Museums in Quarantine – Connecting Digitally Through Arts and Culture

Each year since 2014, museums across the world have collaborated in a shared initiative to celebrate their treasures with the public in an online festival known as ‘MuseumWeek.’

MuseumWeek has now grown to include over 60,000 participants from 100+ countries. According to its website, it has become the first virtual, worldwide cultural event on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Weibo, WeChat, and VKontakte.

Between 11 May- 17 May this year, many of your much-loved museums have been participating via their social media, at a time when it is vital to connect.

Technology has often had a strange tension between being a blessing and a curse. It has blessed people through the dissemination of information and connecting people in ways that otherwise would not be possible. However, it has also caused uncertainty, where the threat of technology consuming life has pervaded literature and the arts, from dystopian writers such as George Orwell and HG Wells to science fiction films like, but not limited to, Blade Runner (1982) and 2049, Terminator, RoboCop, and Alita: Battle Angel. As we begin to rely increasingly on technology, it is inevitable that we refer to visionaries who have imagined a future that has been absorbed by technology, either willingly or unwillingly, consciously or unconsciously, for good or bad. I took a while to join any form of social media and was only persuaded to do so in University, as a way to keep in touch.

There is also the issue of trust in images that pervade modern culture, such as the utilization of Photoshop, where images can so easily be manipulated and the lines between fact and fiction blurred. This is a fascinating issue that has been explored in Dr, James Fox’s The Age of The Image, a series that I would recommend watching on BBC iPlayer.

The idea of whether a happy equilibrium could be met between humanity and technology has become heightened in these recent extraordinary times, where imposed lockdowns and restrictions on movement due to Covid-19 has meant people have turned more to social media as a way to connect to others, to culture, the natural world, or whatever they miss from their normal routine.

As an artist, I spend much of my time in my studio creating, and I have seen other artists argue that they have been in lockdown ever since they can remember. However, I also feel acutely the lack of being able to freely move without restriction. I think however that often, and not to become too philosophical, that even as prisoners of war can attest, freedom ultimately lies in your mind.

Times of hardship have often proven to activate the imagination and creativity, reinspiring people to see their surroundings in a whole new light, bringing forth a mental and even spiritual transformation.

Rather than being overcome by inertia, those working at these places of culture have become even more resourceful during the lockdown. As James Fox rightly says, you can’t lockdown, or lock up the imagination. Throughout the lockdown, James has been sharing pieces of art on his Twitter account that he feels will help people come to terms with isolation. You can follow him @doctorjamesfox.

Since joining social media, I have enjoyed following my favourite museums on Instagram and Twitter, when I have not been able to attend in person. Museums such as The Wallace Collection, the V&A, the Louvre, the British Museum, The Museum of Natural History, The Science Museum, The Met, amongst so many others. I also enjoy following other art institutions such as Christie’s or National Trust properties like Waddesdon Manor, as, like the other museums I mentioned, they consistently share their most beloved treasures and stories in a way that engages the viewer and informs them, keeping their minds occupied and relieving boredom. You can even get involved with their accounts by participating in their interactive challenges, such as creating an artwork based on an item in their collection or reenacting a famous painting.

The willingness of the public to engage with these institutions online proves to me that time and again, arts and culture provide a vital means of education, inspiration, and entertainment at any period of time and are a way of understanding current experiences. By seeing stories from the past or how artists have translated their times, whether they have lived through war or peace, can often be a way of inspiring further generations on how to react in our times. Technology can never replace a loved one, but for those struggling with not being able to be physically close to those they love most, social media can be a form of comfort and can help reinforce gratitude and appreciation. Seeing through the eyes of a curator or artist can not only help relieve boredom, but also anxiety, bringing a sense of peace to the viewer.

Even when there is no lockdown, I would recommend following MuseumWeek’s account, or simply your favourite museums and art galleries on social media, either Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or if you are like me, a combination of all three.

Personally, I have enjoyed learning new things about The Wallace Collection, Christie’s, and The National Trust’s Waddesdon Manor, to name a few (a more extensive list is included at the end of this blog). All three actively invite the public to get involved with them through various activities and challenges.

