I was back in London for a day last week with work. As I had an early start, I went down the evening before and not being one for sitting around in a hotel room, I decided to get out for a wander. I was staying near Tower Bridge, but rather than stick to the more touristy areas nearby (especially busy at this time of the year) I wandered over to Whitechapel and then over to Spitalfields.
The district was created in the 17th century and became populated with Irish and Huguenot silk weavers. The industry prospered for a while but went into decline, as did the area which became something of a notorious slum. Over time other immigrants moved in, Jewish and then later in the 20th Century there was an influx of Bangladeshi immigrants, who also worked in the local textile industry and made Brick Lane the curry capital of London.
Today, like much of the East End, the area has been gentrified with the old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped. It’s quite a “buzzing” area at night, centred on the curry houses on Brick Lane, although they seem to be more up-market these days.
I had a good mooch around and took a few photos before heading back to my hotel.
A favourite building of mine is Hawksmoor’s Christ Church. One of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known. I’ll get a look inside one of these days (it’s never open when I’ve been there!)
There’s quite a few streets where the 17th century buildings are still standing, with many having been renovated
Street art too, especially around Brick Lane
After had a good mooch, it was a short walk back to my hotel which was opposite this well known landmark
Last week I was back down in London with work. I had a consultancy assignment on the Wednesday so traveled down Tuesday afternoon. Rather than spend the night in my budget hotel room I decided to see if I could get a ticket for the theatre. I’d never been to the reconstructed Globe on the South Bank and managed to get a seat for the production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. Getting a seat was important for me. As a reconstruction of an Elizabethan theatre, most of the patrons have to stand in the area before the stage, just like the Elizabethan “groundlings”. But at my age I didn’t fancy standing for over 2 hours.
The play is a comedy – a rather bawdy farce, in fact. The main character, Sir John Falstaff, was played by an actor from Salford, Pearce Quigley , who I’ve seen many times on TV and who played the father in Mike Leigh’s film, Peterloo.
The structure and layout of the Globe means that it’s easy for the actors to interact with the audience. And they certainly did during this play. I wouldn’t have liked to have been stood too close to the left hand of the stage last Tuesday!
Although, being a too serious type of person (according to my family!) I usually would plumb for a tragedy rather than a comedy, but I enjoyed the production. The cast were very good, The production was light-hearted and there were plenty of laughs. Pearce Quigly was excellent in the role of Falstaff and his comic timing was pretty much perfect. For parts of the play I could have been watching Monty Python as Richard Katz, in his role as the French Doctor Caius, with a comical accent could quite easily have been mistaken for one of the French knights from Monty Python’s Holy Grail.
After the play, leaving the theatre, I had a good view over the City of London.
It was a balmy evening so I walked back to my hotel, clocking up a few more miles towards my 1000 mile challenge target.
All in all a good evening and certainly better than sitting working or watcjing the TV in my hotel room
My meeting in London finished earlier than expected and as I’d booked an Advance ticket on the train I had a few hours to kill before I could set off back home. I wasn’t too far from Tate Modern and as I hadn’t been there for a while decided I’d wander over and see what was on.
Taking advantage of my Tate membership I decided to have a look at the temporary exhibition devoted to a Russian artist from the first half of the 20th Century, Natalia Goncharova. Not someone I’d heard of before and I don’t recall seeing any of her works previously. The exhibition has had good reviews in the press, so I was interested to find out more.
Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d left Russia and went to Paris on April 29, 1914 Goncharova came from a family of “impoverished aristocrats”, and grew up on the family estate in Tula, 200 miles from Moscow, but they moved to the capital when she was 11. I don’t know what the Tate mean by “impoverished”. They were certainly considerably better off than the peasants who worked on their estate. So it’s perhaps not so surprising that although her art was radical she wasn’t a supporter of the Russian Revolution. She’d she left Russia Paris in April 1914, stayed there during WW1 and didn’t return after the events of 1917.
The Tate’s website tells us that
Goncharova found acclaim early in her career. Aged just 32 she established herself as the leader of the Russian avant-garde with a major exhibition in Moscow in 1913. She then moved to France where she designed costumes and backdrops for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. She lived in Paris for the rest of her life, becoming a key figure in the city’s cutting-edge art scene.
