Portrait of Catherine de Medici, François Clouet (1519-1589), 1550 © The Trustees of the British Museum

This exhibition of French portrait drawings has drowned from notable holdings of the British Museum. Pieces of French portrait drawings were chosen to explain the development of this medium from the Renaissance until the 19th century in France. The exhibition also presented some French portrait drawings that have never been exhibited before.

The portraits showcased here offered a short range of personal records of patrons, friends and loved ones. The posers were depicted in informal moments of their lives, which were not always permitted according to the conventions ruling the portraiture at that time.

Throughout its history, the drawn portrait has been primarily an informal medium. It was made to be exchanged between friends and relations of the sitter, rather than the wider public intended for official painted portraits. Usually executed in chalk, pen or graphite, drawings were also more affordable to produce. Artists often turned to chalk or watercolour to depict members of their own families, or to experiment with original concepts of portraiture.

At the British Museum exhibition, portraits on paper have been displayed alongside examples in other more formal media, including medals, enamels and an onyx cameo.

Artists turned to drawing to depict not only patrons but also to their own families and circles of friends. The gradually more democratic nature of portraiture can be seen here, as kings and artists are joined by wealthy travellers, artisans and hedonistic members of the high society.

The exhibition started with drawings by Francois Clouet, which offered an affectionate image of the 16th century French Renaissance court. It closed with Toulouse Lautrec’s vibrant portraits of the Parisian demimonde. Clouet’s drawn portraits of courtiers and the royal family were commissioned by the French queen Catherine de’ Medici, and his portrait of Catherine herself was on display for the first time. The exhibition also included a drawing of Catherine’s husband Henri II, one of the first representations of Henri as king, which formed the basis of his royal iconography.

Other portraits made in chalk or watercolour in the 18th and 19th century offered a uniquely personal glimpse into artists’ personal lives. Jean-Michel Moreau le Jeune used chalk to draw his infant daughter, in about 1772, creating a delightfully naturalistic record of childhood. The piece demonstrates how the drawn portrait allowed for a degree of familiarity and intimacy than that which had been common in portrait paintings from the same period. Another example of family portraiture is by the lesser known 19th-century artist Albert Lebourg, depicting his wife and mother in-law in smoky atmospheric black chalk.

Drawings were cheaper to produce than an oil painting or sculpture and allowed the artist greater freedom for creativity. The flexibility of the form also allowed artists to experiment with unusual effects or innovative forms. In this way both sitters and artists could subvert the traditional notion of portraiture.

Pierre Dumonstier made a playful ‘portrait’ of the artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s hand in 1625. This piece plays with the very notion of what a ‘portrait’ is, through focusing on the quality that makes a sitter unique – not Artemisia’s face, in this instance, but her hand, the source of her artistic brilliance. Another example of artistic experimentation can be seen in Henri Fantin-Latour’s sheet of self-portrait studies from 1876. Here the artist shows himself, rather playfully, from behind a portrait without a face.

The exhibition “French portrait drawings from Clouet to Courbet” was at the British Museum, London, from 8th September 2016 until 29th January 2017.

Ogre, Kelantan, Malaysia; hide, wood; mid-20th century© The Trustees of the British Museum

London – It has been an interesting exhibition “Shadow puppet theatre from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand” at The British Museum. This exhibition has drawn on the British Museum’s unique Southeast Asian shadow puppet collection, unique in London and the world. The shadow theater is an ancient form of folk show. It is made by projecting of two -dimensional, hide puppets figures on a matte screen, semi-transparent, illuminated rear to create the illusion of moving images. The puppeteer simultaneously conducts the orchestra.

This form of entertainment is common in many cultures. In present days, shadow puppet companies works in over 20 countries in South Asia, and also in the rest of the world. Shadow puppet is an important religious, social, political and artistic medium in South Asia.

Shows are usually commissioned and performed at major life events, such as weddings or funerals, in celebration of the harvest, and in fulfillment of vows, but they have also been commercialised as entertainment in some areas. Therefore, in present days shadow puppet imagery and stories are used in other context, for example, in paintings, sculpture, comic books, and even videogames.

