Frieze Art Fair - Haegue Yang

A stroll Around London’s Frieze Art Fair 2016

London hosts a large number of art fairs in October but the daddy of them all is Frieze where the world’s top galleries gather in a huge marquee in Regent’s Park to show off their best wares.

I go each year with a friend who lectures in Fine Art so I get the best low down on what we are seeing. You can discover new artists but also find new work from established favourites.  Continue reading

Fire! Fire! exhibition at Museum of London

Fire! Fire! Explore the 5 Days in 1666 When London Burned Down

350 years ago London was devastated by the The Great Fire of London. Fires were commonplace in London as the city was full of wooden buildings on narrow streets,  but this one was a disaster of major proportions when 13,200 houses and 87 churches were destroyed and around 100,000 people were made homeless.

The Museum of London has a great exhibition called Fire! Fire! which takes you through the 5 days of the fire and its aftermath through quotes from those caught up in the fire, original objects, paintings, interactive displays, films and original illustrations, all with the sounds of fire in the background. Continue reading

Check out 90 years of the Queen’s style at Buckingham Palace

Where ever the Queen goes she is always a focus of attention, so whatever she wears is going to be talked about; remember the fuss over her rather bright green outfit at this year’s Trooping the Colour?  When you visit Buckingham Palace this year, you can enjoy their special exhibition which traces her fashion choices during the 90 years of her life. 

Buckingham Palace, one of the great symbols of London, is open to the public each summer when the Queen goes to Scotland for her holidays. You can explore the many state rooms with their sumptuous decor, furnishings and works of art and learn about the history of this grand building.  Each year they put on a special exhibition and this year’s is called: Fashioning a Reign:90 Years of Style from The Queen’s Wardrobe, and I’m going to give you a peek inside!. 

We see her how her outfits have changed over the years to reflect fashion and the first room you visit has a piece from each of her decades including matching outfits that the Queen and her younger sister wore to the coronation of George Vl,  a dress worn when she met Marilyn Monroe (or rather the other way round!) and culminating in the wonderful pink dress worn for the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony and the film of her greeting James Bond and ‘jumping’ out of the helicopter.  This last dress illustrates the level of planning involved in working on the Queen’s wardrobe as the video was made in March so the outfit had to be agreed back then for the event taking place at the end of July. What a memorable moment from London 2012. A second dress was made for the stunt jumper but we are assured this is the one worn by the Queen.

** Dresses and coronets  worm by the Queen and Princess Margaret to their father’s coronation 1937

** A Norman Hartnell dress for the 1956 film premier with Marilyn Monroe

The ‘Olympics’ dress of 2012 by Angela Kelly  

In her younger years we would often see the Queen on horseback, riding side saddle in stylish military outfits, cut away from the waist to accommodate this strange riding position. She was the first female monarch to serve in the forces when in 1945 she served in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Army) and we can see her own uniform. It’s hard to imagine Her Majesty doing car maintenance but those were tough times for the country and she wanted to do her bit. 

Queen’s ATS battle dress

We see her wonderfully tailored jackets, one of which has a flexible beret which gives the option to change the plumage to reflect the regiment she was representing or inspecting. 

The Queen has kept faith with a few top couture designers, namely Normal Hartnell and Hardy Amies and has added Stewart Parvin and Angela Kelly among others . Her unswerving support for British fashion has helped promote London’s place as a world fashion capital. This has included a small coterie of hat designers and a gallery of hats showcases a few of these. 

The famous Hartnell wedding dress from 1947 is on display with its 9 foot veil and shoes. It was a triumph as it needed to fit this historic occasion and yet Britain was still subject to rationing so care had to be taken to not overplay the luxury element – he succeeded! The theme was renewal in the post war period so springtime flowers can be seen in the embroidery. 

A wedding dress fit for a Queen

By the time of the coronation in 1953 Hartnell had a freer hand and his design looked back at the wedding dress but features much more elaborate embroidery with symbols of the 4 UK nations and the Dominion nations  The Queen was closely involved in its design and had considerable input through series of 8 reworked sketches. 

The coronation dress

Embroidery detail from the wedding dress

The Queen has many roles: head of state, head of the armed forces, head of the chivalry orders as well as a member of a family with lots of events and need outfits for each of these. Those worn on her state visits were really interesting as we saw how symbols of the country being visited were incorporated into day and evening wear. 