Goncharova’s artistic output was immense, wide-ranging and at times controversial. She paraded the streets of Moscow displaying futurist body art and created monumental religious paintings. She took part in avant-garde cinema, experimented with book designs and designed for fashion houses in Moscow and Paris.
The exhibition spread over 10 rooms and featured a wide range of paintings, sketches, costumes and other items.
The 3rd room had a large number of works from a retrospective of her work held in September 1913 in the Art Salon in Moscow. There were more than 800 works in a vast range of styles. The Tate tells us
it was the most ambitious exhibition by any Russian avant-garde artist to date
The term ‘everythingism’ was coined by Larionov and the writer and artist Ilia Zdanevich to describe the diverse range of Goncharova’s work and her openness to multiple styles and sources.
These are just a small proportion of the works on display
In another room there were a number of lithographs – Mystical Images of War was published in autumn 1914 – created in response to WW1. To me they largely glorify the war (they’re certainly not critical images) and, at least to some extent, see it as a patriotic and religious “crusade”
She was clearly religious and another room was devoted to religious paintings. I wasn’t so keen on most of them, but did like these fourApostles
Like many Russian artists in the early 20th Century, she was influenced by Futurism. She developed her own approach which was known as Rayonism . This painting was my favourite from this room and probably from the whole exhibition.
Another room featured works created while she lived in Paris. I particularly liked this painting of a Spanish woman
The final room was devoted to sketches, costumes and set designs from several ballet productions. Goncharova had worked with Russian composers, dancers and artists for Diaghilev Ballets Russes creating an ‘exotic’ vision of the east . I particularly liked the costumes on display that she’d designed for a production of Le Coq d’or
I enjoyed looking around the exhibition. Goncharova was a talented artist and although I didn’t like everything I saw, there was plenty to keep me interested. It’s always good to discover a “new” artist (well, new to me!) so I wasn’t disappointed that I had a few hours to kill before my train.
Later that afternoon I received a text from Virgin Trains to tell me my train had been cancelled. Fearing the worst – that there was major disruption – I was relieved to find that it was due to the train breaking down. Arriving at Euston a little early I was able to transfer on to the train before and managed to get home half an hour earlier than expected. So all worked out well in the end!
The reason I’d decided to wander over to Fitzrovia while I was in London last Wednesday was that I wanted to take a look at a sculpture by a favourite contemporary artist, Peter Randall-Page, which is sited in a new development, Fitzroy Place, off Mortimer Street. It’s right next to the Fitzrovia Chapel, a Grade II listed building was the former chapel of The Middlesex Hospital.
‘The One and The Many’, is sculpted from a 24 tonne naturally eroded granite boulder and inscribed with many of the world’s scripts and symbols.
The scripts carved on the work are all related to cosmology and the material/poetical formation of the universe. I shot a few close ups.
Work is taking me down to London a few times during June and July. The first of three visits took place last week. I caught a train late Wednesday afternoon ready for a meeting the next day. It’s not much fun sitting in a budget hotel room near Euston, so I decided to get out for a wander around Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia.
London’s a different world from a northern town like Wigan. So much more hectic and busier and with a lot more activity and things to see even while just mooching about. I’m fairly familiar with Bloomsbury as you’re in the district as soon as you step outside Euston station, but, even so, I often spot something I’ve not noticed before while I’m out “street haunting”.
Bloomsbury and nearby Fitzrovia are noted for Georgian and Regency architecture. But in amongst the neo-Classical squares and crescents there are other types of buildings, including a few in the Art Deco / “Streamline Moderne” style from the 1930’s. Here’s a few photos – some I’d seen before but a few I’d noticed for the first time. The light wasn’t great for photos, unfortunately, but here’s a few snaps anyway.
Last Tuesday I had to travel down for a meeting in the afternoon. As I was travelling on an “off peak ticket” the first train I could catch for the return journey only leaves at 7:30, so J decided to travel down with me and make a day of it.
After my meeting we met up at the National Portrait Gallery where we had a look around the BP Portrait Award exhibition before heading over to the British Library to visit the current exhibition about the voyages of James Cook.
