Sunday, January 30, 2011

January review

A month into 2011 already. How time flies! It's been a busy month too, with loads of interesting things going on. I think we surpassed ourselves in terms of exhibitions and museum visits!

  • Canaletto at the National Gallery. A thoroughly enjoyable exhibition focusing on Canaletto and his rivals. Canaletto truly was the rich man's picture postcard painter - his paintings of Venice are exquisite and the composition is always excellent (even if it meant bending the truth slightly). It was interesting to note that he wasn't the first to fill that role, as painters such as Luca Carlevarijs had been painting vedute of Venice for years before him. The rival who really stood out to me was Francesco Guardi, one of the last painters of the classical Venetian School. His work really captured the fading grandeur of Venice and seemed to portray Venice as she is now (he was painting around the 1760s). I especially adored how he turned the emphasis from Venice out towards the lagoon itself (becoming almost Turner-esque).

  • Gauguin at Tate Modern. This was a mammoth exhibition - 11 rooms in total - looking at the themes and mythology in Gauguin's work. It was very hard work - far too many people allowed in at any one time and rather poorly curated. Much of the information seemed to be stuffed into corners, or (in the case of sculptures & carvings) hidden in a random location on the wall. As I found out from a friend later, the audio guide had excellent information but I don't really expect to pay out more cash after paying £13 for entry in the first place. Westminster Abbey and the Queen's Gallery include your audio guide as part of the ticket price, which makes much more sense! Anyway, depite that rant, the exhibition was well-worth attending. I had seen some of Gauguin's work before ("Vision of the Sermon" in particular) and the bold, vivid colours had stuck in my mind. However, I did find some of the paintings a bit menacing with their strange characters lurking in the background! One of my favourite things was the two rooms with photographs, books and other paraphernalia, which served to put Gauguin's work into context with the time in which he was painting. I left the exhibition wanting to know more about him, regardless of how arrogant and morally dubious as he seemed!

  • High Society at the Wellcome Collection. This must be the most popular exhibition I've been to at the Wellcome Collection - it was heaving! Something to do with the subject matter no doubt - mind-altering drugs in history and culture. Starting with the discovery of these drugs and their effects (loads of written accounts of self-experimentation), the exhibition progressed right through the 19th century drug trade to the changing attitudes of today. I was fascinated to discover how much the British were involved in the opium trade - the East India Company had opium plantations and sold to Chinese smugglers, despite opium being illegal in China at the time!

  • Our first members evening at The British Museum and an opportunity to view galleries after-hours. Bliss! This evening was focused around the current Book of the Dead exhibition, which we went to see before Christmas (excellent but really needs two visits). We spent some time in the Egyptian sculpture court and listened to a curator talking about how they can date stelae by identifying features unique to the artisan who carved the hieroglyphs - so clever! To round off the evening, there was a lecture by the curator of the Book of the Dead exhibition, which I wish I had seen before we went, as it was such a good introduction to the subject matter. I felt the member evenings really do make the cost of membership worthwhile, and I can't wait until the next one!

  • A members only visit to the Herbarium at Kew Gardens. This was a really fascinating insight into some of the behind-the-scenes work at Kew. The Herbarium was founded in 1853 to store dried plant specimens that were collected to be used to assist in identification and research. It still receives thousands of specimens every year and has staff dedicated to preserving and cataloguing them. One of the highlights was seeing specimens collected by Charles Darwin (in the photo above) and David Livingstone - it's amazing to think how different the world was when they were collected!

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