In this photo we can see a pink cherry blossom decorated dress worn to China next to a blue and cream dress with maple leaves along the colour join for a visit to Canada, and the yellow dress was worn to Australia giving a nod to their national colour. 

This dress was for Her Majesty’s visit to the Olypmics in Montreal in 1976 so it incorporates the Olympic rings. 

What I really liked about this section was the chance to see the dress on the mannequin alongside a photo of the Queen wearing the dress during the official visit. Firstly you can see the outfit Her Majesty wore to Saudi Arabia in 1979, being sure to cover up to respect Saudi customs. 

Here the dress for the visit to Nigeria in 1956 features a neckline which echoes African tribal necklaces. 

And finally on our mini tour of the exhibition, the green outfit Her Majesty wore for the 2016 Trooping The Colour. It was not nearly as bright as it appeared on the TV. The Queen wears bright colours so that people can see her in a crowd, especially as she is quite short (just 5ft 4in) but this year’s green must have been the brightest yet – not bad for a 90 year old. 

2016 by Stewart Parvin 

One more photo I couldn’t resist showing you because it shows the Queen during various ages, always smiling and waving to the crowds who have come out to see her as she wants to make their day. 

There is a lot more to see in the full exhibition and of course there are the wonderful rooms of the Palace to enjoy.  Don’t miss the cafe for good snacks and the shop ‘where the corgis hang out’ (!) and the wonderful gardens on the way to the exit. 

For more information about visiting Buckingham Palace and Fashioning a Reign, visit their website.

Photo credits: starred photos (**) are courtesy of Elizabth Hawksley for which many thanks


Take a trip into space at London’s National Maritime Museum!

Our famous astronaut Tim Peake may be back from space now, but you can take a trip there anytime at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich.  Their exhibition Above and Beyond has lots of fun interactivity and is definitely one to put on the list for the school holidays. 

The posters as you approach are very cool and the enormous sign as you enter really makes you think – could humans be setting foot on Mars in the lifetime of our children? 

Before I ventured into space, I had a lot of fun flying with birds. It’s hard to describe this interactive experience but you stand on a spot in front of the screen and you are linked to a bird on the screen, flying across a landscape.  You stand with your arms out like wings and if you don’t move them properly the bird will crash – well it goes red for danger and you need to move sharpish to get it back on track. I found it quite compulsive and loved the scenery too. It’s best if you have a small group or family as you can fill up all the spots and ‘fly’ together. It also taught us why birds fly in a V formation as there are nuggets of education built into every section but without being too obvious. 

  Hopefully these photos will help give you a better idea of how it works:

Lots of educational info 

Looks like a skier!

Here we are flying along 

I didn’t swoop properly  – that’s me in red on the left – oops 

Oh dear, my fellow flyers aren’t keeping up either! Great view tho’..

There are lots of educational points thrown in where we see women scientist on screens, making it more inclusive and inspiring for girls visiting.  We even had a girl mini astronaut visiting with when we were there! 

She looks ready for space

I loved the Space Elevator which takes you up tin just a few seconds to way beyond the earth. Join me on my journey:

Take off bay

Going up 

Heading out 

10,000 miles from earth…

Now we are in space

You can design your own full throttle jet and then test fly it through a tricky obstacle course, which I have to admit I was really bad at!  You can see the planes of the future, hear how scientists are pushing the boundaries. There is so much to enjoy and make you think.  How about seeing the world’s lightest metal?  It’s 100 times lighter than Styrofoam and yet is incredibly strong so could change how we build cars, airplanes and even homes.  How about the incredible shrinking satellite where you can see how these once sizeable pieces of metal is now something you could easily carry in your hand.. 

Sit here to test out jet you have designed!

I should have mentioned the shop earlier as they do have great things for sale but the best bit for me was having my photo taken as an astronaut!  This goes well with my Mars passport from inside the exhibition. 

Ready for take off!

See you on Mars! 
Isn’t this a great T-shirt!

So, with the school holidays upon us, it’s well worth taking your family to Greenwich as there is so much to see and do there.  There’s the Cutty Sark and the Greenwich Meridian and the Royal Observatory as well as the National Maritime Museum which has more than just this one exhibition.  It’s a full day out and great fun if you take the Thames Clipper there to enjoy see the Thames all the way from central London. 

Check out  these great places to visit in Greenwich
Bye for now

What’s On in London Summer 2016


Here’s your Summer 2016 newsletter giving you a taster of the exciting events coming up in the next 3 months in our capital. If you want to hear more about anything listed (or other things you’ve heard about) send me an email ( and I’ll get right back to you.
Have a look a Sue’s blog on the website ( to read about what I’ve been up to lately – a peek into life in London. I’m also on Twitter at @itsyourlondon so do join my 3900 followers for the latest news!
Hope you enjoy your newsletter; let me know what you think!
Best wishes,
Sue Hillman


·       July The Proms season begins for the 122nd time and there are over 90 varied and magnificent concerts over 8 weeks making this the world’s greatest classical music festival. Held in the Royal Albert Hall, big names and old favourite pieces feature alongside new commissions and lesser known work. Highlights include a Strictly Come Dancing Prom, Bryn Terfel in Boris Godunov, a night of gospel singing, a celebration of Latin American music for the Rio Olympics and Quincy Jones reviewing his career including collaborations with Miles Davis and Michael Jackson.
·       August. The Notting Hill Carnival is a huge event, the largest street party in Europe. There is a massive parade of music and costumes, sounds stages blasting out everything from reggae to rock and roll, all kinds of great street food, dancing in the streets and tons of fun to be had over the 2 days when millions of people come to Notting Hill for a great time.
·       September The Mayor’s Thames Festival, Totally Thames, brings the river alive for the whole month, we are expecting the river to be buzzing again this year and the riverside restaurants will be joining in with special menus and events.  London Fashion Week takes over the fashion and shopping world across London and the Weekend is open to the public.


  • July   Breakfast at Tiffany’s opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket with Pixie Lott in the role of Holly Golightly made so famous by Audrey Hepburn.  After a long preview period, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 & 2 opens for real at the Palace Theatre, although tickets are impossible to find. Into The Woods and the Menier Chocolate Factory is not the usual version with ’10 actors, one piano and boundless imagination’! The Trial of Jane Fonda at the Park Theatre imagines what happened when Jane met US soldiers who served in the Vietnam War confronting her about her visits to North Vietnam when she was named ‘Hanoi Jane. Staring Anne Archer as Jane. Through The Mill at the Southwark Playhouse looks at the life of Judy Garland through the filming of the Judy Garland show in 1963. Jesus Christ Superstar comes to the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre 45 years since it first opened.
  • August Yerma comes to the Young Vic starring Billie Piper in this emotional role.  By contrast the Old Vic brings us Groundhog Day, the musical by Tim Minchin based on the famous much loved film.  Kenneth Branagh’s season at the Garrick Theatre when he takes on the role so famously associated with Laurence Olivier in The Entertainer.
  • September Much excitement about the opening of  Pinter’s No Man’s Land at the Wyndham starring Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, set in a Hampstead pub where 2 older writers compare stories. The Royal Court’s A Father Comes Home from the War parts 1, 2 & 3 looks interesting, set in the American Civil War it is the story of a slave’s dilemmas. The Libertine starring Dominic Cooper has had a long build up at the Theatre Royal Haymarket due to its star and its racy tale based on a true story.  As the evenings get cooler the indoor option of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe is attractive with its offering of the Two Gentlemen of Verona. For hardier fold Pride and Prejudice is on at the Regent’s Park Open Air theatre.

  • July The buzz in the art world is still the new Tate Modern extension which opened mid June and their new show is Georgia O’Keeffe, the largest retrospective shown outside the USA with over 100 works by this pioneer of 20th century art. At the National Portrait Gallery a new show of work by William Eggleston, an influential American photographer whose exhibition in 1976 led to photography being recognised as a contemporary art form! David Hockney’s 82 Portraits and 1 Still Life opens at the Royal Academy, each work features someone from his life, in the same chair, is the same size and has the same background colour. A new public art installation at St Pancras station by Ron Arad is a monumental blade of shiny aluminium which slowly rotates – a must see!
  • August  Not many openings this month so don’t miss the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition closing this month – the world’s greatest open entry art show!  A film poster exhibition Summer Screen Prints at Somerset House looks fun, running alongside their outdoor film screenings in their magnificent courtyard, with each poster an original interpretation each of the films showing. Also at Somerset House are the World Illustration Awards, in their 40th year and rather under publicised I must say!
  • September Abstract Expressionism at the Royal Academy brings together some of the most celebrated arts from this period of American art including Pollock, Rothko and de Kooning alongside less well known figures including women who struggled to be seen at the time. The Tate Britain hosts the contenders for the annual Turner Prize, always stirring up some controversy in the art world.