Based in Manchester Square, London, The Wallace Collection is a cornucopia of eclectic and exquisite items housed within beautiful interiors, including armour, sculpture, furniture,  and paintings, collected by the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace in the 18th and 19th centuries. My father and I had actually booked to attend a day’s conference on Indian, Iranian, and Ottoman arms and armour at the museum, which we look forward to attending when possible.


The Wallace Collection’s IG page. 

Waddesdon Manor in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, one of my favourite National Trust properties, if not favourite (it bears a remarkable and convenient resemblance to my beloved uni, Royal Holloway), was founded by The Rothschild family of Jewish bankers, and is a beautiful French Renaissance house, with sumptuous interiors, an exciting sculpture trail, and a lovely history of supporting the local community.


Waddesdon Manor’s IG page.


Waddesdon Manor’s Twitter page, which has a different collection of stories to its other accounts.

Christie’s, located on Kings Street, St James’, also has a wonderful collection of treasures that vary in each auction, from ancient history to the present day.



Christie’s’ Instagram page.

I would always argue that we should never rely on technology and that physical relationships are always superior, however, technology has a surprising way of blessing us in ways that might not previously have been appreciated.

I follow a lot of accounts that focus on my interests (quite a few it seems!), such as history, the natural world, space science, wildlife, design, fashion, interiors, engineering, architecture, art, and even technology itself as a means of design. I honestly believe that you never stop learning and that you can learn from anything and anyone, whether online or offline; it is your attitude that determines whether it is beneficial to you or not.

I think having an appreciation of arts and culture encompasses a cross-section of so many other fields, such as history, fashion, etc and enriches people in such an important way, acting as a vital artery to society itself. It has even been proven to be effective as a form of art therapy for people facing loneliness, whether in lockdown or not, rates of suicide, etc and problems with mental health; feeling a connection to someone, whether you know them or not, whether online or offline, can be very important, and even more so at this time. Even accounts such as the National Geographic or NASA help you to transcend your physical limitations, transporting you to different places in an instant. I will gladly argue that you will find following these accounts very rewarding and enriching, even liberating, whether you are in lockdown or not.

I would also argue that following these places digitally encourages the viewer to want to visit their physical space, if at all possible, and to support them in the physical world. Let us not forget that social media is a free service, and if you can, please support them through a donation or even liking and following their page, as it is a way of showing your appreciation of those people curating such entertaining and educational pieces of content, letting them know that what they do is as valued as any other essential service or area of society.

The themes that MuseumWeek has already covered include #heroesMW, timely after the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and #CultureInQuarantineMW.

Today, on Wednesday 13 May, the theme is #togetherMW, which seems wholly appropriate for the current times.

We can look forward to Thursday’s #MuseumMomentsMW, where museums will recall memories, #climateMW on Friday for climate change (timely after Earth Day on 22 April), #technologyMW, to justify their digital presence, finishing with #dreamsMW.

I have included just a selection of my favourite arts and culture accounts to follow below, for both MuseumWeek and in general:

The Wallace Collection
Instagram – @wallacemuseum
Twitter – @wallacemuseum
Facebook – @wallacemuseum

Christie’s
Instagram – @christiesinc
Twitter – @ChristiesInc
Facebook – @Christies

Waddesdon Manor
Instagram – @waddesdonmanor_nt
Twitter – @WaddesdonManor
Facebook – @WaddesdonManor

The V&A
Instagram – @vamuseum
Twitter – @V_and_A
Facebook – @victoriaandalbertmuseum

Fitzwilliam Museum
Instagram – @fitzmuseum_uk
Twitter – @FitzMuseum_UK
Facebook – @fitzwilliammuseum

The Louvre
Instagram – @thelouvremuseum
Twitter – @MuseeLouvre
Facebook – @museedulouvre

The British Museum
Instagram – @britishmuseum
Twitter – @britishmuseum
Facebook – @britishmuseum

The Natural History Museum
Instagram – @natural_history_museum
Twitter – @NHM_London
Facebook – @naturalhistorymuseum

The Science Museum
Instagram – @sciencemuseum
Twitter – @sciencemuseum
Facebook – @sciencemuseumlondon

The Met
Instagram – @metmuseum
Twitter – @metmuseum
Facebook – @metmuseum

The American Museum of Natural History
Instagram – @amnh
Twitter – @AMNH
Facebook – @naturalhistory

MuseumWeek
Instagram – @museumweek
Twitter – @MuseumWeek
Facebook – @MuseumWeekOfficial

*Please note, all opinions are my own*

Leonardo da Vinci: ‘A life in drawing,’ The Royal Collection Trust

‘Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.’ Leonardo da Vinci

A rearing horse, c.1503-04. Red chalk, pen and ink.

