Skal at the Museum of Spirits

The idea of a museum devoted to spirits – that’s alcohol not ghosts – sounds inviting, doesn’t it? Particularly when it is in Stockholm on the beautiful waterfront not far from the famous Vasa. But apart from the outdoor restaurant it disappoints almost from the word go. It is so anxious about its messages that the core exhibition is almost dwarfed by two rather irrelevant displays – one on pop art and the other on Swedish Sex and Sin in the ‘70s! Once you enter the main exhibition which is in one large space on two levels the dilemma faced by the curating team becomes evident. As you flit between the montages – one tells you of the wonderful herbs used in aquavit and let’s you smell them while the next warns you about the dangers of drinking with a picture of a bloated liver. Swedish drinking songs are contrasted with advice on alcohol limits for men and women. There’s even a hangover room to put you off drinking for good. But what you need at the end of this disappointing show which has taught you very little about the history of alcohol production or drinking in Scandinavia … is a stiff drink! The restaurant has an adventurous menu and excellent wine list. Don’t bother with the museum.

Sweden’s Nationalmuseum is closed for the next few years while undergoing a major refurbishment transforming the 19th century building into something more accessible and welcoming for the 21st century. Some of its treasures can be seen elsewhere and your blogger climbed the stairs at the Swedish Royal Academy of Fine Arts to an excellent smallish exhibition of some of the best from the collection. This includes international as well as Swedish artists such as Anders Zorn. A popular touch is a section on “selfies”, ie artists’ self portraits. Visitors are invited to add their own!

Finding Veronese in Verona

My obsession with Veronese continues and I travelled to Verona to see the National Gallery exhibition on display at the Palazzo della Gran Guardia, here called “The Illusion of Reality”. While the exhibition space lacked the atmosphere of the National Gallery’s Main Rooms, the display was immaculate with pale green and beige walls complementing the paintings. The audio guide featured several speakers including Xavier Salomon who curated exhibition in London. An additional feature was a series of drawings displayed in the centre of each room. The Allegories of Love – a star attraction in London – looked good here in a line but did not achieve the same impact as in the round. Another new feature was the recently restored huge painting Feast in the House of Levi. This controversial painting was originally called The Last Supper but the Vatican hauled Veronese in and asked him to change various aspects which were offensive to the Church including removing a dog and a drunk and someone bleeding from the nose! Veronese refused and changed the name of the painting – but Jesus Christ is still at the centre of this magnificent feast. The original of the painting in my book (see below), the altarpiece from San Zaccaria was also on display in Verona. A much less controversial work – I am sure it fulfilled all the criteria of a religious painting at the time – and it was wonderful to see it again.

Museum at Castelvecchio, Verona

This year’s opera season in Verona has been plagued by rain but we were lucky with our three operas including the great Aida with a cast of thousands! Impressive! There are now plans to cover part of the Arena – particularly the orchestra pit. There was time for daytime sightseeing and the Castelvecchio Museum which I had missed on a previous trip when it was just too hot was an inspiring experience. The museum was redesigned by the renowned architect Professor Carlo Scarpo in the 1960s, creating a uniquely modern museum experience inside the old castle where every object is a work of art, with fine details in the staircases, windows, and door openings. Sculptures and paintings on easels stand freely in the odd-shaped rooms. Many of the objects come from damaged churches and include early sarcophaguses and statues. Among the paintings are works by Pisanello, Bellini (the elder) and Mantegna. Magnificent!

All to play for in Scotland

With all eyes on Scotland this September, the National Galleries in Edinburgh is playing safe with the Art of Golf (until 26 October). For some people golf on television is like watching paint dry – but these paintings bring it to life in glorious colour revealing the story of the birth and evolution of Scotland’s national sport. So enjoy the windblown golfers and stunning views of links courses as well as golf memorabilia. Perhaps it will convert a few to take up the great game or at least watch it…..your blogger has already got the dates for the Ryder Cup in her diary to be enjoyed from her armchair in London. This year it’s at Gleneagles – only a week after the great referendum. Will the Scottish flags be flying?

Coming up in London…..

London’s art galleries, museums and theatres got together to lauch the London Autumn season. Perhaps not the best political move while the row over funding inequalities between London and the region rumbles on. Nevertheless there are some great exhibitions to look forward to including Ming, Rembrandt, Turner and Constable. And let’s see what the Museum of London makes of Sherlock Holmes, opening in October.

Ylva French is a trustee of the Museum Prize Trust and author of Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting, available as an E-book on Amazon.

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