Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Saatchi Gallery

Kings Road
SW3 4RY

Thursday 23 February 2017


The setting of the gallery could not be more splendid:  the old Duke of York’s Barracks in the Kings Road provides huge cool spaces, with pale wooden floors and white walls.  Linda and I arrived through the strong winds of storm Doris and were pleased to visit the modern and elegant facilities in the basement before moving on to the art.


Down in the basement was a room with prints for sale, mostly priced at £95.00, though one, ‘The Last Marilyn’ by someone calling him or herself ‘Pure Evil’ was £2000.00.

The main exhibition on the two upper floors is called 'Painters' Painters' and displays the work of 9 youngish artists. The first one was Dexter Dalwood, whose pictures were somewhat linked to celebrity:  Kurt Cobain's Greenhouse and Brian Jones' Swimming Pool for example.  

Then there was a room with large bright pictures of women shopping and having cups of coffee, and then we moved on to a room with rather strange collage-esque pictures: angels, bears on bicycles, strings of beads or possibly chromosomes.

At this stage, we felt that there could have been more helpful signage, perhaps explaining what the artists thought they were doing, though of course we could (and perhaps should) have purchased the Exhibition guide.  We were, for instance, baffled by a picture called Mingus in Mexico, with no sign of the great Charlie that we could detect.

In room 6, we saw the work of Raffi Kalenderian;  I particularly liked his Zebras, but there were also several pictures of people and places, which you can see here.

The next artist was Richard Aldrich, whose semi-blank canvases left me feeling very old-fogey-ish indeed.  The one with the pot plant was called Past, Present and Future and, again, you can see some more of his work here.
Bjarne Melgaard had a number of large, lurid paintings, including Death of a Hooker; this was not a title or indeed a work which I found appealing. 

And then we came to the room which had Ansel Krut's works in it.  We kind-of understood Shattered Man, but I have to admit to being baffled by Napoleon on Elba.  I am assuming that that is the title of the paint tins work, but the signage was so discreet as to leave one uncertain as to which picture was which.

We certainly enjoyed his picture of mussels, though they looked rather like pieces of watermelon with eyes added.

Then there was a room of Francis Bacon-y pictures, apparently unlabelled, but actually by Ryan Mosley.

On the whole, this seemed to us to be an exhibition of painters developing their art by looking back to other artists, whether cubists or surrealists or abstract expressionists or whatever.  

By the way, there is a vast shop full of remarkable things.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Southwark Cathedral

London Bridge 
SE1 9DA
                                    
Thursday February 9 2017

Yes Southwark cathedral is not strictly a museum but a place of worship. However as it has guide books, shops and a café, and enough things to look at and note, for today it shall count as a museum, and it certainly took up more of our time than the Golden Hinde from where we had come to warm ourselves up.
Compared to Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s this is little visited and so apart from the vergers, we had it to ourselves. The first experience that delighted us was underfoot – next to the Cathedral there is a Millennium annexe housing the ‘facilities’ including toilets and meeting rooms joined by a covered corridor (officially titled Lancelot’s Link) paved with slabs – one for each parish church in the significantly large diocese of Southwark – it stretches from Thames Ditton to Thamesmead and right down to Gatwick; the northern edge being the Thames of course.


The cathedral traces its origins back to pre-Norman times when it was probably a convent later replaced by a monastic foundation linked to the Bishop of Winchester (the remains of whose palace can be seen along Clink Street). And yes, the monks started a hospital nearby too – St Thomas’s. The church was called St Mary Overie (over the river) and later St Saviour’s after the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The proximity to London Bridge, for long enough the only river crossing,   gave the church added prominence.  The local population lacked the wealth and status of those north of the river and the church, eventually raised to cathedral status as late as 1905, reflected this ‘social divide’.

The first ‘exhibit’ is displayed along the passageway and shows the different finds discovered during works under the current building – these are mainly from the Roman era where this part of London would have been on the main route to and from the coast, but also include the early foundations of the first buildings.
Our interior photos are poor but for the tourist rather than the worshipper the main sights are the memorials – like all great churches there are tombs for local worthies or previous church dignitaries and we have always enjoyed the Tudor habit of depicting the family along the front of the sarcophagus. There are also side chapels (in Catholic Cathedrals  usually dedicated to Mary and other important saints) of which the most interesting is dedicated to John Harvard, who was baptized here and emigrated after completing his education in England. 
He is generally seen as the founder of Harvard University though in fact it is more likely he bequeathed his substantial library.  


