Friday 27 February 2015

At Home: A Portrait, Walter Crane, 1872

Ten minutes to midnight, as the grand East Coast train ticket sale was ending, I decided on a whim to book a £10 day trip to Leeds. I'd already booked York - I did Newcastle last year - and Edinburgh's a bit far, better to fly. So zero planning and research, but I thought a couple of hours immersed in  Atkinson Grimshaw gloaming in Leeds City Art Gallery, followed by a stroll around the Victorian city centre and the market ... and that would be a Grand Day Out.

As Jane pointed out this week, it gets greyer and greyer (and colder and colder) as you go North. And it's a long way to go to discover that the art gallery is as good as closed. It did say on the website that the upper galleries were closed for refurbishment; it didn't make clear that this means the whole **@!** gallery, except for one small room of rather dull paintings (and hardly any Atkinson Grimshaws. But I did like this Walter Crane with the lovely blue tiles.)

Oh, dear ... this left rather too many hours to be filled in Leeds on a cold, rainy day. I had a cup of tea in the rather splendid Tiled Hall (stodgy wraps and dull cake - there's a more promising-looking tea-shop alongside the Town Hall, discovered too late). The Henry Moore Institute next door was filled with clanking and banging; a recording of blocks of marble being hammered and chiselled, so that means it's an Event not a bloody irritating noise from which there's no escape. (I'd left builders hammering floorboards at home. I really, really wasn't in the mood.) 
In another room, a young couple was writhing self-consciously on the floor. This may have been Art. Or else they couldn't afford a room in a Travelodge. It was very banal and very boring so I left. The Henry Moore Institute had taken me all of ten minutes. 

I spent rather longer in the splendid Central Library where I spent hours as a student many years ago without appreciating its Victorian magnificence. All I can remember is hunching over a microfiche reader, ploughing through 18th century newspapers ... head down, so many to get through before closing. 

Five more hours to fill. I went to the museum. (Not a patch on Preston.) I dropped in at the Cathedral. I followed the Civic Owl Trail, keeping eyes peeled to spot golden owls and weatherbeaten stone owls and Art Deco silvery owls. I traipsed around the market where Mr Marks established his Penny Bazaar in 1884. (Not a patch on Grainger Market in Newcastle - but I did buy a sea bass for £1.50 because it isn't a proper day out unless you're worrying about something potentially smelly in your handbag.) I traipsed through posh shopping arcades ... lovely pomegranate tiles but the same shops you get everywhere.  

Unfortunately, Leeds is sadly lacking in tearooms. (After a stand-up felafel lunch and a glass of mint tea on the market - cheap and tasty but not traditionally Yorkshire - I came across this one in the rather down-at-heel Grand Arcade. Too late again; by now, it was time to head back towards the station.) 

No, to be honest, Leeds wasn't a Grand Day Out. It was a Long Aimless Day Out ... without any art.

Wednesday 25 February 2015

A sparkle of raindrops caught my eye through the kitchen window. But it was white blossom on the branch.
We're getting there ...

Saturday 21 February 2015

I'd never seen Powell and Pressburger's Tales of Hoffmann, but lovely Moira Shearer is irresistible and so I was tempted out this morning to see this 1951 follow-up to The Red Shoes, surely the best ballet movie ever. And what a cast ... not only Shearer, but Léonide Massine, Frederick Ashton and a wonderfully camp Robert Helpmann swishing his cloak and rolling his eyes as the dastardly villain. Bliss, I thought, as the prologue opened with Shearer's Enchanted Dragonfly (at 4.41) skimming over the lily pads, and the first tale turned out to be a version of Coppélia with a very unnerving ending ... oh no, no, no, that's lovely Moira's dismembered head and it's all too reminiscent of her lying broken at the end of The Red Shoes.
Only then, it all dragged on too long - and there wasn't enough dancing - and the opera was very screechy which may have been the sound quality of the film or was possibly just playing it too loud in a very small cinema. And you still couldn't hear the words properly, so you were always straining to catch them. So by the end, I'd had enough. And I'd had a little snooze. Loved the Dragonfly, though. And the newly-restored Glorious Technicolor was glorious indeed ... those purple and green eyeshadows!

And this is where I had lunch. I do hope they used the stuff that kills all known germs. (In case you're wondering, my pulled pork sandwich was delicious.)

