Two East End Buildings

One of my main objectives during my mooch around Spitalfields last week was to have a look at a couple of Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau buildings  in the area, designed by Charles Harrison Townsend. He was a Scouser – well, almost, he was born in Birkenhead – who moved to London in 1880.

The first of the two buildings was the Whitechapel gallery, a short distance down Whitechapel from Aldgate where I’d been working. I’d been there a few times before to visit exhibitions and always admired the building with it’s twin towers and massive, off-centre round arch above the front door.


It’s creamy stone stands out in a street of dark brick buildings. In a number of ways, with it’s solid stone construction and relatively but curved surfaces, it rather reminds me of the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, particularly the Glasgow School of Art.


Originally, it was intended that the upper part of the facade would be filled with mosaics by the renowned Arts and Crafts designer Walter Crane, but these were never completed. However, today there’s a lovely metallic frieze of leaves and branches by Rachael Whiteread that was installed just a few years ago.

The gallery was founded  1901, intended to bring art to the working classes of East London, and was one of the first publicly funded galleries for temporary exhibitions in the Capital.

The second building was on Bishopgate at the far side of Spitalsfields and close to Liverpool Street Station – The Bishopgate Institute.

Like the Whitechapel Gallery, it has a broad semi-circular arched entrance and twin towers, in this case topped by ornate, multifacetted turrets. It has a different look, though – a little more traditional, more ornate and influenced by Romanesque and Byzantine architecture.


There are beautiful friezes above the entrance and towards the top of the towers, representing the Tree of Life. It was difficult to get a photo of them – the street was busy with commuters at rush hour, but I’ve done my best to enlarge sections of my pictures of the building

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According to the Institute’s website

The original aims of the Institute were to provide a public library, public hall and meeting rooms for people living and working in the City of London. The Great Hall in particular was ‘erected for the benefit of the public to promote lectures, exhibitions and otherwise the advancement of literature, science and the fine arts’.

So both buildings reflect the Art and Crafts Movement’s dedication to the cause of social progress (and, in may cases, Socialism) by providing facilities for the education and enlightenment of the working class. It’s good to see that both buildings are still being used for the purposes originally intended.

Charles Harrison Townsend designed another Arts and Crafts / Art Nouveau building, the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill, South London. I’ve had a look at some pictures of the Museum on the web and it’s now on the bucket list. It’s not so far from the Dulwich Picture Gallery so perhaps I can arrange to combine a visit to both of them.

29 Avenue Rapp

One of my favourite things to do when visiting a city is to spend some time wandering the streets, soaking in the ambience and looking out for interesting buildings and other features. Virginia Woolf, who liked to wander around central London, called this “street haunting” and in Paris, a city particularly suited for this activity, there’s a term used to describe those who indulge in it – the “Flaneur”.

While exploring the Left Bank, strolling between the Eiffel Tower and the École Militaire, I spotted an interesting Art Nouveau style building on Avenue Rapp.


Now, Art Nouveau isn’t exactly well known for being restrained with respect to it’s decorative features.  And this building was one of the least restrained examples of the style that I’ve seen – and I’ve seen plenty!

A little research after we returned home revealed that the building was designed by French architect Jules Aimé Lavirotte and was built in1900/01. His name appears on the all to the right f the door.


It has an incredibly ornate door and door frame, the latter designed by the sculptor Jean-Baptiste Larrive. A mass of whiplash curves and plant like forms with the head of a woman (probably based on the architect’s wife) flanked by statues of Adam and Eve.





The door design is based on a particular male organ while the door handles are in the form of lizards (lézards) which is, apparently, an old French slang term used to describe male genitalia. Not very subtle then!


The main decorative features on the facade are made of glazed earthenware and the glazed tiles embedded in the stone and in the bricks are the work of ceramicist Alexandre Bigot.




As well as the plant-like structures and human figures there are animals including bulls’ heads and turtles supporting the balconies



The Honan Chapel


The Honan Chapel stands just outside the official boundary of the UCC campus, but is effectively, part of the site. So I couldn’t help but notice it. I almost passed it by, but as I wasn’t in a particular hurry to get back to the train station I decided I might as well take a closer look. I’m glad I did. It was a little gem.


It was only built in the early 20th Century,being consecrated on 5 November 1916. At first glance I could see it was a neo-Romanesque building, this doorway being very typical of the style


but a closer look revealed Celtic features, such as these capitals


The chapel is, in fact, a product of the Irish Arts and Crafts movement and is Hiberno-Romanesque, reflecting the style of early Christian churches in Ireland. It’s a product of the Celtic Twilight of Irish artists influenced by Art Nouveau, Arts and Crafts and the Celtic traditions of their native land.


Inside there is a magnificent mosaic floor depicting the “River of Life”, (the colours haven’t come out on my photos, unfortunately)




All the “furniture and fittings” were beautifully crafted and full of detail







But I was particularly taken by the superb stained glass. There are nineteen windows in the Honan Chapel. Eight of the windows were designed by An Túr Gloine (The Tower of Glass), the stained glass studio of the Irish artist Sarah Purser. The other eleven were designed by Harry Clarke, the artist responsible for the Eve of St Agnes window that’s displayed in the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin  The Honan Chapel was his first major commission.








