My love affair with the sometimes dull, usually dusty, always delightful world of museums was sparked from a young age with my first visit to Aberystwyth’s very small, very beautiful Ceridigion Museum. It remains one of my favourite places in the world (so fuck u Venice) despite the fact that it’s been a full ten years since I was last there. It’s basically an old coliseum, stuffed full of weird old stuff from around the county, probably lovingly curated by some nice old Welsh ladies. It’s my kinda place. I’ve always felt there’s something magical about tiny museums and while I wholeheartedly advise that you visit the Biarritz of Wales that is Aberystwyth, I accept that the five-hour journey is a little excessive. So, I decided to let y’all know about a few other small museums that are happily housed in our own, illustrious capital…
The Wallace Collection
The Wallace Collection is the newest addition to my list as I visited for the first time just yesterday. If you like gaudy decor, shiny wallpaper, pictures of fat babies, and big old guns; this is the place for you. The paintings in this collection are all screaming out for funny captions, I still haven’t manged to Instagram any because I didn’t know which to pick. It also houses some very famous paintings by the likes of Delacroix and Rembrandt. They’re nicely placed in such a way that you can be giggling at an ugly cherub when you notice that a genuine masterpiece is staring at you, silently judging your immaturity. There’s also a frighteningly expensive cafe offering extortionate but delicious cakes and an old lady’s paradise of a gift shop. So there’s really something for everyone.
In no particular order, the next on my list is the Wellcome Collection, where you’re wellcome (sorry) to discover all kinds of bizarre and mysterious artefacts and even, arty facts (really sorry). Like the Natural History Museum‘s latest exhibition, it’s another attempt to blur the lines between science and art, thereby making science cool and hip. They always have interesting events and exhibitions here and it’s all totally free. The permanent collection is full of absolute gems, including an intriguing collection of historical sex toys. If you’re anywhere near Euston Road and you have an intact sense of humour or failing that, an interest in medical science, it really is a must. If only for a visit to their 10/10 gift shop, where you can actually buy cuddly microbes!!
The Geffrye Museum
Shoreditch’s Geffrye Museum focuses on design and decor through the ages and it’s a total delight. You walk through living rooms and kitchens of every era from the 17th Century to the late 90s: a personal fave was the 1965 room which I would have gladly swapped for my grotty 2016 one. It’s a nice place to go when you feel like escaping the grim squalor of your own flat and exploring the beautifully curated, period featured flat of an imaginary, old-timey rich person. It also has beautiful gardens and is situated a stone’s throw from tons of trendy bars and restaurants, in case you need an antidote to the nerdiness of the museum itself. Not something I required though, because I reckon museums are cool.
Sir John Soane’s Museum
This is probably my favourite museum in London. Stepping through the doors of this unnassuming townhouse is like visiting an incredibly eccentric and rich uncle, but in a really, really good way. Sir John Soane was the maverick 19th Century architect who designed the Bank of England AND Dulwich Picture Gallery, which is next on this list. He collected some mad old things throughout his lifetime which he displayed here without labels or categories, basically leaving the visitor to make their own minds up. In 1833 he negotiated an Act of Parliament: to preserve his house and collection, exactly as it would be at the time of his death and to keep it freely open to the public. This makes the museum kind of creepy but totally brilliant; it feels as though you’ve broken into someone’s house and accidentally walked into a time warp. It truly is a thrill ride.
Dulwich Picture Gallery
It may not look like much, but the Dulwich Picture Gallery is the oldest public art gallery in England. The building is supposed to have been designed to engender ‘maximum illumination’, according to John Soane (the nutjob who preserved his house by an act of parliament). It’s quite similar to The Wallace Collection in size and layout, with every wall positively groaning with paintings, and the very famous ones scattered among the duds (although we ofc concedes that all art is valid). They’ve got an interesting exhibition on at the moment, concerning the provenance of certain paintings, focusing in particular on one in their collection whose status as a Rembrandt is repeatedly called into question by arty busybodies. If you’re a student then entry is free so I recommend visiting before you graduate, or just pretending to look for a non-existent student card until the staff pity you and let you in for free* 😥
Adult Entry – £8
The Courtauld Gallery
Unfortunately, that trick won’t fly with the incredibly vigilant and hard-working staff at The Courtauld, who are real salt of the earth types. But yeh, this is the gallery I work at and it’s pretty fab. The collection is small but select, there’s no fodder here. It’s impressionist and post-impressionist work, which I’m not overly fond of myself (too many flowers and pretty ladies for me) but it’s a really lovely gallery and there’s some v jazzy pieces on the top floor. We’ve even got a Kandinsky, although it’s actually a landscape so not the recognisable Kandinsky of squiggles and shapes 😦 The current exhibition is on Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement and I’ll probably be reviewing it on The Arty Bum at some point in the near future so no spoilers there I’m afraid.
Adult Entry – £8.50
*The Arty Bum does not condone this behaviour in any way and actually massively judges you for even considering it