If we have to suffer this pandemic, we are lucky to do so with the internet and social media to lessen the inevitable limitations of distance and time under lockdown. However, the enjoyment is bitter-sweet in this new waste land of physical absence. April was indeed the cruellest month for all of us who had been prevented from attending the new crop of high quality exhibitions in London and indeed throughout Europe, for the online content was of such quality as to make us thoroughly jealous.
I missed Titian and Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery, Warhol at Tate, Van Eyck In Ghent and Cecil Beaton’s work at the NPG.
All were all showcased to very high standards on the institutions’ web pages, in You Tube videos, on Instagram and many more channels. A You Tube snippet by the Beaton exhibition’s curator, Robin Muir, is fascinating about the artist’s early years. I had also intended to return to the Royal Academy’s Picasso and Paper so the online video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOOY6GbV9K) remains a great treat.
Obviously all museums and not-for-profit organisations are facing huge challenges when deprived of their flow of visitors and funds. The major national museums and art galleries have a tremendous amount to lose from the cancellation of their vastly expensive block-buster exhibitions filled with internationally loaned exhibits, but their scale and resources are such that their survival at least seems guaranteed. Most had already developed their highly sophisticated online activity as part of their marketing and educational roles, and now that is really paying off. The British Museum, for example, offers digital tours of the building. You can go from room by room of the entire building as if an estate agent were showcasing the best features of the collection. There is also detailed access to over 2 million digitised items in the collection. Most of the major public galleries upload new images most days on Instagram with expandable content and links to take you further into the subject if you want. The NPG is, amongst others, very good.
Of course it doesn’t entirely make up for not being there. Obviously we lack the sense of occasion, snacks, cappuccinos, cakes and lovely outings in company! There’s little sense of texture or feel or of sensations such as scent. We are deprived of the complexities of binocular vision that make appreciating any object, and especially a three dimensional one, a much more satisfactory and complete experience. Nor can one easily gain any sense of scale. Those curious striped and banded rulers seen in early photographs of archaeological excavations were there for a purpose. But just imagine how little we would have had to make us jealous even twenty years ago!
For smaller museums and galleries the current lack of public access might be overwhelming without the support of their friends and patrons. They have responded to engage with them in every way they can. Pallant House Museum (https://pallant.org.uk/) in Chichester, with its focus on twentieth-century British art in general and neo-romanticism in particular, offers an excellent series of online articles, sound-casts, talks and and lectures to its largely regional but very loyal members. Compton Verney, a major but insufficiently visited museum and art gallery situated in a fine Georgian house and Capability Brown grounds near Stratford-upon-Avon, offers very good compensatory online presentations of its two currently closed exhibitions. These are Lucas Cranach the Elder ( to be found at https://www.comptonverney.org.uk/cranach-artist-innovator/) and Fabric – Touch and Identity accessible through the same site.
So much of this site is based on gardening and so many of our followers are keen gardeners it’s worth a quick look at what’s on offer in this field. It’s a bit early to see how the idea of NGS garden owners’ videos for virtual visits works in practice but it’s a good idea anyway. Having garden centres and nurseries open again is lovely but doesn’t compensate for losing access to the big shows. Virtual Chelsea on the television is a fascinating use of archive footage but no substitute. However it would have been so much worse not to have tried at all.
The Garden Museum, without the benefit of any public funding, is in a potentially serious financial condition. It’s had to postpone its exhibitions but has kept its members updated with a constant feed of images, catalogues and films available through email letters and its website. Content ranges from the useful, through the informative to the positively surreal. Consider for example: Object of the Week: News from the Cornish Jungle (1953). This promotional booklet was published by The British Bamboo Cane Co., a 40 acre bamboo producers near Bodmin in Cornwall. One of their marketing ploys in the booklet was “Every garden should have a clump of canes”. To add to the sense of improbability the inside front cover contains an image of the then President of the Board of Trade, and subsequently UK Prime Minister, Harold Wilson with his wife Mary. Echos of Private Eye and Inspector Trimfrittering perhaps?