A hidden gem in Crystal Palace

IF it hadn’t been for my reporter training – which teaches you never to ignore a noticeboard in case there’s a story lurking within – I would probably have missed the Crystal Palace Museum.

Which would have been a great shame, because in its mere one (and a half) room/s, I learned an impressive amount about the pioneering architectural wonder that was The Crystal Palace, and saw some fairly quirky stuff as well (elephant’s rib, anyone?)

The modern-day museum is housed in the only surviving building constructed by the Crystal Palace Company, the organisation responsible for moving the gargantuan former home of the 1851 Great Exhibition from Hyde Park to Sydenham. (The museum building was originally a lecture theatre for the Company’s own School of Practical Engineering.)

I was staying in Crystal Palace and I was walking down Anerley Hill to the railway station when I spotted the above noticeboard, which turned out to be advertising the museum, which, of course, I had had no idea existed.

From the noticeboard I learned that the museum is only open on Sunday afternoons, which was great timing for me, as I would be in Crystal Palace that upcoming Sunday, and at a bit of a loose end to boot…

So on Sunday afternoon I ambled down to the noticeboard. The building behind it looked pretty small and unremarkable, and didn’t seem to have a proper entrance, only a gate to the side of the noticeboard.

I went through the gate. There was no one around, and on the other side of me from the building was undergrowth surrounded by trees, the sort of area where park debris such as grass cuttings and lopped-off tree branches got composted, so I thought this must be the back entrance to a grand museum further inside the park.

However, it turned out that the smallish, unremarkable building actually was the Museum…

OK, so if you’re looking for all-singing, all-dancing interactive experiences and that sort of thing, this isn’t the place to find them. But if you want to learn more, not just about the Crystal Palace but the Park itself, the Great Exhibition and this part of London during the last 150 years or so, this is absolutely a place to do it.

There’s probably less than a dozen exhibition cases, but they contain all kinds of memorabilia about the Palace and the Park, from commemorative crockery to programmes for sports events held on the site, to items connected with John Logie Baird, the inventor of TV, who had a workshop there, to “Charlie’s Rib”, the rib of an elephant who performed at a circus at the Palace.

The museum is run by volunteers (which possibly explains the limited opening hours), who, during my visit, were helpful and friendly enough, without being obtrusive. Admission is free, but it really is good form to give a donation to help cover running costs.

Photography is prohibited, but if you’re desperate for pictures of some kind, there are postcards on sale, and the – free – leaflet about the museum contains pictures too.

Unless you’re an absolute geek about engineering, architecture, big exhibition spaces or small museums, it’s probably not worth making a special trip to Crystal Palace just for the museum, not from anywhere further afield than, I dunno, Twickenham, maybe.

But if you were planning to do Crystal Palace Park itself – or even just Crystal Palace the place – then I’d definitely recommend timing your visit for a Sunday so you could check out the museum as well.

The museum’s own website is: here.

And these are brilliantly packed with information about the Palace and the Park:



(All pictures are my photographs of the museum’s own leaflet.)


A historical coup – for a science museum

Cover of booklet about Science Museum The Last tsar Exhibition.

Cover of booklet about the exhibition, featuring Nicholas II, the Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Tatiana.

Q: WHICH London museum is currently hosting an absolutely cracking exhibition about Nicholas II, the last Tsar of Russia?

A: The Science Museum.

“The Science Museum?”

Yep, the Science Museum.

OK, so I have to ‘fess up here, and admit that I went through something like 80 per cent of the exhibition, The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution, completely at a loss to what it was doing in the Science Museum.

It was only in the final one-fifth, which covers the discovery, exhumation and identification of the remains of Nicholas and other members of the Imperial family, that the “Science” connection seemed to make sense.

Page on how the remains found at Pig's Meadow were confirmed to be those of the Imperial family.

Page on how the remains found at Pig’s Meadow were confirmed to be those of the Imperial family.

