Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Intimate Portrait at The British Museum

Set in the intimate Gallery 90 in the British Museum, The Intimate Portrait takes some of the nicest drawings and miniatures out of the British Museum's collection and puts them on display for the of charge!

After hiking up the many flights of worn marble stairs you enter the dimly lit print gallery. It looks like any other print gallery with the exception of an ingenious little simplicity: rest boards. These banisters follow the glass cases allowing you to rest your arms (and handbag) as you lean down to read the detailed description of the drawings. Lauren and both remarked on what a convenient feature this was. It was needed to because there was a lot of reading in the descriptions and each was was so interesting, you didn't want to skip over any.

I loved this exhibition. Although small in size you could easily spend an hour or more there. There weren't as many miniatures as I was hoping, but the amazing drawings made up for the lack of miniatures. There were many highlights I particularly enjoyed. Two sketches of Angelica Kauffman show the artist in candid moments, sketched when she was sketching or in the company of friends. The drawing of Mary Hamilton by Lawrence is so beautiful it was chosen as the icon for the exhibition itself. A chalk self-portrait of Joshua Reynolds at 27, shows not only how handsome the young artist was but also depicts his young ambition and confident air. There is also a sketch Thomas Lawrence did of Emma when he was visiting the Hamiltons which is interesting in that Emma herself signed it. Her signature is surprisingly neat; I always pictured it in my head as sloppy since her grammar was horrible (although it wasn't her fault she was illiterate for years).

All in all, this is not an exhibition to be missed if you are in London. Give yourself an hour or so to dedicate to it and then leave through the opposite exit so that you come out in the citradel right by the restaurant. Order some afternoon tea for two and you are in heaven. Fabulous exhibitions should always be discussed over tea.


  1. Heather: I noticed you had to rub it in with the remark "IF YOU ARE IN LONDON"...I'll resist the temptation to whinge and thank you for the insiders tour as a compensation. Sigh...
    WOW...Sir Sloshua (my area is the Pre-Raphaelites) was either extremely handsome as a young man or a master flatterer of himself. Whatever the case it is an outstandingly beautiful sketch. Thanks for posting it.

  2. Thanks so much for your review Heather. I was wondering if I should get the catalogue from Amazon. Now I know what must be done!

    I agree, that Reynolds sketch is very beautiful. Throughout his career he had a fondness for the self portrait, hence I've always felt he had not a little respect for himself. But it's also good PR. He was great at choosing subjects that got noticed. Learned Milordi, scholars, celebrities/actresses/tarts, you name it. I have several books on Reynolds, but have never picked up the Discourses. They seem a little daunting. They would be an excellent topic for a future Gossip post, I think.

  3. I'm sorry!! That's very mean of me isn't it? Please accept my apology in the form of lovely Joshua Reynolds sketches :)

    Polonaise, I came this close to buying it but it was out of my vacation price range and it would have been pretty heavy to tote around. I know I'll regret it later.

  4. Hah, yeah, Heather, way to rub it in! :P But don't feel too bad; I can live without visiting London for a while. It's not having an H&M in this part of the country that is most painful!

    Funny, I also pictured Emma's writing to be sloppy and child-like.

  5. Actually, The Discourses aren't too bad at all...I think I read them in undergrad school and bits and pieces since then. Very representative of the age and the aesthetic standards that Sir Joshua aimed for. That said, I'd rather look at his paintings than read his words (I know this is heresy for a Pre-Raphaelite devote but it is one of my character flaws...the inability to resist almost any English portrait no matter the artist.

  6. I hope that you bought the companion book to the exhibit. I am dying for it!

    *sigh* us mere mortals must be content with books, as Heather traipes about in the real world.

  7. Haha I wish, unfortunately it was a super-budgeted trip and I was worried about lugging it to the Franz Ferdinand show which we went to afterward. I'm sure it will be one of those huge regrets I have like not buying the Citizens and Kings exhibition book immediately Although I gladly have it in my possession now!

  8. Never fear! The Intimate Portraits catalogue can be bought on the US Amazon site. Pretty cheaply, too, for a UK museum catalogue. I bought it for less than $30 and it sure is worth it. Many unusual and different portraits.

  9. Ooo which is actually a better price than if I were to buy it there!