  • July Don’t miss the bargains in London’s famous July sales where everyone from the High Street to Harrods slash their prices. Spitalfields Market has regular events including an Independent Label Market in July.
  • August Summer is the best time to visit London’s numerous street markets: Portobello, Columbia Road, Camden, Greenwich and many more. Any day of the week one of these great markets will be just the place to while away the summer and grab some unique purchases.
  • September  London Fashion Week is a chance to get ahead of the fashion curve with catwalk shows and splash out on some new clothes too, with collections  looking ahead to spring/summer 2016. This year it stays at the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road after a successful move last year.


  • July  A much awaiting exhibition at the Museum of London marks the anniversary of the Great Fire of London in 1666 with an interactive, immersive experience called Fire! Fire! Great for all ages but I guess particularly good for the school holidays. The Museum of London is also organising visits to Billingsgate Roman House and Baths, which are rarely open and this is a great chance to tour these remains under the buildings of London.
  • August  Few new openings in August but there is time to catch Exhibitionism at the Saatchi Gallery, the popular Rolling Stones show. Also worth a look are: Above and Beyond at the National Maritime Museum, a chance to explore space travel through fun interactive exhibits, At the British Museum the Sunken Cities is a fascinating exploration of ancient underwater cities, brought up to the surface for us to enjoy with films of how they were found on the sea bed.
  • September The Victoria and Albert Museum’s exhibition is called You Say You Want a Revolution: Records and Rebels 1966-70. The title say it all really, looking at the turbulent times of the late 60s, its revolutions, records, performances, activism alongside fashion, film and design.  Also at the V&A is the Opus Anglicanum: Masterpieces of English Medieval Embroidery, showcasing an art which England excelled at from the 12th to the 15th centuries. These ancient elaborate, luxury embroideries, with their exquisite craftsmanship, will be displayed alongside contemporary works to give them historical context.


  • July The Soho Food Festival returns with an array of top restaurants putting their wares out into the streets to create a great buzz and endless temptation and all in a good cause as it raises cash for a local primary school.   Lots of talk about Berber and Q Shawarma Bar in Exmouth Market – reinventing the kebab – looks worth a visit. Samarkand in Charlotte Street brings us Uzbeki cuisine with a lounge bar offering caviar and vodka. Calcutta Street, bringing Bengali home cooking and communal dining, sets up its first permanent residence in Fitzrovia. After 18 years in Barcelona, Sagardi set foots in London for the first time (and in the UK for the first time) with Basque cooking.
  •  August.  The BBC Good Food Festival returns to Hampton Court with top chefs doing demos, stalls, tastings and demonstrations all in the beautiful grounds of the Palace. Chicama on the Kings Road will bring us Peruvian style seafood. Butifarra is also Peruvian, serving street food – sandwiches, ceviches and watch out for some sweet afters!  Blanchette East is the new opening of the successful Soho place offering small French plates to the Shoreditch crowd. One Aldwych are getting excited about opening a new restaurant headed by Eneko Atxa, chef at 3 Michelin starred Azurmendi Bilbao, bringing rustic Basque cuisine (yes, Basque seems popular right now)
  •  September  Elystan Street is a new venue from the former chef of 2 Michelin starred The Square, Phil Howard. Anzu in St James Market is the new upmarket offering from the Tonkotsu folk. A favourite restaurant is Casse- Croute in Bermondsey and they are branching out just around the corner with Pique-Nique offering breakfast, lunch and rotisseries. Shaun Rankin moves into the Mayfair hotel Flemings with his Jersey heritage bringing modern British booking to a new restaurant called, you’ve guessed, Shaun Rankin at Flemings.  One more to look forward to is Margot from the former Maitre d’ at Bar Boulud, Paulo de Tarso, offering rustic Italian food.


  •  July The famous Flower Show takes over the grounds of Hampton Court for a wonderful weekend in a more relaxed atmosphere than the Chelsea equivalent and it’s much easier to get tickets too. Buckingham Palace starts its summer opening when the Queen goes on her holidays and she lets us look around her London home and be amazed by the huge room, amazing decorations, fabulous furniture and great paintings.   Hyde Park is home to great music as it Kew Gardens.
  • August  Clarence House, the official residence of Charles, the Prince of Wales and Camilla is also open to the public, but just for August as he has shorter holidays than the Queen! The BBC Good Food Festival comes to Hampton Court’s grounds to tempt you with all kinds of goodies and top chefs from Michel Roux to John Torode and Mr Bake Off Paul Hollywood and
  • September  The Last Night of the Proms is streamed live into Hyde Park so thousands can wave flags and sing their hearts out. Buckingham Palace is open to visitors for another month as the Queen is still on her holidays!  Kew Gardens host Write On Kew literary festival with interviews, readings and signings by top names such as Tracey Chevalier, Fay Weldon, Marian Keyes, Robert Harris and Alan Johnson and so many more.


  • July Wimbledon has moved on a week this year so July now has the second week of this great tournament and the hopes of the nations rest on Andy Murray.  In the cricket, England play one of the test series against Pakistan at Lords and there is plenty of county cricket matches at the Oval and Lords.  The annual Anniversary Games at the Olympic Stadium brings big names as usual in what will be a Rio Games warm up – Usain Bolt, Jess Ennis-Hill and David Weir are big draws but loads more stars will be there. Ride London is a massive cycling event for the public and elite competitors. 
  • August. All eyes will be on Rio for the Olympics this month. The 4th test match between England and Pakistan will be played at the Oval, County cricket will be in full flow at all the London grounds. The Premiership start in August, which always feels too early for the football season.
  • September  Eyes return to Rio for the Paralympic Games where Team GB will be looking for a good medal haul. The Tour of Britain wheels into London and we may see some of the Tour de France stars in town. The cricket season is ending as the Rugby Union Premiership gears up. For something beyond the usual sports, the WWE Wrestling takes over the 02 giving you a chance to see the ‘Superstars and Divas in action’!             


  • July  The festival season is in full flow with British Summer Time – full of the biggest names from legends such as Carole King to Stevie Wonder, Mumfords and Take That. Kew The Music which has one of the best settings for Gipsy Kings, Simply Red, and of course Jools Holland. Somerset House rivals Kew for setting and brings us a wide range of styles including Jack Savoretti, James Morrison and St Germain. Lovebox in Victoria Park brings us Major Lazer, George Clinton and Norman Jay MBE. Let’s not forget the nightly Proms season which kicks off in July and stretches through to September.
  • August  The festival South West Four on Clapham Common brings us the biggest names in dance music including Rudimental, Dizzee Rascal, Chemical Brothers and Armand van Helden. Prepare yourself for the Notting Hill Carnival – 2 days of very loud music to get us all up and dancing in the streets. Look out for Gaz’s Rocking Crew and the nearby dub reggae truck which are my favourites or get your ears blown off on All Saints Road!
  • September  The festivals are still with us as On Blackheath returns with a wide range of acts from Neneh Cherry, Roachford to Hot Chip and James or Squeeze or Edwyn Collins.  The wonderful Proms come to an end with a simulcast in Hyde Park but before then you can see a line up of Rick Astley, Frankie Valli, All Saints and the multi-talented Tim Minchin.  It’s retro time around London with concerts by Billy Joel at Wembley, Dave Gilmour from Pink Floyd at the Royal Albert Hall and Ronan Keating at the Apollo. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds headline at the Brixton Academy.

*All listings correct to the best of my knowledge but exact details should be checked with each venue. 

Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar, London

I’ve been wining and dining and even spa-ing in the County Hall Marriott Hotel for more years than I would like to mention so I was really looking forward to a return visit, especilally as I was here to try out the new menu at Gillray’s Steakhouse and Bar!  County Hall has a prime site next to the London Eye and across from the Houses of Parliament and fascinating history as the former home of the Greater London Council and its leader Ken Livingstone before it was abolished in 1983. 17 years later he become the first Mayor of London but a new City Hall was built by Tower Bridge so this magnificent building could be taken on by the Marriott group who luckily kept many of the original features such as the wood panelled corridors and bar. 

However, I was here for food and cocktails and so skipped up the less well know sneaky river front entrance and was soon above the madding crowds on this busy stretch of the Thames You feel miles away from the noise and the bustle below you as you enter the glamorous bar. 

