Enfilade

Exhibition | Royal River: Power, Pageantry, and the Thames

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on March 22, 2012

As noted at British Art Research, this summer the Thames is on doubly on display at Greenwich. The museum website is worth visiting for the video promotion alone. From the National Maritime Museum:

Royal River: Power, Pageantry, and the Thames
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, 27 April — 9 September 2012

Curated by David Starkey

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Magnificent gilded barges, liverymen in their finest uniforms, the splendour of lavish celebrations: the Thames is the ‘royal river’, used for centuries by British monarchs to involve the people in ceremony and festivities displaying their regal status. For hundreds of years this famous river has been host to the pageantry of coronations, processions of boats, and other events which helped tie people closer to the Crown and to London as Britain’s capital.

This spectacular exhibition, a landmark heritage event of the year, brings together nearly 400 beautiful, fascinating and often unique objects, including one of the largest-ever loans of Royal Collection objects to any museum. Created to mark Her Majesty The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, and guest-curated by historian David Starkey, Royal River presents the historic Thames in all its glory, from British royal and City events to London’s famous watermen, and the river’s transformation after the notorious ‘Great Stink’.

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Image: Detail from The Thames on Lord Mayor’s Day, looking towards the City and St Paul’s Cathedral, before 1752, Canaletto, The Lobkowicz Collections, Czech Republic. Visitors to London Bridge station can now see a 30m-long version of the Canaletto painting gracing a temporary wall at the new station entrance. Find out more

New Gallery at Greenwich | Traders: The East India Company and Asia

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 22, 2012

From the National Maritime Museum:

Traders: the East India Company and Asia
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, gallery opened in September 2011

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Established by a group of London merchants, the East India Company was given its first royal charter by Elizabeth I. By the time it was abolished 250 years later, Queen Victoria was on the throne. The East India Company took on pirates, princes and rival traders in its pursuit of profit – changing the world in the process. This new gallery at the National Maritime Museum explores the history and continuing relevance of Britain’s trade with Asia, looking at this compelling story through the lens of the East India Company. Traders: the East India Company and Asia examines the commodities that the company traded, the people that shaped its tumultuous career and the conflicts and rebellions that were its ultimate undoing.

The exotic spices the company imported brought exciting flavours to Britain. The calicos, muslins and silks carried on its ships shaped fashions, clothing rich and poor alike. But its greatest success was tea, which it helped transform from an expensive luxury to a national pastime. However, the British cup of tea had a darker side: opium. This illegal drug trade was interwoven with the company’s business, resulting in war with China on two separate occasions.

ISBN: 9781857596755, $60

The company can be seen as a forerunner of the modern multinational. But its power and global reach were unique. At its height, the company minted its own currency and ruled over a sixth of humanity. It had its own navy, the Bombay Marine, and had 250,000 soldiers at its command. Regarded by the British establishment as too big to fail, the Company was repeatedly bailed out and ended its days shrouded in controversy.

Traders: the East India Company and Asia showcases the museum’s world-famous collection of objects relating to Asia and the Indian Ocean, including: Japanese, Chinese and Burmese swords; beautifully crafted ship models and navigational instruments; Nelson’s Japan-pattern breakfast service; Victoria Crosses awarded during the Indian Mutiny; and journals kept by Company sailors.

The gallery also contains portraits of key figures from throughout the East India Company’s history including: Sir James Lancaster, commander of the first Company voyage; Jamsetjee Bomanjee Wadia, master shipbuilder at Bombay Dockyard; the ship-wrecked and imprisoned Robert Knox, said to be the inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe; the appropriately named Money brothers, who made their fortunes in Asia; and Commodore Sir William James, a poor Welsh miller’s son who ran away to sea, and rose to become commodore of the Bombay Marine and Chairman of the Company.

To celebrate the opening of Traders the National Maritime Museum staged a festival of events throughout autumn and winter 2011. Traders Unpacked, sponsored by Sharwood’s, explored the complex legacy of the EIC and its contemporary significance though events including a textile-themed walking tour of London’s East End; an alternative East India Company pub quiz; an evening of Japanese psychedelia; Singaporean deep house and sea shanties; the Curry and a Pint nights, which explored the origins of the great British curry; a series of international tea parties; and a night of nautical games for grown-ups.

The gallery is accompanied by an illustrated history of the Company, which draws extensively on the collections of the Museum. Monsoon Traders: the Maritime World of the East India Company is published by Scala and written by Robert J. Blyth and John McAleer, curators of Imperial and Maritime History at the National Maritime Museum and H. V. Bowen, Professor of Modern History, Swansea University.

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Writing for The New York Times (4 November 2011), Roderick Conway Morris provides a review of the exhibition.