Books about town: by AHA alum Catriona Grant

Quick! Last chance to see the wonderful collection of book benches scattered around London as part of the collaboration between the National Literary Trust and Wild in Art.

War Horse bench


The project comes to a close on the 14th and 15th of September and it is certainly worth visiting a few of the literary pews before they disappear.


For the dedicated among you, there are 4 trails around parts of London – the City Trail, the Bloomsbury Trail, the Greenwich Trail, and the Riverside Trail. Some seats are tucked away in hidden venues, such as the Noughts and Crosses themed bench at Fen Court in the City, whilst others are in popular tourist spots or public thoroughfares such as Mary Poppins in the shadow of St Paul’s Cathedral, or the Shakespearian homage plonked outside the Globe.


Noughts and Crosses at Fen Court
a detail from the Mary Poppins bench
Shakespeare at the Globe


Some benches are specifically tied to their location – a series of pastel motifs and character portraits commemorating Mrs Dalloway is to be found in Gordon Square Gardens, adjacent to Virginia Woolf’s former home in Bloomsbury – an endearing Wind in the Willows bench is placed at the steps of the Bank of England, where Kenneth Graham once worked, – and a lively depiction of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days featuring a mock newspaper front page detailing Fogg’s ambitious wager, is found in the basement of Stamfords, a well loved travel bookshop in Covent Garden.


Mrs Dalloway
Wind in the Willows
Around the World in Eighty Days


A variety of local artists produced the series, which will be auctioned off in October to raise money for the National Literary Trust charity. Do try and spot a few if you’re wandering through London – they are a beautiful contribution to the bustle of city life, in the same vein as the ever popular Art Everywhere project that stretched throughout the UK over the summer.


All photos courtesy of Fiona Grant.

What to watch: Picks for Summer 2014 by AHA alum. Catriona Grant

Art Everywhere

Art Everywhere has launched again after its huge success last year. Billboards across the country are being filled with posters of artworks from our national collections. Over 38,000 public votes produced the shortlist of 25 works which will be found across 30,000 poster sites in cities, towns and villages throughout the UK.

Enjoy #arteverywhere for the next 6 weeks – the largest outdoor exhibition in the world! You can donate to the project via its website ( and receive rewards in the shape of limited edition prints, posters and postcards.


Summer Exhibition 2014

The ever-popular Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is in its final few weeks. For almost 250 years the same concept has directed the exhibition – submission is open to all, and is judged by a panel of leading contemporary artists. The result is a plethora of artworks of wide-ranging styles, with amateurs hung on equal terms alongside Royal Academicians. Sometimes you stumble upon new works by much loved artists, and always you leave feeling inspired at the range and quality of previously unknown artists.

This is a particularly great opportunity for busy art lovers to stay up to date with developments in contemporary art and practicing artists, and according to the curating team ‘everything you’ll see at the Summer Exhibition represents what is happening in the art world right now.’


Film4 Summer Screen at Somerset House

This year marks the tenth year of the open air cinema screenings at Somerset House – the ‘cinema under the stars’. For 2 weeks (7th-20th August) a variety of films are projected in the Neoclassical surroundings of one of central London’s most iconic buildings.

From new releases such as French drama ‘Two Days, One Night’, to well known classics like ‘Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’, ‘E.T’, and ‘Annie Hall’, there is something to suit everyone’s taste.


House of Illustration

The House of Illustration opened this summer in King’s Cross, London, as the first permanent exhibition space for international illustrators, with an extensive education space at its core.

Its collection contains illustration ‘in all its forms, from adverts to animation, picture books to political cartoons and scientific drawings to fashion design’. Its initial exhibition is Quentin Blake: Inside Stories, and runs til November this year.


Cambridge Shakespeare Festival

Throughout the summer, Shakespeare’s timeless plays entertain audiences in the beautiful gardens of the ancient collegiate university. Try swapping the Globe for a genteel picnic and performance of Twelfth Night in St John’s College Gardens, Othello in Trinity, The Taming of the Shrew at Homerton, or The Merchant of Venice in the grounds of Robinson.

