London 2014: Major Museums

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Wedding Dresses: 1775-2014
Turner And The Sea
Vikings: Life and Legend


London's major museums had another spectacular year in 2013, thanks to the British Museum's stunning Pompeii exhibition and the groundbreaking David Bowie Is at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Both museums will hope to trump that in 2014, with what promises to be another great year for London's big museums - which between them attract around 20 million visitors each year. Here Peter Watts explores what 2014 has to offer.

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British Museum

Vikings: Life and Legend - Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum

Vikings: Life and Legend

Copyright of The Trustees of the British Museum


Top of the tree - and the most popular attraction in the entire country - is the British Museum, which beat its visitor record in 2013 with 6.7 million patrons. This national institution occupies a huge site in Bloomsbury but is about to expand still further. A new dedicated exhibition space, the Sainsburys Exhibitions Gallery, opens in March with its debut exhibition, Vikings: Life And Legend (6th March - 22nd June 2014). This huge exhibition will re-examine the story of the Vikings in a global context, featuring weapons and treasures as well as the surviving timbers of a 37-metre Viking warship.

Mummies will be the focus of Ancient Lives: New Encounters With Egypt And Sudan (3rd May - 28th November 2014), which will use the latest technology to examine eight mummies - the oldest from 3500 BC - to see what we can learn about how these individuals lived and died.

The British Museum also holds smaller free exhibitions, such as Germany Divided: Baselitz And His Generation (6th February - 31st August 2014), featuring 90 prints and drawings from post-war Germany, and will also present a major redisplay of one room focusing on Sutton Hoo and Europe AD 300-1100 (opens 27th March 2014) telling the story of a formative period in Europe's history and including many of the treasures from the extraordinary Sutton Hoo archaeological site.


Natural History Museum & Science Museum

Large Hadron Collider

Large Hadron Collider


While the British Museum is London's undoubted star, the three wise men of South Kensington also pull in plenty of visitors. The Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V&A Museum are a trio of vital venues that sit side-by-side along Exhibition Road and attract between them some 11 million visitors per year to see their outstanding permanent collections.

Of the three, the Natural History Museum attracts the most tourists with around 5 million visitors itching to see a world-class selection of items from the natural world, including its famous diplodocus skeleton and lifesize model of a blue whale. On top of this, in February it will hold Britain: One Million Years of Human Story (13th February - 28th September 2014), an exhibition devoted to the prehistory of human life in the UK that will feature marvels like the oldest known Neanderthal remains in Britain and the oldest wooden spear in the entire world. The museum's breathtaking annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition will also run until 23rd March.

The neighbouring Science Museum houses thousands of extraordinary inventions, covering everything from the steam engines to space rockets. For the first quarter of this year, its Collider (until April 2014) exhibition will also be running, a fascinating recreation of the pioneering work done by the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. There is also a regular programme of events.


V&A and The Barbican

Wedding Dresses: 1775-2014 - (C) Victoria and Albert Museum

Wedding Dresses: 1775-2014

(C) Victoria and Albert Museum


The V&A is one of the world's greatest museums dedicated to fashion, art and design, but takes such an all-compassing approach to those disciplines it was last year able to host a stunning exhibition dedicated to pop star David Bowie. Selling out almost every day, the exhibition helped the V&A attract 20% more visitors in 2013 than in 2012. Looking to 2014, William Kent: Designing Georgian Britain (22nd March - 13th July 2013) promises to be an eye-opening look at a man who led the 18th-century in architecture, landscape gardening, furniture, sculpture and illustration.

The big draw for the first half of the year is The Glamour Of Italian Fashion: 1945-2014 (5th April - 27th July 2014). This major exhibition will look at the way the Italian fashion houses have transformed how the world has looked, dressing many of the biggest stars of every era. It will feature famous designs by Gucci, Armani, Prada, Versace and dresses worn by Audrey Hepburn and Elizabeth Taylor. Also covering fashion will be Wedding Dresses: 1775-2014 (3rd May 2014 - 15th March 2015) looking at the evolution of the wedding dress and its treatment by leading designers.

Fashion fans should also head to the Barbican Gallery to check out The Fashion World Of Jean Paul Gaultier: From Sidewalk To Catwalk (9th April - 17th August 2014), a look at the maverick French designers remarkable creations. Finally back at the V&A, and on a very different theme, comes the engaging A World To Win: Posters Of Protest And Revolution (1st May - 2nd November 2014), which shows how protest movements from the Suffragettes to Occupy have used poster art to raise awareness of their cause.


British Library & National Maritime Museum

Turner And The Sea - Image courtesy of the National Maritime Museum

Turner And The Sea

Image courtesy of the National Maritime Museum


Also looking at graphic art, albeit it in a different context, is Comics Unmasked: Art And Anarchy In The UK (2nd May - 19th August 2014) at the British Library, which will examine the huge influence Britain has had on the world of comics and graphic novels, from Victorian origins to modern storytellers such as Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. The British Library will also hold a small free exhibition, Beautiful Science (20th February - 26th May 2014), that looks at how scientists visualise information, from cutting-edge NASA date to John Snow's Victorian map plotting incidences of cholera in 19th-century Soho.

London's final major museum is the National Maritime Museum, housed in a stunning building designed by Sir Christopher Wren facing the river in Greenwich. The National Maritime Museum's collection of historic naval artefacts is unsurpassed and they also use their space wisely with superb temporary exhibitions. Highly recommended is Turner And The Sea (until 21st April 2014), examining JMW Turner's lifelong fascination with the sea. The museum will also hold a small exhibition, Guiding Lights: 500 Years Of Trinity House And Safety At Sea (April 2014 - February 2015), that looks at the long history of the company that safeguards lighthouses, buoys and beacons, preventing innumerable shipwrecks during its 500-year existence.



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