The Queen’s House

The Queen’s House Art Gallery

Completed in 1683, Inigo Jones’ first classical building in Britain is still standing and open to the public. Originally a royal villa intended for James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark, it became the home of Charles I’s wife, Henrietta Maria on its completion. As well as being famed as a royal pleasure palace, it later became home to a naval school.

Today, the classical building is primarily used as an art gallery, containing hundreds of paintings including a few from the masters: Turner, Gainsborough and Hogarth. As part of the Royal Museums of Greenwich and only a mere 150 metres from the National Maritime Museum, it is only natural that the artworks predominately feature ships, sailors and wars, making it the most important collection of maritime art in the world. The house also displays an impressive selection of British portraiture, from kings and queens to admirals and other important names.

Inigo Jones (1573-1652) was an English architect, stage designer, draughtsman and painter, the former being his greatest asset. He is still regarded as one of the incomparable English architects to date and was responsible for introducing and influencing a classic style based upon Italian architecture. For a country that had not previously been impacted by the Renaissance movement, this was a significant development.

Sadly, very few of Jones’s building resemble their original state as a result of restoration, disintegration or extension. The two most famous and equally important are located in London. One is the Banqueting House in Whitehall, and the other is the aforementioned Queen’s House at Greenwich.

The entrance to the Queen’s House for today’s visitors is through the undercroft, which whilst may not look all that inspiring, leads to the most impressive section of the building. To access the main floors of the house, visitor’s must make their way upstairs. This can either be done by lift (the boring way) or by climbing the Tulip Stairs.

The Tulip Stairs, so named due to the flowers on the ornate bannisters, are famed for being the first ever geometric self-supporting spiral staircase in the whole of Britain. With no additional supports necessary, it is possible to look up (or down) and see all the way through to the roof by peering up the middle of the staircase [image above]. The stairs create an amazing pattern as they spiral up into the heavens – although, thankfully, you do not have to climb that high!

The Tulip Stairs lead up to both the ground and first floor, from which you can experience another extraordinary feat of architecture. The ground floor is home to the Great Hall, which although not as big as you may imagine (12m or 40ft long), is a perfect square and the key example of the influence the Renaissance ideals of mathematics and harmony had on the magnificent architect. The floor of the hall, laid in 1635, is geometrically patterned with alternating black and white shapes. As a result, the room is perfectly proportioned.

From the first floor, a balcony allows you to overlook the Great Hall, providing an aerial view of the splendid flooring. In keeping with the symmetrical design below, doors to adjoining rooms are located in the same positions – one in each corner, and another along one of the sides.

For the majority of the rest of the House, the architecture is forgotten, although it is still possible to appreciate the ceiling paintings provided by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639). The impressive collection of paintings is the main focus of all the other rooms in the building, beginning with an exploration of the sea through art. Most of these are from the 19th century and illustrate the changing affinities Victorian people had with the sea. Demonstrating the fisher-folk and boat builders that relied on oceans for their livelihood, there are paintings of ships, coasts and harbours showing a variety of scenes.

Some artists focus on the Thames rather than the sea – an apt setting for a Greenwich art gallery – whereas others, such as Henry Nelson O’Neil (1817-80), explored the uses of boats and ships. For example, O’Neil’s The Parting Cheer is a response to the migration of friends and families leaving in search of a better life elsewhere. On the other hand, some artists were still quite superstitious and influenced by old myths and tales of frightening creatures hiding in the depths of the murky waters. Davy Jones’s Locker by William Lionel Wyllie (1851-1931) is a great example of this.

Moving from room to room, the paintings come into the era of modern British art. The sea was still a major inspiration for many artists, particularly those from Britain on account of it being an island nation. The two world wars during the first half of the 20th century were also a significant source of direction for seascapes. Some of these may have been used for propaganda, but others were a means of encouragement for those fearing for the lives of their loved ones.

It is only natural that a gallery engrossed with nautical art and a building that once housed a naval school would also display portraits of important sailors and officers of rank. Until the First World War, portraits of men below the rank of an officer were virtually non-existent, however, in order to document the important events, it is impossible to ignore the significance of each and every participant. Alongside portraits of famous military leaders, for example, Captain Edward Jellico, are faces unknown to most.

