A colleague asked me earlier if I had seen anyone famous when I was in London last week. I didn’t but I wasn’t really looking. The only place I got to where I would be likely to see noteworthy people was Westminster but I made myself scarce pretty swiftly as I got myself angry about some of the more moronic and inhumane policies of the Conservative government while walking down Whitehall. Someone said once that the best argument for Scottish home rule was a trip to Westminster. Having been inside the Palace on a previous visit, plus what I know and read about the place, I can only but agree.
I have written a little here before about my mixed feelings towards London. Luckily there are some redeeming features. I wrote about my visits to the British Library and Conway Hall the other day. On the Thursday, I also visited the British Museum, one of my favourite buildings in the world, spending four hours there, a length of time I only spend in Durham Cathedral when I am in that area.
I have a half-serious joke every time I go to the British Museum about stealing the Lewis Chessmen and taking them back to Scotland where they belong. To their immense credit, the BM have sort of done that for me and some of the Chessmen are on long term loan to the Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway, which is pretty much where they belong.
The British Museum is incredible. I wandered up and down the building, into areas I hadn’t seen before as well as spending time in busier parts. I have certain rooms I always go to – Mesoamerica, the Lewis Chessmen, the African galleries and early Britain – and they got their usual attention. But there is always something new and I like that.
The Celts exhibition is great, a comprehensive look at art and culture from across Europe, including some familiar objects from the BM, the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh and even from Kelvingrove here in Glasgow. One of them was the Monymusk reliquary (NMS) a little box in the Northumbrian style that may have been used to carry the relics of St Columba into the battle of Bannockburn. As always, it was well worth the considerable admission price.
The Great Court is one of the finest public spaces in the world. I love architecture with lots of glass, which this has, combining the old and the new. I usually do a few circuits just to soak it all in.
As much as I love the British Museum, however, there might be a new favourite. The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is magnificent, architecturally and in every other sense. It has art and material collections and I ventured in twice while I was down there, quite simply because I couldn’t get enough of the place. The French Impressionist collection was cracking though there were two other works that ticked my boxes. One was a painting by Vuillard of a girl reading a book lying in some reeds. The other was a polystyrene sculpture of Hercules, which I liked for all sorts of reasons. I snuck a picture, which is below.
The other museum I got to in Cambridge was the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, which is also in an old building with some modern displays. The display at the entrance about the archaeology of Cambridge was brilliant, just the right amount of text and visuals.
On Friday, I decided to go back to the best places I had seen. I went to the Fitzwilliam then back to London to the British Museum. I also went, on the recommendation of a fair few folks, to the Sir John Soane’s Museum in Bloomsbury, which is remarkable, a Georgian house full of paintings, books and architectural features like sculptures and lintels. For goodness sake, go, if you can.
I might write a little more about Cambridge shortly. I crammed so much into my trip that there’s so much to write about. For instance, Christ’s Pieces and other things that tickled me along the way…