American Impressionism at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

Until October there is a chance to throw the spotlight onto the American contribution to the Impressionist movement. Whilst the likes of Monet, Renoir and Pissarro may have dominated the canon of Impressionist art, many well travelled American artists engaged with the style and spread its influence back to the United States. The exhibition features the work of artists such as Theodore Robinson, Frank W. Benson, and Mary Cassatt.

A Weekend in Durham – Pick of the week by Catriona Grant

In preparation for a paper I am taking this term on Romanesque Art and Architecture, I travelled up to Durham for a weekend to see some of the finest surviving examples of Norman architecture in Britain.

Durham Castle

We started at the castle, now an amalgam of architectural styles due to years of modifications and extensions.  It is now the home of students of University College – a very grand setting for student digs! Beneath the castle is a Norman chamber – most likely a chapel (though this is debated). The quirky capitals feature animals, plants, figures, and vignettes from stories such as the story of St Eustace. Eustace was a Roman general, who whilst hunting a stag in a forest, saw a vision of the crucifix between the animal’s antlers, and instantly converted to Christianity. By alluding to this story in the chapel,  whoever built it was sending a message to the laity that Christianity was accessible, and paradise was within reach of all who believed in Christ.

The Norman Chapel

The nearby cathedral is a spectacular feat of Medieval engineering. It is a hugely impressive space, with ornate decoration and some of the first rib vaulting in Europe. Principally it was built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert, whose body was brought from Lindisfarne, a holy island attached to the coast of Northumberland by a causeway, and cut off at high tide. The Cathedral also houses the tomb of the Venerable Bede, a doctor of the Roman Catholic church and a hugely important early theological historian.

Durham Cathedral

The cathedral is of great artistic importance as the earliest surviving example of stone vaulting on such a large scale. The development of the stone vault can be seen within the architectural scheme itself, from the semi-circular arches, to the pointed arches which allowed stonemasons to build higher, spreading the weight and strain of the stone more efficiently.

Stone vaulting in the Cathedral

Some of the marble used for the columns is beautifully patterned with ancient corals. These scattered fossils incased within the stone pre-date the dinosaurs! Also worth noting are the beautiful stained glass windows throughout the cathedral – some contemporary interpretations of Biblical narrative, others stunning Medieval stories. A window close to the great entrance commemorates the night Durham was saved from bombings during the Second World War. Hitler had planned on destroying much of Durham during a large attack on the north of England, but that night a grey mist descended and shrouded the city, preventing the bombs from dropping.


Our final view of Durham comprised of a long walk along the river bank opposite the cathedral on a chilly but beautifully sunny Sunday morning. The path gave a spectacular view of the cathedral on the edge of the hill, silhouetted against the bright blue skyline, and emphasized the achievements of 12th-century builders in such a grand feat of engineering.

A view across to the Cathedral

To anyone who hasn’t been, Durham is definitely worth a visit – its a lovely town of winding passages, cobbled hills and bridges, as well as stunning historic architecture and examples of medieval art, stonework, stained glass and manuscripts.


Images courtesy of and


Houghton Revisited by AHA alum Catriona Grant


Catherine the Great of Russia spent much of her rule as a sedulous and determined patron of the arts; in part to give herself authority as a ruler (having usurped her husband Peter III), but also to make Russia a key player on the international stage, both politically and in terms of the nation’s artistic aspirations. She was ruthless in her efforts to acquire the very best collections in Europe, most notably that of Pierre Crozat, as well as the body of works assembled at Houghton Hall by Sir Robert Walpole throughout his life.

Houghton Hall, Norfolk

In the 1799 the sale of Houghton’s collection of Old Master works was necessary in order to pay the huge debts left by Walpole (Britain’s first prime minister) on his death. Despite a hopeful appeal by John Wilkes to the House of Commons to purchase the collection for the nation’s museums, the £40,055 price tag proved too costly, and the works disappeared abroad. The Houghton Revisited exhibition recreates the 18th century Hall for the first time since the sale of the works, with over 60 paintings being returned to their original home for a 5 month exhibition.

This feat was possible due to the discovery of an original hanging plan (found in a desk drawer) detailing the location of Walpole’s works. The curators have attempted to place the paintings back in the positions they would have occupied, and have restored some of the pictures to their original gilded frames.