The portraits continue on the first floor, however, are of people of particular renown or rank. After the restoration of the Stuart line of the British monarchy in 1660, the royal family began to take a great interest in the navy, commissioning portraits of Admirals and spectacular flagships. These can be found in various rooms around the house.

The war against the Dutch in the mid-1600s was also a popular subject matter amongst the upper-classes, therefore a large number of paintings in the collection display scenes of sea battles. Many of these depict Dutch ships, recognised by the striped flags, struggling amongst the waves, implying they were not as strong as their English rivals. At the time, these may have been used as forms of propaganda.

The paintings around the house are all of a similar style, largely due to the time periods they were produced in. But, paint is not the only medium used and collected. As can be seen in the photographs above, the gallery contains busts of various materials. There are a number of famous names amongst these, including Charles I and the Queen’s House’s architect, Inigo Jones.

Another form of artworks on display are pen paintings (penschilderji) produced by the Dutch artist Willem van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693). As a companion of Charles II and later an inhabitant of the Queen’s House, Van de Velde produced sketches of the naval battles that he witnessed first hand. It is inspiring to see what can be captured in basic pen and ink in comparison to paintings with a full-colour palette.

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Slag bij Livorno (Battle of Leghorn), Willem Van de Velde the Elder

The later paintings in the gallery focus on a completely different theme. The 18th century brought with it an advance in the interest of scientific discovery. It was also a time when women began to question the female role and strove to prove that they could also participate in the study of science through means of botany and astronomy. The artworks reflect these changing attitudes.

Although referred to as an art gallery, the Queen’s House is also a museum about the building’s uses and the royals who lived there. Along with the information plaques about the paintings, each room has a title and description to explain what its original purpose was.

Presumably, the Grand Hall would have been an area to entertain guests at banquets or ball dances, however, there are no references to the usage of the ground floor during its years as a royal residence. These rooms were most important during its time as a naval school. Now bedecked with paintings, visitors can walk through what was once the headmaster’s drawing room, assistant master’s dining room and so forth.

The upper floor is focused more on the original uses of the house, splitting the rooms into those intended for the King, and those used by the Queen. All the rooms are now devoted to art, from the King’s Privy Chamber to the Queen’s Closet. The nautical paintings inhabit the King’s side, presumably on account of it being a male-dominated period of history, whereas the Queen’s side focuses a lot on royalty. Here can be found portraits of the royals who spent time at the Queen’s House, including Queen Anne. Interestingly, there are also portraits of the Tudor monarchs who were long dead by the time the house was commissioned.

One thing that it is quick to notice about the collection of artwork in the Queen’s House is the lack of religious representations. This could be because the gallery is mainly focused on the maritime theme, however, it does seem odd that the past Royal family who held strong Christian beliefs would not display anything to epitomise their faith.

Despite the lack of religion, as a present for the 400th anniversary of the commissioning of the Queen’s House, Queen Elizabeth II has lent the painting Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife by Orazio Gentileschi, which is usually found in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace. This painting is hung back in its original location from which it has been missed for over 360 years. This was one of many paintings King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria commissioned during their reign. For a temporary time, free talks about the painting are available at given times of the day.

The Queen’s House also holds small exhibitions of contemporary artists and designers at the back of the building where the functions of the original rooms are no longer known. Currently, the work on display is by Marian Maguire, an artist from New Zealand known for her lithographs and etchings that combine the classical Greek style of vase painting with the history of New Zealand. On display until October 2017, Maguire’s series of lithographs titled The Odyssey of Captain Cook tell a fabricated story of the meeting of the ancient Greeks and Maori people.

Maguire combines the voyages of Captain James Cook, whose portrait resides upstairs, with her native country and the Greek myths featured in Homer’s Odyssey. Taking liberties – or artistic license – Maguire creates a new myth surrounding a myriad of characters who in reality could not possibly have met. She weaves this tale through her recognised style of lithographs, mostly in the style of ancient Greek art. However, one particular piece, A Portrait of Captain James Cook with a Classical Urn from the Collection of the Admiralty (2005), also includes a realistic portrait of the famous explorer.

