Wednesday, 22 October 2014



Meanwhile the mind, from pleasure less,
Withdraws into its happiness;
The mind, that ocean where each kind
Does straight its own resemblance find,
Yet it creates, transcending these,
Far other worlds, and other seas;
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green thought in a green shade.
The Garden by Andrew Marvell

I haven't been for a browse along Cork Street for ages, but I knew exactly where I was heading yesterday when I left the Royal Academy ... to this exhibition of new Howard Hodgkin prints at Alan Cristea. The show's title Green Thoughts refers to Marvell's poem. Hodgkin sounds as if he might be terrifying to meet, and journalists are warned not to ask him what his paintings mean or he'll burst into tears. Of course, this could be out of sheer exasperation at being asked the same question yet again. Anyway, the girl in the gallery yesterday said writers tend to play up his reputation for being a prickly interviewee. You can read Andrew Marr's fascinating essay here.
And I learned something new. I had no idea that Hodgkin was a cousin of Roger Fry.


Portrait of Gian Gerolamo Grumelli (The Man in Pink), 1560
The Royal Academy's exhibition of works by Giovanni Battista Moroni is the first to be held in the UK and it is a gem. These portraits of living, breathing people - Moroni was renowned for his realism - seem so alive that you almost expect them to step out of the frame and start talking and dancing and bickering, probably reigniting some ancient blood feud from what I gathered from reading the labels. As for their sumptuous costumes ... oh, this exhibition is a feast. If you click on the images, you'll see the detail.
There is the Man in Pink, above, with his jacket embroidered with silver. his fine ribbed stockings and his fabulous seed pearl garter. The fine red embroidery on his ruff and at his wrists must have been fashionable because it features in several portraits, of men and women alike.

Portrait of Isotta Brembati, c 1553
The Man in Pink was married to this sober, patrician lady - she was a poet - who hasn't been able to resist the frivolity of an ostrich feather fan in candyfloss colours. Very Claire's Accessories, don't you think?

The Lady in Red (below, from the National Gallery) was also a poet, renowned for her beautiful manners. She had to leave town to escape a blood feud. Her husband was the Knight with a Wounded Foot who wore a foot brace if you look carefully. I should think he caused her plenty of grief because shortly after his portrait was painted, he died after falling into a well when he was drunk. I'm sure Hilary Mantel could weave all of these people into an Italian version of Wolf Hall.



There must be a story to tell about this lady who is rather too old to be wearing rosebuds and jasmine in her hair. She reminds me of Princess Anne, or maybe Margaret Beckett, suddenly discovering a skittish, romantic side that we didn't expect. But look at that wonderful smocked chemise that she's wearing. 
Portrait of Lucia Vertova Agosti      

Then there was The Widower and his two little daughters, on loan from Dublin. 




And this little girl looking very self-composed, with her pierced ears and her coral bracelet to ward off evil.  





There is a slide show here. I'll definitely be going back for a second visit. 

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Quinces, Eliot Hodgkin, 1969
Much thought went into planning how to cook my ration of six quinces.

An expert was consulted. Their lovely scent wafted from the kitchen as I baked them, following Sue's advice. (Thanks, Sue.)

Then I made the quince tort dating back to 1662 from this fascinating book.  Here's the original.

Quinces, Parmesan cheese, marzipan scented with orange-flower water, mixed together and baked in puff pastry. (I own up. It did have a soggy bottom.)

The technical challenge, of course, is guessing 17th century oven temperature/timing.

I thought it would be sickly-sweet but it was quite fresh and light. I'd make it again if I could get hold of more quinces.

And it was certainly a talking point.

The serving suggestion of a puff pastry eagle's head stuffed with marzipan and quince is sadly beyond my skills as a pastrychef.

I'd feel mortified serving up an eagle's head with a soggy bottom.

Friday, 3 October 2014


Life has rather ground to a standstill over the past few days as I've been head-down in Sarah Waters' page-turner of a novel. It's not her best, I don't think, but it's still first-class autumn reading.

It is 1922 and post-war London society is fissured. Soldiers have returned to a land that can't find employment for heroes. Genteel widowed Mrs Wray and her spinster daughter are forced to take in paying guests to maintain their shabby South London villa. The paying guests are a brash young couple  from the new 'clerk class' who initially bring colour and a bit of life to respectable suburbia. But they also bring with them the contagion of moral and emotional chaos.

I thought the novel was more interesting at the start in its depiction of two classes coming into intimate contact on the stairs and landing and passing through the kitchen en route to the outside lav. After that ... well, I'd better not spoil it, but it does keep you gripped to the last page.

