Saturday 31 March 2018

Don't dither, ladies ... there is a flash sale at the Old Vic, book today and all tickets from next week until the end of the run of Fanny and Alexander are down to £12. I went last night and Penelope Wilton is wonderful and though it's three and half hours long, it flashed by. (Downton fans might also like to see second footman Molesley/Kevin Doyle as a grim Calvinist bishop.)

Thursday 29 March 2018

Self-portrait with a Sunflower, van Dyck
This exhibition on Charles I's art collection at the Royal Academy is simply breathtaking. What a coup to bring it all together. (The jostling crowd in the first couple of galleries was breathtaking, too, but it does thin out as you go round.)

If you go, do read the labels which tell you where each work in which palace - and its fate in the Commonwealth Sale of the royal collection in 1649.

Charles I, 1635-6, van Dyck

There's no denying that Charles was fortunate in his court painter. Here was a weedy, 5ft3in stammerer with rickets ... and van Dyck turned him into a King. (At school we used to giggle because the history teacher had such a pash on him.)

Charles V with a Dog, Titian, 1533

I didn't come away with any sense that the King really had an eye for art; he just owned lots of it! He inherited works of the northern Renaissance ... I envied his Holbeins far more than any Venetian works. And he bought a massive job lot, sight unseen, from the Gonzagas. This Titian was a gift.

Robert Cheseman, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533

This was one of my favourites. The disdain in his eyes ...

Erasmus, Quinten Massys, 1517
But Erasmus reminds me of Mark Rylance.

John More, Hans Holbein the Younger

I've always loved Holbein's portraits of Thomas More's family; they're so alive.

Derich Born, Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533

And doesn't young Derich Born, the 23-year-old steel merchant look immensely full of himself? The inscription on the ledge reads: If you added a voice, this would be Derich his very self. You would be in doubt whether the painter or his father made him. 

Charles I and Henrietta Maria Holding a Laurel Wreath, van Dyck, 1632

Henrietta Maria with Sir Jeffrey Hudson, van Dyck

And here we are back with the King and Queen. They are all exquisite. 
Now ... am I going to follow-up with Charles II?

Sunday 25 March 2018

I don't watch awards ceremonies so I didn't know that Oprah had spoken out at the Golden Globes about the story of Recy Taylor, a black woman who was kidnapped and gang-raped while walking home from church in Alabama in the 1940s. So it was purely by chance that I heard of this afternoon's screening of The Rape of Recy Taylor with Q&A afterwards with the film's director Nancy Buirski (who also made Loving). Oprah might be gratified to know that the cinema was full and the film will be on wider release from May. (I'd much sooner see films in a cinema - and the director made the point that this one is worth seeing as part of an audience; very true as people were still discussing it on the way out. But, if you really must, it's available to watch on-line.)
I'd never heard of Recy Taylor - who only died last December - and wasn't sure if that was my ignorance of black history, or if her story is little known; but chatting to others in the audience, it seems that I wasn't the only one. There's a trailer here and you can read her story here . It also brought home to me how little I know about Rosa Parks who was an activist long before she refused her seat to a white man on a Montgomery bus. (Parks was forcibly ejected, ie thrown down the steps of Recy Taylor's home by the local sheriff when she visited to organise support.)

I think all of the questions afterwards came from women, of all ages. And it did strike me - as I quite often go to these Q&A events - that women ask questions - succinct and very interesting questions this afternoon - whilst men so often turn a question into a lengthy diversion to display their own knowledge.

Incidentally, this was my first visit to the Everyman at King's Cross which only opened a few months ago and now it's my new favourite cinema.

Wednesday 21 March 2018

I do find that American book jackets can be desperately unappealing ... I mean, honestly, would you even think of picking up this dreary-looking thing in a bookshop? But I've been wallowing in Montmaray with guilty pleasure for the past couple of days. I don't read teen books very often but I'd have been in heaven if this had been around when I was 12. And if I were 12, I don't suppose I'd notice, let alone care that author Michelle Cooper has helped herself liberally from I Capture the Castle.

This is the journal of Sophia Margaret Elizabeth Jane Clementine FitzOsborne, begun this twenty-third day of October 1936, on the occasion of her sixteenth birthday ...