I recently had the pleasure of attending ‘Leonardo da Vinci: A life in drawing,’ at Southampton City Art Gallery, which ran from 1 February to 6 May 2019.

To mark 500 years since his death, 144 of the renaissance master’s greatest drawings in the Royal Collection were on display simultaneously at 12 exhibitions across the UK, part of a nationwide event to give the widest ever UK audience the opportunity to see his work.

At his death in 1519, Leonardo bequeathed his drawings and notebooks to his pupil Francesco Melzi. In 1580, the sculptor Pompeo Leoni acquired Leonardo’s drawings from Melzi’s son and mounted them on two albums, one of which was in England by 1630, in the Earl of Arundel’s collection. Within fifty years the album entered the Royal Collection, having been acquired by King Charles II, possibly as a gift. The drawings were removed from the album during Queen Victoria’s reign and mounted individually. In the twentieth century, many were stamped with Edward VII’s cipher. Housed securely in the Queen’s vaults at Windsor Castle for three successive centuries, these intricate drawings reveal an unparalleled insight into Leonardo’s investigations and the workings of his mind.

Arguably one of the world’s most recognisable and revered names in the history of art, Leonardo da Vinci is without a doubt a tour de force of creativity and artistic genius that has surpassed his own era. Leonardo was a polymath and epitomised the ideal of the renaissance man and the French ‘rebirth’, displaying exceptional talent and an effortless ability to adapt and excel in every discipline he set his mind to.

Twelve selected drawings in the exhibition at Southampton City Gallery reflected the range his interest, from sculpture, painting, architecture, music, anatomy, engineering, geology, botany and cartography; each exquisite drawing was recorded meticulously in pen and ink, red and black chalks, watercolour and metalpoint. All his drawings were executed on paper made from pulped clothing rags.

Studies of an infant, c.1490-92. Metalpoint, pen and ink, on pale pinkish-buff prepared paper. Spontaneous sketches to develop compositions were an important part of artistic practice during the Renaissance. These drawings of a healthy, chubby child, were probably from life.

New information into Leonardo’s techniques and creative processes has been made possible by scientific research using non-invasive techniques including ultraviolet imaging, infrared reflectography and X-ray fluorescence. 

Leonardo’s preparatory drawings and sketches were never intended to be seen by the public and he would probably be surprised people would want to see them. Even his writings and descriptions scrawled onto pulped clothing are almost inscrutable, being written in mirror form, from right to left. However it is believed he did this so as to not smudge the ink.

The heart, bronchi and bronchial vessels c.1511-13. Pen and ink on paper. This is actually the heart of an ox, as Leonardo did not have access to human organs after 1511. He was intrigued by the ‘most minute’ branching of the bronchi, describing them in his annotations.

Leonardo da Vinci’s view of the world was expansive, he was never limited and this drove him to excel in many areas of learning. The artist believed adamantly in visual evidence being more persuasive than academic argument, and an image could convey knowledge with more accuracy than words.

Leonardo spent hours studying nature and botanical details whilst in his surroundings in Vinci, Italy. His ability to grasp the principles of art and science, and his insight into the human soul, spirit and body, captured the spirit of the times when great advancements were being made and pioneering technology developed.

The muscle of the shoulder and arm, and the bones of the foot c.1510-11. Black chalk, pen and ink, wash.

Through careful attention to detail, Leonardo deftly blended mathematics and art into ideal proportions. In Vitruvian man, Leonardo demonstrated his deep understanding of proportions and of the workings of the human body as an analogy of the workings of the universe, uncovering both the ideal symmetry and beauty of the human body mirroring that of the universe. His designs for Vitruvian man were inspired by the ancient Roman architect, Vitruvius and his work on the perfect proportions in architecture and the human body. I like how Leonardo has portrayed the Vitruvian man’s wavy, flowing hair, his expression wild and intense, and his muscular body perfectly poised against the edges of the circle.

Vitruvian man.

