I’m obsessed with art museums. It doesn’t help that I’m also obsessed with research and art museums happen to be excellent resources on clothing, hairstyles, and tastes of the period. These are my favourites:
Victoria and Albert Museum, South Kensington
South Kensington has several major museums and galleries, but I greatly enjoy the V&A, aka Museum of Random Stuff. The place really has no rhyme or reason. They have a terrific collection of historical costume, Indian art, Medieval European art, a painting collection I never made it to, a collection of known forgeries of medieval and renaissance art, and two huge halls of plaster casts. I’m serious. They have a full size plaster cast of Trajan’s Column, Michelangelo’s David, and a whole host of other Italian works in one hall, while the other hall is casts of medieval tombstones and church sculpture from Britain and Ireland. The Indian art galleries are extensive and include a very large carved tiger chewing on a british soldier, and if you turn a crank in its side, it growls. You just can’t make up stuff like this. In the basement near the cafeteria hangs a collection of original Beatrix Potter drawings and paintings. Plus they have a terrific collection of furniture and housewares from all over Europe, though the gallery is extremely cramped. They have reorganised much of the museum so that the British examples are in separate, chronological galleries and are therefore much easier to see than the various French and German crystal and china and furniture. There are at least three fully finished period rooms in the British section.
The photograph is of the interior courtyard. The white stone fašade is simply too huge to photograph satisfactorily. The building itself was commissioned by Victoria as a museum of contemporary design.
Tate Britain, Pimlico
The original Tate Gallery, the Tate Britain holds the best collection of Pre-Raphaelite art I have ever seen. The Clore Galleries, a modern addition to the original building, contain a vast body of JMW Turner’s work, bequeathed to the British government at his death. It is fascinating to trace his detailed early work from the 1820s to his development in the 1830s of the impressionistic style for which he is best remembered. Since his best known pieces hang in the National Gallery, the Clore is a revelation. Approximately half of the Tate is still given over to 20th century art, limiting what can be shown of their vast collections. The collection itself is entirely British art, but exhibitions show a wide variety. When I was there in March 2003, a special exhibition entitled “From Constable to Delacroix” was in the basement galleries. I almost went insane with pleasure over seeing “Greece on the Ruins of Missalonghi”. Not my favourite Delacroix, but one sees so little of his work in the US.
Statue of Sir John Everett Millais, Tate Britain
All around the Tate Britain stand statues of various British artists. I was particularly taken by this image of Millais, probably because I had seen his tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral earlier that morning. I’m currently very taken with the Pre-Raphalites, and I wasn’t at all a fan until I walked into the main gallery of PRB painting at the Tate.
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