During half term, I had the great pleasure of going on an epic tour of three of London’s museums. The V&A has always been my favourite London museum and is usually my first port of call when I go into town for a culture fix. I grew to love it with a passion when I worked there in my early twenties, but though much of the building is well known to me, I never fail to be surprised on every visit. My latest trip saw me purposefully trying to avoid my usual gallery haunts in order to open my mind to forms of art and design I don’t naturally find fascinating, and hopefully learn something new in the process. This time I started in the architecture gallery, which I have always felt I can’t enjoy because I don’t know enough to appreciate what I am looking at. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I didn’t need any technical knowledge to understand and enjoy the displays, and I spent a very enjoyable half an hour looking at a wonderful little exhibition about British architects working in the colonies between the 18th and 20th centuries. I then popped upstairs to the ceramics galleries, where I absolutely loved looking at a range of beautiful, decorative pieces of pottery of all different periods and designs. I had never noticed the huge collection of 1940s and 1950s ceramics before, and seeing the gorgeous Eric Ravilious Wedgwood designs I have coveted for years in the flesh was quite the treat. A further treat on my way out of the museum was popping into the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries, whose colossal sculptures can often feel overwhelming. However, having time and space to view them up close showed me how breathtakingly intricate they are, and gave me a newfound appreciation of their beauty.
After hopping off the tube at Leicester Square for a quick trip to my favourite second hand book shop, Any Amount of Books, I thought I’d pop into The National Gallery while I was in the neighbourhood. I did have the vague idea of seeing the Van Gogh sunflowers exhibition, but the queue was ridiculous and frankly, I don’t rate Van Gogh sufficiently highly to justify spending an hour of my life being attacked by pigeons in Trafalgar Square in order to see his pictures. So, instead, I thoroughly enjoyed myself in my favourite gallery, which is presided over by a wonderfully pompous equestrian portrait of Charles I that never fails to make me smile at its sheer arrogance. Next to Charles is a portrait of two Royalist brothers who died during the Civil War, and I have always loved it because I find it hilarious that these likely lads represent the pin-ups of early 17th century Britain. Check out the luscious hair! Those elegant, manicured hands! Those shiny shiny trousers! Those four inch heels! Those lantern jaws! What’s not to love? The fact that one of them was called Bernard makes them even more of a catch. I’d love to know more about what shenanigans they got up to before they were sadly cut down in their prime. Those gloves have definitely got some stories to tell.
Finally, I swung by Two Temple Place, which is the best new cultural visitor attraction London has gained over the past few years, in my opinion. Its exhibitions are always interesting and unexpected, and the building itself is a real gem and just as worth the visit as the objects on display. Don’t miss the chance to stop and stare at the incredible carving in the main stairwell; one of the staff members explained that the figures are from a range of Shakespeare plays and Sir Walter Scott’s novels, which makes for good fun trying to spot who is who while balancing precariously on the stairs. The current exhibition is Discoveries: Art, Science and Exploration from the University of Cambridge museums, and it is absolutely fascinating, with a huge range of artefacts that can’t fail to amaze and delight. From a dodo skeleton to Victorian photographs of the Australian outback, to beautiful 18th century telescopes and exquisite Japanese paintings, the selection of exhibits is brilliantly eclectic and so different to anything I would normally see. What makes it even better is that it is completely free, and the cafe serves absolutely delicious cake. All in all, a great day out and another reminder to be grateful for the variety on offer amongst London’s museums.