Through the ages, the artist has depicted the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times. Their vision of the world has always been like that of a prophet; their extensive time spent in nature and observing detail has given them a deeper level of spiritual understanding of the universe. The very act of drawing and painting is an extension of divine creativity and spiritual expression made tangible. 

Leonardo’s preference for a subtle rendering of expression, refined use of shading and changes in tone that is not quite visible is reflected in his art, from the slight smile of the Mona Lisa to the transcendent gaze of the Salvator Mundi, with Christ looking directly into the viewer’s soul. Leonardo captured the human body in a way that revealed their spirit, the individual can never quite be grasped, it evades description and understanding.

In the summer of 2019 (24 May to 13 October), all 144 drawings will be gathered together in a single collection at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, London, followed by a selection of works at The Queen’s Gallery in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, in the winter of 2019-2020.

Designs for an equestrian monument c.1517-18. Black chalk.

Discovering Rare Masterpieces & 5000 years of Art at London Art Week, July 2018

‘The artist sees what others only catch a glimpse of.’ Leonardo da Vinci

Nestled between the streets of Mayfair and St James’, behind the elegant facades of historic London townhouses, lies 40 bespoke galleries, 3 of the world’s most celebrated auction houses, and over 5000 years of art.

For traditional fine art dealers, collectors and enthusiasts alike, this affluent district provides a marvelous treasure trove of ancient sculptures, old master paintings, post-Impressionist paintings, drawings, and textiles.

Each gallery is a specialist in their field, catering both to prominent museums and art collectors, as well as being open to all members of the public throughout the year. They offer a unique opportunity to peruse and buy, artworks and masterpieces at leisure and in a private setting, a welcome refuge away from the crowds at larger institutions.

Often operating through word of mouth, each gallery is so specialised in its area and seemingly discreet, that most clients become familiar with their exhibitions not just through publications and extensive scholarship, but also through fine art fairs such as Masterpiece, which is held annually at the Royal Hospital Chelsea.

The galleries and auction houses also participate in London Art Week, a twice yearly event which acts as a tantalising taster into their acquisitions, exhibitions and research. Visitors are offered free art gallery tours, talks and the opportunity to buy artworks from some of the most distinguished art dealers and curators.

Just as Leonardo Da Vinci adeptly expressed the unique vision an artist has, so do collectors, connoisseurs, dealers and art enthusiasts yearn to see into the soul of the artist and, through years of dedicated research, expertise and passion, bring to light the periods of art history which deserve inclusion in the canon of artistic influence.

Over the course of one week, from 29 June to 6 July, the founders of London Art Week (LAW), take visitors on a free lunchtime walking tour in either Mayfair or St James’, with the itinerary changing each day. I attended the tour on 4th July, lasting just 60 minutes and offering a glimpse into four bespoke art galleries in Mayfair. Some galleries were also exhibiting artworks at Masterpiece, but many of their most historically significant pieces remained at the gallery. I had no previous knowledge of which specific galleries we would visit and I was delighted with the ones chosen by LAW that day, some almost concealed on street view in elegant London townhouses and all within walking distance of one another.

Our first port of call was Lullo – Pampoulides on Cork Street, exhibiting master paintings and sculpture. Established in 2016 by Andrea Lullo and Andreas Pampoulides, each artwork was presented with rigorous scholarship, their aim, according to gallery manager Chiara, to assist art lovers from all ages to engage with art across all periods.

The below oil painting by Antonio Mancini (1852-1930) was the most contemporary painting on display at Lullo – Pampoulides, having been painted in 1910. Entitled ‘Suonatrice di mandola’ or ‘Il costume giapponsese,’ it depicts a woman wearing an antique Japanese costume playing the mandola. The paint thickens in places in an expressive impasto technique, creating a glistening effect. The use of light within the painting illuminates her smiling expression, suggesting her contentment and ease with the viewer:

Both Lullo and Pampoulides are compelled by their passion for art and acquire pieces that especially capture their discerning eye, even if the origins or attribution is unknown. Part of the joy of being an art specialist must be in the pursuit of discovery and unearthing new and historically significant artefacts! The below terracotta sculpture, depicted with the same energy as an Auguste Rodin piece, is awaiting attribution and currently undergoing research. A recent acquisition, it has however been established to be of the esteemed classical composer, Giuseppe Verdi, but sculpted post humously.

A stunning bronze sculpture of Jesus is also a recent acquisition and is under investigation for its attribution.

