London 2014: Small Museums

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Spitting Image

Thatcher Cutting Up Britain (c) Spitting Image

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Spitting Image
Progress, The Foundling Museum
The Cheapside Hoard
Hatch, Match and Despatch, The Fan Museum


Many of 2014's most intriguing exhibitions will take place at London's smaller museums, says Peter Watts.

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Cartoons: From Spitting Image To William Hogarth

Spitting Image - Thatcher Cutting Up Britain (c) Spitting Image

Spitting Image

Thatcher Cutting Up Britain (c) Spitting Image


London can boast more museums than any other city in the world and while attention is often focused on the major museums, the city's smaller venues shouldn't be neglected. London's small museums are one of the city's collective wonders, a treasure trove curated by dedicated specialists who cover everything from cartoons to gardening.

Take the Cartoon Museum which sits in the shadow of the British Museum and offers a huge selection of original comic art and cartoons for fans of everybody from William Hogarth to Dennis The Menace. The Cartoon Museum will be showing Spitting Image (26th February - June 2014) to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the British satirical TV show. 

Between 1984 and 1996, Spitting Image used grotesque rubber puppets and voice actors such as Steve Coogan, Hugh Dennis, Harry Enfield and Rory Bremner to mock British politics and popular culture, and the Cartoon Museum's exhibition will feature cartoons, puppets, books and ephemera.



One of Britain's greatest cartoonist was William Hogarth, whose satirical drawings delighted the public of the 18th-century. Hogarth helped fund the Foundling Hospital, an orphanage near King's Cross for London's unwanted children, which has since become the Foundling Museum. The museum explores the history of the orphanage as well as the role of sponsors such as Hogarth and composer George Frederic Handel. Both Handel and Hogarth are celebrated in exhibitions in 2014. By George! Handel's Music For Royal Occasions (7th February - 18th May) recalls music by Handel used by the monarchy - Zadok The Priest has been performed at every coronation since 1727.

It is followed by Progress (6th June - 7th September), which marks the 250th anniversary of Hogarth's death by bringing together three contemporary works by David Hockney, Yinka Shonibare and Grayson Perry inspired by Hogarth's wicked A Rake's Progress.

Handel also has a dedicated museum, the Handel House Museum in Mayfair. Their 2014 exhibition is She Was Despised: Handel and Susannah Cibber (25th February - 28th September) about a scandal-speckled singer and actress in 18th-century London.


Buildings, Gold And Darwin's Egg

Progress, The Foundling Museum

Progress, The Foundling Museum


A short stroll across London in Lincoln's Inn Fields is Sir John Soane's Museum, created by Hogarth's near contemporary John Soane, an architect who filled his home with antiquities from all over the world and then opened it to the public. Sir John Soane's Museum is like a haphazardly arranged miniature British Museum, a real treat for lovers of art, history and architecture.

Its big exhibition for 2014 is 1814 Celebrating Peace: Regency England And The First Summer Of Love (20th June - 13th September), examining the outpouring of joy at the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars between England and France, and the impact Paris had on British travellers who were suddenly free to explore the French capital.

Fans of architecture will be pleased to learn that the Royal Institute of British Architects will open a dedicated gallery in 2014. Their first exhibition is The Brits Who Built The Modern World (February - May 2014), covering the impact of British architects.


The Cheapside Hoard - Image courtesy of Museum of London

The Cheapside Hoard

Image courtesy of Museum of London


One of Soane's architectural projects was the Bank of England on Threadneedle Street, and that great institution has its own excellent museum. The Bank Of England Museum is closing for refurbishment at the start of the year, but reopens with Curiosities From The Vaults (1st April 1 - July 2014), drawing on some of the weirder items in the Bank's archives, such as Lawrence of Arabia's camel's sandbags, which were used to carry gold across the Arabian desert.

Gold will also be on display at the Museum Of London, where their ongoing exhibition The Cheapside Hoard: London's Lost Jewels (until 27th April 2014) presents the entirety of the Cheapside Hoard, a lavish collection of jewellery buried in the 16th century and discovered in 1912.

Historical oddities will be a feature of Two Temple Place. This remarkable, lavish building is only open for a few months each year when it holds an annual exhibition, focused round objects loaned from museums outside London. Discoveries (31st January - 27th April 2014) will feature items from the eight museums that belong to the Museum of Cambridge, covering everything from rare zoological marvels to international works of arts. A highlight will be Charles Darwin's Tinamou Egg, the only surviving egg from the HMS Beagle voyage, accidentally cracked by Darwin himself.


Music, Fashion, Fans And Gardens

Hatch, Match and Despatch, The Fan Museum - The Marriage of the Dauphin French, c. 1770 The Fan Museum, HA Collection

Hatch, Match and Despatch, The Fan Museum

The Marriage of the Dauphin French, c. 1770 The Fan Museum, HA Collection


Science will feature strongly at the Horniman Museum in the south London, which has a wonderful natural history collection, as well as a small aquarium and gorgeous gardens. Extremes (15th February - 2nd November 2014) will show how animals and plants survive in extreme conditions and the Horniman will also open a new gallery, At Home With Music (end of January 2014), which brings together highlights of the keyboard instrument collections from the Horniman and the V&A, including a portable piano like the one Captain Scott took with him to the Antarctic in 1901.

Over in Bethnal Green, the V&A's Museum of Childhood's has Daydreams And Diaries: The Story Of Jacqueline Wilson (5th April - 2nd November). Jacqueline Wilson, writer of The Story Of Tracy Beaker, is one of the world's best-selling children's authors and this exhibition will investigate her childhood and early career, while finding out what inspires her to write.

At the Fashion and Textile Museum near London Bridge, Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol (31st January - 17th May 2014), will show 200 textiles featuring artists such as Braque, Miro and Picasso. Further downriver in Greenwich, at one of London's most quintessentially British small museums, the Fan Museum will have two exhibitions for the first half of 2014 - Hatch, Match, Despatch (11th January - 1st June 2014) and Seduced: Fans And The Art Of Advertisting (6th June - 28th September).

Finally, if you are a fan of gardening, don't miss the Garden Museum, housed in an old church in Lambeth. Their A History Of Gardening In 100 Objects (19th May - 30th August 2014) has been curated by celebrity gardener Alan Titchmarsh while Fashion & Gardens: Spring/Summer - Autumn/Winter (7th February - 27th April 2014) looks at the relationship between fashion and gardening.



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