Clarke’s work is exquisite. Very much influenced by the Art Nouveau, Symbolist and Arts and Crafts movement with finely drawn figures, minutely detailed images and luminous colours. Thee photos really can’t do them justice;they need to be seen “in the flesh” to be really appreciated.

Beautiful Blackwell

After our latest visit to Abbot Hall to see the Patrick Caulfield exhibition we drove the few miles over to Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts house near to Bowness that’s also owned by the Lakelands Art Trust. We first visited this marvellous house a couple of years ago, but have been back several times since both to see the exhibitions they hold there and to revel in the fantastic interior.

Built at the turn of the 20th Century as a holiday home for the Mancunian Brewery tycoon, Edward Holt,  on a hill overlooking Lake Windermere, its a superb example of a house built in the English Arts and Crafts Movement style. The architect was Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott

During previous visits, photography wasn’t allowed inside the house. But the policy has changed and it is now possible to take pictures, except of objects where it is clearly identified that for copyright reasons photography is forbidden. I didn’t have my camera with me but was able to take some shots using my phone. So not top quality, but they give an impression of the interior.

This is part of the main Medieval style grand hall. The peacock frieze, installed in around 1906, has been lovingly restored and the original copper lightshades have been reinstalled.

A speciality of Baillie Scott was the Inglenook – a recessed fireplace almost forming a small room within a room – which feature in all the main downstairs rooms.  He incorporates windows and seating and they must have been very cosy places to sit and read or talk on a cold damp Lakeland day.

This is the inglenook in the Great Hall

The light and dark stonework has a very modern look but he has incorporated Delft type tiles and antique ironwork. I think it works really well – a blend of old and “new”.

The inglenook in the dining room, behind an elegant stone arch,  has a very similar look.

I remember the first time I entered the stunning White Drawing Room and how I drew my breath. It made an instant impression and it remains my favourite room in the house. The decor reminds me of the dining room in Rennie Mackintosh’s House for an Art Lover. It has a very similar look and feel. Very modern in feel and very different to the other downstairs rooms. More delicate with a floral carvings and decoration. and some beautiful stained glass

Another inglenook, but in this case it has a different look to those in the Hall and Dining Room.

To either side of the fireplace there are slim, elegant columns with carved wood capitals.

I could sit in this window seat in this bay window with it’s view over Windermere and the Lakeland hills

This is the view from one of the windows upstairs

And here are a couple of pictures of some of the stained glass.

And there are some particularly nice pieces of furniture. This settee from the White Drawing Room and the Chair from one of the bedrooms are by Baillie Scott himself

I am particularly fond of this little clock produced by a local Lakeland craftsman. It has a real Art Nouveau look to it.

As does this lamp , which was designed by Baillie Scott

Mount Grace Priory


We’ve whizzed up the A19 many a time visiting family in the North East, and never noticed the brown sign for Mount Grace Priory, a property managed by English Heritage. We checked out what we might visit when we were heading north up to Sunderland after out short stay in York,  and thought it would be worth a short stop.

It’s the site of a former Carthusian priory, with substantial ruins of the monastery (dissolved in 1539 by Henry VIII) and a 17th-century manor house which had been extended and remodelled as a holiday home for a wealthy industrialist, Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, at the beginning of the 20th Century. There’s also a relatively small (by Stately home standards, anyway) at the front of the house.

The brown sign was hard to spot and we then had to make a right turn pretty soon after, crossing over the south bound carriageway of the busy A19 to turn into the narrow driveway that led up to the property. A bonus when we arrived – National Trust members are allowed free entry. as the property, although managed by EH is actually owned by the Trust.

First of all we had a look round the house. A couple of the rooms on the ground floor have been done up in Arts and Crafts style, including William Morris and Co. wallpaper, recreating the look from when the house was owned by Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell.

This is the Drawing Room


with an attractive fireplace, which reminded me of those at Blackwell, the Arts and Crafts House in the Lake District.


And this is the entrance hall



A room at the back of the house has been simply furnished


and has a particularly attractive stone fireplace – very Arts and Craft in style.


On the first floor there was an exhibition about the history of the house and the attic space, which was used for the bedrooms for Isaac Bell’s children, has recently been opened to visitors. One interesting feature was the marks on the wall indicating the changing heights of the three children.

Once we’d finished looking round the house we went out the back door outside to where the remains of the monastery are found.


It had belonged to the Carthusian order (the same as that to which the monks in France who produce the Chartreuse liqueur). Unlike other orders the monks live a solitary lives, praying and meditating, working and taking their meals in their own “cells” and only congregating for short periods during the day. So the church was relatively small and the site is dominated by two large cloisters surrounded by the remains of the cells where the monks lived.



