Wednesday 26 March 2014
Linda and I had thought to visit the Bank of England Museum today, and thereby learned an important lesson for the Project: check the website first. We met at the entrance, to find that it is closed for refurbishment until next Monday.
Happily, though, there are plenty of options in the City of London, so we walked up the road to the Guildhall Art Gallery, arriving at about 10.30. (If anyone wants to know, I had taken the number 8 bus from my dentist appointment, and Linda had made use of the Overground to Shadwell).
The first port of call was the Ladies in the basement: we felt the pillars and mosaic inlays gave a Roman feel, appropriate to facilities on the same level as the remains of the Roman amphitheatre.
We liked the way the vestiges of the amphitheatre were displayed, though there was not that much left. We also liked the wall display in the corridors down in the basement: the offer of a tram to take you - apparently - to Roman times, and some interesting examples of the work of the marine insurance business of the City.
We then made our way to the main galleries. I'm never sure whether I mean 'deceptively small' or 'deceptively large' having never been an estate agent, but there was more to see than we at first expected.
We found ourselves in Wolf Hall territory again, with Sir John Gilbert's picture of Henry VIII and Wolsey, called 'Ego et Meus Rex', the arrogant phrase the Cardinal used which well explains why the king got rid of him. Many of the Victorian pictures for which the Gallery is famous were similarly narrative works: a pair of Millais paintings of a little girl, entitled 'My first sermon' - wide awake in her pew - and 'my second sermon' - asleep; then 'The Last Evening' by Tissot, which shows a young girl on board ship, surrounded by her family. Is she ill, we wondered? or going abroad to be married?
Of course a large number of the pictures are London themed, with markets and events predominating, including a Lord Mayor's Procession with Canaletto references, and several dinners. And there were lots and lots of portraits, ranging from Queen Adelaide and Garibaldi to PC Harry Daley, a remarkable man, openly gay in the police force of the 1930s. We also saw the grandfather of Tony Benn, the one who got the baronetcy Tony then had to lose in order to be an MP.
Perhaps the oddest thing was an oil sketch, made by John Constable of his painting of Salisbury from the water meadows, but without the rainbow which dominates the original. The finished masterpiece has recently been saved for the nation.
It was also a bit of a surprise to come across the Iron Lady in marble, though I suppose the City of London had every reason to be fond of her.
PS I had forgotten, till reminded by the 63 Regular, that not everyone liked the statue or the subject.
All in all, we enjoyed our visit; British paintings, whether pre-Raphaelite or not, are fun to look at, and the surroundings are - as one would expect from the Corporation of the City of London - comfortable and well maintained.
We shall try the Bank of England on our next foray to the east.