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London has such a galaxy of galleries and such a lively arts scene that it is too easy to overlook the rich world of the arts in the capital’s hinterland. Here are two topical ideas for days out from London for art lovers.
Compton: The Watts Gallery
This weekend (June 18, 2011) sees the long awaited reopening of the Watts Gallery in Compton. George Frederic Watts (1817–1904) was an artist whose work always struck more of a chord abroad than in his native England. So it was left to his wife, Mary, and a small band of Watts devotees in Surrey, to perpetuate the memory of the artist and his work.
The Surrey village of Compton is a wonderful spot, one that makes a perfect day out from London. And the newly refurbished gallery will surely be a crowd puller. Even if you don’t know Watts’ work, go and take a look.
And don’t miss the Watts Memorial Mortuary Chapel in the village. Both George Frederic and Mary are interred in the chapel, which is one of the most extraordinarily eclectic and magical buildings in England.
Compton is easy to reach. Trains run every 15 minutes from London Waterloo to Guildford, taking a shade over half an hour for the journey. From Guildford, it is a 12-minute ride on bus route 46 to Compton. Note that the connecting bus does not run on Sundays.
The gallery is closed on Monday, so this is an out-of-town trip best made anytime from Tuesday through Saturday. On those days the Watts Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Margate: Turner Contemporary
Turner Contemporary is a newcomer to the visual arts scene which opened in April and is clearly inspired by JMW Turner’s sense of enquiry. The center’s opening exhibition runs till September 4, 2011 and brings together works by JMW Turner (1775-1851) with those of six of his contemporaries.
Margate, which is home to the Turner Contemporary, boasts impeccable Turner credentials, for the artist often visited the seaside town and was evidently much taken by the light and landscapes of the Kent coast.
The Turner Contemporary initiative is part of a wider renaissance of the Thanet towns, a point nicely celebrated in a neat newly-published pocket guide to Margate and its region. Discover Thanet is edited by Stewart Turner (no relation to JMW Turner, presumably!) and is an accomplished guide to a corner of England that really deserves to be much better known.
Margate is an easy journey from London. Just hop on one of the stylish hourly Javelin trains at London St. Pancras International for the 88-minute ride to Margate. There are also direct trains to Margate from Victoria, Charing Cross and Waterloo (East) stations in London. These all take longer, but are a little cheaper than the fast Javelin service.
Turner Contemporary is a ten-minute walk from Margate station. The gallery is open daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., with extended evening opening till later on Fridays. Admission is free.