MoL is playing a blinder at the moment with at least three excellent exhibitions: London Street Photography, Street Cries, and Hand-drawn London. All are Free. Much as I enjoyed Street Photography, I went when if first opened and it was in the school holiday, completely packed out, so I shall write about that another time.
Street Cries – until 31 July
This exhibition mainly comprises about 80 illustrations of street vendors dating from the late 17C through to the late-Georgian era. The main illustrators featured are Marcellus Laroon (1648 – 1702); Paul Sandby (1731 – 1809); Thomas Rowlandson (1757 – 1827) and Francis Wheatley (1747 – 1801). Most of the images are quite small, typically 8″ x 10″, and rendered in pen and ink or engravings. Connoisseurs of historic commercial art will enjoy the skill and talent of the artists, but in the most part the appreciation and the point of the show is what it tells us socially about the street poor of London, how they dressed, what they sold (huge variety) and what people thought of them. This last point is important, because by and large, what was missing was pity. On the one hand, they are depicted as figures of fun (Sandby, Rowlandson). In contrast, Wheatley conveys his subjects as noble figures, the only difference between them and their customers being their clothes. Nowhere is this more starkly demonstrated in Sandby’s cartoonic rendition of the mackerel seller (it is funny), and Wheatley’s treatment of the same subject.
Most of the illustrations are captioned, often in both English and French in order to capitalise on both markets.
Rare Mackarel Three a Groat or Four for Sixpence!
chants Sandby’s mackerel crone.
… a stick to beat Your Wives or Dust Your Clothes!
bawls the cane seller. (!!)
In addition to the artists mentioned, there are also some canvases, some quite large, showing more panoramic street scenes – for example a particularly good one of Covent Garden by John Collet (1725 – 1780) with excellent single vanishing point perspective.
Hand-drawn London – until 11 September
This display is in the foyer of the museum. It has been mounted in partnership with Londonist. It features 13 contemporary maps of London drawn by Londoners, some amateurs, others professional illustrators. The maps are a selection from many that have been submitted and they are all excellent. Most feature the centre of town but some contributors have focused on their own neighbourhood. What is enjoyable about them is that they are all based on very personal and individualistic ideas, which may be visual, informative, amusing or all of these things.
The Hand-drawn London project is ongoing and Londonist encourages its readers to have a go. And I think I shall, stand aside Monsieur Rocque!