London Eye and County Hall
River entrance to Gillray’s

The gorgeous bar

The restaurant and its bar are named after the famous 18th century caricaturist James Gillray who was the master of the political cartoon, acknowledging the building’s political history.  You can enjoy his prints along the walls as well as more contemporary cartoons from the era of Margaret Thatcher in the restrooms – well they are in the Ladies, I cannot speak for the gents!.  

We started our visit with a refreshing cocktail from the excellent list . They use home infused gin to create unique drinks and Gillray’s are proud to part of the current gin revival, stocking a wide range of familiar and new gins, Sam Mitchell, the Head Bartender chose a strongly Gillray referenced cocktail for us called Drawing Out A Batch of New Kings after his famous cartoon. Our cocktail however was rum based, a fresh and easy to quaff mix of homemade bacardi carta blanca spiced rum, lime juice, orgeat syrup, passion fruit and mint leaves. 

How fresh does this look?

Moving through to the wonderfully open, light restaurant with more great views we settled down to test out their good looking menu. As there was a group of us, we were able to try out a range of starters from juicy scallps to the hearty terrine and the healthy deep green pea soup. My favourite was the watermelon with goat cheese and pistachio for its fresh, clean taste of the melon against the tart goat cheese.

                                                               The dining room 

Pea soup and goat curd

Goat cheese, watermelon and pistachio 

Quinoa and chicken salad with courgette
Scallops, apple, vanilla and dates

Chicken liver parfait, pear and gingerbread
Confit salmon, fennel, pollen, dill and beetroot

Old spot pork terrine and piccalilli 

Given a choice of main courses, it had to be rump steak and triple cooked chips and a wonderfully soft and generous sized steak appeared with Bearnaise sauce and portobello mushroom with heritage tomatoes.  No one stepped up to the 1 kilo Bull’s Head steak as it seemed a challenge too far!  I asked for the cooking to be medium rare and it turned up just a fraction too rare for me so I asked if they could cook it just a little more and without any fuss, they whisked it away and returned very shortly with a new mushroom and the steak ‘s cooking perfectly adjusted. Excellent service.  

Jiuicy steak, sauce and mushroom 

Large, crispy chips 

Was there some space for dessert? Of course there was!  Luckily as we were a small group, we could, again, taste a range of options and here they are. My favourite by far was their unique take on a sherry trifle. The multilayered trifle arrives in a jar with an accompanying glass of sherry.  Using the long spoon you make a space down the side of the jar and ‘just add sherry’.  It was very creamy and luxurious and got top marks for taste and presentation. 

Rather special chocolate bombe and raspberry sauce

Beautifully served sorbets

Gillray’s sherry trifle 
Gillray’s sherry trifle 

Although I was sorely tempted I could not return to the bar after lunch to taste more of their inventive cocktails and anyway,  I was rather full by then so I waddled off home!

If you want to read more about James Gillray here’s a link.

Bye for now. 

Full disclosure: as is usual for these events, my food and beverages were paid for by Gillray’s, however the views expressed are all my own. 

The new Tate Modern opens in London

I’ve been watching the extension to the Tate Modern grow for the last 5 years, seeing the twisted pyramidal shape emerge as the exterior changed from a white cladding to a brick lattice which matches yet is different from the original Tate.  They are both part of an old power station site so in a nod to its origins the first Tate building is now called the Boiler House and the new Tate is the Switch House. 

Hailed as a gallery for the 21st century, a significant addition to London’s cultural scene,   the Switch House brings us 10 storeys, a whopping 60% of new exhibition space and a focus on new interactive forms of art, more women artists and a wider representation of international artists.  

Tate Modern London
Viewed from the south 

Undoubtedly the building is the star, it’s light, has wonderful shapes within it and outside, the materials are gorgeous wood and raw concrete and the panoramic views afforded from the top floor are among the best in London.   It sits happily alongside the Boiler House and looking across from one to the other when you are inside makes perfect sense. They have achieved a contrasting yet co-ordinated feel between the two buildings, helped no doubt by using the same architects, Herzog & de Meuron. 

Here are some views of the interior of the Switch House, showing the sweeping spaces and the effect of the lattice brickwork on the interior light and shadows. 

