|National Gallery, London|
- Gainsborough: his lovely pictures of his daughters -- N. was intrigued that the latter is unfinished and loved looking for the bare outlines of a cat on the girl's lap
- Joseph Wright of Derby: we talked a lot about "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" -- N.'s first observation about the painting was the smoothness of its surface and he wondered how the painter achieved that; we made connections to some of the science history N. studied earlier this year (what is a vacuum, when did people figure out what was in "air"); could we tell what the artist's view of the scientific experiment might be?; Wright's use of strong light/dark contrasts
- J.M.W. Turner: N. was really struck by his luminous skies and seas and his strong brushstrokes, and enjoyed the contrast of these paintings with his earlier, more conventional paintings of ships. I thought N. would like "Rails, Steam, and Speed -- The Great Western Railway" but he dismissed it out of hand as not detailed enough for his taste and "too abstract!"
- Degas: a brief look at his dancers
- Seurat: N. was very taken with Seurat's pointillism method, and also very interested in the tiny studies that are hung alongside the large paintings. It was interesting to think about how the artist prepared to make the full-sized painting via the studies.
- Renoir: N. liked "The Umbrellas" -- so much packed into this picture!
- Van Gogh: Tim pointed out "Sunflowers" and mentioned the high auction price of the various versions, but N. was interested in "A Wheatfield with Cypresses" because of its swirling sky; he commented on the difference between this painting and the smooth surface of Wright's.
models of famous buildings. N. was in heaven! He loves models, miniatures, dollhouses, etc., I presume because with a model he can grasp the building in its totality. There was an amazing huge cross-section drawing of St. Paul's Cathedral hanging on the wall that we all admired as well. We spent a lot of time in this gallery!
Then we went to a few of the nineteenth-century galleries (full of Gothic revival stuff, which N. loves and I despise), where N. found a model of another of his favorite buildings, the 1851 Crystal Palace, as well as paintings, drawings, and plans for it. Very exciting! And there was a children's room nearby where he played with acrylic blocks to build his own Crystal Palace.
Another day we went to a different museum run by the V&A: The Museum of Childhood. This museum displays collections of toys from the late 16th century to the present, as well as some clothes. To supplement the cases of objects, there are some related playthings that children can use (without this, I think it would be hard for a kid to look at all these objects and not be able to play with them!), such as rocking horses near a case of various old rocking horses, or a model train layout that you could make run for 20 p. N.'s favorite things here were the model train sets and the doll houses. We had a really lovely afternoon there.
One day we went briefly to the British Museum, but only to see three things: the Great Court that was built in 2000 over the Reading Room, the Reading Room itself (which turned out to be closed for the installation of an exhibition), and the Elgin Marbles. There is so much to see in the British Museum and it was quite crowded, so we decided to save a more extensive exploration of it for another trip. The Parthenon was also one of the earliest buildings N. got really interested in; he likes its form, it led him to learn column and capital styles, and he's fascinated by its history of neglect and partial destruction. So most of his interest in the Parthenon frieze and pediment sculptures was related to their damage. He wanted to hear over and over again about the Parthenon being used by the Turks in the 17th century as an ammunition depot, and to figure out what was damaged by the munitions explosion and what was damaged by the passage of time. He's also perplexed by the problem of whether these sculptures should be in England at all. I tried to draw his attention somewhat to the quality of the sculptures themselves and to their ritualistic significance for the Greeks, but it was hard for him to look at them outside the context of their later history.
When we walked across the Millennium Bridge one day, we popped in to the Tate Modern so N. could see how the Bankside power station had been repurposed as a museum. Again we decided to save the exploration of the galleries for another trip.
Museum of London, which again is full of lots of models; N. especially liked the models of Roman Londinium. We all were wowed by the preserved sections of the Roman city walls around which the museum is built. You can learn a lot about the history of London here, (although I personally don't absorb information terribly well in this format). This museum was really crowded the day we were there because it was a bank holiday, but N. was so happy to see a model of Old St. Paul's Cathedral as well as a famous painting of the Great Fire. N. would have liked to linger longer in the Museum of London but I found the crowds oppressive. In this case I was the one feeling overwhelmed by the museum and needing to leave!
I hadn't expected museum visits (beyond the London Transport Museum and the National Rail Museum, of course) to play such a big role in our trip but I was pleasantly surprised by how much N. enjoyed London's museums.