Yesterday our art course teacher organised a tour to the Sir John Soane, the British and the Foundling Museum. On arrival at the Sir John Soane we discovered it was closed on a Tuesday. Normally one might be annoyed but we like our teacher so and – let’s face it – she is neither the first nor last to be confused by a change of Museum times.
Undeterred, we about-turned and made a short walk to the British Museum.
It was many years since I last visited the British Museum and envisioned it as a crusty, stuffy place full of Egyptologists in 30-year-old sports jackets.
Imagine then my surprise – after the imposing Doric columns and the impressions of colonial trophy-grabbing – to see a light-filled modern atrium.
We first visited the Enlightenment Room.
This was originally devised by Museum Architect Robert Smirke to house the library of George III.
The emphasis at the time of its foundation in 1753 was on natural objects, not man-made ones.
In the Age of Enlightenment the accent switched to collectors, on the Grand Tour and beyond, acquiring what they could.
It was amazing how many Roman figures emanated from Hadrian’s Villa.
No doubt this was burgeoning villa industry of supplying dubious antiquities to avid collectors. Many were forgeries. There was discussion amongst our group on the issue of misappropriation.
My view is that given the Isis destruction of art works, the availability to all in a free museum and its high standards of custodianship, the British Museum has little to apologise for and should hang onto them.
As the Museum pointed out, sculptures transcend artistic boundaries.
It’s now become a live issue in the negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between the EU and UK with a clause prohibiting cultural appropriation though the Elgin Marbles in the Parthenon room are not specifically cited.
Our next stop was the Foundling Museum in Coram’s Fields.
This as the both the first children’s charity and public gallery of art; the two went together as Handel and Dickens both supported it and William Hogarth gave it its first painting.
One of his finest The March to Finchley, a typical Hogarthian study of debauchery, still hangs there and can be seen below on “what’s on display.”. Most of all, it provided a home and education for abandoned children from 1740 for 200 years: