Five free exhibitions

Published 6 January 2016

Be kind to your bank balance this January: a National Art Pass is all you need to enjoy these five culturally-enriching shows.

1. Drawing on Childhood, The Foundling Museum

Free with a National Art Pass

This exhibition considers how illustrators have portrayed alternative childhoods through their depictions of characters who were orphaned, adopted, fostered or found. Featured are Quentin Blake's imaginings of James from Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach who was orphaned as a young boy and Nick Sharrat's portrayals of Hetty from Jacqueline Wilson's Hetty Feather who lived at the Foundling Hospital. As well as bringing together examples from popular fiction, there are further works by contemporary artists David Hockney and Pablo Bronstein (22 January until 1 May).

2. Reflections: Contemporary Ink Paintings by Wu Lan-Chiann, Museum of East Asian Art

Free with a National Art Pass

Seeking to bring a contemporary edge to the traditional Chinese medium of ink painting, Taiwanese artist Wu Lan-Chiann draws on a combination of Asian and Western influences in her practice. Using delicate colours and distinctive brushwork, she is particularly interested in making comparisons between cycles in nature and those in human life.This, her first solo UK exhibition, has been displayed in reverse chronological order to reveal her evolution as an artist (until 15 May).

3. Exotic Creatures, Royal Pavilion

Free with National Art Pass

A diverse display of paintings, prints, sculptures and artefacts explores the first British zoos and menageries, which originated in the Georgian era under the Prince Regent who also commissioned the Brighton pavilion. Highlights include a bronze rhinoceros, a never-displayed-before painting of liger cubs that were bred in the royal zoo and material illustrating the story of Britain's first giraffe, given to George IV as a diplomatic gift in 1827. The king was so upset by the death of the creature – following two years in a cold, wet enclosure – he had him stuffed, prompting a national craze for sentimental taxidermy (until 28 February).

4. Charlotte Great and Small, Brontë Parsonage Museum

Free with National Art Pass

In celebration of the bicentenary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, the museum explores how a young writer confined to a constricted life in a parsonage dreamt of greatness. At their home in Haworth the Brontës lived in cramped spaces, sharing beds and working from just one room on their various creative projects. Yet despite her humble upbringing Charlotte had big ideas about the contribution she expected to make to literature. On display here are quotes from her letters and writings that betray her hopes for the future, shown alongside the tiny books and paintings she made at the parsonage, examples of her everyday clothes and pieces of her embroidery (1 February until 1 January 2017).

5. The Creative Genius of Stanley Spencer, Stanley Spencer Gallery

Free with National Art Pass

Although best known for the commissions he produced as an official war artist, Spencer's oeuvre was far more diverse. This exhibition brings together works from the gallery's own collection with loans from Aberdeen and Leeds in order to highlight the true breadth of the painter's output. Passionate, spiritual pieces are shown alongside those reflecting his interest in the natural world – particularly the rural surrounds of his beloved hometown, Cookham, which he described as 'a village in heaven'. There are also examples inspired by his personal life, depicting loved ones, neighbours and local villagers (until 6 March).

Enjoy free admission to these and other major exhibitions at museums and galleries across the UK with a National Art Pass.

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