Directly across the street from Lullo – Pampoulides lies Sam Fogg gallery, his name emblazoned prominently above the large windows. A leading art dealer in late medieval and renaissance textiles, Fogg is committed to redefining the market for medieval art in Europe. Luxurious silks, intricate weaves, patterns and tapestries in incredible colours and condition adorned the walls in a mixture of Christian, Islamic and Indian pieces.

Where some tapestries were evidently historic in their patterns, some were also quite contemporary in their designs, such as this Perugia Towel, with wyverns, griffins and human figures. Dating from 15th or 16th century, the towel originates from Central Italy:

Velvet chasuble back with the Crucifixion from Central Europe, Bohemia, circa 1500:

As a reader of English Literature at University, with modules on Medieval literature, chivalric romances in particular, I was delighted to discover this large tapestry depicting The Marriage of Blanchefleur from the Story of Garin and Begon, originating from Southern Netherlands in 1460-80:

Next we visited Lowell Libson & Johnny Yarker, specialist dealers in British art with an emphasis on watercolours, paintings, sculpture and drawings of the seventeenth to mid-nineteenth centuries. Their exhibition, ‘The Spirit & Force of Art: Drawing in Britain 1600-1750‘, was on show from 29 June to 6 July so it is worth researching the galleries to see what and when they will feature a new exhibition. The result of ten years collecting, this unprecedented exhibition celebrated almost 100 British drawings from a period before the foundation of the Royal Academy. It offered a rare opportunity for art collectors and museums to acquire significant works from 1600-1750 that were previously neglected by the art market and both private and institutional collectors. Some of the artworks on display were influenced by the fashionable Dutch and Flemish styles of the sixteenth century, rather than by the Italian imports during the reign of Charles II.

I look forward to visiting Libson Yarker again and perusing further drawings by master court painter, Sir Peter Lely, and renowned 16th century artist Louis Laguerre, whose murals decorate Fetcham Park House, a gorgeous Grade II listed house and wedding venue. There is also a portrait of the English ship, Princess, by Willem Van de Velde the Younger, 1633-1707, that was particularly intricate and beautiful.

Isaac Oliver’s masterpiece in miniature, The Annunciation to the Shepherds:

Jacques Rigaud, The Rotunda at Stowe:

Louis Cheron’s drawing of Mars:

Our last stop on the art tour was Ben Elwes Fine Art, a specialist dealer in Old Master, British, nineteenth and twentieth century paintings, drawings and sculpture. Together with his wife and co-director, Rachel Layton Elwes, who comes from an American academic and museum background, they offer a discreet service, with broad expertise in the market. Their clients include the National Gallery, Tate Britain, the Musee du Louvre and the Met.

Their exhibition for London Art Week featured vibrant Old Master oil paintings on canvas and copper, the latter material delivering a gorgeous intensity of colour.

The below oil on canvas painting by Carlo Dolci is entitled ‘Portrait of a Young Man,’ and was completed between 1627-1633. This portrait, perhaps of a fellow artist, was painted when the artist was just 12 years old, however as Ben pointed out, an artist would often be apprenticed at a professional artist’s studio from the age of six, so this portrait is in fact the culmination of six or seven years of experience:

A portrait of Jesus which captures the highly emotional moment before he was flogged. Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647), Christ at the Column, Oil on copper:

Ben and Rachel also have a propensity to collect abolitionist art, particularly as a result of Rachel’s study of African American history. Aside from some poignant artefacts such as an original slave collar, there was also a Staffordshire porcelain figure of abolitionist, John Brown, and the below painting by prominent early nineteenth century artist, Henry Hoppner Meyer (1780-1847). Entitled ‘A Young Catechist’, it depicts a young missionary teaching a slave how to pray. The portrait was exhibited at the Society of British Artists in 1827, accompanied by a poem by Charles Lamb.

A corner of the gallery also revealed this treasure, a portrait of a Navajo woman painted in 1916 by Maxwell Armfield:

The tour was now complete, but the founder of London Art Week and our guide, Philippa, urged us to visit Daniel Katz gallery and Ariadne gallery, both situated in a Victorian townhouse just off Berkeley Square. Behind an elegant fa├žade, paintings from antiquity to the twentieth century were on display.