The Queen’s House Art Gallery is a beautiful building to visit containing some amazing works of art. The quiet atmosphere provides the perfect setting for art lovers to study paintings by artists of up to 400 years ago. Alongside this is the opportunity to learn more about the advances in art, science and the Navy, as well as discovering new details about the past British monarchs. With free entry and staff on hand to supply additional information, it is an opportunity that should not be passed up. The National Maritime Museum may be the most famous of the Royal Museums, but the Queen’s House is by far the more impressive. Enjoy your visit.

The Foundling Museum

Where artists and children have inspired each other since 1740

Charities play a vital role in societies throughout the world. Thanks to volunteers and funding, many lives have been changed for the better. From international organisations to independent health-focused charities, so much is being done in an attempt to improve the conditions of those less fortunate. Coram is the UKs leading charity in the field of adoption services and dates back to the 1700s when it was first established as The Foundling Hospital by a man named Thomas Coram.

Thomas Coram was concerned about the desperate poverty on the streets of London, particularly in the case of children. At the beginning of the 18th century, 75% of children under five died as a result of neglect or disease due to the increasing destitute state of Londoners.

Although the idea of charity organisations existed across the continent, Britain had yet to jump on the bandwagon. Therefore, thanks to Coram’s determination, the first charity was born. By taking in babies from mothers without the means to look after them, The Foundling Hospital greatly improved and saved the lives of thousands of children.

The hospital continued to protect children from the disease-ridden streets until the 1900s when attitudes towards children’s emotional needs changed. In 1953, the hospital ceased to take in children, instead,  renaming themselves the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children, focused on nursery, welfare and foster services. Now shortened to Coram, the charity is registered as an adoption agency and continues to give the best possible start in life for as many children as possible.

The original buildings of The Foundling Hospital no longer exist, however, the headquarters in Brunswick Square, which opened in 1939, does. As of June 2004, this building has been open to the public and renamed The Foundling Museum.

The Foundling Museum contains a wealth of knowledge about the original hospital, its patrons and its former pupils. In order to fund the charity, artists donated works to be exhibited to members of the public, thus creating London’s first art gallery. The most important supporter from the initial conception was painter and engraver William Hogarth (1697-1764). Having had a precarious childhood himself, Hogarth was eager to become part of a charity for children of the poor. He donated several artworks, including the hospital’s first piece, a portrait of Thomas Coram. Another of Hogarth’s paintings The March of the Guards to Finchley (1750) was also donated. Both are on display in the museum.

William Hogarth was also involved with the design of some sections of the original hospital – a few of which have been preserved and re-erected in the museum’s building. He also designed the Foundling Hospital Coat of Arms (1747), which was proudly displayed above the entrance to the residence.

It was not only painters who contributed towards The Foundling Hospital, musicians and composers were also eager to play a part. Alongside Hogarth, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was significantly valuable to the hospital. Handel’s support began in 1749 when he offered to conduct a benefit concert. The audience included a great number of distinctive people including the Prince and Princess of Wales. Over 1000 people attended and, amongst some of Handel’s known works, the Foundling Hospital Anthem, written by the composer himself, was performed for the first time. A year later, Handel conducted another benefit concert, this time performing his famous Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah became a significant musical work for The Foundling Hospital, being performed on an annual basis. Collectively, these concerts raised £7000, which today would be worth well over a million. On Handel’s death in 1759, a copy of the score was left to the hospital in his will, so that the charity could continue benefitting from the concerts for years to come.

The Museum celebrates Handel’s life and his contribution to the charity with his very own gallery located on the top floor of the building. As well as a portrait and plaster bust, the room displays items relating to the conductor and his Messiah. Most importantly, protected behind a screen, are the original will and codicils signed by Handel, stating his bequest to The Foundling Hospital.  

The donated artwork takes up most of the space in the museum, lining the walls of rooms and staircases. Nevertheless, part of the ground floor has been devoted to the history of the hospital. In glass cases, are clothing, bedding, crockery, receipts, registers and so forth belonging to the original inhabitants of The Foundling Hospital. Most noteworthy are the cabinets containing tokens that mothers left with their babies.