But as I was actually leaving the museum I picked up an information booklet, specifically about the exhibition I’d just seen. From that I learned that its theme is: “the role of medicine in the lives of the Imperial family”.

And then a lot more of the exhibits started to make sense. Such as the lilac maternity dress worn by Nicholas’s wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, when she was pregnant, in the hope of producing a boy to be Nicholas’s heir.

And a section about how the Tsarina and two of her daughters, the Grand Duchesses Tatiana and Olga, volunteered with the Red Cross and earned praise for caring for injured troops during World War I. And the family’s travelling medical chest.

I’m no Romanov expert, but I’ve crossed paths with Nicholas II throughout my life. At primary school, thanks to a reading textbook, I got bewitched by the Fabergé eggs that Nicholas gave to Alexandra each Easter, and the sheer drama of a royal family that had met a mysterious fate (the remains had not been found back then).

At secondary school, the Russian Revolution was part of the History A-Level syllabus, and at university, Russia during WWI featured on the periphery of my (history) degree course.

Photograph of evidence about the murders of the Imperial family collected from the Ipatiev House, where the murders took place.

Photograph of evidence about the murders of the Imperial family collected from the Ipatiev House, where the murders took place.

Two decades ago I visited Yekaterinberg. I went to the site of the Ipatiev House, where the Imperial family had been executed, and Ganina Yama, officially recognised as the unofficial burial place of the Tsar (even though it isn’t). And two years ago, while writing up my visit for this blog, I learned the incredible tale of about how the remains came to be found and identified.

Like I said, all this in no way makes me an authority on the Romanovs, but it did mean that most of the ‘facts’ given in the exhibition were not new to me. Such as the political problems caused when the Tsarina, feeling failed by conventional doctors, turned to spiritual leaders, like Rasputin, for help. And how, when an heir finally came along, the Tsarevich Alexei, he had haemophilia, but this was hushed up, so as not to destabilise the country.

However, I had only ever considered these in terms of “political” history – how they affected the general course of events – before, and never really given much (OK, any) thought to the people involved. Say, how difficult it must have been for this woman who ostensibly had everything, to be beset by ‘health’ (ie, possibly mental health) problems, and how frustrated she must have been to have access to the very best doctors, yet even they were unable to help her.

An x-ray of Empress Alexandra's hand, showing rings and bangles

An x-ray of Empress Alexandra’s hand, made in 1898.

Or, given the upheavals of the early 20th Century for Russia, from the Russo-Japanese war to the unrest and pressure for change at home around the 1905 Revolution, how alarming it would have been for the Tsar to have such a very vulnerable heir.

Not only did the exhibition make me think more deeply about things I already knew, it also taught me something new as well: that there are near-contemporaneous accounts of the investigations into the fate of the Tsar and his family in our (UK) National Archives; expect more on them anon…

And now, despite the best journalist practice, where you’re supposed to get the ‘best’ bits in first (to grab the reader’s attention, and, especially during the glory days of print, so you don’t run out of room before you’ve had chance to include them) I have actually saved what I consider the highlight of the exhibition till last (and when you consider that exhibition includes two Fabergé eggs, that’s really saying something!). What I would possibly describe as the jewel in the crown of this exhibition about the Imperial family.

It is a selection of photographs taken by Herbert Galloway Stewart, English tutor to the Tsar’s nephew. They’re not formal portraits, but the sort of informal snaps that only someone close to the family could take: the children playing in the snow, family boating trips, that kind of thing. Even, if I remember rightly (photography isn’t allowed in the exhibition) Nicholas doing the carpentry that kept him occupied during his months under house arrest between his abdication in March 1917 and death in July 1918.

As far as I can gather, they’ve never been exhibited before, and, according to a post on the Museum website, they actually inspired the exhibition – after they were found in the Museum’s collection by a curator researching another show. It’s a pretty awesome story, and you can read it – and more information about the exhibition, here.

