Sketching in the Ashmolean Museum

What is the purpose of a museum? The previous evening, I’d been to a lecture by Tim Reeve, Deputy Director of the V&A. He had described, with great conviction, a new building they plan for East London, in “Here East” on the former Olympic Park. It will open up the V&A storage and logistics centre to public view. People will be able to work there, and be inspired by the objects. The idea is to generate “creative career opportunities in East London”. I could see how the proposed building, its architecture and the way it will be used are oriented firmly towards that clear aim. Well done V&A.

So, sitting in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology in Oxford, I wondered what was the purpose of this museum. I was in the Randolph Sculpture Gallery, which contains a collection of Greek and Roman marble statues, collected in the 17th century.

The main use of the gallery, at that point in the day, was for people to sit on the upholstered seats, and chat, and use their mobile phones. In my sketch, I drew the three benches I could see, each of which is occupied by someone staring at their mobile phone. In the background, a monumental head of Apollo looks on.

This part of the gallery seemed to be serving as a public living room, which is perhaps as fine a purpose for a museum as any.

On the lower level there is a large Egyptian statue on a tall plinth.

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An elderly gentleman chose this place to read his paper. Through the plinth, I could just see a woman chatting to someone via her screen.

There are many ways to enjoy a museum.

I walked about sketching things.

Here is an object from one of my favourite parts of the museum. It is a Yue ware pot, about a thousand years old. It’s small, only about 5 inches tall, and a gleaming green colour. It’s lovely to draw these things, as it in only by looking for a long time that I gradually become aware of the marks of the fingers of the maker, and of the slight irregularities in the shape.

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