A Winter Break in London

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We’re just back from a short break in London. We took the train down on Thursday morning arriving midday and headed back home Friday evening to be greeted with hail stones and snow. Luckily the weather was quite good while we down in the Smoke. Cold, but only a little rain and a brief slurry of snow on the Saturday.

It was our third January break in London and, as previously, we stayed in the Premier Inn at Belsize Park, Hampstead. Cheaper than hotels in the centre of London but only 3 stops up the Northern Line and 15 or so minutes into the tourist hotspots.

After checking into our hotel just after midday we took the tube to Charring Cross and then walked over to the Courtauld Gallery. We wanted to see the Schiele  exhibition that was coming to the end of its run but we also enjoyed looking at the paintings, drawings and sculpture from their permanent collection.

Egon Schiele 23 October 2014 - 18 January 2015

After that we headed over to the Whitechapel Gallery where it was late night opening and a new exhibition of abstract art – Adventures of the Black Square Abstract Art and Society 1915–2015 – had just opened. there were some free exhibitions on too which were also very interesting.

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After a long afternoon of looking at art it was time to head back to the hotel.

The next day, after breakfast we took the tube to Euston and had a pleasant walk through Bloomsbury to the British Museum. Taking time to look around some of the Georgian streets and squares.

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There’s so much to see in the British Museum it can be overwhelming, so we concentrated on the Anglo Saxon, Viking and Celtic rooms upstairs

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and the Babylonian reliefs on the ground floor

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After that we went for a walk along the South Bank, stopping off for a very delicious meal in the cafe at Tate Modern.

We managed to get a table by the window with an excellent view

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We didn’t stop in the Tate but walked over the Millennium Bridge towards St pauls, taking in the views along the river and towards the Shard

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Not far from St Pauls, tucked away in a small square linked by narrow alleys to Fleet Street is the house where Dr Johnson lived while he compiled his Dictionary.

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It was a long day as we had tickets to see the play at the Hampstead Theatre

Saturday morning a return trip to Kenwood House which we visited last year.

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And after dinner we decided to brave the queues and take a trip on the London Eye which had just reopened following it’s winter shutdown. We’d only been on it once before, back in 2000, when it rained and we could hardly see anything. This time we were luckier as it was a reasonably fine late afternoon

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So we got some good views over London

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It was almost 5 o’clock and time to head back to Euston. We were shattered when we got home!

A visit to Kenwood House

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Kenwood House stands on the north end of Hampstead Heath. A magnificent sight situated on the top of a hill with views extending over the Heath as far as the centre of London with the modern skyscrapers visible in the distance.

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Although we’ve stayed in Hampstead a few times over the last couple of years before our latest visit the house was closed for renovation. But it reopened recently and a visit was a must during our short break early January to see the house and it’s renowned collection of paintings.

There’s been a house on the site since the early 17th Century. It’s changed over the years but the magnificent white neo-Classical style building created by by the Scottish architect Robert Adam, who, with his brother James, remodelled and extended the building for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, between 1764 and 1779. Today it’s owned by the English Heritage after it was bequeathed to the nation, together with a collection of Old Master and British paintings, in 1925 by Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh (1847–1927).

When we arrived we were amazed to find that entry was free. The first time ever for a visit to an English Heritage property! But I later discovered that free entry was a condition of the Iveagh bequest.

Entrance was on the north of the house via this neo-Classical portico with it’s fluted Ionic order columns and triangular pediment, which was part of the remodelling by Robert and James Adam.

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Inside, the main architectural interest was Adam’s rather magnificent library, or ‘Great Room’.

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Although lined with books the room was mainly used for entertaining. (I wonder if anyone actually read the books – they were probably mainly for show, to impress visitors that the owner was well read and educated.) The room is beautifully proportioned and has a stunning ceiling featuring paintings by Antonio Zucchi, and It has a decorative frieze. I snapped the above photo on my phone and it really wasn’t possible to get a decent shot that does justice to this room that is considered (according to the guidebook!) to be is one of Adam’s greatest interiors. There’s a better photo here (no visitors to get in the way!) together with some information on the restoration work.

During the recent renovation English Heritage had extensive paint analysis undertaken and have restored Adam’s original rather restrained powder blue and white decorative scheme, which has almost a Modernist look. Looking at pictures in the guidebook it was much more heavily decorated with lots of gilding and bright colours. I reckon it’s probably an improvement, but then I don’t like over fussy decoration. I don’t know whether regular visitors would agree. It would be interesting to read any comments on this (What do you think Milady?)

There are three other main surviving Adam interiors – the entrance hall, Great Stairs and antechamber. They have clearly been changed over time, but the English Heritage website tells us that

they retain considerable fabric and character from Adam’s time

 

Another attraction for us was the art collection, that had been

There were numerous portraits from the major portrait painters from the second half of the 18th century. Works by Gainsborough, Reynolds and George Romney, who we have got to know very well due to the collection of his works held by Abbot Hall in his home town of Kendal.  We are now able to recognise his works at first glance! The Romney paintings included several featuring his muse Emma Hart – better known as Lady Hamilton.

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Emma Hart at Prayer by George Romney

There were also a significant collection of 17th-century Dutch and Flemish paintings including  a self-portrait Rembrandt’s  (c 1665)

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But, for me, this little beauty was the best of the lot.

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The Guitar Player (c 1672), Johannes Vermeer

There were also sculptures by Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore in the grounds.

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Monolith-Empyrean (1953) Barbara Hepworth

We didn’t explore the grounds and gardens, it was far too muddy underfoot. We’ll save that for another time.