The British Museum presents wonderful shows which are often tucked away at the back of the building. So I urge anyone in London to climb those steps around the old reading room, battle their way through the hoards of noisy children swarming around the tombs of mummys and keep going until you get to Room 90 on the 4th floor. Here all is calm and quiet and the content is superb.
First you’ll encounter a collection of prints and drawings by the German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867 – 1945). These works have been travelling around the country and will be in place until 12th January. Anyone who stands in front of these visceral, powerful images will be moved. They tear at the heart-strings. There is such sadness and fury in many of them which will make you cry. One of the most extraordinary images is a self-portrait she made representing a mother’s grief. She drew herself holding her seven year old son, hugging him to her breast, almost devouring him. And it was a miserably prescient image because her adored son Peter died at the age of 18, as the First World War began.
Living in Berlin with her husband, a doctor tending some of the city’s most impoverished people, she made it her artistic challenge to depict the struggles of women – struggles which so often included dreadful poverty, hardship and loss.
I love her self portraits too. They are so well observed and honest – there is no artifice.
And in the room next to this exhibition is Pushing Paper. It’s wonderful to see such variety of art on paper. The glory of paper is that is comes in so many shapes, sizes and textures and can be used with charcoal, pencil, paint, print and, of course, more paper in the shape of collage. I find this sort of show very satisfying and loved seeing work by a roll call of contemporary artists such as Grayson Perry, David Hockney, Tracy Emin, Richard Hamilton, Peter Doig and Judy Chicago.
The works are grouped into themes such as place and space, time and memory, but it’s not really necessary to feel the works mapped out. It’s just a joy to see so much work done with pure joy on paper.
So, brave the crowds at the British Museum and breathe in the excellence of art on paper. As I mentioned, you’ve got until 12th January 2020 to enjoy them.