We have a particular interest in him as he’s in my wife’s descended from one of his siblings and last year we’d visited the Cook Memorial Museum in Whitby as well as his parent’s home which has been transplanted in Fitzroy Garden’s in Melbourne.
It was an excellent exhibition and we ended up spending longer there than we’d anticipated. It covered in some detail all three of Cook’s voyages with exhibits including maps, charts, journals, books, drawings, paintings, many of which were produced by the artists, scientists and sailors on board the ships (including Cook himself) and a series of short videos giving different perspectives on the voyages.
After a brief introduction to Cook and the background, there was a separate section of the exhibition devoted to each of the three voyages.
Highlights for me were the charts drawn in Cook’s own hand
and his handwritten journals
and pictures by the expedition artists and other crew members, including the earliest European depiction of a kangaroo.
One thing that particularly came across to me from this exhibition was the role of Polynesians from Tahiti who guided the British expedition to islands they were already aware of and also helped as translators as well as, to some extent, smoothing the way, when encountering indigenous Polynesian peoples on the newly “discovered” (by Europeans) lands. In particular, Tupaia, who joined first voyage, travelling on to New Zealand and Australia.
There were a number of drawings by Tupaia in the exhibition.
The official objective of the 1st expedition (1768–1771) was to observe the Transit of Venus to aid the calculation of the distance from the Earth to the Sun, but the Admiralty provided Cook with secret orders to search for land and commercial opportunities in the Pacific. So Cook and his crew are best remembered for being the first Europeans to discover and chart the Eastern shores of Australia, properly explore and chart the shores of New Zealand and to “discover” a number of Pacific islands. Of course, all these lands had been discovered many years before by the people who were living there when the Europeans arrived.
The objective of the 2nd expedition (1772–1775) was to search for the Great Southern Continent, believed by some in Europe to encircle the South Pole. They travelled further south than had been done before, were the first ships to cross the Antarctic Circle and the Resolution set a record for the Farthest South that would stand for 49 years. They didn’t find land (not travelling far enough south to reach Antarctica)and Cook ruled out the existence of a continent ‘unless near the pole and out of reach of navigation’. The expedition also revisited Tahiti and New Zealand and “discovered” several new Pacific islands as well as South Georgia which he claimed for Britain. The latter was occupied by Argentina during the Falklands War.
The secret aim of the 3rd voyage (1776–1780) was search for a Northwest Passage linking the Pacific and the Atlantic. Again, they sailed into the South Pacific where they visited Tonga, Tahiti, Tasmania and New Zealand and the Hawaiian islands before sailing north to Canada and then Alaska. They crossed the Bering Sea over to Asia and crossed the Arctic circle, but further progress was blocked by ice so they failed in their quest to find a North West passage. Sailing south they called in at the Hawaiian islands. It was here, on 14 February 1779 that Cook was killed on the beach along with 4 marines and 16 Hawaiians, following a dispute over a stolen boat. The expedition carried on without him travelling to Kamchatka in western Russia and China before returning to Britain.
These were epic journeys demonstrating tremendous navigational skills, seamanship and chart making abilities. But there was a legacy. The discoveries and charts enabled the subsequent occupation, colonisation and subjugation of the indigenous peoples of these lands. So it was good to see that the British Library provided some different perspectives other than simply praising Cook in a series of short videos.
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
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.
Last Tuesday I was working in the east of London, in Aldgate. After work, I still had 2 and 1/2 hours to kill before my train so, as it was a pleasant afternoon, I decided to have a wander around Spitalfields, a short walk away.
In the 17th and 18th century the area was associated with silk weaving after Huguenots fleeing from persecution in France settled here and brought their skills with them. Later, Irish linen workers settled here. In the Victorian period, following the decline of the silk and linen industries it became something of a notorious slum. There were further waves of Jewish and then Bangladeshi immigrants bringing new cultures and energy to the area. Today, like much of the East End it’s become somewhat gentrified. The old Victorian market and surrounding streets being redeveloped.
It’s an interesting place to walk around, with some historic buildings and modern street art to look at.
For me, the star of the show is Hawksmoor’s magnificent gleaming white Christ Church
one of the six, eccentric English Baroque churches for which he is best known.
There’s an interesting war memorial in the church yard.
