2012 is going to be a big year for London, as the city spruces itself up and prepares to show off its finest when the Olympics come to town. The UK capital’s museums and galleries are amongst the best in the world, and this year’s exhibitions promise to be no exception; in the spirit of the cultural Olympiad a range of excellent exhibitions are already opening their doors as the city gears up to its biggest event in years. The end of January saw queues around the block as ‘Scott’s Last Expedition’ opened at the beautiful Natural History Museum in London. The Captain’s doomed SS Terra Nova expedition saw his party tackling stormy seas, Antarctic wastes and frostbite, only to find themselves beaten to the South Pole by Roald Amundsen’s Norwegian team. 100 years on, this excellent new exhibition looks at the positive side and the scientific findings of Scott’s expedition. It runs at the South Kensington museum until 2nd September, so there is plenty of time to catch it. Here’s our pick of some of the other fabulous exhibitions opening in London over the coming months:
Dickens and London at the Museum of London: February 2012 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Britain’s most influential writers, Charles Dickens. To celebrate, the Museum of London presents Dickens in London until June 10th, the first major exhibition on the author in over 40 years. Visitors can discover what life was like in Victorian London and learn about Dickens’ difficult childhood experiences, including working in a blacking factory while his father was locked in the Marshalsea, a South London debtor’s prison. As well as looking at the social ills of the day, the exhibition also highlights the new innovations of the era, from steam boats and railways to the electric telegraph and the penny post. Treasures to look out for include original and rarely seen manuscripts of Dickens’ most famous novels, his writing desk and chair and only surviving costume of the famous clown, Grimaldi.
Titanic Remembered at the National Maritime Museum: The centenary of the 1912 sinking of RMS Titanic is marked in this small and evocative exhibition running from March 8th to September 30th, which highlights the stories of some survivors of the most well known maritime disaster through letters, photographs and personal objects gathered by Walter Lord while researching his 1955 book ‘A Night to Remember’. Lord’s account, which was made into a feature film, was influential in fixing the story of Titanic in public consciousness and he also worked closely with James Cameron on the 1997 blockbuster. Artefacts on display include a woollen cape worn by Elizabeth Mellenger during the disaster, a whistle which was reportedly used by survivors clinging to Lifeboat B and a musical toy pig which Edith Russell used to entertain children in Lifeboat 11.
Queen Elizabeth II by Cecil Beaton at the V&A: The Queen was a teenage princess when she first sat for the photographer Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) and his portraits over the following decades show her changing role as both mother and monarch. 2012 marks The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee; to celebrate this, around 100 of Beaton’s images are on display from 8th February to 22nd April 2012, alongside his diary entries and letters, press cuttings and film and radio footage. Featuring both formal shots of significant occasions and more casual photos featuring the Queen with her family, the show examines how Beaton controlled the use of his photographs and how they were selected by the Palace.
Picasso and Modern British Art at Tate Britain: Picasso remains the twentieth century’s single most important artistic figure, a towering genius who changed the face of modern art. This major exhibition at Tate Britain runs from 15th February to 15th July 2012 and explores his extensive legacy and influence on British art, alongside the fascinating story of his lifelong connections to and affection for this country. It brings together over 150 spectacular artworks, with over 60 stunning Picassos including Weeping Woman 1937 and The Three Dancers 1925. The exhibition offers the rare opportunity to see these celebrated artworks alongside some of Picasso’s most brilliant British admirers, including Henry Moore, Francis Bacon and David Hockney. This is the first exhibition to trace Picasso’s rise in Britain as a figure of both controversy and celebrity, from his London visit in 1919, working on the scenery and costumes for Diaghilev’s ballet, to his phenomenally successful 1960 Tate exhibition.
Shakespeare staging the world at the British Museum: This major exhibition on the world of Shakespeare, in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company, is part of the London 2012 Festival and will run from 19th July to 25th November 2012. It provides a unique insight into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays. It also explores the pivotal role of the playhouse as a window to the world outside London, and the playwright’s importance in shaping a new sense of national identity. London as it was around 400 years ago will be brought to life through contemporary performance and amazing objects drawn from the Museum’s collection and across Europe.