Tag Archives: Leonardo Da Vinci

A Life in Prints: The Tessa Sidey Bequest

The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery situated in Victoria square is currently buzzing with visitors to see the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition and The Staffordshire Hoard which are currently housed there. However, despite these prestigious collections travelling quite some distance to Birmingham, one of the most intriguing and eclectic collections is one very closely related to the gallery itself.

After her death on New Year’s Day, Tessa Sidey, former curator of prints and drawings within the gallery, bequeathed her personal collection to the museum. And the exhibit A Life in Prints: The Tessa Sidey Bequest displays these artworks providing an intimate insight into the former curator’s personal tastes.

Gallery 20 is an appropriate temporary home for this collection of pieces. The white walls allow any visitor to really appreciate the both the colourful and shaded, which there is a most certainly a mixture. Ranging from Catherine Yass’ images of city life, which are a busy mixture of bright neon shades and dynamic lines created by capturing city lights, to the muted black and white etchings from a collection of artists, to the minimalist work of Josef Albers. Despite the potential with such a range of works they are arranged in a way that the complement each other perfectly and are extremely enjoyable to view one after another.

Furthermore, there are a handful of pieces that stand out because of their relation to the recent events and modern culture. It is not often in a museum that one could find a mixed media work depicting Che Guevara so close to a portrait of Lily Cole. However, this only adds to the sense of the collection belonging to an individual working with portrayals of society  in art within the BMAG for 30 years. Also, the personal feel of this collection is particularly striking when viewing Keith Piper’s work The Ghosts of Christendom next to an image of Tessa Sidey alongside the work itself.

This exhibit is fascinating to look round and a pleasant contrast to the vast range of more traditional paintings the gallery houses as permanent exhibits. I would strongly suggest a visit and not to be too tempted to rush straight into the queue to view Da Vinci’s work at the risk of by-passing this gem of a collection.


A Life in Prints: Tessa Sidey is on display until Sunday 4th March 2012.

Words by Beth Dawson

Related Links:
Lost in Lace
Ten Drawings by Leonardo Da Vinci
John Myers: Middle England
What is Art?

Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is currently home to an exhibition of Ten Drawings by the Italian Renaissance polymath genius, Leonardo Da Vinci. It is a huge coup not just for the gallery, but also for culture in Birmingham as a whole. So it is with fervent anticipation that I ventured into the city centre to visit the early sixteenth century master.

For those who have not visited Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery, it’s a grand imposing feat of architecture that really makes for a particularly dramatic journey on your way through to the Da Vinci room. Under the vast ceiling of the entrance hall, patrons are greeted by a statue of Lucifer, surrounded by a wall of different landscapes and shaking a spear. The Da Vinci exhibition is hidden deep in the bowels of the gallery, which is actually a masterstroke in terms of the layout: this allows time for visitors to contextualise Da Vinci in terms of all the art, culture and history, both before and since his time. Walking through the gallery almost creates a montage effect of the past 600 years of human history, whilst building the anticipation of seeing the work of a true undeniable genius up close.

     Finally in the room with the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition, there was a tangible sense of reverent religiosity amongst the thirty or so patrons in the room, as though talking too loudly would damage the drawings. Certainly there was no question of flash photography because the images are over 500 years old and vulnerable to damage from exposure to bright lights. Perhaps most unusual about the exhibition is that, despite being beautiful, the works were clearly never intended for display. A striking contrast from Da Vinci’s iconic works such as the Mona Lisa or the Last Supper, instead this royal collection serves more as a narrative of his life and work. For a start most of them are not works of art at all but sketches and diagrams of academic interest. There are designs for weapons, chariots, maps, precise anatomical drawings of dissected humans, plants and even designs for men’s fashion. The wide cross section on display gives an insight into Da Vinci’s great, curious, enquiring mind: his fascination with and ability to excel in so many fields is irrefutably inspiring.

The anatomical diagrams displayed on two sides of a glass case are particularly impressive. They are drawn so precisely and accurately that it is possible to catch a glimpse of a great empiricist brain at work. The closer I looked at one of them, the more I noticed ink bleeding through the page, only to then realise that these two masterpieces were scribbled down on either side of one piece of paper. To Da Vinci, they were just scraps of sketches drawn on rag paper, but to us they are priceless and infinitely precious testaments to human endeavour.

     The drawings hang in roughly chronological order, each with a short synopsis beside it providing a vague biography of Da Vinci and explaining the origin of the work. This becomes unexpectedly moving at the end of the cycle where we see drawings he made as an elderly man. It is disheartening to see the brilliant enquiring genius somewhat lose that curiosity that made him so vital, moving to becoming obsessed with drawing old bearded men and apocalyptic scenes. It is a deeply melancholic end to the collection, reflecting on ageing and death. One leaves the gallery not only with a respect and admiration of Da Vinci, but also with a feeling of kinship with him as a mortal fallible man.

The exhibition opened on Friday 20th of January and now, a week later, the huge initial crowds have largely subsided. The main room was busy, but with a quiet contemplative atmosphere and the gallery was dotted with a few rather sad forgotten looking ‘Da Vinci queue’ signs. Nevertheless, now is the time to go and fully appreciate Leonardo Da Vinci’s work without having to queue or travel to Italy. The collection is in Birmingham until the 25th of March so there is definitely no excuse for missing it.

Words by James Grady