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Must-see London exhibitions this October

Last updated on January 28th, 2020 at 03:18 pm

You might be tempted to start hibernating this autumn, but don’t you dare! London is buzzing this October, from Opera, Passion, Power and Politics at the V & A, to the surreal Gerald Scarfe designs for stage and screen at the House of Illustration, to Reflections at the National Gallery and Spanish masterpieces at the Wallace Collection. It’s time to park your pumpkins, cosy up in your jumpers and head out into London town for four exhibitions you won’t want to miss this October.

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics at the V & A

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics, V & A, Victoria and Albert Museum

Dress for Violetta in ‘La Traviata’ by Bob Crowley

I have been rather excited about Opera, Passion, Power and Politics at the Victoria and Album Museum since it was announced, and that’s to put it mildly. The V & A, in collaboration with the Royal Opera House, has staged a thrilling operatic adventure in seven acts, a journey through seven cities showcasing seven operas against a backdrop of political and social change and turmoil. It’s a jaw-dropping collection of paintings, costumes, musical scores, props, sets, and instruments.

Exhibition Highlights

It’s hard for me to list the exhibition highlights as there were so many. These displays made me want to erupt in song, but thankfully, I didn’t inflict my vocal chords on anyone!

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics, V & A, Victoria and Albert Museum

A reproduction of Italian staging, typical of one that might have been used to stage Handel’s ‘Rinaldo’ in London. The set comes complete with movable swans and squeaky backstage parts.

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics, V & A, Victoria and Albert MuseumMy favourite piece in the exhibition: an exquisite miniature of the castrato, Farinelli (Anthony Gasson Collection, V & A) These pendants would have been worn by Farinelli’s female fans in the audience.

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics, V & A, Victoria and Albert Museum, Mozart

LEFT: Piano played by Mozart in Prague in 1787. Franz Xaver Christoph (National Museum, Prague) CENTRE: Poster for the premiere of ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ at the Burgtheater, Vienna.  RIGHT: Unfinished portrait of Mozart, and the last painting of the composer made in his lifetime. Jospeh Lange (Salzburg Mozarteum Foundation)

Exhibition Details:

Opera, Passion, Power and Politics, Victoria and Albert Museum On until 21 January 2018. Tickets £15-19.

Recommended for: opera lovers and opera novices alike.

Gerald Scarfe at the House of Illustration

Gerald Scarfe: Stage and Screen is the first major exhibition of the cartoonist’s designs for theatre, ballet, opera and film. It includes the hallucinogenic creations for Pink Floyd’s ‘The Wall,’ and production designs for Disney’s ‘Hercules,’ (a family favourite). I was transfixed by his costumes for the English National Opera’s ‘The Nutcracker’ and his ‘sausages and mash’ storyboards for ‘Orpehus in the Underworld.’

Exhibition Highlights

Gerald Scarfe, House of Illustration, London exhibitions

Scarfe’s avantgarde designs for ‘The Nutcracker’ included punk hairstyles and present-day streetwear. These attracted negative reviews from the critics. What do you think of them?

Gerald Scarfe, House of Illustration, London exhibitions

LEFT: A storyboard for the English National Opera’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld.’ RIGHT: Gerald Scarfe had to design over 400 costumes for the production.

Gerald Scarfe, House of Illustration, London exhibitions, The Wall

Scarfe worked on ‘The Wall’ with director Alan Parker: “Given the psychedelic nature of much of The Wall it was interesting that neither Gerry [Scarfe] nor I were into drugs.” Scarfe worked on the animation scenes, including the famous carnal flower design.

Exhibition Details:

Gerald Scarfe: Stage and Screen, House of Illustration  On until 25 February 2018. Tickets £4-7.50

Recommended for: Pink Floyd lovers, art and theatre students

Spanish masterpieces at the Wallace Collection

Wallace Collection, Goya to el Greco, London exhibitions

The Wallace Collection has the Bowes Museum in County Durham to thank for this jewel of an exhibition, showcasing works by Goya and El Greco. The paintings in the collection were purchased by John and Joséphine Bowes between 1862 and 1863, acquired thanks to the dissolution of Spain’s ecclesiastical institutions. The Bowes now houses the largest collection of Spanish paintings in the UK, and a selection of these powerful, largely spiritual, pieces is on show at the Wallace until January 2018. It’s a small but significant exhibition, with three of the paintings on the list of top ten pictures to see at the Bowes.

Exhibition Highlights

Wallace Collection, Goya to el Greco, London exhibitions

LEFT: The Tears of St Peter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, aka El Greco (Bowes Museum) RIGHT: Portrait of Juan Antonio Meléndez Valdés, Francisco Jose de Goya (Bowes Museum)

Exhibition Details:

El Greco to Goya – Spanish Masterpieces from the Bowes Museum, Wallace Collection  On until 7 January 2018. Exhibition is free

Reflections at the National Gallery

National Gallery, Reflections, London exhibitions

Peek-a-Boo! Can you spot John Phillip’s ‘Partial Copy of Las Meniñas’ in the mirror? (c. Royal Academy of Arts)

For those of you not familiar with Jan Van Eyck’s 15th century masterpiece, ‘The Arnofini Portrait’, it’s one of the first domestic interior paintings, and it’s one in front of which I could stand for hours.  As it happens, the pre-Raphaelites were also fans,. Reflections, Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites at the National Gallery explores how the Brotherhood used the masterpiece as a template for their paintings, in particular drawing on Van Eyck’s use of the convex mirror.

National Gallery, Reflections, London exhibitions

The luminous Arnofini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck is one of the National Gallery’s most illustrious paintings. How it influenced the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood is the subject of Reflections.

Exhibition Highlights

National Gallery, Reflections, London exhibitions

John William Waterhouse, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ (Leeds Museum and Galleries)

Thanks to Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, ‘The Lady of Shalott’ became a popular subject for the pre-Raphaelites. Tennyson’s Lady, who is cursed to look at the world through a mirror, is captured by three of the painters on show in Reflections.

National Gallery, Reflections, London exhibitions, William Morris

The exhibition also explores other elements which are “borrowed” from the Arnofini. One example is William Morris’s reproduction of drapery in his only ever completed oil painting, ‘La Belle Iseult’ (Tate, London)

Exhibition Details:

Reflections: Van Eyck and the Pre-Raphaelites, National Gallery  On until 2 April 2018. £10 on weekdays and £12 on weekends (save £2 by booking online)

Recommended for: Narcissists. Fans of Victorian and Pre-Raphaelite art

Feature image: from the V& A exhibition – Eva Gonzalès, A Box at the Théâtre des Italiens (Musee d’Orsay, Paris – gift of Jean Guérard)


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