I could be wrong on this, but having read the blog post and the booklet, I’m wondering whether someone at the museum thought: “Hmm, we’ve got this amazing resource [the Stewart photographs]. We really have to use them. Now, how can we contrive something science-y to put them in?”

If that sounds like I’m criticising the museum for, in a way, engineering (‘scuse the pun), an exhibition, I’m sorry, because that’s the last thing I’m thinking; I’m just really grateful to the curator who found the albums, Dr Natalia Sidlina, and everyone else who devised an excuse for making them public.

Considering the amount and quality of the stuff in the room (Fabergé eggs, for goodness sake!) it’s surprising that entry is free. You’re supposed to book tickets in advance, probably so it doesn’t get too crowded. But while I was there, admittedly mid-week and almost closing time, the only visitors other than me were a couple who were munching their way through a family-sized bag of crisps (yes, really!) as they ambled along. I hope it’s busier than that as other times – it so absolutely deserves to be. (It’s so good I am seriously thinking about making another trip to London just to see it again.)

Here’s an interesting footnote: the exhibition is sponsored by JSC Russian Railways, the state railway of Russia. During Soviet times, of course, it was the state that tried to pretty much airbrush out of existence the fate of the former Imperial family – so much so that the people who found the remains had to keep their discovery to themselves until the end of the Soviet era. Now the state is sponsoring a major – and very public – exhibition about their untimely deaths. How times change, eh?

The Last Tsar: Blood and Revolution runs until 24 March. More details and booking info here.

(ps. Go see it! You’ll kick yourself if you don’t!)

It’s a Bling Thing

Basket of Flowers Faberge Egg

Basket of Flowers Faberge Egg, from the Royal Collection

So, you go to the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, and you go up the stairs. On one side of the landing is an exhibition of photographs taken by British photographer Roger Fenton during the Crimean War, in which Britain, France and Ottoman Turkey fought against Russia.

On the other side of the landing is Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs, an exhibition celebrating the “diplomatic alliances and dynastic ties” that linked Britain and Russia over 300 years – including the two-and-a-half years of the Crimean War. (And also WWI when, just over half a century after the Crimean War, Russia and Britain [among others, including France] fought on the same side against Germany and Ottoman Turkey; confused, much?)

The two exhibitions make very different first impressions. Fenton is ostensibly unexciting – a room of uniform-sized rectangles of grey and beige, hung at the same height, but when you get close to those dull rectangles their content is fascinating.

Catherine-the-Great portrait

Portrait of Empress Catherine II (or Catherine the Great).

The Romanovs side, however, hits you like a ton of bricks as soon as you go through the door; artfully sculpted bricks made of semi-precious stone, that is. Ginormous portraits of Imperial, aristocratic and military figures (sometimes one and the same), with frames that are works of art in themselves, and huge vases and pedestals, of malachite and gilt, and gilded porcelain. And they are merely the first things you see when you enter.

Other items, in other rooms, range from couple-of-centuries-old atlases of Royal travels to an informal portrait of the late Queen Mother when she was Duchess of York, painted by a Russian-trained artist, via pieces of Imperial dinnerware, finely-enamelled kovshs (drinking vessels) and glorious icons, to name but a few.

There’s some stunning jewellery, too, and items such as cigarette cases and silverware. And a selection of Fabergé ornaments and the like, including three FABERGÉ EGGS: The Basket of Flowers Egg from Easter 1901 (see above), the Colonnade Egg from 1910, and the Mosaic Egg and Surprise, given by the Tsar to his wife in 1914. (If HM ever gets bored of dusting any one of them I’d be only too happy to take it off her hands!)

photograph Nicholas-II George-V

Photograph of Nicholas II and George, Prince of Wales (the future King George V), taken in 1909, during the Imperial family’s last visit to Britain.

Amongst the bling, though, there are some sobering items – ones directly relating to the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and his family, who were murdered in Yekaterinberg in 1918; from a painting of the Tsar and Tsarina’s wedding, to Tsesarevich Alexei’s Cossack uniform, to photographs of the Imperial family’s last visit to their relatives in Britain, to copies of George V’s diary entries about the Russian revolution and, later, the memorial service for his cousin, the Tsar.

