art

London: “Inspiring Walt Disney” @ the Wallace Collection

Let me preface this by stating that I am not a big Disney person. OK, I do still love Disney’s Robin Hood and the songs from The Little Mermaid, and I did go to Disneyland Paris like ten years ago when we got a cheap deal on a day pass in January and I rode Phantom Manor about twenty times in a row because the weather was terrible and there were no queues, but I’m not one of those adults who still watch every Disney movie and take all of their vacations at Disneyworld with special themed outfits for each day and decorate their houses with Disney merchandise. You know the ones (I certainly know the ones, since I’m basically describing someone I went to high school with who seems to always be popping up in my Facebook feed with Disney crap). I liked the films when I was a kid, but most of them just don’t hold up well when you watch them as an adult, in my opinion. My point in saying all this is that I wasn’t inclined to like this exhibition just based on the Disney connection – they were actually going to have to work to impress me!

“Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts” runs until October and costs £14 (£7 with Art Pass). I booked in advance because that seemed to be the thing to do, but when we got there, the exhibition was almost completely empty. (The rest of the Wallace Collection, which is free to enter, was fairly crowded.) The man at the desk handed us each an audio guide, and we were off. I know I’ve set myself up as a Disney cynic in the opening paragraph, but I have to admit that I was tickled right at the start when the audio guide turned out to have a surprise guest narrator who was none other than Angela Lansbury, aka Mrs. Potts. Fortunately, as far as pacing was concerned, most of it was narrated by someone with a faster speaking voice, so we weren’t standing around all day, which I hate. It was still a bit long-winded in places for my tastes, but at least it was easy to skip around.

Apologies that there’s not photos of everything I would have liked to take a picture of, but we were told conflicting things by different staff members regarding photography, so we were only able to photograph some of the exhibition. Anyway, in 1935, Walt Disney travelled to Europe with his brother Roy and their wives, in part to source ideas for future films, and whilst there he fell in love with French castles and 18th century French decorative arts. And because the Wallace Collection’s, er, collection features French decorative arts (amongst many other things), this exhibition contained objects from their collection that may have inspired Disney’s animators, particularly when they were making Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, which were the main focus here, since they both feature inanimate objects coming to life and are both set in roughly the same historical era (not that Disney is exactly known for its historical accuracy).

Fortunately, apart from the two films I mentioned at the start, Beauty and the Beast is probably the Disney film I’m most familiar with. I was 6 when it came out, which I think is a pretty ideal age for Disney, and I could relate to Belle because she had brown hair and loved reading, just like me, so I watched it a lot, even though the part where they put Belle’s father in the caged madhouse cart thing freaked me out. So I loved the sketches showing how the drawings of each anthropomorphic character evolved. Mrs. Potts was particularly cute – she was originally wearing a tartan tea cosy, but they changed her to be a more elegant fine china. The original Cogsworth was shit scary though. You can see him on the Wallace Collection’s website if you scroll down.

Of the French decorative art pieces on display here, the best were probably the pair of Sevres vases pictured above (which were on loan from American museums, so weren’t even part of the Wallace Collection), which were made to look like adorable castles, and inspired many Disney castles, but there was also furniture (some with animal feet, which may have been what inspired Disney to give life to inanimate objects in the first place), clocks and candlesticks (aka Cogsworth and Lumiere) and paintings.

Apparently, The Swing by Fragonard, which is the painting above left, was a particular favourite of Disney animators, and appeared in a number of different guises, from a flashback scene in Beauty and the Beast showing Belle’s childhood, to a background painting in Frozen. I’ve watched Frozen exactly once and was distinctly underwhelmed, so I hadn’t noticed it (and I haven’t seen Beauty and the Beast since I was 13 and spent a summer babysitting a little girl who was OBSESSED with it, so don’t particularly remember it in that either), but I suppose it is interesting the way they hide these “Easter eggs” in different films.

I feel like my general lack of enthusiasm for Disney is probably making it sound like I didn’t enjoy this very much, but the opposite is actually the case. After dealing with crowds at most London museums, the fact that we were practically the only visitors was a delight, and I really enjoyed looking at some of the original sketches and the objects from the Wallace’s collections. Disney fans would love the “behind the scenes” look, I think, and the decorative art pieces made it appealing to even cranky people like me. 3.5/5.

Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum incl. Iron Men

The Kunsthistorisches Museum is the final location in Vienna I’ll be blogging about. I wanted to visit primarily to see the Kunstkammer, because Kunstkammer and Wunderkammer are music to my ears (Wunderkammer admittedly more so, because wonder!) – I love a cabinet of curiosities. However, when we bought tickets, the ticket man tried to upsell us into seeing their Iron Men exhibition, which runs until 26 June, and because it was only €3 extra (on top of the hefty €21 base admission) and because I love armour, I gave in, so that was where we headed first.

And I’m so glad we did, because this was probably my favourite thing that we saw in the whole of Vienna. It was such an amazing exhibition. Not only were the objects on display excellent and unusual, the interpretation was fantastic as well. They told us the things we really want to know about armour, like how do you move in it, and how does it stay on your body? The only thing missing was how you poop when wearing it, though they actually might have covered that somewhere and I’ve just forgotten.

To illustrate my first two questions (don’t worry, not the third), they had a series of videos showing a modern man doing stuff in armour, my favourite of which featured him climbing up ladders, doing a somersault, and a “bonus move” of doing the little side jump and heel-click that I can’t master even in normal clothes. He also put on the armour to show how it was held together by leather linings and straps, which is what fitted it to the body, but because the leather has deteriorated so much in most surviving armour, all we can usually see is the steel that was left behind. Happily, they did have a few pieces here that still had straps intact so we could get a better idea of how it worked.

I was also delighted to see that (one of) my ancestral homeland(s) of Slovenia was responsible for some of the finest pieces in here, like the eagle helmet above the preceding paragraph. I hadn’t seen much armour from there before, nor did I really know what was going on there in the medieval era, so it was nice to get some idea from the descriptions of armour and tournaments. The most interesting part was probably the section on jousts of peace, which were were done purely for fun, and for which competitors wore amusing masks, like devils, birds, the excellent lion shown above, and creepiest of all, ones painted to look like people, which you can see below.

There was so much here that was absolutely fascinating, from the techniques used to make different colours of armour (peep that gorgeous blue armour at the start of the post), to the clothes they were wearing under the armour, and the way fashions changed over time. Particularly loved the pointy toed boots with the removable tips so the wearer could enter a room in style but take them off for battle, and the suit of armour with removable ruffles on the sleeves. Honestly, they spent so much time on the construction and style trends of armour that this felt almost like a fashion exhibition, and that is certainly not a complaint coming from me!

