Art 2021: London’s best virtual exhibitions from home
A long winter in a pandemic and lockdown finds the world turning to cyber reality. Arts and culture lovers in London, who like nothing better than an afternoon in a gallery or Sundays strolling through a museum, need not despair as virtual exhibition tours abound. Here are a few of the city’s best.
The British Museum
The virtual viewing capacity at the British Museum is one of the most extensive in London, with a massive online collection of well over four million art objects and historic artefacts to view from home, as well as ticketed lectures and discussions, podcasts and YouTube showings of past events. Via Google Arts and Culture, observers can walk through the museum online to view each of the more than 60 galleries and zoom in on individual works. Of the many highlights is a previously lost Rossetti watercolour, the recent purchase of 103 rare drawings by Japanese painter and engraver Katsushika Hokusai, and the famous Rosetta Stone.
Also allowing virtual walks through its exhibits – and containing some of the world’s most famous and recognisable works – the Courtauld Gallery houses a stunning assemblage of paintings, prints, drawings and sculptures covering the Medieval, Renaissance, Early Modern, Impressionist, Post Impressionist and 20th century periods in art. Particularly remarkable are the Impressionist and Post Impressionist collections, with iconic pieces like Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergere, Degas’ Two Dancers on a Stage, Monet’s Autumn Effect at Argenteuil, Van Gogh’s Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Gauguin’s Nevermore.
The National Gallery
With 2663 paintings, the globally renowned National Gallery can be visited via 3D viewing, and features the additional benefit of pop-up descriptions of the works. Among the many artists represented are masters such as El Greco, Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Rubens and Titian. Themed virtual tours and lectures are also available, such as the True to Nature Virtual Tour, featuring open-air painting of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and the Degas at the Opera Virtual Tour, presenting artworks and lectures showing the artist’s love of the music, interiors and life at the opera in 19th century Paris.
The V&A’s numerous online exhibits include Raphael Cartoons, Epic Iran, and Renaissance Watercolours, as well as fashion collections with a number of online highlighted works and links to fascinating videos and interactive tours. For example, high definition photos of Raphael’s cartoons show newly discovered details providing intriguing insight into the artist’s process, practices and purpose.
The Natural History Museum
Featuring thousands of artefacts for home viewing, the Natural History Museum offers 14 self-guided virtual tours of its exhibition rooms, and an interactive show involving Hope the blue whale with guided audio by David Attenborough. The museum includes a large online gallery of Wildlife Photographer of the Year images from the current and previous years’ competitions, and a collection of over 1500 botanical illustrations by artist Sydney Parkinson and others, completed during travels by ship around the South Pacific.
Explore Tate Britain provides global accessibility to one of the largest collections of art in the world via an interactive online map of its galleries, enabling the creation of personal virtual tours. With a program called Walk Through British Art, viewers are invited to take a visual trip through 13 rooms of work spanning the mid 16th century to the present, including an adjunct Audi Highlight Tour with discussions by artists, conservators and curators about the artworks. The quantity of material is immense, by seemingly almost every prominent artist ever known (totalling 4329), including Picasso, Warhol, William Blake, Hockney, Matisse, Mondrian, Mapplethorphe, Calder and Turner.
The National Portrait Gallery
“Faces are the most interesting things we see; other people fascinate me, and the most interesting aspect of other people – the point where we go inside them – is the face. It tells all.” David Hockney
Hockney is one of the many artists featured in the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibitions accessible from home. The institution offers a comprehensive program of classic to contemporary portrait painting, photography and sculpture exhibits, films, podcasts, blogs, games, quizzes, and extensive and interesting children’s activities with free courses. Highlights include Sculptures in 360, a viewing from all angles of sculpted bust portraits of famous actors, dancers, playwrights, authors and politicians. Portraits can be searched for by accessory, activity, dress, genre or by themes including Artists and their Studios, Buildings and Architecture, Diversity, Events and Occasions, Film-shots and Stage Sets, and more.
London’s Royal Academy features some compelling presentations via video tours and image galleries, such as Tracey Emin / Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul, virtual exhibition tours of Picasso and Paper and Video: Léon Spilliaert, and a myriad of works by known names (such as Rebecca Horn, Anselm Kiefer, Julian Schnabel, Gillian Wearing, Ai Weiwei) and emerging artists in their substantial Summer (to winter) Exhibition 2020. The stellar Picasso show encompasses more than 300 works on paper from the artist’s 80-year career, yielding an enlightening insight into the master’s perceptions and intent.