where objects from the artist’s personal collection are related to paintings and other works.  They include small sculptures, textiles and even furniture.  This exhibition closes on 12 November, so book now.  www.royalacademy.org.uk

The Bowes Museum now at the Wallace Collection

The wonderful Bowes Museum in County Durham has leant some exquisite Spanish paintings to the Wallace Collection. Here in the small exhibition suite  you can lose yourself in these mainly religious works, some by El Greco and Goya.  But don’t forget the Spanish paintings on view in the main gallery on the first floor.

The Wallace Collection is locked in a time warp by its past but has over the years managed to transform itself by adding the education and exhibition suites downstairs, as well as the popular café in the covered courtyard. Now bigger plans are afoot with an extension at the back to provide more space for temporary exhibitions. http://www.wallacecollection.org

Get smart or see for yourself

How to look at art in galleries is a debatable issue. Some head straight for the label to make sure they know what they are looking at.  Others stand back and take in the whole, then examine every detail, sometimes creeping so close that they set off the alarm!  Then there are the people with the audio guide, listening intently but still pushing in to read the label in case they have missed something.  Others peer at the screen of their multi-media guide.  And now there is Smartify.

At the Wallace Collection and other galleries you can try it out for yourself by downloading the free app on your smartphone. Your phone scans the painting and using image recognition brings up information on the painting. You can save the image to “build your own gallery”.

The stated aim of Smartify is to broaden access by making a visit to museums and art galleries more interactive and fun for the “mobile” generation. This is, I am sure, a worthy aim and perhaps slightly less irritating than people taking photos of paintings but it raises interesting questions.  Who benefits – the museum which provides the information free or the visitor strolling past or Smartify?

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk


Take a trip to Stockholm…..

August 22, 2017
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The best part about a trip to Stockholm in the summer is the chance to explore the famous archipelago. Cruise ships and regular liners thread their way through the maze of hundreds of islands like huge icebergs and around them dart innumerable sailing and motorboats. But there is no need to take a boat, there are plenty of places for those on land to enjoy the spectacle.

Edmund de Waal in the Swedish archipelago

No doubt Edmund de Waal, writer and ceramicist, was thrilled to explore the space at the outlying gallery Artipelag which you can reach by ferry, car or bus. The dramatic setting with fir trees, cliffs and sea contrasts with de Waal’s delicate ceramic.  A visit here is not complete without a walk around the gallery – and of course lunch in the café.

Surprise find at Prince Eugene’s Valdermarsudde

You can also explore the archipelago from Djurgården, reached by ferry, tram or a walk across the bridge from Strandvagen. Here is the original home of Prince Eugene, an artist; his home is now an art gallery. Set back above the main route into Stockholm harbour, the grounds provide wonderful views of incoming and departing ships.

The Mansion was built for the Prince in 1905 and designed by the well-known Swedish architect Ferdinand Boberg. As well as visiting seeing his home as it once was, there is an art gallery extension.  This summer I went to see the exhibition of paintings and ceramics by the artist Anja Notini – Rooms with Gravitation – a series of abstracts created in response to nature.  (It was something of a surprise when I found out that we were related – she is a second cousin.)

Anders Zorn’s portraits and Finnish glass at Kulturhuset

Away from the harbour but in a parkland setting is Sven Harrys a Vasaparken.  This time they were showing some of Zorn’s outstanding portraits.  (Zorn himself was a lover of the sea (and women), creating numerous paintings of young Swedish girls bathing!)  This exhibition is now closed but the exciting news is that Zorn is the subject of a major exhibition in Paris this autumn at the Petit Palais opening on 15 September.

I also visited to Kulturhuset – not my favourite building in Stockholm – typical 60s/70s stark architecture.  Not helped by a huge building site outside as they rebuild Sergels Torg.  This time there was an exhibition of Finnish design starting with the works of architect Alvar Alto and then exploring his followers working in wood and producing decorative objects in glass.  This inspirational display was staged by the National Museum of Sweden as part of its outreach work while it is still in redevelopment – due to re-open in the autumn of 2018.

No visit to Stockholm in August is complete without the Crayfish Party – this time at Anna’s.

https://artipelag.se/   https://www.waldemarsudde.se/in-english/

http://www.sven-harrys.se/en    http://www.nationalmuseum.se/

http://www.petitpalais.paris.fr/en/expositions/anders-zorn

 


Cool down in Greenwich

July 30, 2017
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What happened to the Franklin expedition and the search for the North West passage in 1845?  Death in the Ice – a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum is history in the making, as discoveries are still being made.  The two ships which sailed from Britain with some 130 men under the command of Sir John Franklin were well equipped for a two year journey.  The wrecks have only recently been discovered, so new information and exhibits have been added to the previous collection and a fascinating, if gruesome, story is emerging.  This is not an exhibition for all the family!