I think it’s pretty clear that I think this exhibition is a must-see if you’re in Vienna, and I could go on about it a lot longer, but in the interest of time, and as I had to in real life (since we were flying back home that afternoon and had an airport to get to), I’ll cut things short and move on to my original reason for visiting, the Kunstkammer.

 

The Kunstkammer takes up almost an entire floor of the museum and contains the accumulated treasures of a number of Habsburg rulers, mainly those who ruled in the 16th and 17th centuries. We made the mistake of walking in at the wrong end and deciding to walk back to the entrance so we could see everything in order. This was…not a short journey. I think it’s impossible to visit, walk through that endless parade of rooms stuffed with exquisite objects, and not conclude that the Habsburgs were both far too wealthy and in power for far too long. Not saying that most of their collection wasn’t gorgeous and worth preserving, but it was far more stuff than any one family needs.

 

Because our time was so limited and there was so much here, I decided to focus primarily on the things that interested me most, which means automata! The ones here were unbelievably intricate and fabulous and included a ship that moved across a table whilst musicians played on board, with the ship’s cannon firing as a finale; a spectacularly creepy archer that also moved forward whilst his eyes rolled around in his head and he fired a bow with a real miniature arrow; a moving musical carriage with a rearing horse; a few different clocks with moving figures, and more! Though I wished we could have seen them live in action, I suppose it wouldn’t be great conservation-wise if they had them constantly up and running, but they did have the next best thing in the form of videos showing them in motion, available to watch on tablets in each room. They are happily also available on the museum’s website, so you can watch them too.

There were also lots of exceptionally detailed figurines and much less exciting silverware and glassware, save for a glass dragon that shot water in the face of the unsuspecting user if they pressed the wrong button when dispensing their drink (below left). You would need to spend hours here to be able to read all the signage and take everything in properly; as we had less than an hour in the Kunstkammer before we needed to leave, it was only ever going to be a whistle-stop tour. Still, I think I did manage to see all the best bits!

Lest you think this is all there was, let me assure you that the museum did have a number of other galleries. We quickly walked through the Roman and Egyptian collections (the Egyptian galleries, as you can see, had beautifully decorated themed interiors, as did the rest of the museum). There is also a picture gallery, which most famously contains a number of Bruegels, including The Tower of Babel. Although we were trying to hurry, we ended up walking through the whole of the picture gallery as well, because there was only one entrance/exit so we had to circle through all the rooms to leave. Consequently, we had to skip the entire top floor of the museum, which contained the coin collection and possibly another gallery, but I’m not that invested (ha) in coins anyway, so no major loss.

 

Basically, the moral of the story is don’t be like us, and allow yourself a whole day here if you want to see everything properly, because three hours was nowhere near enough time. I would also advise not using the toilets in the basement – there was a massive queue for the ladies’ because there were only two stalls (I thought the British Museum was bad at peak times, but at least they have about twenty stalls, so you’re in with a chance) and some woman jumped the queue just as I got to the front, which I was definitely not happy about (I did express my displeasure in English, which she clearly felt free to ignore). It’s an expensive museum that would almost certainly be free if it were in London, but at least we got our money’s worth out of the Iron Men exhibition, which I could not have loved more. 5/5 for Iron Men, 3.5/5 for the rest of the museum.

London: Surrealism Beyond Borders & Australia 1992 @ Tate Modern

This was the first outing I’d been on since getting Covid (other than work, but that doesn’t count as an outing), and I didn’t want anything too taxing, so the Tate Modern, which is relatively easy for me to get to, seemed like a safe bet. I often think I don’t like surrealism, but really what I don’t like is abstract art – surreal art that still looks like something, even if that something is weird, is ok by me, and Surrealism Beyond Borders, which runs until 29 August, looked particularly interesting because it included lesser-known artists from around the world, instead of focusing solely on the most famous surrealists. Admission was £18, or £9 with Art Pass, and we were able to book tickets the morning of our visit (this was a snap decision on the last nice day in March before the weather turned horrible again).

 

Unlike the Lubaina Himid exhibition, with its disappointingly patchy signage, this exhibition actually did go into quite a lot of detail about the history of surrealism and the way the movement spread around the world. It was started in Paris by a group of artists in 1924 as a way to “subvert the everyday”, challenge tradition, and explore dreams and the unconscious mind. Surrealism was often collective, as seen by the “exquisite corpse” drawings on display here where one artist would start a drawing, fold over the paper so only the bottom of the drawing could be seen, and pass it along to the next artist who would draw their own image, etc. etc. (I remember doing this as a kid, but we definitely didn’t call them exquisite corpse drawings). Because surrealism had a revolutionary aspect, it also caught on in former colonial countries agitating for political change. Although surrealists were anti-colonialism, because we’re talking about the ’20s and ’30s, they did have a gross tendency to interpret the traditional art of many indigenous peoples as surrealist without understanding the meaning behind it, which this exhibition also discussed.

 I’m glad that all this signage was there, because I love a bit of context, but of course I was mainly there for the art, and there was some good stuff. Although there were of course pieces by famous Western artists here, including Dali and Magritte, there was also a decent amount of art from around the world, including a whole room of Caribbean art, and the two pieces above, which I loved. The one on the left was by Japanese artist Koga Harue, and the one on the right was by a Mexican artist (whose name I sadly don’t remember – the label was on a different wall and I didn’t get a photo of it) and shows traditional objects associated with Dia De Los Muertos, including calabacitas, pan de muertos, and a prayer candle. There’s quite a few more pieces here I’d like to show you, but I don’t have all that much commentary (and I’ll be on holiday the week before this goes out, so I’m rushing a bit to get it finished before I leave, to be completely honest), so I’ll switch into photo/caption mode for a bit to save you having to slog through a load of unnecessary text.

Papa Lauco and Ogou Feray by Hector Hyppolite

Exquisite corpse drawings by Frida Kahlo and Lucienne Bloch

Time Transfixed by Rene Magritte

Enrico Baj’s Ultracorpo in Svizzera, loosely inspired by Invasion of the Body Snatchers, though that bridge monster looks quite chill.

Scylla by Ithell Colquhoun

Naissance by Laurent Marcel Salinas

This was part of a triptych by Remedios Varo. All three were there, but this was my favourite, I suppose because the man on the bike looks like the prince in the Lonely Goatherd puppet show in The Sound of Music.

Nus by Samir Rafi shows women fleeing a creepy post-apocalyptic landscape

I’m including Francoise Sullivan’s performance piece Dance in the Snow mainly for the shallow reason that I love her snow dancing outfit.

