London 2015: Major Museums (July - December)

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Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution

Dutch attack on the Medway The Royal Charles carried into Dutch Waters, 12 June 1667, Ludolf Backhuysen, 1667 (c) National Maritime Museum, London


From animals and space to fabrics and jewellery, London's major museums have a diverse programme of exhibitions in the second half of 2015. Here Peter Watts outlines the best of what's on offer to ensure your calendar is suitably full from July to December.

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From Bloomsbury To Outer Space


London is a multicultural city, attracting tourists from right across the globe, so it's fitting that its leading museums should be embracing an international outlook for the second half of 2015. Major exhibitions will explore aspects of Western European and Indian culture, and even outer space. The British Museum's Celts (24 September 2015 - 31 January 2016) will explore the history of Celtic art in Britain, Ireland and Western Europe and look at how "Celtic" has been used to define identities that were neither Roman nor Anglo-Saxon. The museum in Bloomsbury will feature examples of Celtic art from Scotland, Ireland and France, dating from Iron Age through to the Medieval period.

Going further afield, the V&A's Indian Season includes two major exhibitions. Fabric Of India (3 October 2015 - 10 January 2016) will be the first major exhibition to explore the dynamic and multifaceted world of handmade textiles from India from the 3rd to the 21st century. It will include more than 200 objects, including a stunning range of historic costume, highly prized textiles and fashion by contemporary Indian designers. Bejewelled Treasures: The Al Thani Collection (21 November 2015 - 28 March 2016), featuring spectacular objects from a private collection that explore the broad themes of tradition and modernity in Indian jewellery. Highlights will include pieces that reveal the dramatic changes that took place in Indian jewellery design during the early 20th century.

Going furthest of all will be the Science Museum's Cosmonauts: Birth Of A Space Age (from 18 September 2015), which will look at Russia's adventures in space in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1957 Russia launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik, into space and four years later sent the first human - Yuri Gagarin. This exhibition will feature the most significant collection of Russian spacecraft and artefacts ever shown in the UK while exploring the historical, cultural and spiritual context of Russian space travel.


Animals Explored


Another theme of London's 2015 exhibitions is animals, led by the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year (from 16 October 2015) at the Natural History Museum, which will celebrate the extraordinary work of talented photographers from around the globe while showcasing the beauty, magnificence and diversity of life on our planet. The British Library also features animals in a small free exhibition called Animal Tales (7 August - 1 November 2015), which will look at the way animals feature in literature from Aesop's Fables to Ted Hughes's Crow. This exhibition will ask why animals have come to play such an important role in literature for adults and children alike.


Individuals In Word And Image


London will also be celebrating some great humans. One of the year's biggest exhibitions is at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, where Samuel Pepys: Plague, Fire, Revolution (20 November 2015 - 28 March 2016) will examine the life of one of history's best-known Londoners, the diarist Samuel Pepys. One of the most colourful and appealing characters of the seventeenth-century and witness to the great events that shaped Stuart Britain, Pepys' diary covered a time of turmoil which saw kings fighting for their crowns, the devastation of medieval London by plague, fire and war and its resurrection as a world city. He was a naval mastermind, a gossip and socialite and a lover of music, theatre, fine living and women. Using the voice and personality of Samuel Pepys, the exhibition will explore and interpret the period from the execution of Charles I in 1649 to the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through 200 paintings and objects.

A less well known but just as fascinating figure will be explored by the V&A in Julia Margaret Cameron (28 November 2015 - 21 February 2016) which marks the bicentenary of the birth of one of the most important experimental photographers of the 19th century. The exhibition will present over 100 of Cameron's photographs as well as examine her relationship with the V&A's founding director, Sir Henry Cole, who presented the first museum exhibition of her work.

The work of a contemporary photographer will be displayed at the Science Museum. Gathered Leaves: Photographs By Alec Soth (from 6 October 2015) will be the first major UK exhibition of this award-winning American photographer, surveying a decade of his work and featuring his new series Songbook (2012-14), a chronicle of journeys across America and a search for human interaction in an era increasingly defined by virtual social networks.


New Permanent Galleries To Explore


Along with these temporary exhibitions, London's museums are also in a constant state of renewal and several new or refurbished galleries and spaces will be opened before the end of the year. Not all are for the public. At the Science Museum, the Dana Library And Research Centre will open in autumn to provide a world-class environment for academic research, bringing access to its library and archive collections. It's important to remember that museums are living places of academic research, and visitors to the centre will have access to a curated core collection of heavily-used academic and popular books and journals for the history, biography and social aspects of physical science, technology and medicine.

In the neighbouring Natural History Museum, a new Human Evolution Gallery will open from mid-October. This will use specimens and unrivalled scientific expertise to explain how Homo sapiens emerged from a family tree of different human species ranging back millions of years. Highlights will include the most scientifically accurate Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens models ever made, the Broken Hill skull which was the first early human fossil found in Africa, and the first adult female Neanderthal cranium ever discovered. Across the road, The V&A will be unveiling its new Europe 1600-1800 Gallery, featuring an unrivalled collection of 17th- and 18th-century European art and design. The displays will present 1,100 spectacular examples of textiles and fashion, painting and sculpture, ceramics and glass, furniture and metalwork, prints and books, including a number of important new acquisitions. On show will be some of the most magnificent works held by the V&A, many made by Europe's finest artists and craftsmen for the period's most discerning leaders of taste such as Louis XIV, Marie Antoinette, Catherine the Great and Napoleon.

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