Friday 25 March 2016

I always think of Greenwich and the Maritime Museum as an outing for a sunny day but it didn't look as if there were going to be any sunny days before the Pepys exhibition closed. So yesterday afternoon found me sitting on a damp step with my lunch from the man who makes panzerotti on Greenwich market. Today, of course, turned out sunny and would have been a lovely day for it.
Samuel Pepys is my all-time favourite historical character. How can you resist a man who has the presence of mind to bury his Parmesan cheese as London burns? When I started out working in London, it always pleased me to think that I was walking in his footsteps every day.
The exhibition was lively and I enjoyed it, though it was a shame that the diaries can't be loaned. But I hadn't realised that Pepys also kept a diary during his months in Tangier - and that was on display. He still had an eye for the ladies - and for the spiders.
I also liked the copy of the memorial to his wife in St Olave's - she looks as if she's been captured in full flow of conversation ... it must have been a lively house.

I hadn't realised that they were married at St Margaret's, Westminster in 1655. I wandered in there a couple of weeks ago and was struck by the wonderful window commemorating the betrothal of Catherine of Aragon to Henry VIII -and quite astonished that it survived divorce/revolution/blitz. But nice to think of Pepys and Elizabeth kneeling there at the altar - and I hope he didn't misbehave with the bridesmaids. Or at least didn't get caught. (The image is a 19th century watercolour. You'll see it better if you click on it.)

Monday 21 March 2016

London has so many concerts with tickets that are free/very cheap. One evening last week I nipped out for a pint of milk, saw the windows of my local church lit up and went in out of curiosity; the Coldstream Guards were playing and I sat at the back for half an hour before being overcome by the desire for a cup of tea that had sent me out in the first place. As I hadn't set foot in the church since a wedding many years ago, it was a reminder that the inside is 'a splendid place for a boggle,' to quote Ian Nairn. 'The architect on the razzmatazz, out for a day in the suburbs.'
Yesterday lunchtime I met a friend to listen to these very talented young pianists and thought it was such a shame that the audience - only twenty-odd to start with - dwindled to about half a dozen as people ambled off to lunch and the cinema. Although it was rather a long recital; it's on Radio 3 over five days, 4th-8th April.
I only had time to whizz around the Botticelli Reimagined exhibition at the V&A, but an hour was probably enough. This made me smile ...

Botticelli -The Birth of Venus 
with Baci, Esselunga, Barilla, PSP and Easyjet. Tomoko Nagao, 2014
But I realised that I'm a bit bored with irony. It gets tedious after a while.

I warmed up when I got back in time to the Pre-Raphaelites. This Rossetti was purchased by a business man for £735 ...                                         
The Day Dream, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1880
Over twice the price he paid to Rossetti for this Botticelli. Still quite some profit margin as Rossetti only gave for £20 for it. (I know. I do have a vulgar interest in art market prices. It's my fantasy game of 'Why wasn't my great-great-grandfather buying this painting ...?)

And then I started enjoying myself ...

Flora, Evelyn de Morgan, 1894
There was the most fabulous frock, and if you click on the image you'll see the lovely silk pansies.

Allegorical Portrait of a Lady, Botticelli, c1475-85
There was this rather gorgeous scarf, though I wish she'd taken it off before doing that ...

Portrait of a Lady with the Attributes of St Catherine, c 1475

There was the best 1960s acrylic hairpiece...

And the Guild of Hairdressers Wash and Go award ...

But really I wanted to dismantle this exhibition and start again. I'd have culled all the mediocre 'workshop' paintings. I'd have got rid of all the clever post-modern kitsch. And just had a Botticelli exhibition .. why not? They're exquisite. 

Saturday 19 March 2016

 I was entranced yesterday by Ophelia's Ghost, (she's part of the new Shakespeare in Art exhibition at Compton Verney). Talk about suffering for your art ...
This is a holographic projection onto water. Ophelia was weighted down in a tank of a water in a chilly car park; those are real bubbles when she's gasping for air; and it took about five hours to film. Moral? Don't marry an artist. It was made by husband and wife team Davy and Kristin McGuire.

So what changes? It nearly killed Lizzy Siddal posing for Millais.

I wasn't wild about the paintings in this exhibition. But it is beautifully designed by the RSC's director of design. You enter to the sound of crashing waves - ship's planks creaking underfoot - and you're in Prospero's storm in The Tempest. Fuzzy image, sorry. It's Philip de Loutherbourg's The Tempest, Act 1 , Scene 1, The Shipwreck, 1793.

Then you're in A Midsummer Night's Dream to the sound of birdsong, recorded from birds that were around in Shakespeare's day. (Don't ask me. More sparrows. No green parakeets.)

Temptation ... now I really want to book tickets for this very inventive production of The Tempest. Why does it have to be such a pain getting to Stratford-upon-Avon by train?

Thursday 17 March 2016

There is only one Maigret and that's the one my dad watched in black and white in the 1960s. I was supposed to be in bed but I remember the theme tune so well that I must have been dragging my heels; if you were quiet, Dad forgot about you.
But I do think that Rowan Atkinson is an inspired choice for a re-make.

Wednesday 2 March 2016

I'm not a worshipper at the Mitford shrine - they seem a thoroughly unpleasant bunch, though I did enjoy Nancy's novels when I was romantic and silly enough to believe in being seduced by handsome Frenchmen at Gare du Nord. (The only time a Frenchman ever tried to seduce me, it was on a train, not at the station - and I had to beat him off with a rolled-up copy of Cosmo. Enjoy it while it lasts, girls, because nothing like that ever happens once you hit 50.)
However ... even if I'm only a lukewarm Mitford-fan, I do like a good nosey in other people's houses, so I couldn't resist the pre-sale viewing this afternoon of the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire's belongings. Sotheby's was looking fabulous with its entrance swathed in rain-drenched pink roses and jasmine - and a nice gentleman on the door to assure snoopers/prospective bidders that, yes, they were real. Well, it did look very pretty.
I was distracted on my way in by the display of vintage couture gowns  and thought that an ombré beaded Paul Poiret evening coat with a black velvet collar was infinitely nicer than anything worn at the Oscars - and at £14,475 was quite possibly cheaper, too.
But eventually I made it upstairs to the Duchess's kitchen - where the table was laid for tea. Now the objects on sale are from her later years after she downsized from Chatsworth into an old vicarage. But she was clearly not someone who saw eye to eye with Marie Kondo.
There was so much - stuff. Should the urge take you, you could bid for the Duchess's bag for life. (Okay, it's Emma Bridgewater, not Tesco, but there's not much difference.)
There were chickens everywhere. I guess people just saw stuff with chickens on and thought, 'That'll do for the Duchess.' There was some of the most phenomenally awful art you have ever seen in your life. Job lots of pig paintings; including what appeared to be a BOGOF offer, four for £800: pig snoring, pig snuffling, pig chomping and a bull thrown in for good measure. There was even an embroidered bull, est £200.
There were the Duchess's Elvis souvenirs. There was her copy of PG Wodehouse's Love Among the Chickens. And a Persephone book (Kitchen Essays) in a job lot of cookery books.
There was jewellery if you like nasty-looking spider brooches. I don't. Or a wiggly caterpillar brooch (est £1,000-1500). There were plastic Jemima Puddleduck lamps and two horrible artificial Christmas trees, none of which you'd pay more than a fiver for at a car boot sale.
There was a dreadful painting by Nancy, a snowscene from their nursery window - and that wouldn't cost more than a fiver either at any church jumble sale.
In the Duchess's bedroom, her bed was laid with a rather natty breakfast tray (I liked the breakfast tray) laid with real boiled eggs and toast. And there was Muv's dressing table, est £500-£1000. I thought I recognised the present Duchess taking photos of the bed but maybe I'm wrong. Luckily, everybody was being terribly polite and fawning and nobody was saying anything rude about the glut of chickens and I didn't have anyone to giggle with so I was behaving myself.
And it was fun seeing everything. And kind of sad, seeing someone's life dismantled.
As you might expect, Sotheby's cafe serves an excellent pot of Lapsang so I stopped for a cup of tea and a large slice of the Duchess's chocolate cake. Then remembered my station in life and trudged down the road to pick up some shopping at Waitrose.