And finally, Victor Brauner’s slightly creepy Nous sommes trahis

I could honestly show you way more, but I think I’ve made you scroll down enough. Suffice it to say that I really enjoyed this exhibition, and recommend seeing it in person if you can, not least to see all the black and white photos that didn’t photograph particularly well on my phone. 4/5.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention A Year in Art: Australia 1992, a free exhibition located on the same floor as Surrealism Beyond Borders. The exhibition is inspired by the 1992 High Court Ruling in favour of Edward Koiki Mabo, who was of Torres Strait Islander ancestry and was trying to reclaim his hereditary land (sadly, this came five months after Mabo died from cancer, but it does mean he was able to be buried on what is once again his own land). Prior to this, all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands in Australia were dubbed terra nullius, meaning land belonging to no one (because apparently indigenous people aren’t people), thus making them up for grabs to white Australian settlers. It is appalling to think that this practice went on until the 1990s.

 

Because it was free, I wasn’t expecting this exhibition to be as large as it was, but it filled one huge gallery space and a few smaller rooms, and included art made using ancient Aboroginal techniques as well as more modern pieces. I particularly loved the works by Gordon Bennett, including Possession Island (above right) based on a painting glorifying Captain Cook’s arrival in Australia, and How to Cross the Void, a series of often darkly humorous etchings criticising Australian culture, one of which can be seen above left.

 

Other works here included Up in the Sky, a photographic series by Tracey Moffatt that references the trauma experienced by the “stolen generations”, i.e. Aboriginal babies who were forcibly taken from their families and raised in white Christian missions; Judy Watson’s a preponderance of aboriginal blood, which is a series of reproductions of government documents showing the discrimination against people of Aboriginal descent that was enshrined in the Australian legal system through the 1960s, including denying indigenous peoples the right to vote; and Helen Johnson’s Bad Debt, pictured above left, which references the construction of Canberra on Aboriginal lands and the non-indigenous animal species introduced by Europeans that have had a devastating effect on native species (there’s obviously an analogy being made there). I’m glad we stumbled on this exhibition, because it was absolutely fascinating. It’s there until the end of September, so go see it if you can!

London: Lubaina Himid @ Tate Modern

I became familiar with Lubaina Himid’s work thanks to the Online Art Exchange, which I take part in every week at work. Basically, museums pick an artwork from another museum off the Art UK website based on a theme that changes weekly and tweet about it, and one week I stumbled upon a painting from Himid’s Le Rodeur series, inspired by the grim story of Le Rodeur, a French slave ship. Nearly everyone went blind in the middle of the voyage (possibly due to severe conjunctivitis), and 36 (or 39, accounts vary) enslaved people were thrown overboard, allegedly to preserve water. Most disturbingly, the captain was subsequently given a second commission to transport slaves, because of the “great job” he did on the first trip. Himid’s paintings show Black people in strange “out of time” nautical settings, to portray the confusion the enslaved people on the voyage would have felt as they were chained in terrible conditions and went blind one after another. Needless to say, her painting became my selection for the week, and I have kept an eye out for her work ever since, so I was definitely intrigued by this exhibition at the Tate Modern.

Intrigued, but not exactly excited, because the description sounded rather pretentious. The term “theatrical exhibition” is ordinarily enough to send me running for the hills, but since Himid genuinely started her career as a theatre designer, that description wasn’t just mere pretentiousness on the part of the Tate. And I did like the Himid paintings I was familiar with, so I thought I’d give it a go, especially because it was the last week for Anicka Yi’s creepy squid robot things in the Turbine Hall, which I also wanted to see. Tickets for Lubaina Himid are £16 or £8 with Art Pass, and it runs until July.

The entire exhibition is inspired by the experience of Black people throughout history, particularly during the years of the British slave trade, and it got off to a good start with Metal Handkerchiefs, nine paintings showing Himid’s version of health and safety guidelines, and Jelly Mould Pavilions for Liverpool, which were a series of ceramic jelly moulds about the relationship between sugar production, slavery, and the development of British cities, which is a really interesting topic, and definitely something on which I would have appreciated more signage. However, if I was looking for decent interpretation, things would only go downhill from here.

The next gallery simply contained a sound piece where people (maybe Himid herself?) said the word “blue” over and over again in different languages, and these art pieces(?) on the wall that looked to be made out of long pieces of cardboard. You can see me looking through the exhibition guide trying to make sense of it all, but it frankly wasn’t much help.

 

The gallery after this was a bit better. It was a series of paintings Himid did in the 1990s about women planning strategies for survival. This was also influenced by the experiences of the people forced aboard slave ships, and was the result of Himid speculating how someone would have survived had they made it to the other side of the Atlantic, in an entirely new environment, with everything they’d ever known ripped away from them.

Next to come was what was definitely my favourite piece of the exhibition, Himid’s reimagining of Hogarth’s Marriage-A-la-ModeThe Toilette. These often hilarious wooden cutouts were a parody of the art world, showing the pretentious art dealers to one side, a Black female artist in the middle, the politics of the 1980s (appropriately) to the right, including Thatcher and the National Front, and a young Black girl observing everything and encouraging the artist to stand up for herself and stop compromising in her work.

To return to the ship theme, the other side of the room had sound effects meant to recall the creaking in the hold of a ship (this was a more successful installation than the “blue” thing), some pieces of wood arranged in a wave formation, and a cart painted with various fish. There was a lot of unused space here, but I guess that was all part of the “theatre”.

The final large room of the exhibition contained a few pieces from the aforementioned Le Rodeur series, some of her Men in Drawers series (literally just paintings of Black men in drawers, as in, drawers from a dresser, not drawers as in underwear), and more carts painted with fairly disgusting looking sea creatures and bugs (I mean, her paintings were good, but the creatures themselves were disgusting).

 

To close the exhibition, the corridor leading to the exit had a final sound piece (this sounded OK too – it was meant to be Himid telling the life stories of 100 African servants, but we did not stick around long enough to hear much of it) and some structure that contained benches under a weird closed off grid. I genuinely wouldn’t have known whether it was an installation or a construction zone had there not been a label next to it, and the label simply had the name of the work, so no real help there (I’ve chosen to show you lemon man instead of the weird bench-thing, because I like it a lot better). There were also some flags inspired by East African Kanga fabrics hanging up, which were quite cool.

I really liked many of the pieces in this exhibition, and I think all of Himid’s concepts had the potential to be fascinating, but unfortunately, the execution didn’t always live up to the premise. The soundscape room with the cardboard on the walls was particularly bad. Most of the rest of the exhibition was better than this, but there was still a lot of under-utilised space, and the price was very high for something we walked through in under twenty minutes. I think this was all due to the lack of interpretation. Big, important topics like this require the viewer to have both a sense of history and an understanding of how these issues are still relevant to the present day, and this just wasn’t here to any significant extent, save for a handful of quotes from Himid in the tiny exhibition guide. Interpretation would have made all the difference here, and bumped up the score quite substantially. 2.5/5 as it is.