Located on the first and second floors, the exhibition at Daniel Katz placed an emphasis on women in elegance for London Art Week and included paintings by Gustav Klimt and Dante Gabriel Rossetti of the pre-raphaelite brotherhood.

Oil on canvas portrait of Lady Hillington by Sir Frank Dickser, 1905:

A Japanese Lady, oil on canvas, by William Meritt Chase, circa 1902:

A vibrant study of a Neopolitan girl by John Frederick Lewis, RA (1804-1876), in mixed media: pencil, black chalk and watercolour.

Rounding the corner of the main hall however, was this magnificent oil painting seemingly illuminating the dimly lit corridor. There was no description which added to its enigmatic quality, but the intensity of light exuding from the painting in almost a chiaroscuro effect was astonishing.

This detail of the silk dress emphasises the remarkable glazing technique of the artist to render a translucent and almost sculpture like effect.

Upon walking upstairs to Ariadne Gallery, my friend and I stumbled upon the director’s office where he kindly allowed us to look around the art pieces on display. This clock caught my attention and although we didn’t have time to discuss the piece with the director at the time, its elaborate design reminded me of one of my favourite periods of art history, Baroque.

On the second floor of the townhouse lay Ariadne Galleries, leading specialists in ancient art. Based in New York with their second gallery in Mayfair, the family dealers have established themselves as unique in their field, with an extensive client base stretching from private collectors to prominent institutions. They are also regular exhibitors at Frieze Art Fair, Tefaf and Masterpiece.

Miniature artefacts of antiquity were delicately arranged on plinths, not behind glass as in the British Museum, but on display for buyers and collectors to handle (with care of course). Indeed, the artefacts were not originally intended for arts sake or even solely for burial purposes, but also to be used either in religious rites or everyday use, such as a mirror or cosmetic vessel, the latter of which was intended perhaps to hold perfume. It’s also incredible to fathom that these artworks were created without machinery or complex tools.

The minimalist design of the artefacts bordered on abstraction, void of unnecessary details. The central figure in the below photo reminded me of Alberto Giacommeti’s work and although it might look modern, like other pieces in the gallery, it seems generations of subsequent sculptors and painters such as Picasso have simply been inspired by ancient artworks to create similar styles of art:

Gallery specialist, Alex, pointed out that artists from ancient periods have been largely erased from history, the sole purpose of the work was to signify something symbolic and cultural, larger than the artist themselves. Indeed, the artwork is then admired for its own sake or its religious significance, rather than a study of a particular artists work. This is in stark contrast to artists from the Renaissance onwards, where the artists name has become more important.

Juxtaposed against these ancient works of art were abstract modern paintings by Richard Serra; the contrast of black etching ink, silica and paintstick on handmade white paper evoked a similar, yet contemporary, mystery and primeval quality.

From Mayfair, we then headed to Christie’s on King Street, St James’ London. Founded by James Christie, the auction house has established itself as the greatest and most celebrated market leader in old master paintings, most recently selling Leonardo Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi for $450 million. My friend and I had just missed the auction viewing, but will be headed there again for another viewing in the near future!

One particular wish of mine during London Art Week was to see works by Canova, considering we had missed a recent talk on his works. With that in mind, we headed to Robilant and Voena located in Dover Street, where the curators have acquired a vast range of fifteenth century to twenty first: old masters and nineteenth century painting, classic modern, Italian post-war and contemporary art. They have also shown works by another of my favourite artists, Caravaggio.

Luminous oil paintings adorned the walls but I eventually found what I had been seeking, not the subject necessarily, which was of Caroline Bonaparte (apologies to Caroline), but the artist, Antonio Canova; his sculpture, Psyche being revived by Cupid’s kiss, is an emotional and graceful piece capturing the beauty of their love seemingly effortlessly. To render such a tender look in marble for me is astonishing and reflects a similar prowess to another sculptor, Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

There are many more galleries in Mayfair and St James’ that participate in London Art Week and which I didn’t have time to visit, so I look forward to discovering their artworks soon! I would highly recommend visiting these galleries throughout the year to either peruse or buy, an appointment is not needed. Intimate settings define the galleries on show and offer a welcome private retreat from the crowds at other larger institutions nearby. The owners and gallery specialists look forward to welcoming you soon!

