The National Museum, Cardiff

In Cardiff with half a day to spare before the start of a conference I had the morning to explore. Now it being wet and rainy and myself being a self-confessed museum/gallery geek I headed a few minutes up the road to the National Museum.  An impressive building, the National Museum is a combination museum and gallery all rolled into one. I was slightly sceptical about this, believing that trying to multi task could reduce the quality of the art and the science, but luckily I was wrong. If you’re in Cardiff this is a one stop culture shop! The art is an eclectic and sometimes exhausting mix of old, new, Italian masters, pottery, Impressionists, sculpture, painting, sketches and anything else you could wish for. Whilst downstairs is dominated by the ‘Evolution of Wales’ which documents Earth History in one walkthrough exhibition. I had just planned for a flying visit so this exhibition, with its floor-to ceiling displays and highly decorated setting including rocks, dinosaurs and volcanoes, caused a slight case of information overload but it would brilliant for any budding geologists or environmental scientists out there. Highlights of the museum for me (apart from Bertie the Bison of course) were;

3. The lovely Barbara Hepworth sculpture. Reminiscent of a seed or polished nut it more than made up for the disappointing Moore sculpture and placed her on my list of sculptors to watch.  Not surprising as she’s a contemporary and friend of Henry Moore who’s possibly my favourite sculptor, if not artist, to date.

2. The huge fossil reindeer-like creature (this’ll teach me to read captions more carefully!) with 4 m wide antlers

1. However, top of the list has to be the smallest section, right by the entrance to the Natural History section, where a few botanical drawings and herbarium collection samples hung. I have a huge soft spot for botanical drawings and old herbarium samples. I think it’s the care and love that went into producing them. Created in a day where gentlemen could take up science as a hobby it’s not something we can easily bring into our scientific work today where every moment in the lab is money. But they are a symbol of how much of our scientific knowledge comes from a consuming love and commitment to a subject. And, I think, that even in a world where we can x-ray and image and inject radioactive tracers and gases into organisms until we understand every vein and xylem, a world where we can take photographs using lenses and microscopes more powerful than the human eye, that these careful drawings so clear and detailed can sometimes still provide me with more information that any modern technique.

 

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