Friday 18 January 2019

To the Museum

Today we all went to the Natural History Museum. As usual, I was hugely impressed by the building – what a beautiful feat of architecture and design it is – and mildly depressed by the museum itself. The scale alone is heart-sinking and militates against looking at any particular thing properly (though it can be done); there are too many gimmicky interactive exhibits (many of which don't seem to work), and a deadening excess of 'interpretation': everything must serve to hammer home a single narrative (and that not a very edifying one. To paraphrase Ronald Firbank, 'Nature is disgracefully managed. One hardly knows to whom to complain'). Too little is allowed to speak for itself – which is why I prefer to seek out the more old-fashioned corners of the museum, which simply display a range of creatures, preserved or stuffed, and says no more than 'Look at this'. It is enough.
  John Ruskin organised a museum on precisely that principle – 'Look at this'. Really look, see its beauty, wonder at it. The collection he formed for the Guild of St George is small – tiny compared to any 'proper' museum – but chosen with the utmost loving care and with the overriding aim of opening our eyes to beauty and wonder. It normally lives in the Millennium Gallery in Sheffield, but happily it's coming to London very soon, to form the core of a larger exhibition at Two Temple Place, John Ruskin: The Power of Seeing. It opens on the 26th and I'm looking forward to it.


  1. I took my sprogs to the NHM in November half term - it was so busy we couldnt really see anything and were just sort of bundled along in the crowd. The thing that really stuck with me though was the lack of dinosaurs in the main hall. Yes, a blue whale skeleton is impressive but it simply doesnt have the thrill that seeing a full sized dinosaur did

  2. Yes I rather miss the old Brontosaurus, or whatever it was. The pair of animatronic fighting dinosaurs in the T-Rex Cafe looked rather impressive though – feathered and coloured, in line with the latest thinking on these matters.