Who were the Inuit?

The story starts with an introduction to the Inuit and their way of life in northern Canada, augmented with their recorded voices. It explains how all those years ago the Inuit were mere spectators to the tragedy, unable to do anything to change the fate of the men as they abandoned the frozen ships and made their way across the arctic landscape.

A well organised expedition

In a large space about the size of the lower deck of one of the ships the story about the expedition, the ships and the men unfolds. Some 70 men would have slept, ate and worked in this area and you get a good idea of how claustrophobic it must have been, particularly when it was too cold to venture out.  All the evidence is here to show that discipline was good, the men had many tasks to perform during those winter months, logs were kept and there was enough food.  When the second spring came and the ships were still trapped in the ice, it’s not clear exactly what happened but food must have been running out.  Some men died there and others set off across the ice to save themselves.

The ships in the ice and death…..

Inuit do not have a written language but hand down their history through story-telling. The sightings of these unkempt, starving men have been told and retold through generations.  The Inuit could not help them, as they had hardly enough food for themselves.  The final section describes how the officers and men suffered and died.  There is even evidence of some cannibalism, probably of already dead men.  Most died of starvation, diseases such as TB and the cold.

Seven expeditions to save the captain and the two crews were initiated in the following years by John Franklin’s wife, Jane Franklin. And objects, even bodies, were discovered, but it is only in the last two years that the ships have been found by the agency Park Canada and the search is continuing.

http://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum

On a more cheerful note…..

Don’t miss the wonderful Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery, see May blog. And for a good laugh, and some thoughtful insights, explore Grayson Perry’s “most popular art exhibition ever” at the Serpentine Gallery.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk


Winner takes nearly all

July 10, 2017
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While The Hepworth Wakefield took the Museum of the Year Prize of £100,000, it was not quite all.  This year the Art Fund introduced a new gift for the finalists – £10,000 each.  It may not make a lot of difference to Tate Modern but for the other runners up, the Sir John Soane Museum, the Lapworth Museum of Geology and the National Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art, it could fill a useful hole. Your blogger did not make it to Newmarket before the Prizegiving event at the British Museum at the beginning of July but having met the team at the grand event will surely make it there in the near future.

Away to Newmarket! ….was a popular invitation from both King James I and later, his son Charles I. James I had a royal palace built here and by 1610 the Court would spend several weeks a year enjoying hunting, horseracing, riding in the countryside, masques and other entertainment. It’s ironic that poor Charles I should have been arrested by Cromwell’s troops in 1647 as the Civil War came to an end and brought to Newmarket, before his execution in London.  Charles II, when restored to the throne, wasted no time in returning Newmarket’s role as the rest and recreation place for the royals (and mistresses)!  Today it is of course the centre of an important global industry, horse race breeding and training.

Back to the Hepworth

The Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield – in a most attractive building by David Chipperfield – was first shortlisted for the Museum Prize, when it opened in 2013 but missed out on the big money.  I enjoyed my visit there just over a year ago, best described as stimulating but also peaceful, inviting you to contemplate each object in the different settings created by the daring architecture. The sculptor Barbara Hepworth grew up in Wakefield, where she met her contemporary, Henry Moore, before moving to London and later St Ives.  The changing displays illustrate her life through her works.  Your blogger has mentioned before, the sculpture by Hepworth, overlooking the lake at Battersea Park, created as a model for the much larger memorial in New York to Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish UN Secretary, who died in 1961.

More royal history in Edinburgh

On a weekend visit to Edinburgh, your blogger enjoyed the extensive exhibition “On the trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites”. In fact it was well into the second half before the Bonnie Prince himself arrived but the ground had been thoroughly prepared. There were no less than five challenges to the united English/Scottish throne first occupied by the Stuarts through James I from 1603.  And it was the last of these (apart from more recent, less violent events) when the Young Pretender, born in exile, made the final Jacobite bid.  After various battles he marched South in 1746 with his troops, heading for London but halting fatally at Derby.  Lacking the expected support from French and English volunteers, Prince Charlie then turned and headed north, with the Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II and his troops hot on his heels.  The Duke became known as “the Butcher” after the terrible battle at Culloden, when the Jacobites where not just defeated but slaughtered. The Young Pretender survived, fled and hid in various places, including dressing up as a woman, before returning to France, where he declined into drunkenness and ignominy.  A sad story, well told.

