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February 28, 2014

Small is Beautiful – Little known London Museums

by Val Reynolds

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 09.50.53Tucked away in a small sidestreet behind the British Museum is one of the little gems of London.  The Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street deserves to be far better known than it is and visited far more often. One of its principal attractions is its size – small.  This means that both the permanent exhibition as well as temporary ones are compact and approachable.  Personally, I usually have to take a very deep breath when visiting Tate Britain, Tate modern or the Royal Academy because of the sheer volume of what’s on offer.  However interesting or stunning London’s blockbuster exhibitions may be, going round them can sometimes be a feat of endurance, particularly since it’s the norm that there is no  re-entry;  you have to swallow what’s on offer whole.  This is an ongoing beef of mine.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding my attention waning after an hour or so, and would welcome the opportunity of a reviving cup of tea and a relaxing of the eye and brain. Returning refreshed would, I’m sure, enhance the experience. The small-scale Cartoon Museum throws up no such problem.  Cartoons, almost by definition, present the viewer with a lot to observe, generally captions as well as pictures, and too many at once would inevitably ‘do the head in’!  And what a pleasure it is to wander around with others smiling or laughing at the humour.  The content of a cartoon is sometimes acerbic as witnessed in the work of, say, Martin Rowson or Steve Bell, sometimes gentle and good-natured but always witty.  The current exhibition, Bring Me Laughter, a private collection on display featuring many of Britain’s best-known cartoonists over the years, runs until the 23 February.  This is followed, for me, by a real gem – a chance to get up close to the wonderful caricatured creations for the Spitting Image TV series, running from 26 February to 8 June.  After that, as part of the centenary events, comes The First World War in Cartoons.  Oh, and the gift shop offers an interesting selection of merchandise and is a pleasure to browse through,

Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum

Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

London is full of quirky museums catering for all tastes.  Particularly interesting are those which are private homes, offering today’s public a unique insight into people’s lives.  The Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one such example and is packed with his collection of art and antiquities.  Another example is Dennis Severs house in Folgate Street in London’s East End which offers a uniquely atmospheric experience and is not exactly what it seems;  it’s extra special around Christmas time when the house is bathed in candlelight.  You can even visit imaginary houses such as 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes, which is guarded by a Victorian policeman who seems to spend most of his day posing for pictures with the visitors!  And to offer refreshment and souvenir-buying potential for the hordes that stop the traffic on Abbey Road everyday by recreating the Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover at the zebra crossing, a small coffee/gift shop has opened right next to St John’s Wood station, thus making the attraction a museum of sorts. When a man is tired of all the museums in London, he is surely tired of life! jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, her main interest is the theatre. Having lived in London most of her life she has a fund of knowledge of interesting buildings and places to visit in the capital and we’re lucky to have access to her experience.

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