Puppeteers can have 200 or more puppets in their collections. Some of these puppets are not specific, while others symbolise particular characters. A few are considered to be sacred, such as the clowns and the holy man figure, and they are used in rituals or for divination and people wear protective medallions with it.

The figures are made especially for animal skin, primarily buffalo or cow, but also bear and deer. Since last century, puppet makers are also using plastic sheeting. Any fur is removed once the skin has been cleaned, stretched, and dried. A puppet figure is outlined and then the hide is cut and punched. Then after, they figure is painted and fitted with rods or chopsticks.

The shadow puppet theatre is very popular even nowadays. The shows are presented during ceremonies in sacred temples, functions in private and in public places in villages. A show can last all night, sometimes until dawn. They normally are in temporary stages in villages and pavilions in royal palaces. The stage has a screen of stretched white cloth. It has a lamp on the top a banana tree logs at the base. Spectators come and go all night and can watch from both side of the screen.

The stories of the shadow puppet theatre use sources from mythological and moral tales, which often represent the battle between good and evil. The narrative is composed with many different kinds of stories, including the Ramayana and Mahabharata epics that originated in India but were reinterpreted in Southeast Asia. There is also a specifically Southeast Asian narrative cycle based on the adventures of the legendary Prince Panji. Puppeteers have realised new stories that develop earlier narratives and explore the ups and downs of modern life, with new characters such as bandits, military figures, bureaucrats, airplanes, and mobile phones, are now also features in shadow theatre.

This British Museum exhibition presented Javanese puppets of the Raffles collection from circa 1800 (the earliest systematic collection of puppets in the world), puppets from Kelantan, Malaysia made by the puppeteers Pak Hamzah and Pak Awang Lah in the mid-twentieth century, Balinese puppets gifted to Queen Elizabeth II, and a set of modern Thai shadow puppets from the 1960s and 70s that display contemporary fashions and aspects of global pop culture. These puppets provide examples of local inspiration. Using comparative displays, the exhibition in London explored the relationships between these traditions, and also examined the stories, characters, and performance styles found in the region. Shadow theatre’s fame and spiritual associations in Southeast Asia have resulted in the reuse of shadow puppet imagery in other media, such as sacred manuscripts and protective charms.

There was an interesting and exhaustive 4’ minutes video installation. Divided in four main parts, it screened performances coming from Malaysia, Indonesia (Java and Bali) and Thailand.

The exhibition at the British Museum, London, further demonstrated that shadow puppet theatre is a living art form that still is relevant in contemporary times. Aspects of 20th century life, such as flare trousers, plastic, electricity, and sound amplification, play a part in shadow theatre, demonstrating its capacity to adjust to social change. Mass media has made some puppeteers into local celebrities, and the internet is sometimes used to broadcast performances. Earlier this year, wayang hip hop puppets representing the sons of the main Javanese clown figures were purchased and are on display in this exhibition for the first time. The museum’s collection is expanding to record these changes.

The exhibition has been curated by Alexandra Green, from The British Museum, London.

The South Asian exhibitionShadow puppet theatre from Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand” was at The British Museum, London, from 8th September 2016 until 29th January 2017.

Sebastian in a Hermes scarf, 2004 © Maggi Hambling; photo: Douglas Atfield co. The British Museum, London.

London - Maggi Hambling at the British Museum is an exciting surprise, with her drawing exhibition “Touch: works on paper”.

The exhibition celebrates a major donation by the artist of around fifteen of her works, confirming the bicentenary tradition of artists donating their works to the British Museum, which was established in 1816 with the bequest of Francis Towne. Maggi Hambling’s gift will be the latest manifestation of that tradition, maybe remembering she has spent time over the years in the British Museum Study Room examining the work of Michelangelo, Rembrandt and Van Gogh.

One of the leading contemporary figurative artists of the UK, Maggi Hambling works across all media, in painting, printmaking, sculpture and installation with drawing at the core centre of her practice.