The most poignant of all the exhibits has to be a presentation box featuring a miniature of Nicholas II. The box was made in 1916, but the miniature was only fitted into place in May 1917, two months after the Tsar had abdicated.

The box is jaw-droppingly lovely – top-top-top quality enamelling on gold, and set with diamonds, including a ring of stones around the miniature of the Tsar. It’s the sort of thing that only someone of limitless wealth and resources could get made, the sort of person who lived a life of absolute privilege. But I defy even the staunchest republican to look at that box and not feel at least pity for the man looking out from the miniature, so completely unaware of what was to happen to him, his wife, their children and members of their extended family, just months after it was completed.

Gold, enamel and diamond presentation box with miniature of Tsar Nicholas II.

Gold, enamel and diamond presentation box with miniature of Tsar Nicholas II.

As I left the palace I couldn’t help wondering , if such an exhibition were to be held say, 100 years from now, what kind of thing might be on display then:

“Calendar presented to HM Queen Elizabeth II by President Vladimir Putin of Russia, featuring photographs of a bare-chested President Putin on horseback and wrangling a bear”?

Best go and admire the bling of today, while you can!

Russia, Royalty and the Romanovs is one of two exhibitions currently running at The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace under the general title Russia; the other is Roger Fenton’s photographs of the Crimea , which I’ve reviewed here. Russia runs until 28 April. Adult admission – to both exhibitions – is £12; tickets can be booked here.

All pics ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II/The Royal Collection

Get carried away by a fence that isn’t a fence

Take a look at this…

“Why? It’s just a fence,” you say. “A boring fence. And a pretty battered one at that.”

Ah, but the thing is, this fence had a life before it became a fence, and it’s actually a rarely-recognised relic of World War II London.

For in its first life, this “fence” was a stretcher, and it and hundreds of thousands like it were used by the ARP (Air Raid Protection) officers to carry casualties of the bombing raids of the Blitz.

After the war someone had the bright idea of turning them into fences, sometimes to replace railings removed as part of the war effort (they were supposed to be melted down and made into weapons and materiel).

The stretchers went un-noticed and unappreciated for decades – some were even removed and destroyed – but now a group of people are working to raise the profile of the “stretcher railings”, and to get them protected and preserved.

They’ve set up a website: https://www.stretcherrailings.com/ (which is where I got the picture above from), which has more information about the stretchers in their original form, and the campaign to save them now they are stretcher railings.

After looking around the website, I realise that when I worked in London a few years ago, I must have gone past one particular set of stretcher railings countless times, and thinking back, I do remember seeing – without actually looking at – a “fence” when the bus would get stuck in traffic on that part of the route.

However, having just checked out Streetview, it looks like they’ve been removed, and only in the last couple of years. I’m just so gutted I didn’t know about stretcher railings when I was in London, as it would have been really cool to appreciate them when I went past them.

It’s so wonderful that someone has realised just how important the stretcher railings are, and why they are worth preserving; what a vital part they must have played in saving Londoners’ lives during the War, and what their re-use (upcycling?) tell us about the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the “Waste Not, Want Not” post-War generation.

They might not be your conventional tourist sight like Buckingham Palace or the National Gallery or Covent Garden, but next time I’m in London, seeking out some stretcher railings will be top of my list of things to do.

Delightfully Deco: Eltham Palace

NORMALLY on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow it’s the items I covet (many of them, anyway). Tonight, however, it was the location: Eltham Palace in south-east London.

Although it was originally a palace – built in Medieval times and lived in by Henry VIII – now it’s a grand(ish) house, large enough to be posh, yet not so big that going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea during a sleepless night would be daunting.

