Victoriana: The Art of Revival

From the macabre to the quaint, this major exhibition explores the work of artists over the last twenty years who have been inspired by the nineteenth Century. Victoriana is a multi-media, multi-sensory show, featuring graphic design, film, photography, ceramics, taxidermy, furniture, textiles and fine art, taking a curious overview of our enduring fascination with the past.”


I don’t think I can describe Victoriana’s richness better than this. I love art revivals, they’re the best way to remind us of the past, both its beauty and its mistakes from which we have to learn. I didn’t even know that Victoriana is the first exhibition in the UK to “offer a major examination of Victorian revivalism in all its forms”. From the moment I read about it on the website, I wanted to rush to the gallery and spend hours there. I don’t think I’d ever been so excited about an art exhibition before. Except when I visited the Uffizi Galleries in Florence, to see Botticelli’s Primavera and The Birth of Venus.

So I finally went to see Victoriana on a rather cloudy Saturday, when I decided to wander through London and see as many things as I could fit in a day. I had never heard of the Guildhall Art Gallery before and many Londoners I talked didn’t seem to be familiar with it either. All the more reason to visit it, I thought.

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The Guildhall Buildings weren’t actually hard to find, even if they’re one of London’s hidden gems in a quiet little corner. It was rather strange wandering through the City area which sleeps at weekends but it wasn’t too bad to enjoy a little peace and quiet.

Once I arrived there, I was stunned by the beautiful buildings and the light bathing the Guildhall Yard.

Guildhall Yard (black circle shows the original extent of the entire Amphitheatre wall)

Do you see the black circle in the middle of the yard? It actually shows the original extent of the entire Amphitheatre wall. I didn’t know that before finding out that London’s Roman Amphitheatre was 20 feet below the gallery. Speaking of revivals, I wrote about the revived atmosphere of the gladiatorial games here.

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As soon as I bought my ticket (even the ticket is classy, you would think it’s a theatre ticket in the nineteenth century), I armed myself with my camera and tried not to look like a hysterical art aficionada.

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We’re welcomed by this stunning artwork by Chantall Powell, called Encounter. I was very excited to find out that she’s got a blog, where she also talks about this piece.

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According to the description, the feathers are a symbol of the Aesthetic Movement (in the late nineteenth century), which follows the idea of “Art for Art’s Sake”. The feathers also reflect the Victorian decadence. I’d say this is a nice way to introduce us to the exhibition.

Then, we get to meet this gentleman, General Gordon.

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The artwork is called Goggles by Amanda Scrivener and Thomas Willeford. I had heard about the Steampunk movement before but never really read about it. Apparently, goggles are a key accessory of the Steampunk aesthetic. In a few words, steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, which reflects the image of a post-apocalyptic future dominated by steam-powered machines. I can’t help but also think of Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times.

Before going downstairs to the main exhibition hall, this banner caught my eye: “I want a better world, I want a better me” by Mark Titchner.

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Inspiring isn’t it?

Piers Jamson represents himself as a dandy in Self Portrait but he also recalls the miniature format of the silhouette, which was very popular in the nineteenth century.

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Mother by Dan Hillier reflects the Victorian Era’s obsession with mermaids. Hillier decided to replace the fish tail with octopus tentacles.

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Before reading the description, I imagined it to be a woman dreaming to transform herself into something allowing her to be free. Ok, I don’t usually associate freedom with an octopus but it’s what this drawing inspired me. Women in the Victorian Era were anything but emancipated, the corsets being a first good example to show this. An octopus can reach more with its tentacles and I imagine this could reflect freedom and infinite possibilities, something many women were aspiring to in that era.

In Two Minds by Simon Venus is a miniature mechanical theatre reflecting the conflict of science versus nature.

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Something that made me chuckle a lot was the Victoriana Alphabet by Otto von Beach. Each letter stands for something related to the Victorian Era and is beautifully illustrated. I really enjoyed the witty sense of humour behind these. Here are some of my favourites:

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is for Voluptuous automation

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I is for Incurable romantic

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Absolute favourite: R is for the Restless pursuit of aesthetic excellence and to hell with the consequences

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A is for Article indefinite (Hmmm, perhaps we should try the Comic Sans again?)

