On yet another gloomy winter day in London, where better to seek enlightenment than the British Museum, arguably the greatest museum on the planet… I know, I know, there’s the Louvre or the Met perhaps, or even the Hermitage or Smithsonian, but seriously, the British Museum has to have the most comprehensive world collection anywhere! The Great Courtyard is still massively impressive and, at two acres, remains the largest covered space in Europe, but perhaps that claim will fall after the UK withdraws from Europe in just a matter of weeks… oh god, now that’s depressing.
We specifically went to see The Benin Bronzes as the Museum has announced the return of these fabulous treasures to Nigeria, a century after the British looted the palace of Benin, along with hoards of African gold and other priceless artefacts, also beautifully presented in the same room. There are strings attached apparently (the timely completion of a new Royal Museum in Benin City for instance), but it’s a rare move by any standards and will no doubt send shockwaves around the world. Perhaps the Elgin Marbles will be next, returned to their rightful place at the Parthenon – but then when you think about it, adopting that policy would empty museums around the world of their treasures.
The Benin Bronzes (brass actually, but let’s not be picky) are made up of some 1000 metal plaques and intricately carved sculptures that date from around the 13thCentury! They adorned the walls of the Oba’s palace in Benin, now modern-day Nigeria, and by all accounts, an incredibly rich and opulent empire that shocked the early Portuguese and Dutch traders with its sophisticated ancient culture, impressive architecture and vast wealth – a real enlightenment and gloom-lifter.
Earlier in the day we popped into the National Portrait Gallery to see an old friend, John Minton. Well, I say old friend, as he certainly feels like one. Mr Minton has long gone but he’s one of the anchor characters in Anthony’s TV Drama Series that he’s writing called ‘Dance Till The Stars Come Down’, a riotous account of a group of bohemian artists in post-war London. The setting for the drama is Soho, and specifically in and around Dean Street, so where better to nip in for a swift half than The French House, just steps away from the infamous (sadly now gone) Colony Room where Minton, the Two Roberts, Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and Dylan Thomas all cavorted. I wonder what they’d all make of Brexit.
We stumbled out of the museum into the darkness of mid-afternoon and rummaged around Covent Garden and the spangled Christmas lights of Seven Dials. Just lovely!