Thursday, 2 April 2015

Secret London Part Two

In my short story 'The Assertiveness Group', the heroine, Madeleine, and her lover, Dorian, visit three unusual London museums: Leighton House Museum, John Soane's Museum and the Hunterian Museum. On 25th March 2015 I visited the three of them with my mum.

I'm not sure what I was expecting in the Leighton House Museum apart from the Arab Hall, however what I received was an unexpected treasure. Beautiful, sumptuous and amazing are just three of the adjectives I would use to describe Leighton House. The museum is an exquisitely kept artist's house, full of rich colours, deep reds and vivid blues, polished tiles, Arabian rugs, stained glass and heavy wood. Our visit coincided with an exhibition of Victorian romantic art; the pre-Raphaelites, Edward Burne Jones and John Waterhouse. We were also fortunate enough to have a very informative guide who was telling us how important the Royal Academy's Summer Exhibition was to artist's reputations, careers and fortunes. It was all very illuminating.

John Soane's House is the London residence of a well known nineteenth century architect. As well as his architectural plans and drawings; it is stuffed full of 'things' he collected throughout his life, including sculptures, plaster casts and cork models. My favourite part of the exhibition was the guide's explanation of the Hogarth series of pictures 'The Rake's Progress', which follows the antics of a rich young man from inheritance to madhouse; a sobering tale indeed.

The Hunterian Museum is the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons. It has a large collection of specimens in preserving jars from the insect, animal and human worlds. The two aspects of the museum that meant the most to me were first the art collection and the view that medicine and art were once not considered to be the poles apart occupations they appear today, but once doctors and artist worked together particularly in the field of anatomy. The other part of the museum that moved me most was the part devoted to the pioneers of plastic surgery in the first world war; the surgeons who worked at putting injured soldiers' faces back together. It was marvellous and humbling to see how the doctors helped the wounded soldiers get back some semblance of normality. The overall feeling I got from the museum was the ides of how fragile human beings really are.

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