Tuesday 17 February 2015

It smelt delicious. I'm not great on presentation skills, so let's say it looked home-made. And it certainly made a change from pancakes with lemon. I've no pictures - I cut it up as soon as it came out of the oven - but this was the inspiration for the 18th century pancake pie I made earlier today. It would have been even better with a dribble of cream. 
I sliced off the lid and attempted to create a flan pointé with the pastry triangles but they wouldn't stand up straight. Maybe Jusrol wasn't the pastry of choice in 1730.
But pretty good for a first attempt. 
Just boasting.

Sunday 15 February 2015

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, 1885-86

I've always thought you could breathe in the scent of this painting, the roses and lilies and spicy carnations. Sargent used to throw down his tennis racquet as soon the light began to fade on late summer evenings, painting for as long as the twilight lasted ...
The little girls were bribed to pose with lots of sweets.

The NPG's Sargent exhibition is a delight - especially when twilight fell, about 5pm, and there was hardly anyone left in the gallery. I retraced my steps and was able to look at all my favourites quite alone.

Édouard and Marie-Louise Pailleron, 1881
There were three portraits of the Pailleron family - two children, their father and their mother - now in collections in Paris, Washington and Iowa, and reunited for the first time in over a century. But how did they come to be separated? How does a family come to be parted from paintings like this? Did they fall on hard times? (They seem to have been purchased, not left in a bequest.) It felt like there was a story and I wanted to know more. Would they be happy to be reunited after so many years? Will it be a wrench when the exhibition ends and they are parted again?

The children look ... suspicious? discomfiting? resentful? or just plain bored? There were 83 sittings for this portrait and rows about their clothes and the little girl's hair.

And maman - see below - looks rather fierce.

Madame Édouard Pailleron, 1879
I like portraits that set you off making up stories.

There was the gynaecologist with the very long fingers ... can't you imagine his bedside manner? Or would you prefer not to?

Dr Pozzi At Home, 1881
He founded a society devoted to enacting sexual fantasies. Imagine him creeping at night in those very soft slippers. And see how his fingers twitch on his dressing-gown cord ...
OOhh, it's Fifty Shades and the red room of pain. (And no, I haven't seen it. Have you?)
I can't help thinking that Sargent was winding him up- and that Dr P was too vain to get it.

Vernon Lee, 1881
Vernon Lee was the pen-name of the formidably intelligent Violet Paget. 'I hate the hawking about of people's faces,' she said, refusing to allow her portrait to be used on her book-jackets.
I felt a bit guilty standing in front of her, staring ... how she would hate it, if only she knew.

Saturday 14 February 2015

Mrs Minimalist's Diary  ...
At 6pm yesterday evening, I took possession of my newly-painted study and gazed admiringly at the shiny expanse of emptiness that was my desk. Computer, printer, keyboard, phone, mousemat, red Moleskine diary ...
At 6pm this evening, I notice a pair of pink spotty socks, two cereal bowls, two spoons, a fork, the kitchen scissors, my Great Expectations mug/teabag included, a broken makeup mirror, lens case, tweezers, a library book, a woolly scarf, a window-cleaning cloth, a Biro, and two notebooks.
Must Kondo harder.

Sunday 8 February 2015

It's that time of year when Two Temple Place opens its doors again. Downton fans might recognise the stunning staircase from Lady Rose's wedding. I always feel under-dressed as if I should be sweeping downstairs wearing something like this.
This is the fourth year that this astonishing Victorian mansion has put on an exhibition drawn from public collections outside of London - but to be honest, it's the magnificent building that has drawn me every year. (And it's free to get in, which is always good. On the other hand, £4 for an Eccles cake ... as a northerner, I made do with a cup of tea.)
This year's exhibition is appropriately drawn from the collections of Victorian industrial entrepreneurs from Blackburn Museum, Towneley Hall and Haworth Art Gallery (no connection with the Brontes!) Who would have guessed - not me -  that Blackburn has the largest collection of Japanese prints outside of London, or that Haworth has the largest collection of Tiffany glassware in Europe? I do wish they'd brought down more of the Tiffany, because that's much more to my taste than a Victorian industrialist's collection of dead beetles. On the other hand, I nearly skipped the cases full of coins, then found myself quite charmed by the run of coins from every English monarch ... must have been a bit like collecting Match Attax or cigarette cards and getting very excited when you nabbed a George III or a Henry II.
But what I most enjoyed was a quiet moment in the Great Hall, catching the late afternoon sun as it lit up a magnificent stained glass window and all the glowing reds and golds were reflected across the wood panelling. There's some lovely pictures here from the gentle author of Spitalfields Life, straying off his usual territory, although he's talking about the exhibition from a couple of years ago.