But it’s not the size that makes it so attractive, but the stunning, original Art Deco interiors (and exterior). From the round entrance hall, with its marquetry frieze of a cityscape, to the gold mosaic tiles in the lady of the house’s en-suite, it’s an absolute joy. But just as the size is not overwhelming, nor is the decor; it’s stylish, but still extremely comfortable. The sort of place you – or I, at any rate – could easily live in. If only I had the chance…

And on top of that, there’s a Medieval great hall, left over from the site’s origins as a Medieval palace, and 19 acres of grounds, including a moat(!), and, apparently, the “oldest working bridge in London”. Oh, and a lemur-ladder (for Mah-Jongg, the lemur who used to live there).

If you visit the English Heritage website ( https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/eltham-palace-and-gardens/things-to-do/ ), or you’ve seen tonight’s Antiques Roadshow, you’ll already know a lot about the history of Eltham Palace, from that Medieval palace, to the repair and Art Deco rebuild in the 1930s by milionaires Stephen and Virginia Courtauld (Mah-Jongg’s ‘parents’), to its time as an Army training school and, now, its ownership by English Heritage.

ButI thought I’d share some pics I took when I went there, nearly a decade ago. At the time I don’t think you could take pictures inside the house (maybe that’s changed now), so these are what the exterior looked like at the time.

Core-blimey! It’s the Grange-over-Sands Community Orchard

Grange-over-Sands community-orchard boardIF an apple a day really does keep the doctor away, then good luck to anyone looking for medical help in the genteel South Lakeland town of Grange-over-Sands.

Because there are lots of apples in Grange, lots and lots of them.

Most of them are in one of the most lovely community facilities I’ve ever come across, the Grange Community Orchard.

The orchard is right on the main road through Grange, and it’s actually quite easy to miss, as it looks rather like a bog-standard park, albeit a rather tree-y park.

But noticeboards at the entrances tell visitors that it’s actually a community orchard, “created for the enjoyment of the public of Grange and its visitors”.Community-orchard Grange-over-Sands info

The orchard, which was planted in 1998, now holds around 30 varieties of apple tree, including some that have their origins in Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland – how’s that for sourcing locally?

Georges-Cave, Grange community-orchardOn each tree there’s a label, giving its origin, the date it was introduced, the type of apple – cooking, dessert or both – and (yum!) when it should be ready for picking.

There aren’t just apples in the orchard, though, there are other fruit trees too, including pear, mulberry, quince and medlar. And, to encourage wildlife, a wildflower meadow and native hedging, including sea buckthorn and hazel.

The orchard was created by Grange Civic Society and South Lakeland District Council (SLDC), and it’s now tended by volunteers (who look to be doing a great job, by the way), and it’s all farmed organically, without artificial pesticides or fertilisers.Grange-over-Sands community-orchard

Grange is a pretty nice place anyway – scenic and rather peaceful, even when it’s paying host to coachloads of tourists – but the orchard is especially lovely, especially on a sunny day. Even if all those apples had scared the doctor away, an amble through the orchard has to be one of the best forms of therapy ever.

More information about the South Lakeland Orchard Group (SLOG) is available here: http://www.slorchards.co.ukapple Grange orchard

Going Dutch

“I’ve always promised the wife I’d tek her on a cruise,” said the man with the cheeky grin as Manchester United’s Old Trafford ground glided gracefully past the back of his head.

Old Trafford is indeed a shrine to millions of football fans, but as anyone familiar with it knows, it’s not in exactly the world’s most exotic location.

The man above was being interviewed on our BBC local news programme, North-West Tonight, during a feature on Manchester Ship Canal cruises. Yes, that’s a cruise along the inland waterway built between the industrial hub of Manchester and the port city of Liverpool about a century ago.

The Ship Canal may have been one of the main arteries that fed the phenomenal growth of the North West in the 19th and early 20th Centuries, but glamorous it ain’t. And the man above’s comment is even funnier if you imagine it said with our flat Northern vowels.

Still, he had fulfilled his promise and taken “the wife” on a cruise, even if it was a cruise of sorts.

