Always on the look-out for a new experience, I thought I would take the opportunity of the Easter break to head down to London in search of some capital culture – and I was not disappointed.
Originally, I had my sights set on the Van Gogh exhibition – a stunning selection of self-portraits including the one featuring Vincent’s bandaged head after he notoriously cut off his ear. Alas, all the sessions were sold out. However, rather than cut off my nose to spite my face, I thought I would stick with the Courtauld Gallery. I had never been before and it is only a short walk from Waterloo Station and Waterloo Bridge, followed by a cut through Somerset House, home to that giant ice rink at Christmas.
The Courtauld is short for The Courtauld Institute of Art, part of the University of London, which specialises in the study of the history of art and conservation. So, it was no surprise that my Student Art Pass (the best £5 you can spend) allowed free entry to the general exhibition. From there it was a no brainer where I was heading – to the third-floor impressionist gallery and adjoining Bloomsbury Room.
The gallery has one of the best, if not THE best, collections of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings in the country. Even if you are not an art fan you will probably recognise Manet’s masterpiece A Bar at the Folies-Bergère which takes centre stage.
There is so much to love about the painting, but as someone who has worked in the UK’s brewing capital Burton-upon-Trent, I am drawn to one small detail: the red Bass triangle on the bottle of beer on the counter. It is a reminder to all business students of the power of the logo – one which saw Bass beer become an international success. As James Hogg pointed out in his 1884 book Fortunes Made In Business: “You meet the refreshing label up among Alpine glaciers, and down in the cafes of the Bosphorus; among the gondolas of the Grand Canal at Venice, the dahabeahs at the first cataract on the Nile, and the junks of China.”
Not a bad bit of marketing then! That little red triangle was the very first trademark to be registered under the U.K.’s Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875 and has since been immortalised in a number of works of art, including several Pablo Picasso paintings and collages as well as Édouard Manet’s 1882 painting.
Enjoying the warm spring weather, I shunned the Underground to walk back to Euston via Bloomsbury, home to those other featured artists Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, and no less inspired by their vision and creativity.
My London outing cost me less than £25 thanks to my student rail card, but if you want to see great art nearer to home then it does not get much closer than Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery. Alternatively, just a bus ride away is the Barber Institute, which manages to bring together the greatest artists under one small roof. The perfect way to spend an hour.