Monday, 2 September 2013

Horniman Museum, 100 London Road SE23

You could make a bundle out of tea back in the days of Empire. Sir Thomas Lipton spent much of his enormous fortune on yachting ('like standing under a cold shower tearing up £20 notes', he famously observed) but Frederick Horniman spent his on objects collected on his many journeys round the world. The astonishing collection was finally housed in a great but relatively little-known museum and presented to the people of London.
The building was designed by Harrison Townsend and completed in 1901. The main accent of the frontage is provided by a huge mosaic by Robert Anning Bell, one of those multi-talented artists who produced great works in many mediums from stained glass to book illustrations.
The subject is Humanity in the House of Circumstance. Humanity at the centre is being clothed by Love and Hope. To his right stands Endurance, holding a sword and shield to equip him for the world. To Humanity's left are figures of Charity, a woman bearing figs and wine, Wisdom, a hoary old sage, and Meditation in a dark hood.
At the left hand end of the composition is the Gate of Life, with figures of Fine Art, Poetry and Music standing before it. At the other end is the Gate of Death, guarded by Resignation bearing a staff.
The picture is built up from nearly 120,000 little tiles called tesserae, applied by a team of women chosen for their nimble fingers. Despite their nimbleness, however, it took them ten months to complete.


Me! said...

Many "media", surely?

Hels said...

You are quite right about the Horniman Museum. I love collections created during the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, and I love the buildings they went into. But even Robert Bell needs more exposure.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Marvellous place, the Hormiman Museum. We used to visit it often when we lived in South London. I didn't know about the mosaic being assembled by nimble-fingered women, though - fascinating as usual.