When in London, one cannot escape going to the museums and art galleries. Through the many years of the Empire, London has been able to gather together some of the world’s most amazing things.
The first place that we went to was the National Gallery, located next to Trafalgar Square. Edd was looking most to seeing properly in real life ‘The Hay Wain’ by Constable. However, as our luck would have it, the workers of the National Gallery were on strike for several days and as a result, only five or six of the galleries were open with the limited staff that they still had working for them. As a result, after two visits, I still haven’t really been able to enjoy the National Gallery. Maybe next time? One thing we did manage to see was Leonardo da Vinci’s cartoon ‘The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist’. It’s a cartoon not as we know it, but a preparatory study for a painting, this like for one that now sits in the Lourve. It’s the first time that I have seen something of da Vinci’s and hopefully it won’t be the last.
To compensate, we went to the Tate Britain, located on the north bank of the Thames. The Tate Britain is home to a lot of British art, including the iconic painting of Elizabeth I with red and gold. Further, there were some Constable paintings to satisfy Edd to some degree and a glorious number of Turner paintings just sitting there. Edd had studied Constable at high school, and enjoys the skies that he painted. If only we had also gone to the Victoria and Albert museum in Knightsbridge when we were there. I went a few days later and found it was full of more Constable paintings, including a full scale study for ‘The Hay Wain’, and copies of his sketches and painted studies.
Indeed, the V&A museum I think is not as well-known nor as frequented by people as it should be. Opposite both the Natural History and Science Museum, the V&A had an extensive sculpture, art, and gold/silver collection to browse with some tapestries and theatre materials thrown in for good measure. One of the cutest things that I saw was a collection of silver miniatures for children, including mini backgammon boards with dice and counters included. Oh to be that privileged and to have things like that.
They also had some gorgeous stained glass windows that had been brought either when the churches had been demolished or remodelled. It was stunning to see such lovely examples of this art up close, to see the incredible amount of details that was actually applied to the glass, despite not really being able to see it down on the ground when they were in situ.
Lastly, the V&A is well known for its cast collection, where they have copies of Michaelangelo’s David statue, Trajan’s column and other structures from around the world. Done when international travel was expensive, these casts were made to allow people at home to be able to see these marvels without leaving the country. The detail of the copies are amazing, and certainly for Trajan’s column, I doubt I would have been able to see the detail I did in London as I will in Rome.
Of course, the Natural History museum has the dinosaurs. However, just getting to see them take an age as long as the time since they went extinct. There was a long line to get into the Museum, then to get into the dinosaur area, followed by one basically all around the exhibit. This was all in complete contrast to what it was like when I was last here in London, though that was winter when it wasn’t school holidays. It kind of ruined the whole experience really so won’t be doing that again.
The last museum I visited was the British Museum, which was really just to finish off what I had done last time I was here where I misread days and times it was open. The museum is home to the famous Rosetta Stone, the tablet that helped us be able to decipher the hieroglyphics of Egypt with the presence of the other two languages. Just beyond that was the Parthenon galleries, containing the freizes and the metopes of the main temple. To see them was amazing, to finally see the actual pieces that I learnt about all the many years ago, to see the reliefs and how beautiful they were was quite something. Certainly they were well preserved and it’s a shame it was used as a weapons bunker that lead to the partial destruction of great swathes of the place.
Also present at the cast brass plaques from Benin City in Nigeria. These plaques were used to decorate the royal palace, with over 900 plaques found buried in a storehouse. They are simply lovely to look at and show some of the amazing art that lies within Africa.
Lastly, the last piece of art experienced in London was The Phantom of the Opera. It is probably one of the most well-known musicals, certainly the most popular. We went on a Tuesday night and the house was full, though the theatre was quite small. Further, we were there for the 12,000th performance of the show in London — the show is as old as Edd. The set pieces were amazing, the staging great. It certainly is in my Top 5 musicals — though I have only seen six so I’m not sure that’s really an endorsement. Nevertheless, I am so glad that we went to see it, something I can tick off the to-see list.