Getting lost with etchings and prints at the British Museum

First Option at the British Museum.

The prints and drawings room at the British Museum are a little known gem in London.

Hidden on the fourth floor it is generally a sanctuary from the hoards of tourists and groups of school children who fill the rest of the Museum. The Department of Prints and Drawings houses the National collection of Western prints and drawings and is one of the top three collections of its kind in the world.

The collection dates from the beginning of the fifteenth century, spanning over six hundred years up to the present day and contains approximately 50,000 drawings and over two million prints. Four or five times a year, we are treated to a selection of these treasures being brought together for public view in room 90 – The Prints and Drawings room.

At present and until 6th January, an exhibition entitled ‘Renaissance to Goya’ is on display. This exhibition comes after the showing of Picasso’s ‘Vollard Suit’ in the same room and is an exceptionally fitting follow on, taking us from the ‘modern’ Spanish genius right back to his roots. “Renaissance to Goya” is a collection of prints and drawings from Spain consisting of mainly Spanish but also important European artists working from the mid 16th up to the beginning of the early 19th century.

The existence of drawing from this period was very much overlooked, leading Prado director Francisco Sanchez Canton to proclaim “The Spanish artistic temperament was undoubtedly given more to the magic of colour than to the discipline of drawing, so that artists drew on canvas with brush and paint without previous attempts on paper”. Thankfully this small collection of masterpieces does much to show just how wrong that previous notion was.

There are many well known names in this exhibition including Velazquez, Zubaran, Ribera and Goya, but also some lesser known artists who’s work is rarely on public display. Our highlight has to be the rare chance of seeing some of Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings which are staggering in their beauty and power and never fail in their role as both exquisite works of art, and scathing reminders of the utter futility and horror of war.

The exhibition is FREE and is on until 6th January… Not to be missed !