Glorious wooden floors and benches, smooth the the touch 

Entry to The Tanks

The area called ‘The Tanks’ which was opened up a couple of years ago, return to form the basement of the Switch House. Here you can find the floor plan, showing just how much extra space the Switch House brings to the Tate Modern. 

Looking across to the Boiler House gives you a new perspective along the enormous gaping space of the Turbine Hall:  You’ll spot a new installation by Ai Wei Wei, a monumental sculpture of a tree made of dried tree parts from all over China. I saw it being assembled the week before like a massive 3-D jigsaw.

Up on the 10th floor is an external viewing platform around the outside of the building giving the chance to see 360 degree panoramas across the whole of London which few can match. 

What about the art? I’m more of a painting/sculpture art lover so some of the more abstract items left me unmoved. There are very few paintings and a lot of very new work but some familiar names and some intriguing pieces drew me in and I did find something to enjoy in most of the rooms. It feels new, contemporary, bold and, of course, challenging.  Here are just a few examples to give you an idea of what is on display:

Mark Bradford, yes a painting!

Marwan Rechmaoui – a map of Beirut in rubber 

A room dedicated to Louise Bourgeois

Yes, live macaws with a sign saying they are well looked after!

Lots of fun in a box of mirrors by Yayoi Kusama

Roni Horn’s beautiful pink glass box

Bubbles frothing from David Medalla 

Maria Metz’s aluminium piece 

There are restaurants, cafes and bars in the Switch House as well as existing Boiler House offerings so there is plenty to refresh you as you explore these 2 extraordinary buildings. 

For more information check out their website

Bye for now,

Maria Merrian’s Beautiful Butterflies, catch them now!

It is always a treat to stumble across a new artist, especially one who has a fascinating life story to amplify your interest in their work. Maria Merian is a perfect example of this, a little known botanical artist from the 17th century who changed what we know about the life cycle of the butterfly through her exquisite art. 

The Queen’s Gallery in London has access to the Royal Collection and luckily for us George lll was a great collectors of Merian’s work and their summer exhibition twins her nature drawings with a group of Scottish painters, but more about them later 

Born in 1647, Maria Merian  was encouraged to draw and paint by her step father and by the age of 13 was already painting insects and plants from actual specimens. She was fascinated by the metamorphosis of caterpillars to butterflies and in 1679 she published her first illustrated book focusing on insect metamorphosis. How did she gather her scientific knowledge?   She was a great observer, collector and documenter and as a child she had ready access to books on natural history and built on this background when she lived in Amsterdam, building contacts in the scientific community. 

What really made me see her as an admirable pioneer was that in 1699 at the age of 52 she set sail for Suriname in South America with her daughter. Can you imagine what that was like for a woman at that time? She had become frustrated with only being able to examine and paint dead specimens in collections,  so she went in search of live ones. She spent two years in Suriname, studying animals and plants and examining their life cycles, and although her plan had been to work there five years, illness cut this short. Her work from Suriname was published on her return and we can see her fabulous work bound into a large precious book in this exhibition. As a botanical artist she left work of great beauty but also scientific breakthroughs through her direct observation of species new to the old world. 

Her paintings are so bright, so detailed and feel so fresh that it was a delight to be able to see them. Here is a selection for you to enjoy too:

A copy of her illustrated book on insects from Suriname 

The headline exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery is Scottish Artists 1750-1900 which has some fine paintings but they were more traditional and not as surprising as Merian’s work, however, they are worth a visit. These paintings were collected by several royals from George lll through to Queen Victoria, a famous lover of all things Scottish. On display are  portraits of George and his family, Victoria’s first meetings as a royal and a selection of lovely scenes of the Scottish countryside, commissioned by Victoria. The Scottish painters did travel outside of their homeland and a fine picture of Cairo from 1840 caught my eye with its timeless quality. 

George lll by Allan Ramsay
View of the gallery with George next to his family

Queen Victoria meets her Council  on her fist day as queen  by Sir David Wilkie

The cast list of Queen Victoria’s Council 

‘Bonnie’ Prince Charlie by John Pettie

Edinburgh from 18 24, still recognisable today by Alexander Naysmth

Balmoral Castle by James Giles

Cairo by David Roberts

For information about tickets and opening times for the Queen’s Gallery as well as more about these two exhibitions click here . 

Bye for now

Full disclosure:  as is customary in the travel business, the entry ticket for this preview visit was provided free of charge.