From the moment the hospital doors were open, the greatest care was taken in noting all the items that arrived with each child, a physical description and any significant marks to distinguish which child belonged to which mother in the event of a reunion in the future.  However, as children grew, their features would alter, making it more difficult to prove identity. Since names were changed in order to respect the mother’s anonymity, the hospital encouraged the parents to leave a token of some sort for the child to keep, from which any future claims could be accurately affirmed.

The tokens on display show an example of the range of items used to identify children. Each is unique in some way, be it a piece of embroidery, an item of jewellery or a disfigured or personalised coin with a name or number etched into it. It is amazing that these did not go astray during the children’s lives at the hospital, and that so many still remain intact today.

Although photographs exist of the hospital’s later years, paintings are relied on to understand the situation during the 18th century. The majority of the paintings, particularly those along the staircase, are portraits of governors and other notable names associated with The Foundling Hospital. Yet, hidden in certain rooms, are remarkable scenes depicting life in and around the hospital. A particular series of note can be found in the Committee Room alongside Hogarth’s The March of the Guards to Finchley. 

Emma Brownlow (1832-1905) produced a series of four paintings that reveal the life at The Foundling Hospital. Initially, it may come as a surprise that a woman of that era had the opportunity to study and paint in oils, however, on learning her father was John Brownlow, one of the hospital’s secretaries and ex-foundling, it becomes clear why Emma was such a reliable source of accurate representation. Growing up around the foundlings, Emma was able to illustrate the uniforms, the admission system, the infirmary, and the emotions and behaviour of the children. More of Emma Brownlow’s paintings can be found elsewhere in the museum.

Emma’s father, the aforementioned John Brownlow, had some correspondence with the author, Charles Dickens, who, like him, had a difficult childhood and was ashamed of his upbringing. It is thought that Dickens used both his own experiences and his observances at The Foundling Hospital to accurately portray his celebrated characters.

The paintings of The Foundling Hospital and its patrons add to the historical knowledge imparted by the museum. The Court Room, however, contains four large artworks that are metaphorical rather than representational. These illustrate stories of the benevolence and deliverance of children in either religion, mythology or history. The artists liken the foundling children to biblical characters such as Moses and Ishmael, and one chose to paint Little Children Brought to Christ (James Wills, 1746) to emphasise the importance of all children.

The most famous artist displayed in the Court Room is, of course, William Hogarth with his Moses Brought Before Pharaoh’s Daughter (1746). Assuming most people know the famous Bible story, the significance of this scene is the similarity of the return of Moses to his adopted mother from his wet nurse (his real mother), with the way in which the foundlings lived the first five years of their lives. After passing medical tests, babies were sent to responsible wet nurses in the country to be fed and looked after, until, at the age of five, they returned to the hospital to live and attend school.

Just like for visitors during the 1760s, famous artworks are on show for everyone to see. Despite The Foundling Hospital’s closure, the charity (Coram) is still running, therefore artists are continuing to donate artwork to be included in what is now the museum. The basement of the building contains the perfect space for temporary exhibitions for 21st-century artists to showcase work influenced by stories and history of the foundlings.

Well-known names such as Tracey Emin, Quentin Blake and David Shrigley have all appeared in exhibitions during the past ten years. Incidentally, the most famous and popular of all the displays is the current presentation of Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather. Written during 2008 and recently adapted for television, Hetty Feather tells the story of a courageous 19th-century foundling, bringing the past alive for 21st-century children.

Picturing Hetty Feather is running until 3rd September 2017, converging with the school summer holidays so that all Jacqueline Wilson fans around London can attend. Props and costumes from the CBBC production are on display with the opportunity for children to dress up as a foundling and sit in a typical 19th-century classroom. The opportunity to view an interview with the famous author is available, and it is impossible to miss the illustrations by the respected Nick Sharratt.