Before leaving, we went down to see Anicka Yi’s squid robot things, which were neat, but very freaky. I’m not keen on anything tentacle-y, and the robots got disconcertingly low over our heads. I was convinced one had locked on to me and he was going to swoop down and latch on to my brain if I didn’t keep moving. The Turbine Hall was allegedly scented with various scentscapes, like spices to make us think of the Black Death (don’t ask me what that has to do with squid) but I couldn’t really smell anything through my mask, even though my sense of smell is usually really good regardless. I enjoyed the creepiness in the confines of the Tate Modern, but if I ever see one of those robots squidding down the street at me, I’m running for my life.

Bristol: Grayson Perry’s Art Club @ Bristol Museum

You may remember that I visited Bristol Museum and Art Gallery about six years ago to see their death exhibition, and though I was slightly underwhelmed by the permanent collections and disturbed by the glass walled Victorian toilets that meant you got a prime view of your neighbour’s pooping face, I liked the general vibe of the museum and their “pay what you can afford” policy for exhibitions. So, when we were planning on driving down to Bristol to visit my sister-in-law and were looking for something to do until she finished work, I decided to check out what Bristol Museum had on. Imagine my delight when I discovered that the museum is currently hosting the exhibition for Grayson’s Art Club’s second series (I think the first series’ exhibition was in Manchester last year).

 

If you’re British and you watch TV, you’re probably already familiar with Grayson Perry’s Art Club, but for all my overseas readers, Grayson Perry is a British artist who began hosting a TV programme during the first lockdown in 2020 where he encouraged viewers to submit their own art and short videos explaining the pieces they created. He was joined over Zoom by a different celebrity guest and artist each week who would produce their own art, and they would select a few pieces from the public submissions to ultimately go on view in an exhibition. The first series was so popular that they came back for a second series last year, which is what this exhibition is based on. It runs until 4th September, and pre-booking is strongly encouraged. It is a “pay what you can afford” exhibition, with a minimum suggested donation of £4, but you can absolutely see this exhibition for free if you wish.

 

Upon arrival, we were handed an exhibition trail map, which was super useful because of the way the exhibition was set up. There were larger displays inside three of the museum’s galleries, but there were also pieces spread out throughout the museum, mixed in with the permanent collections, which made this really fun to explore, a bit like a scavenger hunt. We went the opposite way the numbering system wanted us to and started downstairs, with the gallery dedicated to family and food, two of the themes from the programme (there was a different theme each week).

The art on display was a mix of pieces by Grayson and his wife Philippa (I would argue there were too many pieces by Philippa, but I guess those are the benefits of being married to the person doing the programme), celebrity pieces, and pieces by members of the public, which did seem to make up the bulk of the exhibition. The family theme was one of the most emotional of the exhibition, particularly the pieces by Becky Tyler, who I remembered from the TV show. Becky is disabled, and relies on a computer to communicate. However, she has a special computer programme that allows her to paint pictures with her eyes based on where she looks at the screen, and they’re really incredible. She did the picture above left, which “depicts the dreams and opportunities waiting beyond the gates of [her] disability”, and she also did the portrait of Grayson Perry under the first paragraph of this post, which is also the picture used on all the exhibition publicity. I also loved the joke alphabet (next to Becky’s portrait of Grayson), done by a pair of siblings whose father was known for knowing a joke for every letter of the alphabet (their father passed away last year). If you zoom in on the picture, you’ll probably be able to read a few, but they were classic dad jokes.

 

On the celebrity side of things, we regularly watch Taskmaster, so we were excited to see pieces by a lot of the artier participants, including Johnny Vegas, Noel Fielding, and even Alex Horne. We both really liked the chicken shop painting that Mawaan Rizwan submitted for one of the prize tasks, so we were glad to see another one here in the food section, with another hilarious name (I love an unintentionally funny restaurant name, and my friend and I keep an running list. One of our current favourites is Aftertaste, a Chinese restaurant in Elephant and Castle). I also loved the hospital room made from felted objects (sadly, I forgot to get a photo of the artist’s name). Yes, all those pill boxes were made from felt! Really incredible.

And you know I love a good mannequin, so I had to throw in a photo of the first date scene made by an Italian restaurant when they were closed during lockdown, complete with fake pizzas. The painting on the left is of the artist’s husband falling asleep over breakfast in bed (the caption didn’t say that he was ill or anything, just sleepy).

There was another small gallery upstairs dedicated to the theme of work, which included some tiles by Philippa, mock Staffordshire figurines by Grayson depicting a Deliveroo driver and a home worker (with her cat), a creepy Morris man outfit made from a Hazmat suit, and the above two pieces, Sisyphus Works the Night Shift and the heads of a group of rather frightening looking schoolkids (the artist said the bully character exploded in the kiln, but most of the other ones still look like bullies to me. I’d run if I saw them coming, let’s put it that way).

 

We found a gallery on yet another floor (the museum has a surprising number of floors and subfloors, which again, really added to the scavenger hunt feel) with art that seemed to be primarily travel inspired, though it also contained the adorable Norman by comedian and occasional potter Johnny Vegas (above right), his depiction of a boy he used to see in a park who seemed to be having a tough time, and reminded Johnny of himself when he was young.

The rest of the pieces were far more scattered and mingled with the permanent collections. The trail map guides you to roughly the right location, but you still have to keep your eyes peeled! I loved the monster hidden in a display case full of taxidermy, and he was apparently hidden in real life as well – the artist created him as part of a monster hunt for children, where a load of monsters were hidden in a local wood (I would have loved to take part in that!). There was also the crocheted hamburger hidden in a case full of pottery, and the tiger at the start of the post sitting at the foot of a dinosaur.

 

Fun as the Grayson Perry exhibition was, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the netsuke exhibition also at the museum, which runs until June and is free to visit. I honestly mainly know about netsuke from Bob’s Burgers (of course I’ve seen pieces at museums over the years, but I didn’t give them much thought until that episode of Bob’s), and I love anything miniature, so I was pretty excited to check them out. As is fitting, given their diminutive size, the display is also tiny, but they crammed quite a few pieces in with information about the mythology behind each. It was very interesting and I enjoyed studying them all, helped by the fact that the museum was fairly empty. Something like this would have been a nightmare at somewhere like the V&A!

