Brighton, East Sussex: Brighton Museum

DSC01928The Royal Pavilion shares the Pavilion Gardens with the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, so it made sense to pop over there directly after visiting the Royal Pavilion, especially as it is another National Art Fund friendly property, so we got free entry (£5.20 otherwise, but it is free for Brighton and Hove residents with proof of address).  Although it may appear that the Brighton Museum was originally part of the Royal Pavilion (because of the similarity in architectural styles), it was actually purpose-built in the 1870s, presumably to match the Eastern-influenced appearance of the Pavilion.  I’ve been to the museum a few times over the years, so this was a slightly speedy visit where I basically just passed through to snap some photos (or point to things so my boyfriend takes a photo of them, as is usually the way) and make sure things were more or less as I remembered them.

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Like many local museums, the Brighton Museum is an eclectic mix of galleries, but it’s larger than your typical local museum, and pulls off the strange mix more skillfully than others, perhaps because it’s in keeping with the character of Brighton itself.  The museum opens with a hall of interior design, which features, among other things, a baseball mitt couch inspired by Joe DiMaggio, one of the famous (THE famous? Is there more than one?) Mae West Lips sofas, by Salvador Dali, and one of Grayson Perry’s vases.

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Carrying on from the design gallery, you’ll come upon the Ancient Egyptian nook (this is the kind of eclecticism I was talking about).  It’s got your usual Egyptian stuff: some canopic jars, a few sarcophagi, etc, and also a mildly entertaining computer game (aimed at children) where you get to choose the tools needed to embalm a body, and then stuff the organs in their appropriate jars (harder than it should have been).

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Because it is the Brighton Museum, there are of course a couple galleries devoted to local history, detailing how Brighton became a fashionable seaside resort town, info about life in Brighton during the war years, and also how Brighton came to be one of the most LGBT friendly places in the UK.  There were some nice seasidey touches in here, like one of those boards you stick your head through so it looks like you have the body of an Edwardian bather, and a couple penny arcade machines, though it was unclear whether you could actually use them or not (my guess is no, since they probably took old school pennies, but they were just kind of sitting out, practically begging you to try them).

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I am kind of a nerd about old ceramics, so the “Willett’s Popular Pottery” gallery is definitely my favourite.  There are so many wonderful things in here, but the best had to be the “Red Barn Murder” figurines (I’ve tried to get my hands on a set before, but these are super rare and mega expensive.  This is the first set I’ve seen in person), featuring Maria Marten and her murderer William Corder, both as a smiling, newlywed couple, and then in front of the infamous barn, with William luring the innocent Maria inside to her horrible demise.  With a cow complacently chewing cud off to one side, which really makes it perfect.  This was just one small part of the crime-related pottery section (told you it’s an excellent gallery!), which also had figurines of Dick Turpin and one of his less-famous highwayman friends, among others.

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I want to show you all the things, but I realise that others probably don’t share my level of interest in historical ceramic figurines.  But there was lots of great stuff here; not only slightly misshapen animals, but those Georgian mugs with cartoons printed right on them, and some of those old-school royalty mugs (before official photographs or portraits were used, and somebody just crappily hand-painted a generic looking bewigged man on them).

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Although this was not my first visit to the museum, I think I’d somehow missed going upstairs in the past, because I did not remember these galleries at all (and I definitely would have if I’ve seen them).  The first was the Performance Gallery, which contained puppets and costumes from all over the world.  My two favourites are pictured above.  Poor George IV.  The guy just can’t catch a break.

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Then there was the Ocean Blues Gallery, which I have to mention just so I can show you pictures of that sad shark and albatross chick (the chick was bigger than the adults they had on display, not sure how that works, especially when you look at the size of the egg it came out of.  Maybe there’s just a lot of downy fluff involved?).  I want to take that shark home and give him a hug, the poor thing.  This gallery mainly discussed pollution and its impact on the oceans, so it’s probably appropriate that the shark looked so lonely and upset.

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The fashion gallery contained one of Fatboy Slim’s shirts, which my boyfriend was kind of excited about for some reason (I could never get into Fatboy Slim, maybe it’s one of those inexplicable British things?  I’m not even that sure who he actually is, since his videos seemed to only have other people in them (I’m thinking of that “Praise You” song that was big in the late ’90s, which come to think of it, is the only Fatboy Slim song I know of)).  It also had a cool naval coat, and some adorable albeit probably uncomfortable bathing costumes, but the strangest part was the collection of clothing associated with ’80s movements, like punk, skinhead, and goth outfits (fair enough), but also a queer-fetish-techno-punk outfit from 1998, which I didn’t even realise was a subgenre.  Where I come from, we just called them ravers.

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Unfortunately, that amazing doorway no longer leads into a zoology gallery, but rather, the art galleries.  Since it’s mainly modern art in here, I would have preferred zoology (especially because that probably means taxidermy), but what can you do.  One of the canvases in here was literally just beige, and some guy was admiring it like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I will never understand that kind of modern art.

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Back downstairs, I found another gallery I’d missed previously hiding in the corner, which was about different cultures from around the world, containing some cool objects from each of them (I liked all the Inuit stuff, though I don’t have a picture; I guess I didn’t point to it vigorously enough), and for some inexplicable reason, a foosball table (some family was already using it, but I didn’t mind so much because I am extremely terrible at foosball.  Give me an air hockey table or Skeeball over it any day).

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I think the Brighton Museum is one of those rare places that I actually wouldn’t have minded paying for (though I’m not complaining that I got in free!).  I remember really liking it the first time I went (many years ago, before I even moved to the UK; it was the summer when I was backpacking through Europe and I spent a day in Brighton because I decided I hated London and I needed to get away. It’s funny how life turns out sometimes), and I still like it.  It’s not enormous or anything, but it’s big enough to kill a couple hours in, and varied enough that there’s something for everyone, especially if you like ceramic cats (don’t miss the giant one in the cafe!).  3.5/5.

 

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3 comments

  1. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t aware of crime-inspired ceramics till I read this. (I thought my Ichabod Crane/Headless Horseman sugar bowl was cool but the Red barn?!) Also, I really love that sweet downcast dog by the dog-face tree sculpture.

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