There is something for everyone at The Foundling Museum to appease children, historians and art aficionados alike. Immersed in history, the museum tells a positive story of a cause that has developed and shaped the way children in care are treated today. Oftentimes, comments are made about the lack of modern techniques that could have prevented disasters of the past, but in spite of the absence of digital technology, the founders and governors, particularly Coram, Hogarth and Handel, were dedicated enough to create a highly successful charity.

The Foundling Museum is open every day except Mondays, charging £8.25 (£5.50 concessions), with an added £3 for the temporary exhibition. Children and National Trust members are welcome free of charge.

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Untitled, David Shrigley, 2012

Sherlock’s Home

221b Baker Street, London NW1 6XE

220px-sherlock_holmes_portrait_pagetIn case of any misunderstanding, let us make one thing clear: Sherlock Holmes is a FICTIONAL character. His house, however, is very real. When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the famous novels, he gave the consulting detective, Mr Holmes, a London address. Baker Street, in the Marylebone district of the City of Westminster, is now famous for this classic character’s apartment.

Back in 1887, when the first Sherlock Holmes book A Study In Scarlet was published, the addresses on Baker Street only went as high as 85, therefore it was a safe, fictional location for Conan Doyle to base his hero. In 1930, the street was expanded, thus the building 221 came into existence.

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London businesses in the Baker Street area have taken advantage of the famous connection by naming their shops, pubs and cafes after the celebrated detective. The site of Sherlock Holmes’ home however, was not brought into connection with the stories until 27th March 1990, when it was opened to the public as the Sherlock Holmes Museum.

Set out in a typical Victorian fashion, visitors can walk around the building imagining what life would have looked like for Holmes and his friend, Dr Watson. With furniture, objets d’art and miscellaneous paraphernalia, the museum curators have sourced objects from the victorian era to create an authentic experience. Sticking closely to the description in the novels and short stories, realistic scenes are displayed in each room.

As indicated by the Blue Plaque on the front of the building, Sherlock Holmes lived at 221b Baker Street between the years 1881-1904. The apartment, which begins on the first floor, was shared between Holmes and Dr John Watson, as well as their landlady, Mrs Hudson. Sherlock’s rooms can be found on the first floor, and Watson and Hudson’s on the second.

Those familiar with the BBC’s contemporary reimagining, Sherlock, may have been misled about the size of the abode. The rooms are surprisingly tiny for an area regarded as a high-class residential district, however readers will know from Dr Watson’s description, that the apartment really was quite small.

Dr John Watson’s bedroom is set out as a doctor’s study, and therefore lacks a bed or anything else to suggest it was used for sleeping. In cabinets and on the cramped desk are books and implements that physicians were likely to have had amongst their possessions during the late 1800s.

Mrs Hudson, presumably as a result of being the landlady, had the biggest room of the house. Due to her being only a minor character in the stories however, nothing is shown of what her quarters may have looked like. Instead, the room has been used as an exhibition area, containing a bronze bust of Sherlock Holmes and various wax models of characters from the more well-known tales.

The museum, unfortunately, lacks written information, therefore visitors need to know a fair bit about Sherlock Holmes to understand the relevance of the various displays and exhibits. The models, for example, come with a brief caption stating who they are, but unless the observer has read the books, they are meaningless. One scene showing a wax-woman firing a pistol at a wax-man does not make clear who is the victim – the man, surely, for he his being murdered? However, knowing the plot of The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, it is actually Lady Eva Blackwell killing her blackmailer, thus avenging her husband.

Being on the small side, the Sherlock Holmes Museum only has room for a handful of visitors at a time. As a result, queues are seen down Baker Street as tourists await their turn to enter the famous building. Despite these restrictions, the house feels very claustrophobic, and guests are constantly bumping into each other. Most people want to take photographs, but how well their shots come out depends on the location of the large party of sightseers that have entered the museum in their dozens.

Sherlock Holmes – no doubt due to the BBC programme – is surprisingly popular amongst European and Asian tourists. Flicking through the guestbook, which everyone is welcome to sign, it is hard to spot another visitor from England amongst all the entries from Japan, China, Sweden and so forth. The museum caters for these foreigners by providing a brief leaflet in their own language explaining the opening of the building to the public, and a concise description of its fictional inhabitants.