Velázquez, Pope Innocent X

The exhibition occupies the rooms of the piano nobile, flowing between the central stone hall, the library, several bedrooms and dressing rooms, and a grand saloon. Walpole’s hoard was hugely impressive, ably furnishing a growing museum collection in Russia. Some of the highlights include intimate and arresting portraits by Velazquez, Rubens and Rembrandt, and a powerful composition by Charles Le Brun of Daedalus and Icarus, c.1645-6.

Charles Le Brun, Daedalus and Icarus

Carlo Maratta’s Pope Clement IX (1669) depicts a frail Pope, just weeks before his death. The work recalls papal portraits by artists of the previous century, such as the understated power of Raphael’s Pope Julius II and the translucent brushstrokes of Titian’s Pope Paul III. Yet Maratta’s pope is striking in the direct eye contact with which he engages the viewer, the sharp delineation of his features and the details of the surroundings, for such a large portrait.

Maratta, Pope Clement IX

The house itself and the grounds are also spectacular, particularly the breathtaking walled garden and sculpture installations such as the flaming water feature. The popularity of the exhibition has merited its extension until the end of October, and I strongly recommend a visit for whoever is able. It is so special to be able to view these works in their original context, and such a unique opportunity to see a collection that has stayed largely intact despite being transported far from it’s original home.

The Walled Garden
Jeppe Hein, Waterflame


Marle Place and its Sculpture Show – by Catriona Grant


If you wander to the outskirts of Horsmonden, a small Kentish village, you might stumble upon Marle Place, a privately owned house whose gardens are open to the public. The property belongs to a keen gardener and his artist wife, and each year hosts a sculpture show, exhibiting work by local artists at affordable prices.

The exhibition has been creatively curated, with thoughtful placement of the sculpture around the garden. Brass poppy seeds are placed in tall flower beds, almost camouflaged by the surrounding plant life, while gigantic, vibrant flowers emerge from various hedges and bushes around the garden.

In the pool, a metal seahorse sculpture sits half submerged by the water. It’s placement is playfully inviting with its silver reflection rippling around it. The bronze figure of a woman bent over her knees also complements an area of water in the garden, particularly in the fluidity of her hair cascading over her body.


The main lawn beneath the house is dominated by a large, low branched tree, beneath which sits a bronze sculpture of a young girl whispering to a butterfly. She sits cross-legged amongst the crocus bulbs that are sprouting from the ground around her. This seamless integration of art and nature makes the sculpture appear for a moment as though real, and only after several more glances across the lawn did one realise that the girl was a statue.



The array of works on offer mainly deal with themes of nature, or are figurative representations. One of the most striking of these was a work of two standing figures formed of rusted metal machine components, recalling the work of both Anthony Gormley and Eduardo Paolozzi. The figures face in opposite directions but are not entirely conceived in the round. As the machinery curves around to the figures’ backs it breaks off, leaving partial shells that suggest the figures are in fact halves of the same body, though the three-dimensionality of the building blocks, and the angle at which you approach the work, disguises this.


Gormley: Learning to See, and Paolozzi: Daedalus on Wheels


This sculpture show is by no means the only artistic venture that occurs at Marle Place. One of the out buildings acts as a permanent art gallery with changing exhibitions, again showcasing a cross-section of local talent. Art classes are also held in the grounds, teaching watercolour painting in the gardens that act as the students’ subjects. Stoneware, textiles and student art shows also take place during the year, with a genuine interest in displaying new and exciting design. The show exemplifies the aim of the owners to celebrate and support local artists, providing a forum for artistic appreciation within the surrounding community.


Images my own, and courtesy of: Fiona Grant,, and Google Images.



Quentin Blake, Drawn by Hand

For weeks I had wandered past the posters outside the Fitzwilliam Museum advertising the Quentin Blake exhibition: Drawn By Hand, always meaning to go in but somehow putting it off each time. I suddenly realised I only had a week left until it closed, so popped into the tiny (free) exhibition space in Cambridge’s principal art gallery.