(If you think I’m dissing Manchester Ship Canal cruises, I’m not, in any way – my mum and dad went on one and loved it.)

Anyway, the above is a roundabout way of saying that I, too, have just been on a cruise-of-sorts: a Mini-Cruise to Amsterdam.

Departing the Port of Tyne on the ferry to Amsterdam.

Departing the Port of Tyne on the ferry to Amsterdam.

My parents (see above) are on the mailing list for travel company David Urquhart, and it was because of that that I spotted that they were offering a Mini-Cruise to Amsterdam for “from £59 per person”. That included return coach travel from the North West to the ferry terminal near Newcastle, and a coach transfer from the terminal at IJmuiden to Amsterdam. It seemed like too good a bargain to miss. The only downer was that you get only a handful of hours, at most, in Amsterdam. But then what could be more jet-set than nipping abroad for lunch?

So, after paying a single supplement of £16 (because there was just me, booo!) I was booked on-board.

I had been to Amsterdam before, but many years ago, when I was a student, and my uni room-mate and I stayed in a hostel and spent several days ambling around looking for things that looked interesting.

This time I was more organised. Thanks to Professor DuckDuckGo I learned that Amsterdam now boasts a branch of the Hermitage, as in the world-famous museum in St Petersburg, Russia. That would be my number one target, I decided, and anything else I managed to see or do would be a bonus.

I know that, technically, all David Urquhart had to do was get me to the terminal and back (in the UK) and from the terminal and back (in Holland) and book me a cabin on the ferry, but they really did that job faultlessly.

The coach was clean and comfortable, and the driver, Craig, was entertaining, friendly and efficient.

The ferry itself is operated by DFDS Seaways (you can book tickets independently, but, well it would have cost 59 quid just to get to Newcastle on the train – if the trains were running, that is – so why not go for a bargain when you see one?).

There’s a load of stuff on the DFDS website about facilities on board, and it’s a fair reflection of the reality. On the one hand, it’s not The-Ritz-on-Sea: this is a working ferry after all, not a purpose-built cruise ship, but on the other, it is pretty fancy for a ferry. It has a nightclub, for goodness’ sake! And the restaurants and bars are nicely decorated and serve food and drink on proper crockery and with proper (metal) cutlery.

My cabin, which could accommodate two people in bunk-beds, was small but not unbearably so, although it might have been a bit cramped if there had been two of us. But then the cabin is only supposed to be a place to sleep, it’s not like you’re living in it or anything, and it is for just two nights.

In addition to the bunk beds, there was a little sofa big enough for two people, and a desk/dressing table, with chair, and one (continental plug) electric socket. And it had a bedside table and bedside light, and coat hooks and even a couple of coat-hangers.

The cabin and the ensuite bathroom were spotlessly clean, as was the bedlinen, and the bed was really comfortable too.

What with the restaurant, bistro, coffee bar, nightclub and children’s play area, there was lots to keep the passengers entertained, even right through the night, something that some people seemed to take full advantage of!

It took ages to get through customs/immigration, so we had less time in Amsterdam than we should have had.

If you’re hoping to ‘do’ Amsterdam in one Sunday in November, this was probably the best, and worst, one to choose, as it was the day that Sinterklaas arrived in town (https://www.iamsterdam.com/en/see-and-do/whats-on/festivals/overview-childrens-festivals/arrival-of-sinterklaas)

It was the worst because it meant that between me and my target, the Hermitage, was a network of barricaded, already busy, streets awaiting Sinterklaas and his procession.

(I made it, of course, and even spotted en route, an exhibition of colour photographs before 1918, at the University of Amsterdam’s Allard Pierson Museum. I’ve been fascinated by this type of photograph, autochrome, for years, ever since a BBC series on Albert Kahn – whose work features in the exhibition. I just wish I’d not had to tear through it at breakneck speed.)