On a more cheerful note…..

On a more cheerful note, don’t miss the wonderful Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery, see May blog. And for a good laugh, and some thoughtful insights, explore Grayson Perry’s “most popular art exhibition ever” at the Serpentine Gallery.

More about the Museums of the Year Prize at http://www.artfund.org and more from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk


Second visits make all the difference

June 15, 2017
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On my second visit to the new Design Museum in the former Commonwealth Institute I started to like it…..And perhaps when I re-visit the transformed Garden Museum at Lambeth the same will happen. Any visit to the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum at Lincoln’s Inn will have to wait a few years!

The Design Museum warmed up by Californian Dreams

On my first visit shortly after it opened, I found the new Design Museum cold and unfriendly and the permanent exhibition on the second floor crammed and uninspiring. Memories of the old Commonwealth Institute kept crowding in and I looked for some recognition of the battle that had gone on in the ‘90s to keep it going, something which I had played a small part in.

This time we visited the California: Designing Freedom exhibition, spaciously displayed in the ground floor temporary exhibition gallery.  This took us on a time trail from the ‘60s – the summer of love – to geeky blokes in garages launching the tech revolution.  Here was the design palette for the LA Olympics in 1984 with its colourful branding in contrast to the strict guidelines to laid down today by the Olympics Association. And we remembered some of those first cumbersome computers, mobile phones, printers and fax-machines, and compared them with today’s replacement.  It’s clear for all the efforts of Apple and others that they, too, will soon be museum objects.  The exhibition continues until October.

The café on the ground floor still needs some murals or posters, but has good coffee and a great selection of filled rolls and sandwiches. And friendly guides meet visitors as they arrive. The only thing missing is a bit of history!

https://designmuseum.org/

Mystery burials at the Garden Museum, Lambeth

The Garden Museum, newly reopened, in St Mary’s Church on the edge of the Lambeth bridge roundabout also evokes memories. In the ‘70s and ‘80s,  the intrepid Rosemary Nicholson made it her life work to save the church and the churchyard where the gardeners, father and son, Tradescant are buried.  At the London Tourist Board we did our bit by staging the annual London In Bloom Prizegiving in what was then a rather chilly church with one toilet and not much comfort.  Rosemary would be pleased to see what the dynamic director, Christopher Woodward, has achieved.  A hard-won extension at the back provides more space not just for the café but also for a learning centre. The exhibition galleries are linked by a new high level walkway and tell the story of gardening in short sharp bursts.

During the redevelopment work the builders lifted a few flagstones in the floor and revealed a secret burial chamber with up to 30 lead coffins.  Five of these were identified as those of Archbishops, former occupants of nearby Lambeth Palace. The crypt can now be glimpsed through a glass panel in the floor and perhaps more information on this discovery will follow.

We missed the opportunity to try the new café which was not quite ready, and will return. Hopefully the second visit will not just provide a good lunch but also a slightly more welcoming feeling in the church itself.  A few plants perhaps, not just in the beautiful churchyard garden but here as well? And a little bit more about the history of the church?

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/

Royal College of Surgeons

If you were planning a revisit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn, you’ll have to wait. The building is now closed and all the museum objects are being packed up and will in due course (2020?) be displayed in a new museum, on the ground floor of the building.  Something to look forward to – in the meantime, why not take a trip to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow!

More from me at my website ylvafrench.co.uk


Discover Venice in London

May 25, 2017
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Can’t face the thought of the summer crowds in Venice? Why not head to the Queen’s Gallery in London where Canaletto and the Art of Venice has just opened?  Mind you, there may be a few obstacles as you make your way along Buckingham Palace Road with other tourists in search of the Palace.  Passing the porticoed entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, some are tempted inside to explore the shop; others join the queue for the Gallery, sometimes in the mistaken belief that they are entering the Palace itself.

All this, as well as the entrance charge, will be worth it, however, for all lovers of Venetian art. So take your time to explore this beautifully presented exhibition which includes not just the Queen’s works by Canaletto but many works of art by his contemporaries, such as Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Zuccarelli and Battista.

Who was Joseph Smith?

