Saturday, 20 July 2013

Betty and William Jacklin, 1942, Private Collection
 There are bloggers who keep calm and carry on through hot weather and there are others who can only promise that normal service will be resumed when a whisper of cooler air comes through the window. But yesterday evening I pulled myself together and headed off to the blissful cool of the Laura Knight Portraits exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery ... hardly a soul there. It's quite a small exhibition, if anybody is thinking of coming to London specially, but who needs a midsummer blockbuster? I couldn't help being drawn to this lovely little painting of William Jacklin and thought how proud his mum must have been as she coaxed that curl in his hair. Wouldn't it make a wonderful book-jacket? I love the lumpy hand-knitted baby clothes and the Startrite shoes which was exactly the same kit as I'm wearing in baby photos 15 years later. But I also wondered if that cabbage-chomping bunny ended up in the wartime pot? I'm reading Anne Sebba's biography of Enid Bagnold, who kept so many rabbits for Victory that she was able to eat two a week and boasted that her fried rabbit was so good that nobody could tell that it wasn't chicken Maryland. (The missing fried bananas might have been a giveaway, but I'm digressing.)




The Nuremberg Trial, 1946, Imperial War Museum
The painting that really stood out, however, was this one although I've seen it before, but I stood and looked at it for a long time, thinking about Laura (who was 68 in 1946) looking down at this scene from the press box. Her diaries from the trial are exhibited nearby and it was fascinating to read about her locking eyes with Rudolf Hess (he's the one with the bald patch, second from the top on the middle row), how she wanted to smile (but why? some kind of excruciating social embarrassment?) but couldn't pull her eyes away from his 'cruel silk stare.'  She wondered if the prisoners would be upset that she was sketching them but was told that, quite the reverse, they were probably pleased. I got the impression that Knight only listened sporadically through headphones to the evidence but I'd love to  read more of her diary. How terribly ordinary those men look; immediately below her, she looked down on the president of the Reichsbank, silver-haired, suited, respectable, leaning his head on his hand ...  and you'd think he was one of the lawyers in the front row.

For those who don't live in London, this exhibition will eventually make its way to Newcastle and Plymouth. 

7 comments:

Toffeeapple said...

The Persephone Post (do you receive it) has been showcasing Laura Knight this month, her portraits of war workers, very powerful work. Those two pictures were also shown.

Cosy Books said...

A wonderful way to escape the heat! Is London full of grumpy people fed up with sweating and restless nights? Well at least on the Piccadilly line...

A massive storm swept through last night and now there are a handful of trees down in our neighbourhood. It broke the heat but not the humidity. I like to think of the sweating as a very cheap facial. Stay cool, Mary!



mary said...

I should be down at the beach, Darlene, if I could summon up the will to pack a bag and go. And it's a morning tide, so if I don't get going soon there's no point.

I think Persephone is sponsoring the exhibition in some way, Toffeeapple. They're on a list of patrons at the door, perhaps just giving publicity.

Cait O'Connor said...

Fabulous post, I am grateful to you for introducing me to the artists etc.

mary said...

Thanks, Cait, glad you enjoyed it.

Lucille said...

I found I was passing today and remembered your post, so popped in. Just the right size and with many paintings I hadn't seen before. The air conditioning was a bonus!

Sue said...

Another very good recommendation, Mary.Thank you.I went with a friend and we loved it.Unfortunately,I can't keep up with you on your rate of reading.How do you (and Booksnob etc) manage it? Sue