The British Museum exhibition takes its title ‘Touch’ from the idea of a profound relation between the artist and the subject being drawn, but also between Hambling and her own work. She said: “I believe the subject chooses the artist, not vice versa, and that subject must then be in charge during the act of drawing in order for the truth to be found. Eye and hand attempt to discover and produce those precise marks which will recreate what the heart feels. The challenge is to touch the subject, with all the desire of a lover.”

This exhibition explores Hambling’s drawings and prints, many of which have never been exhibited before, from early student drawings and etchings, to portraits of artist and critic John Berger, actor Stephen Fry, and curator Norman Rosenthal.

The exhibition is in a fairly chronological order, spanning for the life of Maggi Hambling. ‘Touch’ is made of forty works, around a quarter from British Museum’s own collection, with loans from private collections, the National Portrait Gallery and Tate. The remaining works are from the personal collection of Hambling.

A notably life size and outstanding charcoal portrait of Sebastian Horsley opens the show. He was a writer, artist and Soho dandy, who Hambling has described as ‘an exotic wild animal’. The portrait is about the human form, a major theme of the exhibition and it depicts the subject wearing a silk scarf only.

The exhibition proceeds displaying Hambling’s earliest work from the 1960s and 1970s. One of the most interesting work is the potent ink drawing of Rosie, the stuffed Indian rhinoceros in Ipswich Museum, which the artists considers ‘her first portrait’, and it was executed when the artist was seventeen.

The British Museum exhibition ends with recent work made in 2015, from a new series entitled Edge focused on global warming.

There is one only sculpture made of contorted plaster, sitting in the middle of the room 90 of the British Museum, titled ‘Henrietta eating a meringue’ (2001). The work of Hambling, in fact, was widely inspired to Henrietta Moraes, her life partner.

Hambling is openly ‘lesbionic’, in her own adjective. She met with Moraes in 1998, and she made charcoal portraits of her in the last year of her life. Henrietta Moraes (1931 - 1999) was a British artist, model and memoirist, who was the muse and inspiration for many artists of the Soho subculture during the 1950s and 1960s.

Maggi Hambling is born in Suffolk (23rd October 1945). She studied with the artists Arthur Lett-Haines and Cedric Morris from the age of fifteen and later at Ipswich Art School, Camberwell and the Slade. Although she is perhaps best known for her controversial public sculpture: Oscar Wilde (1998, facing Charing Cross Station, London) and Scallop, (2003, Aldeburgh Beach, Suffolk), Hambling’s powerful drawings and monotypes are less familiar to the public.

The British Museum was the first national institution to collect extensively Hambling’s works on paper. In 1985 the Museum acquired the drawing of her former teacher Cedric Morris on his deathbed. Hambling’s first series of monotypes, sensuous studies of the nude, were purchased soon after and the Museum has continued to collect her work.

The drawing exhibitionMaggi Hambling – Touch: works on paper” is at the British Museum, Room 90, London, from 8th September 2016 until 27th January 2017.

Girl in a Liberty Dress by Clara Drummond, BP Portrait Award 2016 First Prize winner © Clara Drummond, ph. co. National Portrait Gallery.

London - Clara Drummond was the winner of the BP Portrait Award 2016 at the National Portrait Gallery. In its 27th year of BP’s sponsorship, the esteemed first prize has been awarded to Clara Drummond, a 38-year-old Cambridgeshire-based artist, for “Girl in a Liberty Dress”, a striking portrait of her friend and fellow artist Kirsty Buchanan. Clara Drummond won £30,000 and a commission, at the National Portrait Gallery Trustees’ discretion, worth £5,000.

Assertiveness is a typical British quality, as the icon of the bulldog well represents. It was the third time, in fact, Drummond presented a portrait painting of her friend Kirsty Buchanan. Drummond was selected for the BP Portrait Award in 2013 and 2014 for portraits of the same sitter, having previously been selected for the exhibition with different sitters in 2006 and 2009.

When Kirsty sat for Clara for this portrait she wore a vintage Liberty dress inspired by the fact that both artists were working on an exhibition at the time with the William Morris Society Archive. The judges were impressed by the portrait’s skilful execution and its subtle and enigmatic qualities.

