Ah, British Museum, the ONE museum to see in London. The collection is immense: part of which was even legally acquired. One can spend days in there and still not be able to see everything. I planned to spend the rest of the day here but in the end, I left in just two hours.
Unthinkable, I know, but I wasn’t in the mood for more antiques after V&A and Sir John Soane’s. Besides, I already saw some of the more important items (such as the mummy and Sutton Hoo helmet) in Hong Kong a few years ago. The hot and stuffy interior also shortened my stay.
I checked out the Assyrian winged-lion which I always wanted to see, plus a few other departments. I also saw the collection of Chinese antiques. Many of these were looted from China but ironically, that might have saved them from destruction during China’s later upheavals.
After that I took the bus to Oxford Street for some shopping. First I went to Selfridges to look for a good trench coat. But even at discount, they were more expensive then what I was prepared to spend. Weary, I stopped by the food hall’s cup cake shop for some refreshment. Only after I began eating did I become aware the environment was very feminine, with all the “cute” cakes, girly colours and floral patterns. All other customers were women, many immaculately dressed, powdered and perfumed. I must have looked really out of place in my sweaty shirt, non-descript jeans and worn out shoes. I finished my food hastily and left. By the way, the coffee was good but the cake was too sweet.
I also went to Topshop, to see why it was so popular. Maybe the women’s section had more interesting items, but the men’s section wasn’t that much different from other retailers.
National Portrait Gallery
I returned to Trafalgar square for the National Portrait Gallery. I’m glad to have come here instead of staying at the British Museum. I enjoyed all the pieces, especially the four portraits of Elizabeth I. In one of them, which showed the queen holding a bunch of roses, modern technology revealed an underlying layer which originally depicted her holding a snake:
The distortion in this portrait of Edward VI by William Scrots was actually a technique to show off the artist’s skills. When peeped through a hole on a small box from the side, the picture becomes correctly proportioned.
Again, I looked for people giving guided tours. There is so much information you can get by listening to them. One of the guides drew our attention to the rolled-up sleeves in this self-portrait of Mary Beale. In those days, it was unusual for a woman to be depicted with her arms exposed, as it would be considered quite inappropriate:
But Mary Beale was herself a portrait painter. The rolled-up sleeves indicate she is a working woman. That, together with the palette on the wall and the portrait she’s holding, suggests this picture might have been an advertisement of her trade.
An overpriced (what isn’t in this city?) curry dinner near my hotel ended my second last full day in London.