Although Rubens was a Flemish artist, he spent a fair bit of his time in London, working for Charles I; he even appears to have offered his own views on foreign policy to try to bring England and Spain together (it didn’t work, though both countries gave him knighthoods). It’s not surprising then that if you want to see Rubens’s work, you don’t have to go to Brussels, Antwerp or Mechelen – nor to the Prado – because a lot of it was commissioned by British buyers, and ended up in British collections.
Here are my top ten Rubens pictures in London. There’s a bit of legwork (and a few admissions fees) involved in finding them all – but if you want a whirlwind tour of Rubens, Room 29 of the National Gallery will net you a superb haul in one fell swoop.
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In addition to the three national museums, Kensington has three other museums that are much less well known but equally delightful. Unlike the national museums, which are all free, these museums do charge, but I think they’re well worth it.
First up: Linley Sambourne house in a stucco fronted terrace – Stafford Terrace to be exact. You’ve probably never heard of Linley Sambourne, a Victorian cartoonist; but that’s not really the point. What you get here is an almost unrestored Victorian family house, but one decorated in the ‘Aesthetic’ style and with, for instance, a fine selection of William Morris wallpaper actually on the walls – not just in sample books. Even the house plants in the conservatory with its tiny water garden are correct for the period, though I suspect not actually the originals; and there’s a fascinating insight into early photography when you notice that the bathroom is equipped with a little shelf where Sambourne could keep his chemicals when he used it as his darkroom.
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Everybody knows the big three Kensington museums – the V&A, more properly the Victoria & Albert), the Science Museum, and the Natural History Museum (actually there used to be four – the Geology Museum made up the original number, but it has now been folded into the Natural History Museum).
Victorian ideas of progress and the popularisation of science and technology led to the creation of the triumvirate; the V&A was originally set up as a source of design ideas and craft technique for British manufacturers, rather than a fine art museum, hence its concentration on such areas as metalworking, furniture, porcelain, and textiles, rather than painting.
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“Knightsbridge. That means Harrods, right?”
Well, yes it does, and that’s an interesting sight in itself. But there’s a lot more to Knightsbridge than Harrods. There’s even a lot more to Harrods than most people ever see – go round the corner into Hans Road, and you can see the side entrance, completely different in style from the rest of the store (Harrods also has three wells hidden in the basement, which apparently provide the water for the store…but I don’t think you can see those!).
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