The museum is not quite worth its £15 entry fee, but it is impressive to be able to say “I have been to Sherlock Holmes’ house!” The souvenir shop, despite being expensive, makes up for some of the disappointment visitors may have felt with the poky rooms above. Located on the ground floor, the shop is open to everyone regardless of whether they intend to view the museum or not. On sale are a unique selection of mementos, such as t-shirts, novelty playing cards, posters, stationery and other trinkets, as well as special editions of the novels and short stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the many books written on the subject since. Whether you intend to purchase something or not, the souvenir shop is as interesting to look around as the initial attraction.

With the TV series Sherlock still fresh in everyone’s mind, it is unlikely that the popularity or sheer number of visitors to the museum will diminish anytime soon. The Grade 2 listed building has a long future ahead of it, attracting fans from all over the world. From the Blue Plaque outside, to the authenticity of its content, it is easy to forgot that Sherlock Holmes only existed on paper, and not in flesh and blood.

Sir John Soane: Master Hoarder

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The ‘supreme example of the house-museum in the world’

Born in Berkshire, 1753, (Sir) John Soane, following in the footsteps of his bricklayer father, took his passion for buildings to the next level when he became a pupil of the architect George Dance at the mere age of fifteen. After studying the subject at the Royal Academy in London, Soane spent some time in Italy before returning to England where he later secured the position of Architect and Surveyor to the bank of England in 1788. Eventually he became a Professor of Architecture at the same academy he attended as a student.

Soane’s passion was not only significant for his career, but influenced and shaped his entire life. His marriage to Eliza Smith prompted him to purchase and remodel No. 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields – supposably taking advantage of his wife being a heiress – as a home for his family of two sons. This was in 1792, however sixteen years later he began rebuilding the house next-door – No. 13 – as an extension to his original home. Eventually, No. 14 was added to his personalised home meaning that he was able to rent out parts as a way of earning extra income, as well as opening a museum and creating a particularly inventive picture gallery.

By the time Soane had finished renovating No. 12, 13 and 14, the structure resembled a maze more than a house. From the outside, the buildings innocently stand there refusing to provide the merest suggestion of the labyrinth found inside, however stepping through the front door takes you to a new dimension. With unexpected doors, corridors and mysterious rooms, it is easy to get yourself lost and turned around several times throughout your visit. If you were to release a cat into the building (don’t do it), there is a high chance you will never see it again!

Although Soane’s architecture is an impressive feat, it is not the main attraction. On his death in 1837, Soane’s house was left to the nation, which he had bequeathed as a museum for the public on the condition that it remain “as nearly as possible in the state in which he would leave it.” So, what is it about the house that makes it museum-worthy? The contents, of course.

Sir John Soane may have been one of England’s greatest architects, however was also a great collector of art, sculpture and painting. He used his home primarily as a laboratory for his architectural ideas, but also used his intriguing collections for teaching purposes. Students were left to wander through rooms to study and draw the accumulation of objects on shelves, walls, floors, and wherever else he managed to squeeze something in.

Some of the rooms were obviously decorated with the intention of being lived in, for instance the dining room, drawing room, study and dressing room. Despite this, their contents are still noteworthy objects. The furniture Soane purchased were not simple, function-based items, but expensive, meaningful amenities. Many were made specially for Soane, however there are chairs imported from China amongst the Classical vases, astronomical clock, oil lamps and frescos.

Those items, however, are a few of the more “normal” pieces in Soane’s collection. Head downstairs to the former wine cellars and you find yourself transported to ancient Rome in a basement titled the Crypt, reminiscent of the burial tombs or catacombs of bygone eras. The rather eerie, morbid atmosphere is summoned up by the cinerary urns, replicas of classical statues, gothic ornaments, plaster casts of grotesque heads, and, most importantly, the sarcophagus of an Egyptian king.

King Seti (1303-1290 BC) was interred in a sarcophagus carved from a single piece of calcite limestone and scored with hieroglyphics, telling the Egyptian story of the soul’s journey to the afterlife. What possessed Soane to make such a purchase is unknown, but in 1824 it was placed in his Sepulchral Chamber and has remained there ever since.

