24 Apr 2020

Volunteer Views:
Digitally Exploring Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

I am missing coming in so much to volunteer that I wanted to write to you all about ways you can still be part of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery during this time. I have been using the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery virtual tour a lot at home, which is brilliant. I whiz around because I know where I am going and I have to say that I think our tour is so easy to use. 

Screenshot of the Virtual Tour of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

I would like to take you into the Round Room to see some great treasures. A visitor, on one occasion said to me and her children “everything here is a treasure”. My first chosen piece today is David Cox’s Rhyl Sands, low on the wall of this room. Birmingham has a large collection of Cox’s work and in a 1983 exhibition catalogue this painting is described as having a “fairy like character”, and whilst not knowing exactly what that means, it is certainly delicate, finely drawn with a lot of detail.

Rhyl Sands by David Cox
Rhyl Sands by David Cox.

There are well dressed people on the beach, a flag flying in the strong wind, gulls fighting with this wind and a steam ship on the horizon. I love the story of someone describing Cox’s work at the time as always being “gusty”. How true; I know that north Wales coast very well and it is certainly gusty. This is an oil painting but has all the lightness of character of a Cox watercolour.

Close to the picture of Rhyl Sands is a striking JMW Turner painting, often ignored by visitors and when I draw their attention to it they express their surprise at such a naturalistic image. It is The Pass of Saint Gotthard and was painted in oils in 1803-4. Often visitors expect a dramatic, largely featureless impressionist image as a Turner. This is a dramatic and majestic naturalistic picture of deep gorge, backed by snow tipped mountain peaks and billowing cloud. The eye focuses upon a makeshift wooden cross and a crouching figure in prayer.

The Pass of Saint Gotthard, Switzerland, 1803-04 By J M W Turner
The Pass of Saint Gotthard by J M W Turner.

Across the room from the Turner is a large oil painting by Benjamin Williams Leader entitled February Fill Dyke. Leader came from Worcester, and this painting is very recognisable as being set in Worcestershire, I can see that as a resident of the area. Here there are cottages along a lane leading to field of sheep, a low cottage in the middle ground is surrounded by ivy laden ash trees. The wet foreground is lit up with reflection from a glimmering winter sky. This picture is still a very popular greetings card.

February Fill Dyke by Benjamin Williams Leader
February Fill Dyke by Benjamin Williams Leader. 

Turn away from February Fill Dyke and walk along the bridge and there are more galleries to explore. Maybe you will visit the History Galleries, or the Staffordshire Hoard? The choice is yours! We are so fortunate to be able to access our rich culture via modern technology, it helps me for now until I can return to my volunteering.

You can check it out the virtual tour of Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery here: www.birminghammuseums.org.uk/bmag/virtual-tour