Five free exhibitions

Published 3 November 2015

We pick some of the top exhibitions this season that are free with your National Art Pass.

1. Enchanted Dreams: The Pre-Raphaelite Art of ER Hughes, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

Free with National Art Pass

Despite his works being some of the most reproduced in British art, the name Edward Robert Hughes is little known. Influenced by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, he used intense colour, narrative and details from nature that the brotherhood believed to be central to art. It is these qualities that give Hughes’s works an ethereal haze and a captivating, dream-like quality. To capture these moments of narratives involved much hard work: Hughes was a perfectionist who would create multiple studies for each of his paintings (until 21 February 2016).

2. Mermaids: Women at Sea, National Maritime Museum Cornwall

Free with National Art Pass

Historically, the association between women and the sea has been unfavourable; from bringing bad luck aboard a ship to a siren’s seduction. Although peppered with some myths, this exhibition also celebrates the stories of phenomenal female sailors such as Ellen MacArthur, who broke records when she circumnavigated the globe single-handed in 2005. By contrasting the facts with the fables, this exhibition highlights the difference between perception and the real potential of women at sea (until 21 February 2016).

3. The Fallen Woman, The Foundling Museum

Free with National Art Pass

The Foundling Museum used to be the Foundling Hospital, which was established in the mid-17th century. The entrance you walk through is the entrance that many women would have walked through for interviews in the hope that their babies would be accepted into the care of the hospital. This moving exhibition brings the stories of the mothers to life through their petitions, supporting letters and a haunting sound installation. The real stories are displayed alongside art works that mythologised the ‘fallen women’ in popular culture. The exhibition was crowdfunded through Art Happens (until 3 January 2016).

4. Gillray’s Ghost, Cartoon Museum

Free with National Art Pass

James Gillray is often considered the father of the political cartoon (Hogarth being the grandfather). While a student he produced caricatures under pseudonyms – these were such a success that they attracted crowds to the shop window of his publisher. Even 200 years after his death, Gillray remains relevant. It is said that satire is a survival mechanism of sorts for when we see political injustice and events that leave us shocked and disturbed. Although intended to make the newspaper readers giggle, beneath the humour of Gillray’s cartoons, there always lurks a deeper darkness and recurring themes that continue to occur today (4 November until 17 January 2016).

5. Pierdom: Photographs of Britain's Piers by Simon Roberts, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Free with National Art Pass

Pleasure piers were built during the rise of mass tourism to seaside resorts. Due to the large tidal ranges, the sea was not always visible from dry land for most of the day. To avoid disappointment, piers were constructed to allow tourists to promenade over and alongside the sea. We have grown accustomed to seeing these iconic landmarks dotted along the coastline, but they are disappearing. A century ago there were more than 100 across Britain. Nowadays, less than half remain. Simon Roberts has spent the past three years travelling to document ‘the personality, architecture and history’ of the remaining structures, as well as some of the spaces where piers used to be seen. This exhibition looks at his journey (until 21 February 2016).

To get free entry to these and other exhibitions across the UK, buy a National Art Pass.

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