On a last funny note, a sign indicating the exit and inviting us to disappear! 🙂

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Obviously, I couldn’t post all the artworks, it would take more than one post to do this and it would ruin a few surprises! 😉 As you can see, Victoriana is a very rich exhibition: it doesn’t only focus on one type of artworks. It explores and revives Victorian themes through photography, literature, fashion… It definitely reflects the richness of this era while encouraging us to consider its themes which are still worth reflecting upon. I personally wouldn’t enjoy living in a world alienated by machines! Perhaps, there is still hope? 😉

On my way out, I just had to buy the book Victoriana, A Miscellany edited by the curator, Sonia Solicari. Aside from my own pictures, I wanted to have another souvenir of this marvel. This captivating book includes many useful facts and pictures. And I always fall for beautifully crafted books, so that was a bonus!


I stepped out of the gallery, smiling like a five-year old on Christmas Day. The staff are absolutely lovely people, who were always ready to answer my questions!

One thing is for sure: you won’t get bored. Even if you’re not interested in the Victorian Era, I’m sure there is at least one artwork that would make you stop to observe it and even make you smile. The Victorian art in itself is quite intriguing but when you combine it with a twenty-first century imagination, it becomes stunning! The atmosphere is lively (but not noisy) and the interaction with the visitors is something I really appreciated.

While admiring the artworks, I remembered something from Jules Verne’s novels and this idea continuously ran through my mind. Science was, of course, a huge deal in the nineteenth century. New discoveries encouraged people to learn more and more but at the same time science terrified them. Some had faith in science but others were seeing it as a threat, as something more powerful than Man and even God. The idea of science being more reliable than religion when it came to answering life’s big questions was inconceivable for many.

Don’t go just yet! I’ve got one last surprise for you: an interview with Katherine Pearce, one of the curators of Victoriana. I contacted her by email and she kindly answered to my questions! Here goes:

1. What is the first thing that draws you into this exhibition? In your view, what makes it special?

The intriguing offer of a show of contemporary works which is inspired by ideas from 150 years ago! The whole culture clash inherent in ‘revival’ of 19th century culture is such fertile ground for modern artists and designers, and it produces some truly strange and glorious objects. Who would have thought taxidermy was going to make ‘a comeback’, for example? The Victorians loom so large in our collective consciousness, it’s just fascinating to really examine what they mean to us and how we respond to them in the 21st century. What have we kept and what have we rejected, and why? Why do things make ‘comebacks’ in the first place? I just find the whole idea of ‘bringing things back’ whilst moving forward a really pleasant head-scratching exercise. The phrase retro-future can set you off on hours of pondering…

2. What is your favourite artwork / artist from this exhibition? And why? Did you also have the opportunity to meet the mentioned artist in person?

I think the pieces that stand out for me are Paula Rego’s Jane Eyre lithographs. They are so striking, dark and thought-provoking. My ‘Victoriana’ interests are primarily literary, and I love how the artist weaves images and themes from her own life into the depiction of Jane Eyre, whilst at the same time taking inspiration from Jean Rhys’s 1966 novel Wild Sargasso Sea – itself a kind of revival of Bronte’s original novel. So it’s a revival of a revival, with an artistically personal context. Bizarre and beautiful.

3. Can you relate Victoriana to any other exhibition / artist (in either Guildhall Art Gallery or in other museum/gallery)?

Um… Not really, other than it obviously parallels/connects to our permanent collection (Pre-Raphaelites and beyond) and throws it into relief. There’s a nice interplay between the exhibition and the Gallery itself (we’re a Victorian construct with a fantastic 19th century collection). There have been plenty of Victorian-themed art exhibitions which have really examined the amazing work being produced at various points during the era, i.e. the ‘Cult of Beauty’ at the V&A, ‘Pre-Raphaelites: Victorian Avant Garde’ at Tate. There was also a big Steampunk exhibition at Oxford a few years ago. But no major show specifically of Neo-Victorian artworks which represents the last 30 years of endeavour.