Close by, on Commercial Street, the Fruit and Wool exchange building has been controversially redeveloped against local opposition, over-ruled by the former Mayor of London and current “Clown Secretary”. The white neo-Classical façade has, fortunately, been preserved.
A number of old commercial buildings nearby have also been preserved
I quite liked this building with it’s neo-Gothic features
and these more modern flats with an Art Deco look
There’s street art dotted around the redeveloped market. Here’s a selection I spotted.
Wooden Boat with Seven People by Kalliopi Lemos, features an authentic boat that was used to transport refugees from Turkey to the shores of the Greek islands. The installation aims to reflect Spitalfields’ rich history of providing shelter for successive waves of migrants across the centuries.
I couldn’t find out who had created this “steampunk” motorbike
Last Friday I had to go down to London for a meeting. As it was scheduled for the afternoon I got the first off peak train down so the first train I could get home left at 7:30 p.m. Luckily there’s always something to do in London and on Friday evening Tate Modern is open late. As my meeting was on the South Bank, that seemed like a good option, especially as I quite fancied seeing the Red Star Over Russia exhibition that was coming towards the end of its run. A review of that to follow, but while I was in the Tate I got the lift to the viewing platform in the Switch House to take a look over a night time view of the City.
The Thursday immediately after the Christmas break I had to go down to London for a meeting so we took the opportunity to have a short break in the Capital as there was a couple of exhibitions we particularly wanted to see. We were lucky in managing to book a room in the Euston Premier Inn for less than £60 – a remarkable bargain these days.
After my meeting in Southwark had finished late afternoon, I crossed the river and took the bus from near St Paul’s
over to Trafalgar Square to meet my wife in the National Gallery where she’d been spending a few hours. We went back inside for a quick look at some favourite paintings and the small exhibition of paintings by the Finnish artist Gallen-Kallela of Lake Keitele in his native country. No photos allowed but I downloaded this picture from the National Gallery’s website (under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons licence)
For the first time in the UK, this exhibition unites all of Gallen-Kallela’s ‘Lake Keitele’ landscapes. They are displayed side by side, showing the gradual shift of the composition, between naturalistic landscape and highly stylised, abstracted image. They also illuminate the various influences, Finnish and foreign, absorbed by this highly distinctive and versatile artist.
The National Gallery closes at 6 so we made our way out onto Trafalgar Square and past St Martins in the Field
round to the National Portrait Gallery which is open late on Thursday evening.
We had a look round taking in some old favourites – the Elizabethan gallery and portraits of some of my “heroes” including William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, Shelley and Humphry Davy – and some new discoveries before purchasing tickets for the exhibition of Cezanne portraits.
This is a major exhibition with 50 portraits by Cezanne, which has already been shown in the Gare d’Orsay in Paris and will later move on to National Gallery of Art in Washington.
As usual over here no photos allowed (how different it was in Australia where we could take photos even in paid exhibitions) but there’s a short youtube video showing highlights
The portraits are mainly of his family and friends with some of other people he knew – including workers from around where he lived, one in particular who posed for some well known paintings. There are also a good number of self portraits. Covering the whole of his career, it’s possible to see how Cezanne’s technique changed and evolved. Some early portraits, including one of his uncle Dominique, have been painted with a pallet knife rather than a brush.
One person who appears more than anyone else in the exhibition is Marie-Hortense Fiquet his wife, who he met in Paris when he was 30 and she was 19. He painted her about 30 times and a good number of these portraits are included in the exhibition.
It’s very interesting to see how his portrayal of her changed over the years. She doesn’t look particularly happy in any of them and the later portraits are far from flattering to say the least. What does it say about their relationship? He married her against the wishes of his family and stuck with her until he died so he surely can’t have hated her and in those days wealthy men could easily discard a wife or lover. It’s well known that he was a miserable so and so, so perhaps that was reflected in his paintings of her or does it just reflect how his art evolved.
If these portrayals are hardly “attractive” in the conventional sense, and Cézanne has been accused of “cruelty” in his painting of his wife, with whom he had a difficult relationship, he would no doubt have painted her in exactly the same way had the pair been in the first flush of romance, such was his obsession with pure form and shape. (Mark Hudson writing in the Telegraph)