An American paid for the Harvard memorial, which includes the rather florid Tabernacle  designed by Pugin .
Other smaller chapels are behind the altar (the retro-choir) and are the oldest part of the building, save the foundations.

Most of the windows suffered war-time damage and so there is a range of more modern replacements – the most recent for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 and others celebrating ‘local heroes’ Shakespeare and Chaucer who would have been familiar with the area and its then places of worship.  Chaucer’s pilgrims of course were heading off to Canterbury to commemorate St Thomas a Becket. Shakespeare’s brother was apparently buried in St Saviour’s (as it was till 1905) but the ‘tomb’ and effigy definitely depict William S. with various plays recalled in the window above.

Also comparatively recent is a memorial to the 51 people who died when the Marchioness sunk in the Thames nearby.

The small graveyard and herb garden recall this was once a monastery and still offer a (slightly) quieter place to retreat from the hubbub of Borough Market.


Southwark appears NOT to have a local museum, which is shame as it has a rich heritage, so to some extent visiting the Cathedral compensates for this lack.  


Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Golden Hinde II

St. Mary Overies Dock, Cathedral Street  SE1 9DE
                                              
Thursday February 9 2017

Apologies for the week’s delay but we were out and about celebrating a significant birthday.
Back to the river, though this time on a freezing cold day where it kept trying to sleet.
This had a serious impact on our ability to take photos and to write as ‘our tiny hands were frozen’ so such information as I have is salvaged from the leaflet and memory... The Golden Hinde seems to specialise in group visits, and small ones at that by which I mean a small number of people who are small in stature.

The reason for this is, though billed a galleon, this replica, built in the US in 1973, is actually very compact – what’s more below deck the head space is VERY restricted. (I went round the gun deck on my knees as being probably the safest option…)  There would have been quite a few boys on board and those who survived being lashed to the cross-trees could have helped out.. 

The original ship is famed for being the vessel in which Francis Drake circumnavigated the globe, the first Englishman to do so.   One’s first and most lasting impression is how brave and skilled those sailors and navigators must have been to set forth in so small a vessel, with a modest crew – at most 30 people – on a largely unknown journey. Peril at sea is timeless and universal but today’s seafarers have a wealth of navigational tools at their disposal, not to mention good back up and rescue services.   Drake’s expedition also had another motive – namely to ‘explore’ what territories and goodies the Spanish had acquired and reward the secret sponsor, Elizabeth 1, with some of the ‘spoils’.  We noted that no-one referred to Sir Francis (as he became on completing this voyage) as a pirate, but rather a ‘privateer’.   But when you realise he brought back enough ‘treasure’ to pay off the national Debt, which Elizabeth’s father Henry VIII had cheerfully racked up (where are you now Sir Francis?) then you can understand how important this voyage was to England and history.

Drake’s cabin was the first sheltered part of the ship we visited though it was so dark it was hard to see, and even harder to photograph. A several-armed candelabra was his only form of lighting, which on board a pitching ship is dangerous.  You emerge just by the impressive wheel – a modern addition to aid steering – and the rack of belaying pins – devices designed to hold a rope steady whilst winding in. We crossed over the maindeck to the foredeck and fo’c’sle (forecastle) from where there would have been look-outs to search for land or enemies around. Although the decks are much lower than most ships the steps are in fact quite negotiable. We descended from the front and found ourselves on the gun deck with its very limited headspace – apparently so designed to give the ship greater stability – there were 14 closely packed small cannons known as minions with a 300 yard (less in metres) range. The lucky sailors got to sleep here in shifts probably on the damp floor or slung in hammocks.


(In the summer we had visited the Portsmouth Dockyard with the absolutely brilliant Mary Rose  exhibition/experience. The Mary Rose may have been magnificent and about four times the size of the Golden Hide but obviously not very sea worthy as she got no further than Portsmouth harbour before she sank – so perhaps small was beautiful after all.)   
You can go lower still into the hold which would originally have been full of ballast to keep the ship down and upright in the water. Actually there is more space here than amongst the guns and just enough light to read the information boards about rigging and shipbuilding and caulking.

