Category Archives: British Museum

Hokusai ‘Beyond the Great Wave’ at the British Museum

Beyond the Great Wave

A wonderful exhibition of Hokusai’s work, all the better for having seen the excellent documentary  ‘Hokusai from the British Museum’ beforehand. It was shown both at the British Museum and at a selection of cinemas as well as on BBC4 where it can be seen on iPlayer.

During his lifetime, Hokusai (1760-1849) adopted upwards of 20 different names. He adopted this last one – Hokusai – when he was 70, meaning ‘Old Man Crazy to Paint.’

Nichiren and Shichimen daimyojin

The exhibition shows his work from his old age and we are amazed at the quality of the line and colour. Before that, most of his work was reproduced as woodcuts and a video shows the consummate skill with which the finest of lines are carved. I particularly liked ‘The Gamecock and Hen’ painted 1826-1834.

And loved this gem showing his signature dragon as well as the deity Nichiren.

Cushions and other artefacts based on Hokusai prints

He made hundreds of little drawings – manga then meaning ‘random’, which show his wicked sense of humour.

Always a selection of interesting artefacts related to the current exhibition in the Grenville Room, the more exclusive shop on the right near the main entrance.
Josh found this Toilet Bowl Cleaner while surfing the web. Hokusai seemed to have been such a jokey person – I think he would have appreciated the humour!! Certainly, some of his drawings were quite racy.

If you can’t get to the British Museum, do watch the film ‘Hokusai from the British Museum’ on iPlayer.


The Great Court opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000
The Great Court opened by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000

Not free, but very good value at £12, the British Museum runs 90 minute Highlight Tours of some of the most well-known of its millions of artefacts from all over the world including the Rosetta Stone, the Lewis Chessmen, the enormous Easter Island basalt statue known as Hoa Hakanai’a, the fabulous human-headed winged bulls from Assyria and much more.

Kind Ramesses II about 1279-1213 BC
Kind Ramesses II about 1279-1213 BC

For me, the British Museum has above all been about the wonderful sculptures and wall paintings from ancient Egypt – though as a child the mummies in their sarcophagi used to terrify me. The Pharaohs may have been cruel and incestuous and probably quite ugly to boot,  but their statues and masks  speak of a transcendent serenity.

‘Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio:’ (Hamlet Act 5 Scene 1)

Peyote Beaded Skulls
Peyote Beaded Skulls

No – Benedict Cumberbatch didn’t find one of these Peyote Beaded Skulls from the British Museum in the grave in the brilliant production of Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner. He picked up a facsimile of a real human skull.

HamletI wasn’t sure I wanted to see the film of the Barbican production but it was on at the local Curzon and Jane had come over for the weekend.

I was used to a Hamlet who declaimed.  I came from a generation that had seen Shakespeare performed by great Shakespearian actors like  Laurence Olivier, Ralph Richardson and Margaret Leighton – powerful but very traditional and mannered. This production was completely different, timeless but in the present and utterly convincing. A friend has seen the film of Hamlet twice and if it’s shown again I will too.

And don’t fall into the trap of misquoting Hamlet. He did not say ‘Alas poor Yorick I knew him well’!!

Isnik Distortion

V&A Scarf

Years ago went to a fascinating course at the V&A where we took photos of objects from their permanent collection, transferred them to a computer, distorted them and printed the design onto fabric.

I have always loved the Isnik designs originating from the Ottoman Empire. Too accident prone to indulge in the real thing, I have a collection of British Museum artefacts – cups and dishes – from their exhibition of Isnik Art, as well as the wonderful catalogue that accompanied it.

Catalogues from art exhibitions are so irresistible!!

The Greville Room at the British Museum

Museum Artefacts
Museum Artefacts

The goodies in the museum’s big shops are for the hoi polloi – like you and me; those in the Greville Room are for the more discerning and the wealthier visitors.

Not sure any of those on this front table would be to my taste but there are some delicious smaller artefacts in the glass cases around the edges – beautifully carved wooden Netsuke, glass vases and beaded skulls – as well as Isnik ware, jackets and scarves – and much more.

The Colonade at the British Museum.

Ionic Capitals at the British Museum
Ionic Capitals at the British Museum

Always find it difficult to remember which capital is which – Doric, Ionic or Corinthian and have to look it up in every time in Wikipedia. Here there are Ionic capitals on the fluted columns and a coffered ceiling.

I tried to Photoshop out the figure in a green t-shirt on the left but then decided it gives an impressions of scale – well that’s my shory anyway!!

Grumpy Lion

The Lion of Knidos
The Lion of Knidos About 350 BC

He’s allowed to be a bit grumpy –  the Great Court at the British Museum is a bit of a  comedown. The Lion of Knidos originally sat on a headland in Asia Minor (now Turkey)  facing the sea. Reflections from the coloured glass set in his eyes – now lost – may have been an aid to sailors navigating the treacherous coast.

He weighs about 6 tons and was carved from one piece of marble as a funerary ornament.

The hanging poster advertises A Night in the Museum.maybe try it when the family come to stay.

Serenity at the British Museum

Amenhotep 111 About 1350 BC
Amenhotep 111 About 1350 BC

The ancient Egyptian sculptors were wonderful at this sort of transcendent beauty.  According to the British Museum info, the original statue was between 7.5 and 8m tall, and stood on the West Bank of the Nile at Thebes.. You can see this fabulous head in the Great Court.

It’s a Fake

Not what it seems
Not what it seems

It looks like a London telephone box but it’s a British Museum construct, full of biscuits and sweets. Quite the best museum shop with a wide variety of artefacts relating to their excellent exhibitions. The signage in their exhibitions is always clear and legible. You don’t have to get close and peer at the labels, which are always situated near the exhibit – unlike the museums where you have to search around to find them and then can’t decide which title belongs to which!!.