Kensington Palace, London W8. Part 1. Victoria Revealed & Diana, her fashion story.

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Kensington Palace has been a place of residence of the British Royal family since 1689. It was bought as a completed building by William and Mary when they ascended to the throne and it has been expended and improved since, by both Christopher Wren and by Nicholas Hawksmoor. Part of the palace is still used as living accommodation by the Dukes and Duchesses of Cambridge and Sussex.

Those parts not being lived in are open to the public. Currently they contain four exhibitions, one ticket allows entry to all four. Entrance to the Palace gardens, including the attractive sunken gardens is free and these are certainly worth the time it takes to walk round them on days when the weather is clement.

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Victoria Revealed is an exhibition about the life of Queen Victoria. She was born in Kensington Palace and lived here until she became monarch in 1837. It consists of eight rooms detailing her life in, mainly chronological, order. It does contain some interesting personal items such as the dolls with which she played as a child. The portrait of her at the time of her coronation, shows why she was considered a beauty in her youth.

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It has the uniform that her husband Albert wore on their wedding day. This has embroidered messages, such as “dearly loved” and “Oh my Angel Albert”, on the cuffs collar and pockets. It also has a garter, tied visibly, just below the left knee. It also has the gilt bassinet which held many of her nine children, as babies.

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The rooms are relatively sparsely decorated, but have some nice busts and a few interesting paintings, including a couple of the Great Exhibition and the Crystal Palace, in which it took place. The Great Exhibition was opened in in 1851 by Queen Victoria herself. In the gardens of the palace, stands “The Queen Victoria Statue” designed, in marble, by her own daughter Louise, who was a celebrated artist of the time.

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The presentation contains a moving memorial to Albert. Victoria was strongly affected by his death, she wore mourning clothes and withdrew from public life for many years after.  Victoria Revealed is a fascinating show, the items on display are sympathetically exhibited and give a nice insight into her personal life.

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Also on the first floor is “Diana, her fashion story”. This is a collection of Princess Diana’s most famous suits and dresses. There are about 20 of her outfits on show here, along with notes about the designers and details of the occasions on which she wore them. They are interesting in that they mark the fashions of the time as well as well as being beautifully designed. It is surprising how many of them are recognizable, it seems that time has proven that Diana really was a fashion icon of the 1980s and 90s.

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The Wallace Collection, Manchester Square, London WC1.

 

Franz Hals, the Laughing Cavalier
The Laughing Cavalier

 

The Wallace Collection is a must see museum/gallery if you come to London. The items on show were bequeathed to the nation in the late 19th Century and have been on display here since 1900.

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Van Dyck, The Shepherd Paris

The number and quality of the Old Masters from the 15th to the 19th century is amazing. It has some of the finest examples of 18th century French furniture in existence. There is also a rich assemblage of porcelain, sculpture and royal amour in the collection. One of the more unusual pieces is a particularly ornate cannon.

 

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Many of the pieces were bought during the sales of art following the French revolution, which is why the collection is so strong in 18th Century French art. Such good examples of the Louis XV cabinets and marquetry cannot be seen anywhere else in the world.

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A condition of the bequest was that none of the pieces ever left the collection, even to go out on loan. So if you ever wish to see, say, “The Laughing Cavalier” or Canaletto’s “View of the Grand Canal” you have to come here.

 

Canaletto, the Grand Canal
Canaletto, The Grand Canal

 

It is astounding to discover that it is free to visit this collection, although they do ask for a donation. It is also surprisingly quiet, compared to the other, bigger museums and galleries in London. This is presumably because it is not in the main exhibition area of town, although you could argue that, situated between Oxford Street, Baker Street and close to Selfridges, it is even more central than those in South Kensington.

 

Rembrandt, Susanna van Collen and Anna
Rembrandt, Susanna Van Collen and her daughter Anna

 

Notable among the Old Masters in the collection are 5 Rembrandt, 4 J. W. Turner, 8 Canaletto, 2 Titian, 12 Reynold, 5 Cuyp, 2 Gainsborough….. the list goes on, it is an amazingly rich and full list. There is even a wonderful portrait of Queen Victoria from 1837, when she was newly ascended to the throne.

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The Wallace Collection should not be missed when visiting London. Bring your friends when you visit, and you will surprise them with both the quantity and the quality of the art here. Given how quiet it tends to be, even in the summer, I am going to count this as a hidden gem, and I recommend it heartily.

Apsley House, Hyde Park Corner, London

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Apsley House is the smart, columned building on the north side of Hyde Park Corner. It has been the home of the Wellington family since the 18th Century, and it is open to the public Wednesday to Sunday during the summer months. It is a stunning Grade 1 listed building, and many of the interiors are kept in the style of decoration that they would have had at the time they were built. It is unlikely that there is a better maintained aristocratic home in Central London.

The decoration is interesting, there is some of Roberts Adam’s 18th century classical interior design remaining. It was renovated in the early 19th Century when Wellington was living in Downing Street as Prime Minister. The Waterloo Gallery was added at this time to commemorate his victory over Napoleon, and to this day, there is a banquet held annually on 18th June to celebrate this.

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There is also an amazing art collection, made up of gifts from grateful war allies, or items acquired as the spoils of war during the defeat of Napoleon. There are paintings by Titian, Van Dyke, Rubens, Goya and Velazquez and many others. You can even see the original painting that contained the image of Wellington, that was used on our old five pound note.

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The are many other items of historical interest. It holds the oldest grand piano in England. There are two beautiful porcelain dinner services on display; The Waterloo Meissen Banquet service, painted with scenes of his greatest victories, and the Josephine Egyptian dessert service given by Napoleon to his wife as a divorce gift.  Another highlight is the wonderful 3.5metre nude statue of “Napoleon as Mars the God of Peace” by Canova.

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The property is run by English Heritage, so it is free to enter if you are a member, but chargeable otherwise. The entry fee includes a touchscreen audio tour, this is very informative and there are seats in some of the rooms, where you can sit and listen to descriptions of the paintings and decoration. The no photographs rule is disappointing. The pictures here are from the tiled passageways under Hyde Park Corner.  The building is nice and cool on a warm summer day. It is also surprisingly quiet given its position, right in the centre of London.

If you are looking for a break from the more crowded tourist attractions in central London, Apsley House is well worth a visit.

Robots, The Science Museum, South Kensington, London

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Robots is an exhibition within the Science Museum. The Science Museum itself is wonderful. The building is beautiful, it has lots of fascinating things on display, and general admission is free. So it is certainly worth a visit even if are not considering a chargeable exhibition.DSC_2241

Robots begins with a brief history. It counts clocks, orreries and anatomical models as robots, which may not be in tune with how we would define a robot today.  It soon moves on to items we are more likely to think of as robots, with famous examples from old film and TV; it has the one from the 1920s film metropolis. This section was surprisingly nostalgic and it was nice to see the development of the idea of a robot from the early 20th Century.Asimo

Finally we come to the newest, most interesting, and sometimes creepiest part of the show – the current, cutting edge, design in robots. The variation in looks, ability and use is amazing. There are robots here whose purpose is to play music, to act, to do repetitive tasks, to calm, to teach, and to learn.  Some of these are quite cute, but there are others that are downright strange, and prove the point that there can be something particularly sinister about machines made in the human image. There are about a dozen of these new innovative robots on display and all are compelling in their own way. Some are interesting because the way that they interact and others because of the cleverness of their design.realistic robot

Tickets are £13.50 for an adult and £40.50 for a family of four. This is without donation, I think it is cheeky to add a donation on automatically when charging for entry, either add it onto the price or leave the donation to our conscience. I enjoyed this exhibition, it took me about an hour to go through.  Any longer than an hour and my attention begins to wander, so it was the perfect length.