This is my oil on paper rendition of a beautiful ornate pattern which can be found at Sam Fogg’s gallery on a panel of polychrome voided silk velvet from Ottoman Turkey, circa 1460-90:

 

DC Comics – The Art of Superheroes

“Dreams save us, dreams lift us up and transform us and on my soul, I swear until my dream of a world where dignity, honour and justice becomes the reality we all share I’ll never stop fighting. Ever.” Superman. Action Comics #775 (2001)

Superheroes have entered contemporary mythology in a way unlike ancient myths, medieval legends and western films. Where the latter were constrained by historical facts and authenticity, the creators of superheroes could give their imagination free reign, inventing characters, costumes, technology, superpowers, heroes, villains and worlds through which they could convey their narratives. Although a product of the culture at a particular time, every element was unique and the colours and graphics have captured the imaginations of many for generations to come.

The writers, always drawing from current events, have been able to make superheroes form the base of our modern mythology and remain consistently relevant to humanity across the ages, bringing hope to society, whether its when confronted by economic decline, war or terrorism, or marking scientific, technological and medical advancements. The characters, their costumes and icons have evolved to reflect the aesthetic of each era. As Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton), creator of Wonder Woman, puts it, superheroes are in fact, our national aspirations.

I recently visited ‘The Art of DC – The Dawn of Superheroes‘ exhibition at The O2 (perfect timing for Father’s Day I might add!), where a century of artistic creation is currently being celebrated, from traditional methods of artwork to synthesizing animation, art and computer technology. The exhibition has been curated by Parisian museum, Art Ludique – Le Musee, the first museum in the world dedicated to contemporary art from comics, animation, manga, movies and videogames. Over 250 original historical comic pages, graphic art, illustration, preparatory charcoal and pen and ink drawings, 280 concept art and numerous costumes and props used in the films are on display.

The first superheroes:

The appearance of superheroes revolutionised the comic genre and the era, influencing art, literature, fashion and television. Created by Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster, Superman made his debut in the first issue of Action Comics in 1938 as a hero from another world, wielding superpowers and symbolising hope, truth and justice admist scientific and medical advancements and the rise of fascism. The success of Superman inspired a young artist named Bob Kane, who, with Bill Finger, created ‘The Bat-Man,’ appearing in Detective Comics the following year. Rather than harbouring superpowers, Batman used his own intelligence and abilities to become a superhero in order to fight crime. Both opposites (an immortal and a human), they set a standard for all forthcoming superheroes and a new genre of contemporary mythology. Both cover artworks below were by Fred Guardineer in the era known as The Golden Age of Comic Books (1930s-50s):

Action Comics #50 cover, pen and inks, July 1942 by Fred Ray:

June 1938 cover:

Superman #14 pen and ink cover by Fred Ray:

Superman was a conveyor of truth and justice, seen here protecting young boys from being arrested after being asked to paint a wall mural:

The influence of Superman in contemporary culture was made indelible in 1961 with Andy Warhol’s reproduction of a scene from the comic ‘Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane’ #74 for a New York department store window. The image quickly became emblematic of Pop Art and was published in the story ‘Super Surprise!’ drawn by artist Kurt Schaffenberger:

Superman storyboard in ink and marker by Walley Veevers (1978):

Since his inception in 1938, Superman’s dual identities have presented the timeless struggle of both an ordinary man and a superhero. Clark’s professional attire acts as a device to hide his powerful physique, whereas Superman’s colourful costume shows off his muscular body. His visual look and heroic pose are similar to heroes from Greek mythology, portrayed in sculpture with chiselled features and impressively muscled bodies. His portrayal set the standard for all future superheroes across the different art forms.

Paint on cel of Clark Kent and Superman for ‘Superman, The Animated Series,’ 1996-2000:

Digital concept art by Jared Purrington:

After Superman’s creation came a darker action hero, Batman, more akin to a city cop than a superhero. Suffering from childhood trauma and a witness to his parents murder, Bruce Wayne uses his vast wealth and resources to fight crime in Gotham city. As Philosophy Professor Thibaut de Saint Maurice explains, he embraces the night to avenge their deaths, using the darkness against those who use this pretext to prey on others. The artwork starkly contrasts to the bright vibrancy of Superman and other heroes, his black suit and use of the dark represents ‘the chiaroscuro of justice.’ He fights villains of Gotham City either alone or alongside other masked vigilantes such as Robin and Batgirl.