 

As you can probably tell, I really enjoyed my visit to Bristol Museum this time around. I honestly even got a kick out of the toilets – I’d been thinking a lot about how weird they were in the intervening years, and was bizarrely excited to see them again. Highly recommend going to see the Grayson Perry exhibition before it finishes if you can. 4/5. I’d also advise walking down about half a mile from the museum to Harbourside to see Mr. Cary Grant, in statue form, which I finally did on this visit. And if you’re into falafel, I can also wholeheartedly recommend Baba Ghanoush Jerusalem Falafel. Super cheap and amazing food! I feel like we’ll be back to Bristol sooner rather than later.

London: Dürer’s Journeys @ the National Gallery

Back in London (I mean, I’ve been back in London for ages, but I’ve been posting about Cleveland for the past couple of weeks) at yet another exhibition about an early modern artist, Dürer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist at the National Gallery. I don’t exactly frequent the National Gallery – I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been there – and I honestly don’t think I’d ever been inside their annexe for special exhibitions before, so this was all new to me. The exhibition runs until the end of February and costs £20 or £10 with Art Pass – the price probably goes some way towards explaining why I hadn’t been to a special exhibition there before this, though admittedly I regularly pay that much at the V&A without complaining too much. I guess I just prefer the V&A as a venue (the proximity of Ben’s Cookies probably doesn’t hurt either).

 

I mainly know Dürer from his most excellent sketch of a rhino, but if you’re expecting to see that here, prepare to be disappointed. You will, however, get lots of lions instead, in various degrees of derpiness, which is almost as good. The premise of this exhibition was charting Dürer’s journeys around Europe, including the Alps, Venice, and the Netherlands, and the artists he discovered there, which is all well and good, but if you’re from Germany, even back in the 16th century, I don’t know that a journey to the Netherlands is really worth bragging about. Basically, this seemed like an excuse to bulk out the exhibition with pieces by Dutch and Italian artists who were Dürer’s contemporaries and charge £20 for it.

 

This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy parts of the exhibition, but I felt that for someone like me, who didn’t really know much about Dürer going in, a bit more context would have been appreciated. Particularly strange was the way the exhibition just sort of ended. There was a room about his painting of St. Jerome with some work by other artists that had clearly been inspired by it, but no signage to conclude the exhibition or indicate the end was nigh. Nothing like, “Dürer died in 1528, and left behind a body of work including blah de blah,” or “Dürer’s legacy is yadda yadda”, just a room full of paintings much like all the others and an arrow pointing to the exit. I actually did a quick stroll around the museum to see if there was another room around the corner that I’d missed or something, it was that abrupt.

 

But amongst the pieces that were there, I was definitely preferred his woodcuts and engravings to his paintings. The paintings were technically proficient, they were just a little boring compared to really detailed woodcuts of Death or the Apocalypse (except for the painting of the cardinals above the last paragraph, where Dürer stuck himself in the background. I like how he’s staring directly at the viewer (long haired beardy guy) and he actually looks kind of hot!). Also, Dürer absolutely sucked at drawing children. They were so, so creepy, and I loved it. I honestly think I prefer terrible art to good art, whatever that says about me. And despite the rhino not being included, we did actually see quite a few animal sketches in the end, including a baboon with a glowing pink ass, which I certainly can’t complain about.

   

But for £20 (or even the £10 I actually paid), I was expecting an exhibition that told more of a story. Whilst most of Dürer’s pieces were great, I like to leave an exhibition feeling that I’ve learned something, which was not the case here. This was possibly my own fault for not paying more attention, but most religious art makes my eyes glaze over (unless someone is being actively martyred or carrying their own severed breasts on a platter. That I can get behind!); since most of the non-Dürer art was generic Renaissancey religious stuff (that was all I saw on the whole of my visit to the Louvre, just an endless corridor of religious art. Ugh. I’m sure there’s good stuff there somewhere, but I never found it!), my attention span was limited. I can only give it 3/5 at best, and that’s being generous and taking the pink baboon bum into consideration.

 

Cleveland, OH: Cleveland History Center Revisit

The only other museum I visited during my trip to Cleveland was the Cleveland History Center, also located in Cleveland’s University Circle (museum and university district), and also strictly enforcing mask wearing. I went to visit this with my mother the day before I left, when I was already stressing about the flight, the Covid test, and having to say goodbye to everyone (complete with the inevitable guilt trips about living so far away), so visiting a museum was actually a very nice distraction for a couple of hours. The Cleveland History Center, formerly the Western Reserve Historical Society and Crawford Auto Aviation Museum (you can see why they changed their name) is up there with the Cleveland Museum of Art in terms of my most visited museums in Cleveland. I went to the art museum loads in my teens and twenties because it was free and a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon, but I went way more to WRHS as a kid because it had something for everyone. Not to play into gender stereotypes, but it typically would be my father, grandpa, and brother looking at the cars, whilst me, my mother, and grandma checked out the fashion gallery and the 1911 Hay-McKinney Mansion, which is attached to the museum. Except for the car collection and the mansion, which weren’t open during our visit, the Cleveland History Center primarily hosts temporary exhibitions, all included in the $15 admission price, along with unlimited rides on the carousel (yes, a museum with a carousel inside! Shame it wasn’t there when I was a kid, or I’d have loved this place even more).

 

Because we’re both interested in historic fashion, we started with the Chisholm-Halle Costume Wing, which was home to “Amanda Wicker: Black Fashion Design in Cleveland” at the time of our visit. Amanda Wicker was a Black fashion designer who moved to Cleveland in 1924, where she lived until her death in 1987, and was very active in supporting the Black community, both by working with groups like NAACP and the National Urban League, and by mentoring Black women who were interested in fashion design. There were only fifteen outfits in this exhibition, so it was a bit more spread out than usual, but the clothes here were gorgeous. I loved the dress with the fur shrug and the wedding dress, which had a beautiful collar.

  

The next couple of galleries were a bit confusing, because they weren’t obviously a part of any of the exhibitions, but they were also different than the things that were there the last time I visited. I assume they were just a rotating display from the museum’s permanent collections, but a bit of context might have been nice. At any rate, it was a display of hats from now-defunct area department stores and paintings by local artists, though this didn’t seem to be a part of the Cleveland artists exhibition that was in its own gallery quite a distance away, so who knows? I especially liked the painting of the West Side Market, done shortly before it opened in 1912.

  

We did go to see “Honoring Our Past: The Golden Age of Cleveland Art 1900-1945” next, which I had read about in The Plain Dealer before our visit. I’m kind of obsessed with all the art deco posters of Cleveland made to advertise various air shows and the Great Lakes Exposition back in Cleveland’s heyday in the 1930s, which the museum has hanging above their car/plane collection, so I guess I was hoping for more of that sort of thing, but that was not what I got. Instead, it was art by people who lived in Cleveland, but not necessarily images of Cleveland, which meant a lot of it was fairly meh landscapes. However, there were a few pieces I did like, especially Margaret Bourke White’s photograph of the Goodyear Blimp Hangar. I love her photography – I have her photo of the Terminal Tower whilst it was still under construction hanging on my wall at home.

