Sunday 27 February 2022

Feeling a twinge of guilt for spending a sunny afternoon lying on the bed with a book - but not too much! I'm so enjoying this wartime tale of the dreary Rosamund Tea Rooms (no longer a Tea Rooms but a boarding house) in Thames Lockdon (Henley-on-Thames). Sarah Waters called it 'one of the funniest novels I have ever read' and David Lodge called it 'one of the best novels about the second world war.' I'm finding it all reminiscent of London Belongs to Me - another from the same era which I loved. Must get back to it or Mr Thwaites will be eyeing up my butter ration.

Thursday 24 February 2022

What an absolutely entrancing exhibition at the Royal Academy yesterday about Joanna Hiffernan - who was Whistler's Woman in White and Courbet's Jo, La Belle Irlandaise. I stood for ages in front of the beguiling Symphony in White, No 1:The White Girl - I've seen it in the flesh before, and so many reproductions on book jackets - but, oh, the texture of her dress, and the white flowers on that voile curtain. Whistler - whilst lapping up the publicity - denied that the painting had anything to do with Wilkie Collins's sensation novel: 'I had no intention whatsoever of illustrating Mr Wilkie Collins's novel; it so happens, indeed, that I have never read it,' he protested.
I don't think I'd ever tire of Wapping. The critics objected because the painting had no story or moral. But you can weave your own story ... the confident young woman, owning the space alongside her rather louche companions - and all the life of the river behind her. 'She has the most beautiful hair that you have ever seen! a red not golden but copper - as Venetian as a dream,' wrote Whistler. Whistler's white girls had a lasting influence on other artists.
The Somnambulist by Millais ... well, this has far more of the Wilkie Collins, if you ask me! Walking dangerously close to the cliff edge, the blown-out candle in her hand, the lights of the cottage behind her ...
Albert Herter's Portrait of Bessie (Miss Elizabeth Newton) is rather more saccharine - but isn't that Whistler's polar bear rug?
And you can see where Andrée Karpelès's 1908 Symphonie en Blanc is coming from. This is my perfect exhibition - not too big and completely engaging. Quite unlike the unwieldy, indigestible sprawl of Surrealism at Tate Modern the day before. It's not often that I come out of an exhibition really not having enjoyed it - but it was too large, too muddled, too hot, too crowded, there was hardly anywhere to sit down and, to cap it all, the ladies' loo was squalid ... Oh well, Surrealism has never hit the spot for me!
Really enjoying this lovely book, which has been my slightly too heavy handbag book this week.
I must look out next time I'm at Charing Cross station because, stupidly, I've never noticed that the benches are cleverly worked into the design - although I suspect it worked better with the old wooden benches, not the ugly modern ones. I was there only a few days ago - just before I got to that page of the book!

Monday 7 February 2022

'I made out, I made a mess of my life - but I never made jam.' Back to Riverside Studios on Saturday to see Elizabeth McGovern - Downton's Lady Cora - as Ava Gardner at the end of her life in a play - written by McGovern herself - based on these conversations with a journalist. She was rather good (though she's no voluptuous sweater girl, I was sitting near the front and she's skin and bone!). But the play could do with a bit of tweaking and I can't see it running until April; despite advertising all over the Tube, ticket sales seem to be dire and the prices rather steep for the painfully uncomfortable seats at the Riverside. But when we were there last weekend, we noticed a £6.50 offer for cinema seats - aaarrggh, the cinema seats are even more uncomfortable than the studio theatre and heaven help the six-footers because I was suffering badly from cramp! Luckily the film was riveting - you do have to suspend disbelief but Almodovar is so skilled a director that one simply does! And the colours ... I'd like to see it again, just to concentrate on each detail, an earring, an apron, what an eye he has. And then, of course, we emerged wondering what it must be like to be as beautiful as Penelope Cruz ...
The only other film I've seen recently was Cyrano - which was very forgettable and why on earth do it as a musical when you don't have any decent songs? It looked very sumptuous but it's all a bit one pace and I'm afraid I dozed off.

Saturday 5 February 2022

I do feel starved of a good costume drama - but The Gilded Age isn't it. If only there were an American Dame Maggie to inject some humour! This is more like The Gilded Plank of Wood, it's so tedious.

Thursday 3 February 2022

It seems a long time since I last visited Two Temple Place - no exhibition last year - and I must admit that I was more drawn by affection for one of the quirkiest interiors in London, the magnificent staircase and stained glass windows, than by the promise of this year's exhibition of black women ceramicists. Turns out I really loved the work of Magdalene Odundo ... now if only I lived somewhere like Kettle's Yard! But this is definitely an exhibition of two halves. The earlier work by Odundo and Nigerian potter Ladi Kwali - who's so famous she features on banknotes - seems to embrace tradition and modernity and it was interesting reading about the matrilineal handing down of skills and the influence of British studio pottery at a time when Africa was breaking free from colonialism. But in the upstairs gallery ... oh, dear, it's all statements about gender, and ceramic torsos and a video of a scrawny woman writhing in mud. What's wrong with a beautiful pot? The staircase remains stunning. (Sadly the very good cafe where I once devoured a memorable quince cake isn't open this year.)