The common factor apart from Venice itself is Joseph Smith, who as British Consul in Venice, put together an extraordinary collection not just of paintings but also of books and prints, which was sold to King George III in 1765. As a result the Royal Collection has one of the world’s most outstanding works from this golden age of Venetian art.

The exhibition starts with two familiar views of the annual Regatta on the Grand Canal, and then explores Canalettos works from his early drawings. At the Queen’s Gallery, when it is not too busy, it’s possible to get a very close look at his skilful technique displayed from an early age.  It was this which attracted Joseph Smith to the young Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768) later known as Canaletto.  Works by other Venetians follow – don’t miss Rosalba Carriera’s wonderful pastels of the four seasons. In the largest gallery, you can inspect the sequence of 12 paintings commissioned by Smith which takes you along the Grand Canal stage by stage.  And that’s not all, less well-known views of Roman ruins are also included in this comprehensive exhibition.

Canaletto became a favourite with the British on the Grand Tour and there are many works in collections around the country – many more than in Italy. Canaletto also spent ten years in England working for a variety of stately home owners.

The exhibition continues until November. More on http://www.royalcollection.org.uk

And more in my book….

The exhibition displays Canaletto’s work in the context of other artists in Venice at the time, many of whom were supported by Joseph Smith. In my book Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, I follow one of these works, a copy of a Veronese altarpiece probably by Sebastiano Ricci, and its journey across Europe from Venice to London, to Scotland and finally to Sweden.

Go to ylvafrench.co.uk to read more about Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, available as an E-book on Amazon.


Five in the running for the Art Fund Prize

May 1, 2017
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It was good news for the five finalists of this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year Prize; they will all get £10,000 each. And of course one of them will get the full £100,000.  Which one you may ask yourself, looking down the list.  Here is your blogger’s summing up.  (The prize winner will be announced on 5 July.)

Chance for two smaller museums

There was complete silence when the first finalist was announced – the Lapworth Museum of Geology – noone in that audience except possibly the curator had heard of it. But now they will, after a £2.7m refit this treasure trove of gemstones and other minerals at Birmingham University will be in the national spotlight for the first time.

It was different for the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Newmarket – the audience at the British Museum certainly knew this one (whether for the right reasons is another matter). The museum re-opened last year with new galleries and a centre for retraining racehorses.

And then the big runners

The Sir John Soane Museum, now in two buildings in London’s Lincoln Fields, is loved by many.  It has extended its displays by recreating some of Soane’s original rooms as they were in 1837 when he died. The only problem here is that there is not a lot of space for increasing the visitor flow.

At the Hepworth in Wakefield which your blogger visited just a year and a half ago, it’s all go with their own new Sculpture prize and new exhibitions. It was on the Museum Prize Shortlist when it first opened in 2012, and was pipped to the post by the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter.  Will they be lucky this time and bag the big prize?

And then Tate Modern – it couldn’t very well be left out after the opening of the magnificent Switch House. It blends perfectly with the old power station and adds space for new works as well as for those previously in storage.

The debate on Front Row

The shortlist was announced at a special event (live on BBC’s Front Row) at the British Museum with Hartwig Fisher, Director of BM and also on the judging panel for the Prize, joined by Tristram Hunt, former MP and recently appointed Director of the V&A and Sarah Munro of the Baltic. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund also got a few words in.  Some old chestnuts, such as the Elgin Marbles, free versus charging museums and more children in museums were quickly dispatched.  The focus was on the dramatic impact of local authority cuts on museums around the country.  The two national museums on the panel were doing their bit to ease the pain with a new V&A  scheme establishing design hubs around the UK and at the BM lending objects and touring exhibitions.

Your blogger had a quick chat with another Scandinavian afterwards – former Museum Prize judge and Antiques Roadshow expert, Lars Tharp – who revealed that he descended from King Christian IV of Denmark. “But so does half of Denmark”, he added.  (According to Wikipedia Christian IV had a total of 24 known children with his two wives and several mistresses.)

Read more about my Swedish family history (no royal links I am afraid) and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


Fit for a king….in Leicester

April 26, 2017
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Hotfoot from Chelsea and the National Army Museum, your blogger headed straight for the battle of Bosworth. Or more correctly, for what was left of King Richard III after the bloody fight near Leicester which killed hundreds of soldiers.

Most of you will know the exciting story – not of the battle but of the search for Richard’s remains and the amazing discovery in 2014 in a small car park close to Leicester Cathedral. How did they know it was him?  That’s the obvious question, after all there were many bodies buried higgledy-piggledy after the battle.  This is where the Visitor Centre comes in.

