Wednesday, 13 February 2013

two exhibitions and a railway station

Today was forecast to be as cold as yesterday was, so I went to London to look at some exhibitions, reasoning that as I hadn't liked working in the garden yesterday, I wouldn't like it any better today, and might as well use the time productively to catch things I knew I wanted to see.  It was jolly cold in London too, so much so that coming inside from the street I found it difficult to speak when buying my tickets, and my lunch.  London was shrouded in a dismal, grey mist, and anyone who spent nearly thirty quid booking their trip up the Shard will have been sadly disappointed.

My first stop was The Northern Renaissance: Durer to Holbein at The Queen's Gallery.  This is absolutely excellent, and it is on until 14 April, so you have plenty of time to go and see it.  I've never yet been to a dud exhibition at The Queen's Gallery, presumably because The Queen owns a splendid collection of artworks.  Also Her Majesty employs a good curator, who writes interesting and useful captions for every picture, in the same style as they use at The National Portrait Gallery, a place I adore.  My particular favourites were the three Cranachs, a masterly self-portrait and accompanying portrait of the artist's second wife by somebody whose name I've already forgotten, and a lovely little Durer sketch of a hound, but you can have your own.  If you buy your ticket at the gallery itself and get it stamped on the way out it gives you free readmission for a year.  It was very cold in the gallery's entrance lobby, and the security staff were wearing strange blue capes over the rest of their uniforms.

My second port of call was The British Library, via King's Cross, where I wanted to look at the new western concourse.  It is Europe's largest single-span station structure, and very impressive, a great glass latticework like the cap of a giant mushroom radiating out from an impossibly small stalk of columns.  The impression of space is slightly diminished by the fact that part of the dome is occupied by shops and restaurants, but I suppose it is a working railway station, and people need somewhere to shop, and eat, and Network Rail wants the rental income.  It is still marvellously uncluttered.

The British Library is showing Mughal India: art, culture and empire, which runs until 2 April, so again you have plenty of time to go and see it.  There are some wonderful objects, mainly books and pictures, as you'd expect in a library.  It is not especially clearly laid out as an exhibition, certainly not compared to similar shows at The British Museum, and there is a distinct lack of signposts about what order you are supposed to walk around in, so that at one point I found myself looking at portraits of all the Mughal emperors in reverse chronological order.  The Mughal succession was a bloodthirsty affair, making most English dynastic politics since the Wars of the Roses appear comparatively benign, but the Mughal emperors combined their tactics of murdering their brothers and imprisoning their fathers on their way to the throne with a great passion for art and literature.  If you don't read Persian script then the pictures are honestly more interesting than the manuscripts, after a while.  My favourites by a whisker were the animal pictures, in particular the squirrels chasing each other up a tree, but the seventeenth century portraits came a close second.  You can see how European iconography and perspective techniques gradually enter the Mughal artistic vocabulary, particularly if you manage to look at the paintings in chronological order, which I didn't.  A National Art Pass gives you half price admission.

Then I came home.  It was simply too cold to be wandering about.  I didn't take my leather coat off all day, even indoors.

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