The second prize of £10,000 went to Chinese artist Bo Wang, 34, for “Silence”, a portrait depicting his grandmother lying on her hospital bed a month before she died. His portrait depicts his grandmother lying on the hospital bed a month before she died, while she was in the terminal stages of cancer and losing her ability to speak. Chinese artist Bo Wang is a lecturer at Suzhou University of Science and Technology in Jiangsu. He studied at the Ilia Repin St Petersburg Academic Institute for Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and has exhibited at the National Art Museum of China, in Beijing, and the Xinjiang International Exhibition Centre.

The third prize of £8,000 went to artist Benjamin Sullivan, 39, for “Hugo”, a portrait of the poet Hugo Williams painted in the study of his Islington home. Grimsby-born, Benjamin Sullivan lives in Suffolk. He gained a BA (Hons) in Drawing and Painting from Edinburgh College of Art. His portrait of Hugo Williams was painted in the study of the poet’s Islington home and Sullivan says the sittings were ‘accompanied by, very loud, Elvis and early Cajun music’. The artist had been an admirer of Williams’s poetry, especially his Billy’s Rain collection, and after being introduced to him at a private view in 2014 by a friend, the poet Stephen Romer, Williams agreed to sit for a portrait.

The BP Young Artist Award of £7,000 for the work of a selected entrant aged between 18 and 30 has been won by British artist Jamie Coreth for “Dad Sculpting Me”. Jamie Coreth, 26, was born in London but brought up in Dorset and Wiltshire. He won for a portrait of his sculptor father, Mark Coreth, painted entirely from life over the course of a month in his sculpture studio. Jamie Coreth undertook a BA (Hons) degree in archaeology and anthropology at Keble College, Oxford before studying at the London Atelier of Representational Art and the Florence Academy of Art. His work has been seen in group exhibitions in London. As an ex-officer for the Blues and Royals, Mark Coreth is seen wearing his old tank boiler suit, which is covered, says the artist, in ‘great flecks of plaster from previous sculptural adventures’. Coreth says: ‘My father has influenced me greatly in my work and given that it is a relatively strange thing for a sculptor to raise a painter, I thought it could be an interesting father–son project to make portraits of one another at the same time.’

The BP Travel Award 2016 was won by Lithuanian artist Laura Guoke, who has been awarded £6,000. She presented a proposal to travel to Lesbos, one of the refugee camps in Greece. She plans to use sketches, photographs and filmed material to create large-format portraits of the most vulnerable refugees from Syria and the volunteers helping them.

Also on display was the work of the BP Travel Award 2015 winner, French artist Magali Cazo. She won for her proposal to travel to a community of bronze-smelters in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso, West Africa. There she lived with and represented the artists, apprentices and labourers whose lives revolve around the foundry. Magali was inspired by the vivid colours of the landscape, the architecture and the clothes on a previous visit to Bobo-Dioulasso and has used the sketches made on that trip to develop a series of portraits on wood.

Taking decisions from original paintings, the Panel of Judges of the BP Portrait Award 2016 was formed by: Nicholas Cullinan, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London (Chair); Christopher Baker, Director, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh; Alan Hollinghurst, writer; Sarah Howgate, Senior Curator, Contemporary Collections, National Portrait Gallery, London; Jenny Saville, artist; Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts & Culture, BP.

The BP Travel Award 2016 was judged by Paul Moorhouse, Head of Collections Displays (Victorian to Contemporary) and Senior Curator of 20th Century Collections Curator, National Portrait Gallery, London;  Richard Twose, artist and BP Portrait Award Second Prize winner in 2014, and Des Violaris, Director, UK Arts and Culture, BP.

The BP Portrait Award 2016 received 2,557 entries from 80 countries. Judged anonymously, 53 portraits have been selected for the exhibition.

The BP Portrait Award 2016 has been at the National Portrait Gallery, London, from 23rd June until 4th September 2016.