 

There were also quite a few pieces here by William Sommer, who lived near to where my parents live, in the Brandywine Valley of Ohio (not to be confused with the more famous Brandywine Valley in Pennsylvania), and we enjoyed trying to see if any of his landscapes matched up to areas we knew, but I think they would be unremarkable if you weren’t familiar with the area. I did like the art deco tea set though (not by William Sommer).

 

“Women and Politics: Empowered to Vote, Empowered to Lead” was a small exhibition about the women’s rights movement in Cleveland. There were some great artefacts here, particularly the fab outfit worn by local women’s rights activist Mertice Laffer to a suffrage parade in 1914 (below), the collection of first lady dolls, and the homemade banners. There was an old-school voting machine on display as well, which honestly would have confused the crap out of me if I had to use it. I can see why it came with an instruction manual for first time voters! Honestly, I’ve never voted in person in America, so I don’t even know what the system is, but judging by the overseas voter ballots I have to fill out, I get the impression it’s more complicated than in the UK (I was still in anarchist “the whole system is evil and I’m not taking part in it” mode when I moved to the UK thirteen years ago, so I didn’t actually vote for the first time until I was well into my 20s, and it’s always been by postal ballot for US elections. I have voted in person in British elections since becoming a citizen in 2016, however).

 

Because the auto museum section is currently undergoing renovation, the only other exhibition here I hadn’t already seen was on motorcycles, but my interest level in those is pretty damn low, so I didn’t really take pictures. How great is that Cleveland Car poster though? Finally, even though I get pretty bad motion sickness, I knew my mother wanted to ride the carousel, so I agreed to go on once with her. The carousel is from Euclid Beach Amusement Park, a beloved Cleveland institution that went out of business long before I was born, but my grandparents had a book about it that I used to read all the time, and it’s exactly the sort of old-timey amusement park I wish I could have visited. I guess the carousel is the closest I’ll get, and I love that the interior is decorated with illustrations of Cleveland landmarks (I ended up right next to the Garfield Monument in Lake View Cemetery, one of my favourite places in Cleveland, though it wasn’t at all intentional because I picked my spot based solely on the horse I wanted). It wasn’t moving all that fast, so it wouldn’t have been that bad had some creepily overzealous employee (or volunteer?) who approached my mother and I before we got on to bore us with facts about the carousel that were already on the signage, not been standing alongside the gate leering at me for the entire ride, so that I had to studiously look away from him at the mirror next to me which meant I felt a bit sicker than I would have otherwise, but I was basically fine. Just a little woozy. Creeper then proceeded to follow us off the ride and start trying to tell us even more about the collections, and when we finally lost him (or so we thought), he reappeared one final time, when my mother for some reason felt compelled to tell him my whole life story, so I sincerely hope he doesn’t turn up on my doorstep in London. Ugh.

 

Other than the creepy volunteer or whatever he was, this was a fun visit, and a good way to spend my final day in Cleveland for a while. This is another museum in Cleveland I’d definitely recommend visiting – we haven’t got too many of them, but the ones we do have are mostly pretty decent!

Cleveland, OH: Temporary Exhibitions @ the CMA

Christmas tree at the Cleveland Museum of Art

So, I was able to make it to the US for Christmas in the end, though both the US and UK governments seemingly conspired to make it as stressful as possible by requiring testing before and after arrival on both ends, yet simultaneously having a shortage of tests that made this almost impossible (only for the UK to scrap the requirement for testing before entering the UK about a week after I got back). The US was by far the worst – Marcus and I spent several stressful days searching high and low for a test (we had brought some NHS ones with us, and I’m glad we did, because I was obsessively testing the whole time I was there, but those aren’t valid for travel) and eventually just ended up testing at the airport right before our flights back to the UK, because that was the only place that still had tests, at the hefty price of $95 each. And considering how stressed I get before a flight anyway, the combination of flight plus waiting to see if I would even be allowed to board said flight almost killed me. My stomach was a disaster that day – I don’t think I would have even physically been able to make it to the airport without the help of my friends Imodium and Pepto Bismol. All was well in the end, but jeez, maybe make sure that tests are actually available first before requiring people to take them.

My brother’s adorable dog.

I know that I’m the one who chose to travel during a pandemic, so I only have myself to blame, but this was the first time I’ve left the UK in two years. I hadn’t seen any of my family or American friends since Christmas 2019 (though I know many people are in the same boat, or worse off!)  – and Omicron wasn’t yet a thing at the time I booked my flight, so at time of booking, I felt the benefits outweighed the risks. And even though it was super stressful, I loved getting to meet up with a couple of close friends, spend lots of time with my brother, and most importantly, finally meet my “niece” (my brother’s dog) who is so sweet and adorable – I’m definitely going to miss her!

 

Anyway, because I was pretty paranoid about getting Covid whilst I was there and not being allowed back in the UK, I didn’t do a whole lot on this trip other than see family and friends, but one place I did feel comfortable going was the Cleveland Museum of Art, which was rigorously enforcing mask-wearing (unlike almost anywhere else…). The CMA is one of my favourite museums, so I always like to see what’s new when I’m in Cleveland. On this occasion, they had one major special exhibition that was charging an admission fee, and a few other free temporary exhibitions (in addition to the extensive permanent collection, which is always free). Since I wasn’t super interested in the paid exhibition (it was about a statue of Krishna the museum had restored), I opted to just check out the free ones.

 

The first was “Collecting Dreams: Odilon Redon”. I’ve really only heard of Redon from the Lewis Barnavelt book series by John Bellairs. Lewis’s neighbour, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a witch obsessed with the colour purple, and in every book, you get to hear about another purple painting on her walls, allegedly all gifted to her by famous painters when she was living in Europe in the early part of the 20th century (the books are set in the 1940s-50s). One of these paintings was a purple dragon by Redon, so I got the impression that he was probably into the metaphysical, and this exhibition confirmed it.

Redon used a number of different materials to make his art, including pastels, oil, and charcoals (he went through different phases with each) and my favourites by far were the charcoals, which were inspired by both fairy tales and his own dreams, and were splendidly weird and creepy. Apparently, the CMA has one of the largest collections of his works outside of France, and I’m all for it. Good stuff!

 

I also wanted to see “Ashcan School Prints”, so we headed there next. I wasn’t really familiar with the Ashcan School before visiting, but after hearing they were urban realists who depicted major American cities from 1900-1940, I was completely sold. This exhibition contained more pieces than the Redon exhibition, and I particularly loved the lithographs by Mabel Dwight of people at an aquarium and the various lithographs of flappers going about their business in the city. We seemed to have caught it just in time, as it closed shortly after Christmas, but you can still view a few of the pieces on their website.

 

We also saw Derrick Adams’ “LOOKS”, which only contained nine paintings depicting various wigs, but it was very bright and colourful. And after seeing the fabulous Peru exhibition at the BM, I had to check out the ancient Andean textiles they had on display here, which were not quite as well preserved as the ones at the BM, but were still great (yep, more severed heads!). I also loved the Peruvian animal figurines in the same gallery.

  

Finally, we saw “Fashioning Identity: Mola Textiles of Panama”. I have to confess that at first glance, I thought they were all abstract patterns, which is not really my thing, and was about to walk away, but then I looked closer and realised that each piece actually had animals and people cleverly hidden in the design, so I had to take the time to peruse the exhibition. Helpfully, the museum even provided instructions on how to look at a mola, so people don’t accidentally miss the best parts like I almost did. Mola blouses have been made since the early 20th century by the Guna women of Panama, and were used as a symbol of independence during the Guna Revolution of 1925. They’re really fascinating, and worth a closer look! I think the exhibition has now ended, but you can view quite a few of them on CMA’s website.

 

I always enjoy a visit to the CMA, and I’m glad I got to see it on this trip. We also swung by Lake View Cemetery so I could get yet another photo of the always spooky Haserot Angel, and went to my old favourite East Coast Custard (which I ended up visiting three times on this trip – I really cannot get enough frozen custard!), so it was definitely worthwhile going out to the east side. A bit more Cleveland coming next week.

London: Fabergé in London @ the V&A

Though I admittedly think a lot of what Fabergé produced is fairly gaudy, I have very fond memories of going to see a Fabergé exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art with my grandma when I was a kid, so as soon as the V&A announced their Fabergé exhibition, I booked myself a ticket. Fabergé in London: Romance to Revolution runs until May 2022, and costs £18, or £9 with Art Pass. They do not allow photography in the exhibition, so I’m afraid the opening image is all you’re getting.

As you may have guessed from the title, the focus of this exhibition was Fabergé’s shop in London, which is something I didn’t know much about prior to visiting. The London branch opened in 1903, and was the first shop outside the Russian Empire (Fabergé flirted with opening a shop in Paris, but decided against it as Cartier and other luxury brands were already too well established there), largely because of the connection between the Russian and British royal families. The British royals had been receiving Fabergé items as gifts for years from their Russian cousins, and had fallen in love with the brand, a love that was shared by various other prominent members of British society, including the Rothschilds. The shop was located at 173 New Bond Street, which is today a Chanel shop, but apparently elements of the original facade remain (I don’t exactly frequent New Bond Street, but I might have to make a trip down there to investigate). Actually, much of what we know about Fabergé and its clientele today is from this London branch, as the records of the Russian shops were destroyed following the Russian Revolution, but the London sales ledgers have survived intact.

And, I have to say, much of what I’m saying to you now is what I learned after visiting the exhibition. Oh, there was plenty of information in the exhibition, but unfortunately, I couldn’t read much of it. Even though I wouldn’t say the exhibition was excessively crowded by pre-Covid standards, it was crowded enough that I couldn’t actually see into many of the cases. This wasn’t helped by the nature of Fabergé’s products, as most of them were so teeny you had to be right on top of them to look at them properly. Therefore, only two people in front of a case meant that there was no way to get a clear look, though I did do my best. However, coincidentally, we were hosting a talk by a Fabergé expert on this very exhibition at work (the museum I work for is not related to the V&A at all, we just have our own Russian collection, which includes a Fabergé kovsh (drinking vessel)), which I was able to sit in on, and I’m so glad I did, because I picked up so much information that I missed whilst in the exhibition, in addition to getting the chance to look at close-up photographs of many of the objects that were on display. Unfortunately, we didn’t record the talk, so you guys won’t get the same chance!

But to get back to the actual exhibition, the V&A was definitely going for an air of luxury here. There were very plush carpets when we walked in, which I suppose were meant to replicate their fabulous showrooms, and the final room, which housed the Imperial Easter eggs, had classical music playing. This was actually the only room with a sensible display space, as each egg had been placed in its own tall case a fair distance from the others, so everyone could have a chance to walk around and examine them from all angles. Quite a change from the annoyingly crowded other galleries in the exhibition.

Although Fabergé is of course best known for the Easter eggs, they actually produced a variety of products, like hardstone sculptures, which were particularly popular in Britain, including fabulously detailed figurines of real life figures, like a Cossack soldier and a Chelsea pensioner, as well as figures of King Edward VII’s racehorse and favourite dog Cesar. There was also jewellery, fabulous enamel work, like little clocks; and cigarette cases, most notably a gorgeous blue case with an diamond snake that was gifted to Edward VII by his favourite mistress Alice Keppel. It was returned to her after his death, but she then managed to give it back to the royal family by sending it as a gift to Queen Mary in the 1930s. It still contained one of Edward’s cigar butts. Some of these items were just too gaudy for my taste, but others were quite lovely, particularly the pieces made in pink and blue enamel. There was a sample chart of the enamels that Fabergé artisans worked with, and there were any number of lovely shades in it (although the firm was named after father and son Gustav and Carl Fabergé, Carl, who was responsible for the rise of the company, didn’t actually produce most of the work himself. Instead, he gave workspace to independent artisans who were allowed to add their own hallmarks to the goods. It allowed them to establish their reputations, and many of them had successful careers in their own right after leaving Fabergé.)

The company itself is absolutely fascinating because of its connections to the Russian royal family, and the fact that it had its downfall at around the same time as the Russian Revolution, though that was related more to WWI than the Revolution itself. However, it certainly didn’t help, as the Bolsheviks immediately made anything left at the Russian factories property of the state, which is why there are so many counterfeit Fabergé pieces on the market today, and also why many actual Fabergé pieces were destroyed, melted down for the stones and gold. Interestingly, though the pieces were often made of precious gems and metals, the intrinsic value of Fabergé was considered to be the craftsmanship that went into making it, rather than the materials, which is why it became a popular gift to give to the British royal family, who were only allowed to accept gifts valued £50 or less (obviously £50 was a lot more money back then, but it was still only the equivalent of £6000 today, which probably isn’t all that much to a millionaire). I think all of this is why the pieces themselves are still so popular today – there were other companies producing similar goods at the same time, for example, the aforementioned Cartier, but none have the same level of mystique.

Although I was somewhat disappointed in the exhibition itself, as I personally think they are letting too many visitors in at one time, which seriously detracts from the experience, the pieces on display were fabulous. I just wish I’d been able to get a clear look at more of them! I also think that I learned far more from the talk I attended than the exhibition itself – you may get more out of the signage in the exhibition if you’re less impatient than I am and take the time to queue and read things properly, but a lot of what I mentioned in this post wasn’t covered in nearly the same amount of detail as in the talk. I do still think it’s worth seeing if you’re into Fabergé, because most of these pieces are on loan from other museums, and are objects I haven’t seen before, but do try to visit on a weekday if at all possible to give yourself a fighting chance (although I was there on a weekday afternoon, and I’m pretty sure it was still sold out). 3/5.

London: Hogarth and Europe @ Tate Britain

Here’s another one of those early modern exhibitions I was talking about in my previous post, and this one is firmly in my wheelhouse: Hogarth and Europe: Uncovering City Life at Tate Britain (which runs until 20th March 2022 and costs £18 to enter, or £9 with Art Pass). I absolutely love William Hogarth. I took a course on Restoration and 18th century literature as an undergrad, which was my first real exposure to the long 18th century from a non-biased perspective (the American 18th century history that you learn in school tends to be mainly about the American Revolution and the evils of the British), and I completely fell in love with the Georgians. They were just so fun compared to the boring Puritans of the 17th century (and the dour Victorians, but their obsession with death is what I love about them, so I’m not going to rag too much on that), and the cartoonists of the 18th century, including Hogarth, were a huge part of what makes them fun, so I was pretty excited to see this exhibition and enjoy something a bit lighter than the predictable but sad end to the Elizabeth and Mary exhibition at the BL I’d seen the week before.

 

However, Hogarth, though he included comic touches in many of his works, was more than just a satirist. He was also a moraliser, and this exhibition dwelt on not only his political and ethical views, but also the relationship between Britain, Europe, and the transatlantic slave trade. When looking up the exhibition to refresh my memory in order to write this post, I stumbled upon some newspaper reviews, and man, they were not happy at all about the slave trade angle. Part of me can kind of see their point, since Hogarth, as far as I know, had no direct involvement in the slave trade, other than enjoying a higher standard of living as a result of the increased range of products and wealth available because of forced labour in the colonies, which was true of basically everyone in Britain at that point, but another part of me absolutely gets what the Tate is trying to do. If you’re talking about an artist and how he fits into the wider world of the 18th century, it only makes sense to mention the slave trade, since it played such an integral part in shaping society. And you do see the physical marks of slavery in Hogarth’s paintings in a very direct way. He often depicts Black servants with a silver collar around their neck, which was a direct mark of ownership, and deeply disturbing once you start noticing it. Honestly, I thought the commentary on slavery was interesting and it was not anywhere near as distracting or obtrusive as many of the professional reviewers seemed to find it, but I do write purely for my own enjoyment rather than to push a specific angle, so I can be as honest as I like. I can’t say the same for journalists working for right-leaning publications.

 

I also don’t think it detracts from Hogarth’s work to point out examples of his hypocrisy. Yes, he was flawed, but who isn’t, and learning about his personal beliefs adds even more dimension to his work. I think Hogarth is fascinating because of these contradictions. He called out the ills of society and the class system whilst being firmly Establishment, particularly in his later years. He seemed to be somewhat pro-women’s rights, through his pointing out the evils of forced prostitution and arranged marriages, but he also painted pictures that played into horrible Georgian ideas of women enjoying rape, particularly his racist portrayal of a Black sex worker “luring” men into an orgy. He seemed to have an affinity for the lower classes, often portraying them sympathetically, and fostering a number of foundling children with his wife, but also mocked people he saw as members of the non-deserving poor, i.e. alcoholics or the “idle”.

 

But that’s enough about the politics, let’s get down to the paintings and the engravings! The main reason to love Hogarth is for his work, and there were some great pieces on display here. You can view most of his famous engravings at various museums in London in print form, and of course I’ve seen them many times before, but I always enjoy an opportunity to look at them again because the level of detail means I’ll pick up things I’ve missed in the past. Usually, it’s whatever is going on with the background figures, which pretty much always includes a dog or cat (or more depressingly, an enslaved person), like the dog in the picture above left, who is dressed up like a human and standing on his hind legs. I also love Trump, Hogarth’s pug, who was a pug back before pugs had been bred into the completely flat faced things that struggle to breathe that they are today. He’s also probably the only thing named Trump that you will ever hear me speaking affectionately towards. Trump appears in one of Hogarth’s most famous self-portraits, but you’ll also spy dogs that look very much like him hidden in the corners of some of Hogarth’s other works.

 

Hogarth was also known for the deliberately uncomplimentary way he approached portraiture of the rich and famous, and it was trendy amongst the upper classes to have their portraits painted by Hogarth just to see how unflatteringly realistic he would make them. I particularly like the reverend with devil horns and an ass’s ears. His most famous moralising works were here too, including Gin Lane and Beer Street, Marriage a-la-Mode, The Rake’s Progress, The Harlot’s Progress, and many more. These are all great, but I actually prefer some of the lesser known (and less moralising ones) like The Enraged Musician (I wrote a paper on it for my MA), which was here too (the print, not my paper, obviously).

 

I was clearly very keen on the Hogarth parts of the exhibition, but I was less enthused by the Europe bits. These were meant to show how Hogarth influenced and was influenced by various European painters (to make him seem less of a John Bull type, which I guess can happen when you spend a lot of your career painting offensive caricatures of the French), but most of the other artists didn’t do a whole lot for me, save for the Dutch guy (whose name I can’t remember) who painted a bared buttocks with a face on it being hung out of a window (so my type of low-brow humour!). I did like the giant maps in the section on various European cities, including Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, and London, though London is really the only one of those cities I know well enough to have been able to make comparisons between the 18th century layout and the present day. Overall though, I don’t think the “Europe” part of the title added much value to the exhibition, and I would have preferred if it had been on Hogarth alone with a more in-depth look at 18th century British society, which would also have made the role of slavery in the British Empire a more natural inclusion.

 

Simply because I love Hogarth and his work so much, I did slightly prefer this to the Elizabeth and Mary exhibition at the BL, though speaking as someone who is well-versed in the period, and contrary to the opinions of the professional critics mentioned earlier, I think they could have dug even deeper below the surface with their analysis of many of the pieces on display here. There are many details in Hogarth’s works that would have been obvious to his contemporary viewers, but aren’t easily apparent to modern ones, and I think the exhibition could have done a better job of pointing these out. Some of the works didn’t have any real interpretation at all other than commentary from a modern artist saying what they thought of the painting, which isn’t massively useful when it comes to understanding Hogarth’s work. The work itself though: *chef’s kiss*. Great selection, and I could absolutely have looked at this stuff all day if there had been fewer people waiting their turn (still nowhere near as crowded as Paula Rego though). 4/5.