I instantly regretted not coming sooner as I would have returned every week to wander around the room if I’d known how much I would enjoy it! There were seventeen works in total, which varied from Blake’s well known book illustrations, to pieces he had produced for hospitals and for the university itself. A central exhibit displayed the pens, brushes, palettes and etching plates used to produce the works, lent from the artist’s studio.

A number of works depicted mothers and babies swimming underwater, and were designed for maternity units, such as those in the nearby Addenbrokes Hospital.

Blake’s connection to Cambridge was also represented by works he had produced for the university’s 800th Anniversary in 2009, such as the panoramic scene of students set against a backdrop of fireworks, cycling into the sky.

These splashes of colour are archetypal of Blake’s style, and bring even his occasionally morbid drawings to life, such as the book illustration of a bishop being hung.

I did in fact return on the final day of the exhibition as the works were so enjoyable to view, all displaying Blake’s quintessential charm. Never have I left an exhibition feeling happier.

All photographs courtesy of Quentin Blake’s website:

Behind closed doors: AHA alum and Cambridge student Catriona Grant takes us into the stored collections and study rooms of the Fitzwilliam and Ashmolean

Galleries and museums across Britain are undeniably incredible public resources. Not only do they exhibit and preserve priceless works of art for the nation, they are also repositories for the vast number of artworks that space restrictions prevent from being displayed.

I have been fortunate enough that the close study of original works of art has been central to my history of art degree so far. This has included frequent lectures in the assorted rooms of the Fitzwilliam Museum, in the centre of Cambridge, engaging in discussions about works by the likes of Renoir, Hogarth, Millais and Rodin. Lectures have taken place in front of paintings by Titian, and handling fragments of ancient Greek pots and vases.

Renoir, A Gust of Wind, c.1872

Furthermore, one of the best parts of studying my subject in a city such as Cambridge, is the artistic assets owned by the university in various guises, from the cross-section of plaster casts of ancient sculptures in the Classics Faculty, to the astonishing collections of art owned by colleges.


Cast of the Belvedere Torso


One of the greatest resources I have been able to use is the Graham Robertson Study Room in the Fitzwilliam Museum. Here I have spent time looking closely at prints, drawings and paintings by a variety of artists, in the company of peers and professors alike.


Cotman, An Overshot Mill, c.1801-2


Turner, 'The Yellow Castle', Beilstein on the Moselle, c.1839

On one occasion we looked at watercolours in the collection, observing the sketchy white paint, suggestive of falling water in Cotman’s An Overshot Mill, and the ephemeral skyline in Turner’s The Yellow Castle. On another, we compared the precision of Dürer’s woodcuts with the rapid etching of Rembrandt in various states of his work.


Durer, Melancholia I, 1514
Rembrandt, Christ driving the money changers from the Temple, 1635

Similar experiences were had in Oxford, at the Ashmolean Museum. I was able to supplement a term of studying Russian art, with looking at Natalia Goncharova’s costume designs when working with Diaghilev and the Ballet Russes in Paris – her original scribbles surround the drawing, written in French, with instructions for the seamstresses. Examples of Konstantin Somov’s work, can also be seen, such as The Embrace, a sentimental, Rococo style painting that demonstrates the particular influence of the era of Louis XIV of France on the Russian Wold of Art group.

Natalia Goncharova, Design for a Ballet Costume, after 1914
Konstantin Somov, The Embrace, 1927

But of course such opportunities are not limited to these two cities. Museums across the country have similar study rooms available – anyone can ask to see works (often by appointment) – they belong to the nation after all! The British Museum allows members of the public to request to see parts of the collection not on display, and use their library. Similarly the V&A lists the various additional study rooms open to visitors, such as those for photography, architecture, ceramics, Asian art, the list goes on….


The purpose of this blog is, therefore, to raise awareness of such resources, whether for study or personal enjoyment. Apologies if this is old news, but it was certainly something I was oblivious to before my lecturers introduced me to my local collections. As a result I urge you to look up the museums in your city – chances are they’ll have similar facilities in place for the general public to engage with the nation’s cultural heritage.

(Images courtesy of the Cambridge Classics Faculty, the Fitzwilliam Museum and the Ashmolean Museum’s Online Collections)