Ylva111's Blog

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