Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Last Chance Museum

NoCrowds is always on the prowl for London’s undervalued treasures. Some of our favourites include Dennis Severs’ House, the Sir John Soane’s Museum and the Old Operating Theatre. These are places where you can have a big experiences, as judged by their uniqueness, without big crowds. Yesterday, we found another, the Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art in Bloomsbury but you are going to have to really hurry if you want to see this wonderful small museum. On December 21, 2007, the Percival David Foundation museum will close forever and the finest collection of Chinese ceramics outside China will be put into storage. According to the notice tacked to the museum’s entrance, the collection will be “unavailable for 2008” while a new wing is built to house the objects at the British Museum. Having some experience with British builders and completion dates, we don’t expect to see this collection any time soon.

There are lots of reasons why you want to hurry and see the Percival David Foundation museum before it closes. For a start, the ceramics, many of which belonged to Chinese emperors, are exceptionally beautiful and you can learn a lot about Chinese history and culture as you work your way through the cabinets of rare objects dating from the 9th to the 18th century. To get a taste for how exquisite these ceramics are, click here.

More importantly, this may be the last chance to see this world class collection in blissful solitude in a peaceful house on a romantic square in a part of London favoured by the writers, artists and intellectuals of the Bloomsbury Group. When we visited the museum yesterday afternoon for over an hour, we counted only two other visitors. We even enjoyed the “its all over” atmosphere conveyed by the friendly staff and the shaggy condition of the building. In an age of blockbuster art shows and all the discomfort that goes with them, it was wonderful to see a blockbuster collection in a calm setting. At the end of our visit, we stepped out onto leafy Gordon Square, dogging the students hurrying to class at University College London while admiring the houses next door that had once belonged to John Maynard Keynes, Virginia Wolf, Clive Bell and Lytton Strachey.

If and when this collection reappears at the British Museum, (and we can find absolutely nothing about the plans or arrangements on either the British Museum or Percival David websites, which makes us suspicious) you will probably have to fight for a timed ticket and wait in line to see such extraordinary objects. I am basing this assertion on the current hullabaloo to get in to see the The First Emperor – China’s Terracotta Army and when one considers the countless number of Emperors who ate, drank, worshiped and admired the 1,700 objects in the Percival David collection, our advice is to go now and beat the crowds.

Percival David Foundation of Chinese Art
53 Gordon Square
London, WC1H OPD
Tel: 44 (0)207 387 3909

Opening times
Monday – Friday 10:00 – 12:30 and 1:30 – 5:00
Admission Free
Image of Yuan Dynasty Temple Vase (1351) from Percival David Foundation website

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