The Queen visits the Cathedral

We explored the Cathedral first and by the entrance there was an exhibition of photographs of the recent visit by Queen Elizabeth II to present the Maundy money to local people. Did she take a look at the impressive tomb – a fossil stone sarcophagus on a dark marble plinth in the nearby Ambulatory?  Apparently, as Richard III is considered a usurper, the Queen could not attend his internment in 2015 herself, but sent the Duchess of Wessex.  But it would be hard for the Queen not have seen Richard’s resting place on her visit – this is not a large Cathedral – and surely she was shown the recently installed, wonderfully luminous stained glass windows by Thomas Denny, inspired by the story of Richard III and the battle.

Developing the £4m exhibition

The Visitor Centre stands nearby on the site of the original Greyfriars Priory where Richard was hastily buried after the battle in 1485. It’s been converted from its previous use by Leicester’s Grammar School.  The ground floor is about Richard’s rise to power and the battle, and recreates the kind of castle that Richard may have inhabited as well as the battlefield of Bosworth through new technology.  Upstairs the tone changes, becomes more scientific with great graphs, many interactives as well as a few objects.  This is about the discovery of Richard’s remains by Philippa Langley and her supporters, and the work done by the University of Leicester to establish that these remains were indeed those of the king’s.  Finally, back downstairs, Richard’s skeleton with its rounded spine hover as a hologram in a roughly dug elongated hole in the ground – quite moving.  That is where he was found – minus feet but that’s another story.

The odds on success in finding the remains in the first place and establishing their authenticity (through the DNA of a direct descendant of the king’s sister) can’t have been high.  So this is a great story well told through the dignity of the cathedral tomb and the recreation of  the bloody history of the time and the thrilling search and discovery in the Visitor Centre.  And surely Leicester is the right place for this memorial.

There are two cafes on the site worth visiting, and gift shops, of course.  http://www.kriii.com  http://www.visitleicester.info  http://www.le.ac.uk/richardiii/

Read more about my Swedish family history (no royal links I am afraid) and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


War and peace at the National Army Museum

April 13, 2017
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Tucked away in Chelsea just beyond the Royal Hospital (where they hold the Chelsea Flower Show each May) lies London’s latest revamped museum, the National Army Museum.  It’s been three years in the re-make at a cost of some £24 million and no doubt time was spent considering the branding.  Could there be a more “catchy” name, after all other military museums have tried to raise their profile with some smart new brand? Fortunately this is not the case here.  It is still a national museum about the British army through war and peace, light and dark, and it is very good.

I can’t promise that everyone will enjoy themselves among the guns and the tanks but in fact there is not a lot of hardware on view.  This is more about the soldiers.  I remember the old museum but this time I looked with fresh eyes having recently found out that I come from several generations of soldiers going back to the 17th century and the Swedish King Karl XII, who fought bitter wars across northern Europe.  Many of the visitors to this museum will be former and current soldiers bringing friends and families.  And they will not be disappointed.

From the vast lobby

As you enter the new, vast lobby, your bags will be searched – a reminder of the uncertain times we live in.  To the right up a few steps is a large and welcoming café with ample room for children as well as adults.  And, of course, there is a shop with a range of specially commissioned souvenirs all themed to the museum and its content – look out for the gin and tonic kits!

From the lobby you get a good view of what else is on offer – four permanent galleries featuring “Battle”, “Army”, “Soldier” and “Society”, as well as a temporary exhibition space – at the moment housing “War Paint” – pictures by amateur and professional artist reflecting battles and conflicts. The displays are well thought-out, dense and multi-layered with objects, facts and figures as well as questions. Most of us will respond to something here and try out some of the excellent interactives. And there are some iconic exhibits including Lawrence of Arabia’s desert robes, the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse and a 1918 original trench coat – a Burberry – designed for officers only.  The Museum now has an accessible resource centre and a lecture theatre, as well as a full complement of lifts and lavatories.

www.nam.ac.uk

Don’t miss these treats

There is so much more to enjoy this spring in London. Until 14 May you can find out more about the multi-talented Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery, David Hockney of course at Tate Britain – until 29 May, while Michelangelo and Sebastiano continues at the National Gallery and nearby at the National Portrait Gallery don’t miss the stunning portraits by Howard Hodgkin, until 18 June.

www.npg.org.uk  www.whitechapelgallery.org  www.tate.org.uk http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Read more about my Swedish family history and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk


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