4. What is the first word that popped into your mind when you first saw Victoriana?

‘Spectacular!’ In all its senses!

Indeed, spectacular is the right word for it! Thank you again for your time and patience, Katherine! 🙂

So, everyone, I hope you enjoyed reading about Victoriana as much as I’ve enjoyed visiting it! If you’re out of inspiring things to do on a cloudy Saturday, why not pop by the Gallery and be intrigued? Victoriana is open until Sunday 8 December 2013 and you can read more about it here.

Have a great Sunday!

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Marathon Sightseeing in London

As I said in my previous post, I organised a day of marathon sightseeing in London. I planned a rather long itinerary and I was excited to go on this little adventure. Yes, adventure. A one-day marathon sightseeing on a Saturday in London (read “when everyone is out and about”) is an adventure, believe me. But I was so excited to go out, take pictures and have fun! Everyone ready?

The train from Charlton Station took me to London Bridge and when I got out of the station, I was greeted by The Shard. For a massive tower of glass, it’s not too ugly, if you ask me.

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As I crossed London Bridge, I came across an old double-decker. You know me and my love for all things vintage.

2013_Londra_Ultimele Zile 024Then I realised I was near the Monument and since I didn’t really know what it looked like, I stopped and snapped a picture.

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I had to visit the neighbourhood around the Bank underground station quite a few times, while running errands for work and somehow I thought of Mary Poppins and Mr Banks. Don’t I have funny references popping up in my mind? I also remembered this famous song and wanted to pass by the stairs of St Paul’s Cathedral, where the lady was feeding the birds. It’s one of my favourite scenes. Does that make me sound silly?

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What I really love while visiting a city is to notice its architecture and what I really enjoyed in London is to see the mix between old and modern architecture. It’s not something specific to London, you get to see this in many other cities but in London, it’s like it fits, like it was meant to be this way. The old Bank building next to a glass building doesn’t seem disturbing or shocking at all.

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Then I went to the Guildhall Art Gallery to visit a stunning and witty exhibition called Victoriana: The Art of Revival, which I will talk about in the next post. Since it was free entrance for the permanent exhibition, I decided to take a look and I was very proud to have discovered a hidden jewel in London! Guildhall Art Gallery is rather small but it’s definitely worth visiting! You won’t be disappointed at all. There was one particular painting I was keen on seeing: La Ghirlandata (1873) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a Pre-Raphaelite artist, who was actually born in England. This painting was on the cover of one of my Jane Austen novels but it’s cooler to see the original!

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Quite stunning… I love the contrast between the strong colours (the emerald green and the bright red hair) and the pastel colours (the fair skin and the delicate flowers). 2013_Londra_Ultimele Zile 162

This is a painting by Sir George Hayter, Queen Victoria seated on the Throne in the House of Lords (1838). Princess Victoria became Queen in 1837 when she was 18 years old. That same year, she was entertained at Guildhall and then, she decided to present her portrait to the City.

Another surprise came up: London’s Roman Amphitheatre, the city’s only Roman amphitheatre.

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The remains from Roman Britain were true to the initial setting and other items were carefully displayed. I loved the interactivity in this room and the will to recreate the atmosphere of that era, especially with the fluorescent silhouettes and the sounds of gladiatorial games.

After stepping out from the Gallery with a huge smile on my face, I headed down towards St Paul’s Cathedral. Gotta keep my promise to the lady feeding the birds, don’t I?

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These trees painted in blue were a beautiful surprise. At the beginning I thought it was just a London extravagance but I was too intrigued so I checked it up online. When in doubt, Google is the best. It turns out the blue trees were an initiative by Trees For Cities, a tree planting charity in the UK who celebrated their 20th birthday this year. They wanted to deliver community engagement activities as part of the City of London Festival. Apparently, the aim is to make people stop and notice these trees “which are so often taken for granted” (read more about this here). The trees were painted by Konstantin Dimopoulos, an artist I haven’t heard of but I’d like to read more about him!