Batman the Return #1 cover, January 2011, pen and inks. Artwork by David Finch, inked by Scott Williams:

Pencil drawing of Gotham city, from Batman Returns. Artwork by Marty Kline, 1992:

Detective Comics #61 cover, March 1942, showing Batman and his accomplice Robin. Artwork by Bob Kane and inked by Jerry Robinson and George Roussos:

Batman’s intense physical training transformed him into the modern ideal of the time with a strong, healthy body. His vast resources were utilised in new technology, seen here in this illustration of the Batmobile by Tim Flattery:

When high risk missions need more extreme measures that don’t align with the DC superheroes moral code, they call upon Task Force X, otherwise known as The Suicide Squad. Originally appearing in The Brave and The Bold in 1959 as a more traditional military team defending mankind from monsters, they were reintroduced as The Suicide Squad in Legends #3 in 1987.  This team of criminal antiheroes are expendable villains looking not to be acquitted of their crimes but to simply lessen their sentence. The 2016 film adaptation by David Ayer tells their story, updating its elements for a contemporary audience, such as giving Harley Quinn’s costume a more modern style with colourful and edgy street wear as opposed to a black and white suit:

The contemporary mythology was however incomplete until the creation of Wonder Woman in 1941. Representing ‘the best of all of us,’ according to Thibaut de Saint Maurice, Wonder Woman invites us to make the best of ourselves. Her beauty is taken from ‘the best parts of humanity,’ created for good and not to destroy. For Saint Maurice, it is both essential and inconsequential that she is a woman, as justice, love and peace are qualities of humanity as a whole, hence the words of Louis Aragon from his poem Zadjal de l’avenir (1963): ‘The future of man is woman. She is the colour of his soul.’ Created at the onset of World War II by Moulton Marston (pen name Charles Moulton) with the assistance of his wife, Elizabeth Holloway Marston, Wonder Woman (aka Diana Prince) was the fearless maiden who gave up her heritage of peace and happiness to help America fight evil and aggression. As the third pillar of the DC Trinity alongside Superman and Batman, she is motivated by her desire to let peace reign and loving her fellow man. She bridges the gap between the contemporary mythology of superheroes and that of the gods of Olympus because she is an Amazon, part of a tribe of female warriors from Ancient Greece who live together on Paradise Island governed by Queen Hippolyta.

Wonder Woman Cover artwork showing the moment when a man arrives on the beach at Paradise Island:

A concept art painting by Aline Bonetto and Aaron Sims Creative depicting the first meeting between Wonder Woman and her love interest, Steve Trevor:

A costume illustration of Wonder Woman’s wetsuit, with an added reflection of the costume from the original film:

The first iteration of Wonder Woman in 1940 by Harry Peter, depicted in mixed media and holding her lasso of truth:

The first team of comic book superheroes debuted in All Star Comics #3 in 1940, calling themselves the ‘Justice Society of America.’ Iconic heroes from the Golden Age including The Flash, The Green Lantern, Hawkman, The Atom, Dr Fate and The Spectre were united by their shared values of justice and liberty. Their adventures were published until 1951, and then reappeared as the Justice League of America in the February/March issue of The Brave and The Bold in 1960. The team now consisted of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman and Martian Manhunter. Not confined to comic books, the league has been appearing in animation throughout the decades and recently given live action treatment in Zach Snyder’s new film (although I prefer the blond haired animated version of Aquaman).

Justice League of America #100 cover by Nick Cardy, August 1972:

Cover artworks for The Flash, Wonder Woman, Teen Titans, Green Lantern and Superman:

Similar to mythological heroes of ancient times, members of the League were drawn with powerfully built bodies and other godlike features: The Flash’s winged boots and speed echoes Hermes and Aquaman is king of the underwater city of Atlantis, evoking the majesty of Poseidon.

Hawkman cover:

Aquaman #48 pen and ink cover artworks by Nick Cardy, December 1969 (left) and #57 by Jim Aparo, September 1977 (right)

Mixed media artwork by contemporary comic artist, Alex Ross:

There is far more in the exhibition than I can cover in this blog, but I would highly recommend visiting it as either an art admirer or superhero fan, as it was superbly curated and incredibly educational!

This is my pen drawing of The Daily Planet globe from Superman as a dedication to the DC Comic style: