London 2010 – Day 6 – Museum Hopping (Part 1)

National Gallery

One of the best things about London is its free museums, and I visited five today.

Natural History Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum

First I went to NHM in South Kensington. My main purpose here was to check out the museum’s famous malnourished dinosaur:

I didn’t stay long there (the building itself was more interesting than the exhibits, but that was just me) and quickly went to the nearby V&A. It was much better than I thought and if not for time, I would’ve stayed longer. It is a museum of decorative arts and design (i.e. not fine arts like paintings). Exhibits range from roman statues to armour, furniture and modern glass installations.

Be sure to check out the impressive glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly above the main entrance (you might miss it if you use the side entrance):

I enjoyed the exhibition on fashion history especially the part on how men’s suit evolved to its modern form. I also liked the special exhibition “Architects Build Small Space”, which featured full-scale model of seven concept structures that “examine the notion of refuge and retreat”. Ark by Rintala Eggertsson Architects was the one I liked most. It was a spiral staircase bordered by bookshelves and, in the center on each level, was a warmly lit reading area serving as a “sanctuary”. How I want to recreate the ambiance at home:

From V&A I exited into Brompton Road and took a bus to Holborn. This building made a good subject for a B&W picture:

Sir John Soane’s Museum

After an overpriced steak lunch at All Bar One, I went to Sir John Soane’s Museum, which turned out to be another unexpected highlight. This is actually the former home of the eponymous architect, who designed the Bank of England building, among others.

So what’s there to see, you might ask. First of all, Sir John Soane was an avid collector of antiques and paintings. There is a whole basement of classical statues and figurines, even an Egyptian sarcophagus with hieroglyphs all over it. The house itself, also designed by Sir John Soane, is full of interesting architectural features.

I was lucky. A group of school children was visiting so I got to “eavesdrop” on the teacher’s explanations. For example, in the breakfast room, she explained how mirrors were cleverly placed to draw and distribute natural light.

The most interesting part, however, was the painting room. I was engrossed in William Hogarth’s satirical Election series (one of which is pictured below, from Wikipedia) when the students and the teacher entered.

“Now, girls, can you tell me how many pictures are there in this room?” She asked.

“32”, “43”, they answered. There seemed to be no more than 50.

“Actually, there are more than a hundred.”

A which point a staff member opened a lock on the wall and unfolded the panels, revealing many more pictures hidden inside, much to our amazement. One of the panels also opened to a small balcony from which the sarcophagus room could be seen.

Photography is not allowed inside but you can find drawings of the basement and breakfast room on the museum’s Wikipedia page.

I can’t recommend this place enough. It is within walking distance from the British Museum so you may consider combining the two in your visit.

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