Spotlight on… The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. Breaking away from the London-centric focus of this blog, largely due to my inability not to write about digitally reworked paintings depicting their sitters with now ubiquitous Covid-19 face masks, but more on that later! It houses an encyclopaedic collection of over half a million objects spanning the ancient world, paintings, drawings and prints, applied arts, coins, medals, manuscripts and books. Typically offering free entry to the public, but temporarily closed due to the pandemic, the museum has made an original and cogent contribution to digital museum offerings. In April they launched their Look, Think, Do virtual family activities, utilising objects from their collection including a coffin lid of Ramases III from 12th century BC Egypt, a Mosque Lamp from Damascus circa 1355 and an engraved printed plate titled ‘American Flamingo’ produced between 1827-30. May saw them announce The Fitz Stitch seeking 45 craft volunteers to contribute squares to a quilt which will be hung in the Courtyard Entrance by the end of September 2020, all pieces will be linked to the collection but in as abstract or literal a representation as participants would like. Building on their already successful Dancing in Museums initiative working with older people in isolation, they have addressed wellbeing and released seven films which all begin with a guided relaxation followed by an exploration of a painting by Monet, Sisley, Alma-Tadema or Renoir amongst others. Last week they also announced ‘Masterpieces 2020’ where renowned paintings have been digitally altered and released as greetings cards reflecting the current circumstances; Belgian artist Alfred Stevens ‘La Liseuse’ shows his subject wearing a delicate lace face mask whilst reading her book, pre-Raphaelite artist John Everett Millais’ ‘The Bridesmaid’ features an added yellow silk face mask matching her dress, Renaissance master Titian’s ‘Venus and Cupid with a lute-player’ shows all three figures wearing face masks not just the reclining nude, and Dutch artist Jan van Meyer’s ‘The Daughters’ depicts the four girls each with a unique face mask matching their dresses. Though the grand neo-classical building and collection may have a traditional reputation, these virtual offerings highlight their progressive and dynamic capacity.
Museum of Applied Arts: Budapest
Whilst googling, flipping through various guidebooks, websites and tourist information portals ahead of my festive trip to Budapest, the Museum of Applied Arts (and more specifically its stunning glass-roofed main hall) constantly stood out. Constructed in the 1890’s as a masterpiece of Hungarian art nouveau the building was purpose built to display and promote the country’s crafts and skills in an optimum setting; mixing eastern oriental influences with western vernacular architecture, alongside traditional Hungarian green and yellow ornamental tiling, and a huge exterior dome. Having walked along the river Danube, I approached the museum from the rear and was initially fearful that all my preparatory reading had been in vain and it had closed down! From the exterior the museum looked forlorn and almost derelict, and although its’ appearance improved a little at the main entrance it was far from the show-piece I was expecting. Once inside, the double-floor oriental arcade and glass-roofed hall charm, and the permanent collection of gold and silverware, aristocratic clothing, costume jewellery, furniture, ceramics, artworks and weapons are pleasant but not especially memorable. The two temporary exhibitions ‘Breuer – at Home Again’ and ‘In the Mood for Colours’ feel very modern, fresh and almost out of place in an otherwise tired and dated museum. The Breuer comprising strong examples of the Hungarian architect and furniture designers’ creations, and the Colour exhibition cleverly playing with perception by arranging the collection by dominant colour rather than historic period or style. The show is also accompanied by the ColourMirror project, an interactive installation which digitally reflects visitors’ clothes matching them to an object within the museum collection – which certainly engaged me on a search to find my ‘match’ within the collection! Despite a saddening lack of investment, it was heartening to see plans for refurbishment and redevelopment and I hope it is reformed into the grand building it once was.
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