I was rather disappointed because I couldn’t take a decent picture of the Cathedral’s stairs as there were too many people. One particular tourist was thinking it was his given right to monopolise the whole space for a picture. So I gave up.

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Then, I made my way through Fleet Street, which used to be the house of the British national newspapers until the 1980s. Along the way, I stopped to admire the contrast between old and modern architecture again.

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You wouldn’t believe what my next stop was: can you guess from this picture?

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Clue: lots and lots and lots of tea!

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The Twinings Shop, which is Britain’s first known tea room. It was opened at No. 216 Strand in 1706 and for a tea-a-holic such as myself, I had to stop and browse through, right? Oh and they have coffee and hot chocolate too, which is never a bad idea. I could have bought the entire shop of course but ended up buying two boxes instead, which seemed reasonable enough. I bought the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Tea Blend (faaancy) and the Pomegranate White Tea. Both were an inspired choice! Oh and I got two or three samples. Who doesn’t love samples?!

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This day was getting better and better: I made my way through Kingsway then all the way to Tottenham Court Road. In a hidden little street, I found this little marvel: a saxophone shop! Ever since I have discovered jazz, I wanted to give it a try and play the saxophone… maybe another day?

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2013_Londra_Ultimele Zile 250Hanover Street! Because you can never get enough movie references with me!

I finally jumped on the tube and headed home with my head full of the beautiful memories I’ve made that day, my camera full of the captured sights and my ears full of the city’s sounds.

So, I hope you enjoyed this! I know this may not seem like a marathon because it doesn’t look as if I rushed though London to see absolutely everything. I definitely took my time to enjoy every sight and it was definitely worth planning it in advance. In order words, thank you Google Maps and Wunderlist! And thank you again London for always saving a surprise or two for me!

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End of Summer in London

Dear readers, if some of you are still hanging onto my blog after such a long pause, I owe you a big favour! As promised, here are the last updates about my stay in London this summer. It took me 1000 years but… better late than never?


Picture: courtesy of Italians of London

In August, I was spoiled with a splash of culture: my parents came for a visit and we managed to squeeze in a ballet show at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden and a classical concert at – the one and only – Royal Albert Hall. Of course, sightseeing was also in order! I don’t get how people can get tired of sightseeing in London, there’s always something new to discover! My rambling about London’s fabulousness will never stop.

In September, I definitely went crazy and tried to do and see as many things as possible! My list of things to do/see/eat in London was getting longer and longer and I couldn’t bare the idea of not making the most of the time I had left! Maniac much? Hey, it’s not everyday you get to spend three months in London. I’m very proud to say I’ve watched my very first opera, Puccini’s Madame Butterfly with my dear colleague Anastasia (a big thank you!) at the Hackney Empire. Then, I’ve attended my first webinar which focused on social media (what else?) organised by Julie Falconer (you might have heard of her blog, A Lady in London). Another crazy idea I had was to organise a one-day marathon sightseeing with all the last things I needed to see. It was two weeks before coming back home so I thought that was my best shot. I also managed to squeeze in my visit to the Guildhall Art Gallery. I discovered these guys on Twitter as I began following different bloggers from London. I promised them to visit one of their most promising and exciting exhibitions called Victoriana: The Art of Revival and decided to write an article about it. I couldn’t wait, I was so curious to see what it was all about. It sounded like nothing I’ve ever seen! I read about it on the website of course, but nothing beats seeing it with your own eyes.

The last things on my never-ending list were watching a musical and maybe going to a jazz concert. Again, I have to thank my colleague Anastasia who gave me a few precious tips on musicals and how to find the best deals and so on. Together we went to see Wicked and I have to say it’s not a bad choice for a first musical! I wasn’t getting too excited about going to a jazz concert because I figured I might not have time and wouldn’t know where to go. Again, luck was on my side because my host lady invited me to her cousin’s jazz performance at The Pheasantry, a cosy and classy venue. The perfect way to end my last weekend in London!

How about I dedicate an article to each of these thrilling events, so I can make up for my delay? Yay or nay? I’d say yay! Besides I’ve missed writing about things not related to my MA dissertation. More tomorrow, I promise!

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