However, like I said, what made this probably the best Sunday in November to be in Amsterdam was also what compensated for the brevity of my visit: the arrival of Sinterklaas. Not because I was expecting Sinterklaas to be laden down with lovely gifts for me (I’m a bit old for that!) but because of the children who were, many of whom were in dresssed as Sinterklaas’s assistants, “Pieten”, in brightly-coloured, gold-trimmed breeches, boleros and caps, but all of whom were beside themselves with excitement.

I was just really sad that I had to leave before Sinterklaas arrived.

Note: If you want to know more about Sinterklaas, the official tourism website, iamsterdam.com, has loads of information, about him, the controversy over his assistant “Black Piet” and this thoroughly entertaining explanation of the differences between “Sint”erklaas and “Sant”(a Claus)

Which bottom is top?

WHAT does a beautiful bottom look like? Yeah, yeah, I know this is supposed to be a travel blog, not the Daily Mail Sidebar of Shame, but bear with me on this, because, technically, this post really is travel-related.

You see, I was travelling when I saw these particular “beautiful buttocks”, as they were on display in Amsterdam. (Obviously, if you actually live in Amsterdam, this isn’t travel-related, but I don’t so it is.)

Amsterdam having the reputation it has, this won’t be the first time a naked bottom has had a public airing in the city. However, this particular bottom is supposed to be worth more attention than most, seeing as it belongs to Venus Callipyge, or “Venus of the Beautiful Buttocks”, and it’s on display in the Amsterdam branch of the world-famous Hermitage museum (which I have also visited).

Apparently, there are several versions of Venus Callipgye in the world, supposedly based on or inspired by a Roman copy of a Greek original. This one in the Hermitage is by Italian sculptor Vincenzo Pacetti (1746-1820), and it’s in Classic Beauties, a temporary exhibition of treasures from the collections of the main Hermitage in St Petersburg, Russia.

If our Kardashian-obsessed tabloid media (and social media) is to be believed, tastes have changed in the two-and-a-quarter centuries since Pacetti got out his chisel. I just thought it was interesting to compare the two (supposed) ideals of beauty. I know which I prefer, anyway: the one that’s made from marble, not silicone.

Hermitage Amsterdam opened in 2009 in a former old people’s home (a classy one, built in 1683). How do the two compare? Hermitage Amsterdam is a lot smaller than the original (although to be honest, it would be hard to be as big or bigger!).

During my visit last month it had just the one exhibition (Classic Beauties) of stuff from the original Hermitage, on one theme and just paintings and sculpture, rather than a selection of objects representing the sheer range of the collections held in St Petersburg.

(In case you’re wondering, the theme of Classic Beauties is the artists and art inspired by the excavations of Roman sites in Italy during the 18th Century. It’s due to run until 13 January 2019. I won’t be including more pictures because I didn’t take any – I just don’t feel right taking pictures in exhibitions, unless it’s for a special reason – illustrating a beautiful bottom, for example.)

The other temporary exhibition (also until 13 January) at Hermitage Amsterdam is the Outsider Art Museum, an exhibition of art created by people not formally trained as artists.

The permanent exhibitions are “Portrait Gallery of the Golden Age”, 30 portraits of residents of Amsterdam in the 17th Century, taken from the collections at the Amsterdam Museum and Rijksmuseum. That’s worth seeing if only because of the sheer size of the paintings – they’re massive! (If rather heavy on the black and brown; did colour not reach Holland until the 18th Century or something?)

And there’s the eight-minute-long Panorama Amsterdam, which is a video history of Amsterdam.

An adult ticket for the whole museum is 25 euros, while tickets for just Classic Beauties and Golden Age… alone are 18 euros.

I only had time to race round Classic Beauties and the Golden Age portraits (I’ll explain why later), so didn’t get chance to deconstruct properly the architecture of the building itself. It did feel a bit generic, though; I may have been in a building more than 300 years old, but I didn’t feel like I was, which is a bit of a shame really. And, of course, while it’s old, it has nothing like the history of the original Hermitage in St Petersburg.

But I’ve seen it now and I’m glad I have.