Statue of Arsinoe, Canopus, Aboukir Bay, Egypt © Franck Goddio / Hilti Foundation - Ph. Christoph Gerigk, co. British Museum.

(Following from part one)

The following room, ‘Osiris: from myth to festival’, focused on the Mysteries of Osiris, the most enigmatic of ancient religious ceremonies. The Osiris myth is the most elaborate and influential story in ancient Egyptian mythology. One of the most important and popular gods in ancient Egypt, he was the ruler of the underworld. Osiris with his sister-wife Isis, and their son Horus, formed a sacred family worshipped across Egypt and beyond.

The sky goddess Nut and the earth god Geb begot Osiris, Isis, Seth and Nephthys. Isis, goddess of love, loved Osiris since they were together in the womb. After birth, the two gods became pharaohs and civilised the world, while Seth and Nephthys got married together. One day Osiris was drunk and got Nephthys pregnant, so Seth decided to kill his brother. To cut a long story short, Isis could find the dead body of Osiris and got pregnant of him, generating Horus, who will kill his uncle Seth and then will become pharaoh.

Egyptians rarely wrote down the story of a sinister murder, because they believed that the magic contained in images and text could make it happen again. However, the story of Osiris was recorded by Greek historian Plutarch.

The Egyptian mythology starts from the god Atum, proceeded to his children Tefnut and Shu, who gave birth to Geb and Nut.

The following area, “Procession of the Nile”, focused on the annual celebration of the Mysteries of Osiris in Thonis- Heracleion and Canopus. The highlights of the event were two ritual processions. There is information about who were the most popular gods and the festivals dedicated to them.

One of the more inquisitive associations between Egyptian and Greek god is the one linking Osiris with Dionysus. Dionysus was identified in Rome with the god Bacchus (different, but similar to Dionysus), with Fufluns revered by the Etruscans and with the Italic goddess Liber Pater, and was nicknamed Lysios, "the one who loosens" the man of identity constraints staff for reunification with the universal originality.

The Greeks identified Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and afterlife, with Dionysus, their god of wine and intoxicated trance. The two gods both share common areas such fertility, in terms of sexuality but also related to agriculture and nature. Additional similarities are on the analogous myths of a double birth; their murder and consequent angrily dismembered body and scatters; the phallic imagery; and the ways to celebrate festivals.

The last room, ‘Egypt and Rome’, investigated how following the roman invasion, aspects of a merged Greek and Egyptian religion were exported across the Roman Empire. After Octavian (later the Roman Emperor, Augustus), captured Alexandria in 30BC, Egypt became a Roman province of strategic and economic importance. Ptolemaic rule has shaped a fusion of Greek and Egyptian culture and religion. There was an export of these aspects to the Roman Empire with new temples created in honour of Serapes and Isis, in Rome, Pompei and even London.

Gradually the Romans accepted the notion of divine kingship. In 130 AD, Antinous drowned during the Mysteries of Osiris in the Nile. He was the great lover of Emperor Hadrian who deified him as Osiris- Antinous and spread his worship throughout the Roman Empire. The death of Antinous remains a mystery to this day. Various hypotheses have been put forward, including he was killed intentionally. Certainly, the cult of Osiris- Antinous was the last relevant production of paganism.

Franck Goddio, President of Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine (IEASM) and exhibition co-curator said “My team and I, as well as the Hilti Foundation, are delighted that the exhibition with discoveries from our underwater archaeological expeditions off the coast of Egypt is on display at the British Museum. It enables us to share with the public the results of years of work at the sunken cities and our fascination for ancient worlds and civilisations. Placing our discoveries alongside selected masterpieces from the collections of Egyptian museums, complemented by important objects from the British Museum, the exhibition presents unique insights into a fascinating period in history during which Egyptians and Greeks encountered each other on the shores of the Mediterranean."

Supported by BP, the exhibitionSunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” was organised with Hilti Foundation and the Institut Européen d’Archéologie Sous-Marine, in collaboration with the Ministry of Antiquities of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

The exhibitionSunken cities: Egypt’s lost worlds” was at The British Museum, London, from 19th May until 27th November 2016.