The basements, whilst containing the most fascinating items, is not necessarily the best room of the house. Some visitors may prefer the staircase and recess dedicated to William Shakespeare, complete with stain glass windows and paintings based on his plays, as well as a shrine featuring a cast of the original bust from the parish church of Stratford-Upon-Avon. Yet, without a doubt, the most impressive room is The Picture Room located upstairs.

Despite being a relatively small area, in comparison to most galleries, Soane managed to fit 118 paintings into his Picture Room. How? At a glance, it looks like an ordinary room (that happens to have a few famous paintings in it), however on closer inspection it is revealed that the walls are, in fact, hinged screens, that when opened, reveal even more artworks. The paintings cover the walls – real and fake – from floor to ceiling, using all space available. And, these works are as grand as the room itself.

Amongst Soane’s collection of paintings are a number of notable names: Canaletto, Turner, Fuseli; as well as architectural drawings designed by Soane himself. But, the most important pictures – the reason some people may visit the museum – are the eight paintings by William Hogarth that make up The Rake’s Progress. These are the originals, painted during the 1700s, and kept protected behind one of the wall screens.

Due to Soane’s instructions, the house has remained as close to the way it was left at the time of his death. Apart from restoration works to make the environment more suitable for visitors, the general contents of the building has been carefully preserved. Unfortunately, this means that the Museum’s owners have been unable to attach labels or information panels, as this would disturb the atmosphere and charm that Soane intended the public to experience. A short guide book is available for purchase at the entrance to help you find your way around the labyrinth of rooms, and provide a few paragraphs about the main attractions.

It is a shame that the museum only reveals a limited amount of information about Sir John Soane, his architecture and bizarre collection of oddities. One can assume that he was a rather unconventional man prone to whimsical ventures, yet why he chose to collect and display such items is anyone’s guess. But, we do not need to know the man to enjoy a tour around the surreal establishment. You will never see another house like it!

The National Gallery vs the Smartphone

Last Friday I had the pleasure of visiting the National Gallery in London. It is impossible to study all of the paintings in the collection, but I was able to appreciate the Van Gogh’s, Canaletto’s, Monet’s, Constable’s amongst many others. The gallery is currently exhibiting works by a contemporary artist, George Shaw, and it was fascinating to learn about the artists who have influenced him throughout his career. It was interesting to compare and contrast the techniques used by Shaw with this of renowned painters from bygone eras.

However, it was not only the magnificent painting that took my interest – I was very aware of the other visitors around me. I found myself wondering what it was that compelled people to visit the gallery. For some it was easy to determine why they were there due to their uniforms. Numerous school parties were being shown around the gallery by knowledgeable guides – a great earwigging opportunity for those wanting to know more about individual paintings.

As well as those that appeared to be taking a great interest in the artworks, there were quite a few who were not. On benches in the centre of the rooms were many bored looking people, often playing on their phones. Perhaps they had been dragged there against their will by an art enthusiast? I also spotted one person fast asleep and another reading a book.

The most common thing I saw people doing, however, was photographing the paintings with their smartphones. I had to carefully manoeuvre around crowds in order to prevent getting in the way of the many amateur photographers. It did not surprise me all that much since these days people seem to photograph their entire life in order to document it on social media.

One thing I could not help wondering was what these smartphone users were getting out of their visit to the gallery. Granted they can boast to friends that they have seen famous works of art, but they were not even taking the time to appreciate them properly. By looking at a painting through a camera lens, or phone screen, the effect of the original art work gets lost. Gone is the ability to closely look at the uneven surface of the canvas evidencing the way the artist has built up the picture. The awe at the size of the pieces are diminished when reduced to an 8×5″ photograph. If all you plan to do is take photographs, then you may as well stay at home and look them up on the internet.

It would be a shame for galleries to close because people are spending most of their time looking at phone screens rather than what is displayed on the walls around them. Next time you are at a gallery make the effort to fully appreciate the art you have the privilege of viewing. Study them closely… and then take your photographs!