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World, Design Museum, London

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Fear and Love: Reactions to a Complex World is the opening exhibit to the new Design Museum in High Street Kensington. It is actually 11 different installations exploring issues that define our world in the 21st Century. As you would imagine, with so many totally unconnected exhibits, some work better than others and some are more interesting than others.

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I like the curious robot that comes and stares at you when you look at it. It feels quite aggressive and two separate parents who thought their child would love it, had to deal with them running away in tears after it came right up to their face.

The installation about Grindr and how it changed lives in the 21st Century is worthy, but it is also a bit dry and dull, which is not something I would have expected to report on an exhibit on that subject.

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The Mongolian Yurt is nice, one can sit inside and watch a video about how the city of Ulaan Baator is growing very quickly.  There is an installation about Death Masks. These death masks are pretty and quite creepy.  They are made in plastic with a 3D printer. There are 5 different fictional people with 3 masks each, depicting different states, I don’t know why they have done it, but they are interesting to look at.

The video about dolphins and go seems plain weird, half of it is pictures of sea and boats from a dolphins point of view, and half is of a computer playing the game go. I may have got that wrong, I found it hard to understand, possibly because the point of it just went right over my head.  The exhibit of videos playing in a corrugated shack about the Bolivian ghettos are thought provoking.

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I like the 2 very different ones about recycling clothing. One was about recycling clothing in rural China and the other about a machine that sorts discarded clothes by colour.

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My favourite is the living room furnished with an item from every country in the EU, the view from the “window” is quite chilling.

EU livingroom

The price of entry to Fear and Love is £14, quite high considering the mixed standard of installations, but there is a free permanent exhibition on the third floor, which is excellent and certainly worth a visit.  So, although there are things here that will make you stare and think Why?, there is also a wide variety of subjects on display and everyone is likely to have at least something that will delight them.

The Design Museum, Kensington High Street, London

 

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1970s Olivetti Advertisement at the Design Museum

 

The Design Museum has a new building on Kensington High Street. The setting is lovely, right on the edge of Holland Park. The building itself is, as you would expect, beautifully designed. The interior is bright and spacious, filled with indirect light, the curves of the roof are attractive, the stairs and levels of the building are cleverly arranged to describe a pleasing combination of form and function, the atrium widening as it rises, with built in seating among the stairs on the lower levels and along the walls, further up.

I like the way, that even now, when it is open and in use, it still has the look and feel of the architect design drawings that would have been put on show at its conception. It will be very interesting to see how the building ages, I have great hopes that the clean lines of the wood, marble and glass will hold the elegance that it has now.

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The free exhibition on the third floor is good too, larger and more interactive than it was in the old museum. It is still packed with examples of outstanding design and has many of the pieces that were on display in its old home on the South Bank. The exhibits include the design development of many common household items, for example clocks, phones and headphones from their earliest designs to current iterations.

It will also hold paid for exhibits, currently these are Love and Fear, and Imagine Moscow. However, the permanent exhibition is worth the trip even if you choose not to visit the chargeable offering.  If you go on a fine day, Holland Park is a very pretty park to walk through too, it is well maintained and has nice ordered gardens.

The new Design Museum with regard to its building, setting and free exhibits has to be regarded as a complete success.

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Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum is holding a series of special events on Friday evenings throughout the summer. Each one is different but I suspect that all of them will be awesome! I went to the butterfly ball, which had a number of talks and exhibitions about moths and butterflies. The people involved clearly love what they do, they were interesting and entertaining, we got up close and personal with moths, butterflies, spiders, snakes…

It is a fantastic experience to be in the museum at night, great to be able to wander around the normal exhibits with a drink from the bar. It is a very relaxed way to view the museum … and there are no school parties to contend with.

The talks are wonderful, the general exhibition is amazing, but even if the whole place was empty the building itself is staggeringly beautiful. Think Hogwarts on steroids! It’s incredible that even with the brilliant things on show here, that the ceilings, arches and floors can contend for your attention.

As you can probably guess, I have been struggling for superlatives to describe my night.

Go for the event, go for the general exhibition or just go for the architecture!