Whenever I have a rare afternoon to myself, I gravitate towards the wonderful libraries, museums and art galleries in Newcastle city centre. Partly because I’m trying to spend less time and money shopping at the moment, but also because they are such welcoming and inspiring places that offer a form of escapism in an often hectic world!
I recently went along to the Laing Art Gallery to check out the brand new exhibition ‘The Enchanted Interior’. It has been developed by the Laing and will tour nationally in 2020. So not only was it a chance to get a first glimpse, it also sparked my curiosity because of the themes it explores…
The Enchanted Interior looks at the popular 19th century idea that interiors depicted in paintings of this time represent a ‘gilded cage’, where women are shown as ornamental objects. It’s an interesting perspective and one that in my naivety I had never really considered before.
I wandered around the gallery admiring intricate paintings by talented pre-Raphaelite artists (who admittedly I’d never heard of but had been chosen for their iconic status). As I did so, the literature displayed next them challenged my thinking about the portrayal of woman. At first glance, I simply saw beauty and allure, but on closer inspection, I noticed that the environments did seem somewhat oppressive. The opulent interiors in the artwork could be regarded as very glamorous but when you consider the rights and freedoms (or lack of them) that woman had at the time, the paintings were clearly showing a stark contrast to the reality for most females.
It came as no surprise to me that most of the artists behind these paintings were men. I was therefore even more intrigued to see the work of their female peers. Work by artists such as Evelyn De Morgan and Emma Sandys challenge the ideas that women are captive damsels or passive beauties.
The exhibition is spread across three rooms and in Room B I discovered paintings of myths and fairytales. The females in these artworks were clearly isolated, tragic or femme fatales.
As I made my way in to the centre of the room, the idea that the home is often a ‘gilded cage’ for women was taken one step further. I learnt that upper class Victorian homes could quite literally kill due to the toxic chemicals such as arsenic that was regularly used in the dyes of household items.
A very modern installation in this room by Mona Hatoum displayed everyday objects such as a cheese grater and a potato masher with a lethal current running through them to portray in a unique way, the underlying threat of the domestic environment. It was very thought provoking!
The third room featured more modern photos and engravings, displaying much starker interiors. Room C felt a little eerie and I don’t know whether it was because my eyes had been opened in the first two rooms or whether the artwork was a lot more unsettling, but I definitely got the impression that the women being displayed were beginning to defy their prescribed roles.
I really enjoyed taking time out to appreciate the exhibition, it definitely broadened my mind. Before I left the Laing Art Gallery I indulged in another cultural activity, but this one was more likely to broaden my waistline…
To coincide with the Enchanted Interiors exhibition, Café Laing is offering visitors the chance to enjoy afternoon tea every Saturday between 12 October 2019 – 22 February 2020. I was kindly gifted the opportunity to sample this decadent dining option and I was mightily impressed!
Three tiers of delicious sandwiches, scones and desserts were served to me, along with a chilled glass of bucks fizz and an endless flow of hot coffee. Yes, I’m afraid I’m one of those fussy people who prefers coffee rather than tea! I’m not sure if everything was made fresh on site, I suspect some of the cakes were ordered in, but they were all delicious and there was certainly plenty of choice, both for sweet and savoury lovers. My only disappointment was that the cream for the scones was whipped rather than clotted but I still slathered the whole lot on my yummy fruit scone!
The setting of the recently refurbished café is really quite unique. It features work by Ralph Hedley and Edwin Landseer and there’s a magnificent stained glass window designed and painted by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones in 1896. It’s the perfect place to treat a friend or loved one, especially if they are an art fan!
If you’d like to plan your own afternoon of culture at the Laing Art Gallery, here’s some key info you should know:
Do let me know if it’s something you plan on doing or if there’s anywhere else in Newcastle that you have enjoyed an afternoon of culture.