And if she isn't quite writing this sitting in the kitchen sink, listening to the dripping roof and watching her sister Rose ironing her only nightgown - well, give or take a title, Princess Sophia and Cassandra Mortmain are almost interchangeable. If Cassandra lives with her eccentric family in a decaying castle in the middle of the nowhere in the 1930s, the FitzOsbornes are living it in spades in their castle in the tiny island kingdom of Montmaray somewhere in the Bay of Biscay. There's a mad king, still wracked by WWI - a mad housekeeper, shades of Mrs Danvers - the housekeeper's handsome son - invading Nazis - secret passages - bombs ... and a bit too much author-splaining about the Spanish Civil War, Mrs Simpson and historical background, though maybe that wouldn't grate so much on a teen reader. Never mind, it was a jolly enjoyable read-in-bed although for my money, you can't beat Guard Your Daughters which has been republished by Persephone since I wrote about it two years ago. (I can't claim credit because lots of bloggers were urging it!)

Although the first book ends on a cliffhanger, I wasn't sure whether I'd continue with the Montmaray saga but as I was ordering this on Amazon last night - couldn't resist my baking heroine Regula Ysewijn at such a hefty reduction - I decided I needed something else to make up £10 and qualify for free postage. So that's three books bought this week, and I took three rather smaller books to the Oxfam shop - so it's one-in-one-out but not really solving the shelving crisis, is it?

Isn't Regula Ysewijn a fabulous name for a cook? I always think of her as Regulo Eis-wein but I'm probably mispronouncing her in my head.

Wednesday 14 March 2018

Rimon (Pomegranate), Tal Shochat 2011

So perfect, you'd think it was plastic. Israeli photographer Tal Shochat (on her own? or with a squad of helpers? I couldn't help wondering) polished every twig, leaf and fruit on this pomegranate tree to achieve perfection. (And then rigged up a black background.) I am awestruck at the thought of going into the orchard with a can of Pledge and a yellow duster - when I so rarely attack my own bookshelves - and accept that I simply don't have the patience to be an artist and had much better put my creative urges to making cake!
The photograph is in the V&A's Into the Woods exhibition of tree photography. If you're at the V&A anyway for their ocean liners exhibition - which I enjoyed very much, but haven't got round to writing up - you'll find this tiny free exhibition in the next gallery and it's worth a 10-minute detour.

I loved this film when it first came out last year but at the time, there was little chance of seeing it outside London. Suddenly I see posters everywhere and it seems to be on wider release as of next week but the English title has been changed from the unwieldy Fifty Springtimes to I Got Life. Highly recommended and I might even go again. Miles, miles better than the clunky Finding Your Feet that squandered a brilliant cast (Imelda Staunton, Celia Imrie, Timothy Spall, all boosting their pensions!) on a hackneyed, patronising script.

Monday 12 March 2018

I absolutely loved Bernard MacLaverty's latest book Midwinter Break which reminded me that I'd never got round to reading his earlier novel Grace Notes, despite the pulling power of its jacket by one of my favourite artists Hammershoi.
Sadly, it turns out that I'm the wrong the reader for this one and I didn't warm to this novel at all. Perhaps it really is 'a bad novel by a good writer' as one reviewer put it, but I simply felt irritated by Catherine, the young woman composer who is the central character; though I'll grant that someone more responsive to music - and the smell of babies - than I am might feel more sympathetic.
It's short, so I limped along to the end - felt glad that I didn't choose it for book group as it's my turn next and they'd all have hated for me for it - then picked up a George Gissing with huge relief because a good Victorian never lets you down.

Thursday 8 March 2018

Woman with Dagger, 1931
This is what Picasso painted during Christmas week, 1931. You can only imagine the festive mood in the family home ...

Woman in a Red Armchair, 1931
And this is the large painting he does, very quickly, on Christmas Day, a portrait of his secret (and much younger) lover Marie-Thérèse, with her face obliterated and her features replaced by a heart. (They met - or rather, he picked her up - in Galeries Lafayette one day when she was 17 and had gone to the store to buy a Peter Pan collar and cuffs. She remained in love with him for the rest of her life and said that he was the only person who ever really looked at her and properly saw her. ) 

And that's the opening of Tate Modern's magnificent Picasso exhibition that gives a day by day/month by month account of just one year in his life, 1932, when he was 50. I was riveted; when you look at the dates, you realise what a furious pace he worked at. 

The Dream 
I was one of the last to leave yesterday and stood in front of this for a long time; every curve seems imbued with love. (Of course, I'm glad that it wasn't me who did this. Whoops! )