Fortunately, I have a new Persephone to console me for the gap it leaves in my life. (And a heap of work that has been shoved to one side as I read 'just one more chapter...')

I'm also feeling very regretful for the many times I've walked past secondhand Virago copies of A Pin to See the Peep-Show - especially given the astronomical prices currently on Amazon.

Friday, 26 September 2014


Jane's post today on jam and art got me thinking, especially as I'd also been struck by Stanley Spencer's  doorstep of bread and jam when I saw it at Somerset House earlier in the year.

I knew that Melendez painted jam, for sure ...





But I wasn't really thinking of jam as still life.

I started racking my brain. (As you do when you're supposed to be working on something entirely different.) I thought of paintings with bread and cake and brioche and ham and fried eggs and all kinds of fruit ... but where was the jam?

I was so sure that Tissot had painted jam, but when I checked they'd gone straight on to cake ...

Holyday, James Tissot c 1876




I remembered seeing this painting quite recently, and I was sure this old gentleman would have had jam - especially as it wouldn't be rationed yet. But when I looked carefully ... no jam. (But do click on the image for lovely detail, like the gas-mask on the table.) 

Why War?, Charles Spencelayh, 1938


I thought Evelyn Dunbar would be a good bet for jam, but seems that she was more interested in canning which isn't quite the same ...



A Canning Demonstration, Evelyn Dunbar, 1940


So I set off on a quest and discovered tea-parties that might well have been cheerier with a pot of strawberry jam ... 

Mrs Raynes's Tea Party, Henry Tonks, 1928


And messy kitchens where maybe they'd find some jam if they tidied up ...



David, in the Kitchen, with Thistle, John Bratby


And neat-as-a- pin kitchens where they'd put away the jam (but left the sauce bottle out on the sideboard).

Half a Kitchen, Thomas McGoran, c1956


And pantries full of empty jamjars ...

The Tiled Kitchen, Harry Bush, 1954


And - finally - tea with bread and jam (though maybe it's honey!)

Kitchen at The George, John Kynnersley Kirby, 1932

So it seems that Jane is right . In art, it's jam yesterday, jam tomorrow - but never jam today. And you can't beat Stanley Spencer for a jam doorstep. 



Postscript: Sue has cleverly suggested Coupons Required by Leonora Green, from the Imperial War Museum, for its jar of Hartley's apricot. 


Wednesday, 24 September 2014



This was one of my favourite books as a child and I'd love to read it again. I can't think why it isn't better known today. Or is it? I only know boys who would think it was soppy!

It was in my classroom library - one very small bookcase, which didn't boast many books - so we read them again and again.

It's about a little girl who shrinks to visit her dolls in their house. They think she's their landlady and bombard her with complaints about the dolls' house food and all the things that don't work.

So I was delighted to spend this morning at the Museum of Childhood looking at some of the dolls' houses that will feature in this exhibition. Including one very superior house with real cake! (The exhibition will be free to get in.)

Remember Ballet Shoes?
    The Fossil sisters lived in the Cromwell Road. At that end of it which is farthest away from the Brompton Road, and yet sufficiently near it to be taken to look at the dolls’ houses in the Victoria and Albert every wet day, and if not too wet, expected to ‘save the penny and walk.’ Saving the penny and walking was a great feature of their lives.

The very same dolls' houses. Could it be a need for equity release to support their owners in dolly retirement that forced their removal from genteel South Kensington to their present less fashionable address in Bethnal Green?

(Nothing to do with dolls' houses - but have you tried this reading test? I scored faster than a college professor but I imagine that college professors might be reading something more intellectually taxing!)

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Ruhleben Prison Camp: Hut No 8, Nico Jungman, 1917
There are some very moving stories in the Garden Museum's new exhibition Gardens and War, including the fascinating history of all those keen British gardeners holed up in  Ruhleben internment camp during WW1. Hut 8 was very proud of its rose garden.

The first bomb of that war fell on a garden in Dover and blasted the gardener out of a tree he was pruning. I never knew that!

Most poignant are the gardening stories from recent conflicts, little plots of hope in Gaza, Israel and Afghanistan.

But ... this is an exhibition almost entirely bereft of objects. When you think about it, it's extremely unlikely that anything would survive other than stray photographs. You wouldn't lose anything by experiencing it online instead of buying a ticket.

No excuse, though, for all the sloppy spelling mistakes. Ordinance/ordnance ... in an exhibition about war, for heaven's sake. Plus the usual it's/its and several more I spotted. Not a very good example for school parties.

My verdict: save the tube fare and buy the book.