Backup to the main deck where there is also the Great Cabin for dining and Drake’s officers. As  there was a school party expected at 11 we were keen to leave them enough space to move around and stepped ashore admiring both the lion at the stern and the Golden Hinde figurehead, the hind being the heraldic emblem of Sir Christopher Hatton (Elizabeth’s Lord Chancellor who had a house … and garden near Holborn). The ship also displays Hatton’s motto to acknowledge that he had largely sponsored the ship and voyage.


This is a small scale visit on all levels but one that left me with extreme respect and admiration for the Renaissance and Tudor age mariners who risked so much to put England on the map and make the country and themselves richer. This ship was undoubtedly well built and seaworthy but still feels like an accident waiting to happen..


As   we badly needed to warm up we headed into Southwark cathedral, which will be a later blog entry..       


Monday, 30 January 2017

The National Gallery 4

Thursday 26 January 2017

Linda and I being, as you know, completists, made one further trip to the great National Gallery, in order to finish our exploration of the collection. As has happened on each of our visits, we were amazed at the number of splendid pictures that 'we' own.  
We went straight to the rooms coloured green on the map (18th century and beyond) and were instantly immersed in Goyas, including the Duke of Wellington, looking strangely un-commanding.

There were lots of Guardis, too. but it was the Longhi of Venetians in masks examining a rhino which caught our attention, before we moved on to a room full of Canalettos (or should that be Canaletti?)

The Stone mason's yard was interesting because of the women workers, though one seems merely to be scolding the children.  Perhaps women were employed to do sanding and washing and brought the children along to save child minding costs.




Next are several rooms of British artists: Zoffany, Lawrence, Hogarth explaining the ins and outs of 'Marriage a la Mode'. And of course, Stubbs, whose fabulous 'Whistlejacket' dominates one wall and fades out the other pictures hung there.

As we paused by Turner's Fighting Temeraire, we were interested to learn that it will feature (with a portrait of the artist as well) on £20 noted from 2020 onwards. Looking at other Turners, we felt that when he went into narrative (like 'Hero's farewell to Leander') he was less convincing.
One of the excellent freelancers who work here was talking to an impeccably behaved primary school class about 'Speed and Steam'. I restrained myself from contradicting her by pointing out that 20mph was really very fast to people used to horse and cart (it is the hare in the picture who is said to embody the speed)

We were delighted to see one picture by Joseph Wright of Derby: his remarkable painting of a demonstration of vacuum. And we enjoyed Hogarth's portrait of the Graham children, with baby Thomas (who did not live to see the completed picture) in his frock.












We skipped past a number of Lawrences and Raeburns of the upper classes to reach the Constables and then suddenly we were out of British art and (mostly) into France.












The British nation seems to own lots and lots of Monets, including his excellent portrayal of the Gare St Lazare, but we were also pleased to see the Pissarros of Sydenham and Upper Norwood.


Knowing the Bathers at Asnieres quite well we were interested in Theo van Rysselberghe's take on pointillism  in his Coastal Scene; and we loved the room with the various Vuillards in it, though the attendant said he thought the mantelpiece looked more like a coffin.  It is an unusual picture, in that it was bought for the National Gallery in 1917, while the artist was still alive.

 Linda and I share only a very limited liking for Pierre Auguste Renoir, and indeed for Gaugin, so we were able to make speedy progress to van Gogh, via a number of Cezannes.

 Getting back, as we did, to Pissarro, we wondered why his son, Felix was looking so moody: possibly just a seven year old not wanting to sit still.  Which reminds me to say that we did like the captioning, which often had bits of story as well as 'art' information.

Towards the end of our visit, we came to another lovely Pissarro. the 'Cote des Boeufs' of 1877 and were interested to read that it had been transferred from the Tate in 1950 when, presumably, the Tate decided to become either 'Britain' or 'Modern'

 We were very taken with George Bellows, about whom I knew nothing. and his portrayal of dock workers in the New York docks, and we also enjoyed a Klimt lady and a Matisse portrait.

There there were rather too many Degas for my liking, though we enjoyed the adolescent glare of his teenage cousin Elena Carafa.

All in all, and I know we have said this before, our visit reminded us that we should not need a 'project' before wandering in and looking at wonderful pictures.