English Heritage have recreated one of the cells so it’s possible to gain an impression of how the monks lived


The word “cell” conjures up an image of a dingy space with bars on the windows, but this was far from the case at the Priory. The cell was a reasonably large house


with a kitchen and living room,


space for prayer and study


and bedroom on the ground floor


and a workshop where weaving and the like was done on the first floor (accessed by a steep ladder)


with it’s own kitchen garden.

The cells had toilets at the end of the garden, provided with running water


and accessed by a covered passage


Very sophisticated for its time!

To maintain the seclusion, the cells were separated by a high wall.


The standard of living of the monks, and the standard of hygiene, would have been much better than that experienced by the majority of the population. But I don’t know how many people would be able to put up with a life of work and prayer where there was very little contact with other human beings.

The gardens at the front of the house, although not particularly extensive, were very pleasant.




Even today, the site is very secluded. It’s miles from anywhere and surrounded by woodland. The traffic on the A19 rushes past, mainly oblivious to the fact that the Priory is there. It would be perfectly peaceful, but traffic noise from the busy road does intrude a little. Nevertheless, it was a good way to break our journey.

Judith on Kampa


Our visit to the Kampa Museum in Prague a few weeks ago was prompted by seeing the poster for the temporary exhibition Judith on Kampa which featured works by three artists – the Austrian Gustav Klimt and two Czechs, Alphonse Mucha and František Kupka.

The exhibition seemed to have been initiated by the loan of two paintngs by Klimt – The Water Castle, on loan from the Prague National Gallery, and the star of the show Judith from 1904-1905 from the collection of the Gallery of Fine Arts in Ostrava / Ostrava, exhibited in Prague for the first time in 20 years.

The majority of the works exhibited were mainly drawings by the three artists, loaned  from Czech public and private collections. They included two dozen drawings by Klimt –  portraits, erotic female nudes and studies for paintings.

I guess the rationale for the exhibition is that all three artists spent time in both Vienna and the Czech lands and that there are similarities in their subject matter. It was interesting to compare and contrast.

There wasn’t a guide to the exhibition or anything much about it on the museum’s website.  So I’ve pulled together some examples of the three artists’ drawings similar to those we saw to provide a flavour of the exhibition


Reclining Woman, Seen from Behind / Klimt

(source here)

Study for The Virgin / Klimt

(Source here)


Iris - Alphonse Mucha

(Source here)

Daughter - Alphonse Mucha

(Source here)

Contemplation - Alphonse Mucha

(Source here)


Study for

(Source here)

Women in the tavern - Frantisek Kupka

(Source here)

All three were accomplished draughtsmen. Klimt, in particular, had an economy of style and was able to create a recognisable figure with a few lines – the mark of a great artist – both Picasso and Matisse were able to do this.


Alphonse Mucha was an artist whose work epitomises the style of “Belle Epoch” Paris. But he was actually a Czech, born in the town of Ivančice, Moravia. His breakthrough came when studying in Paris he was working in a print shop to earn some cash and volunteered for a rush job to produce a lithographed poster for Gismonda, a play featuring Sarah Bernhardt, who was then the most famous actress in Paris. His design was unusual being long and thin and the style was distinctive and novel. The poster was a hit and became very collectable.  Bernhardt was so satisfied with the success of this first poster that she began a six-year contract with Mucha.

File:Alfons Mucha - 1894 - Gismonda.jpg

This was the start of a lucrative career producing paintings, posters, advertisements, and book illustrations, as well as designs for jewelry, carpets, wallpaper, and theatre sets. His distinctive style became synonymous with “Art Nouveau” which was becoming all the rage during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Although Mucha himself wasn’t happy with this, insisting that he wasn’t following any fads or fashions but that his work reflected his own approach and was influenced by Czech art.

Alphonse Mucha

Mucha’s work typically featured beautiful young women in flowing robes, or in various states of undress,  surrounded by flowers which sometimes formed halos behind their heads. He used pale pastel colours, quite different from other graphic artists at the time.

File:Four Seasons by Alfons Mucha, circa 1895.jpg

He later returned to his native land, settling in Prague, and created works including murals and stained glass for the Municipal House  and stained glass windows for the St Vitus Cathedral. After the First World War, when Czechoslovakia won it’s independence from the Hapsburg Empire, he produced designs for stamps, banknotes and government documents for the new Republic.

Here’s some photos taken in the room he designed in the Municipal House















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And his stained glass window in the nave at the cathedral.




There’s a small museum devoted to his life and work (the Mucha Museum) in Prague which we visited during our recent holiday in the city. It featured copies of some of his most well known posters, some paintings, drawings, sketchbooks, decorative objects and information on his life and family. There was also a film, in English, on his life and work.

One interesting aspect of the poster exhibits was that it was possible to see how they were printed. The long narrow portrait format was unusual and distinctive and had to be printed in two halves side by side. They were joined together when they were posted

Pictures of his work can be found all over the web, but there’s a particularly good collection of over 300 posters, painting and photographs on the Mucha Foundation website. You can even print out and colour in a number of examples of his work here.