By a weird coincidence, as I arrive in Beijing, I am reading an excellent biography of Sir William Jones by Michael Franklin and discover that Jones was not only interested in Persian and Arabic, which I already knew, but translated a Chinese ode when he was in Paris in 1770 having had dinner at the house of Joshua Reynolds with Whang Atong, a visitor from Canton. Jones collected Chinese manuscripts whilst a judge in Calcutta and tried to persuade Whang to translate more early Chinese poetry into English, long, long before Arthur Waley.
It all came back to me from my one and only previous visit to Beijing: the immensity: the airport which is twice as big as any airport anywhere; the ten lane highways; not knowing where one is going, north or south. Luckily, Philip Dodd was there to meet us, tell us our schedule and explain the ropes. My hearing has gone altogether and it is eerily quiet.
I’ve always liked Hong Kong; the sense of concentrated energy, the ever higher high-rise buildings in the folds of the hills, the way that the man at the Mandarin greets one by saying ‘Welcome back, sir’ as if he remembers the last time. It’s not been so easy this time because I arrived with a streaming cold which only got worse, but this has not prevented the usual overwhelming hospitality: lunch with David Tang in honour of Zaha Hadid who has opened a new design building earlier in the week; a talk at the Fringe Club in which I tried to describe the history of the RA and its current interest in Hong Kong, followed by a talk on the history of art in Hong Kong by Victor Lai which I was luckily able to follow thanks to simultaneous translation; and lunch with Adrian Cheng, our new, energetic and capable trustee who seems to own half of Hong Kong including the Grand Hyatt where we had lunch. Continue reading
Have just been for my third sitting. I was asked to take a picture of the studio which is magnificent in its picturesque neglect, but it feels intrusive to ask, disturbing the privacy not just of the studio, but of the sitting. We listened to Mahler’s third symphony in the intervals of painting and desultory talking of music, friends, the Veronese exhibition at the National Gallery and why I had never visited India.
We have just had a breakfast for our patrons encouraging them to come up with the last £6 million required to fund the Burlington Project. At last, it looks and feels like reality: a project team in place; £30 million raised; the plans all in place; all we need is the remainder of the funding. I was asked what would happen if we don’t have all the funding in place by the autumn. I’m confident that we will. For anyone who is interested in what we are up to, we’ll provide a link to the little film which explains the project.
I’ve just been for my second sitting with Catherine, bicycling all the way from Stepney to Flood Street in the early morning sun. I’ve realised that it’s different sitting to a woman than to a man: more companionable; more about psychology than pure observation. She switches between conversational mode and painting and I learn a bit about what it was like to be at the Royal Academy Schools in the early 1980s when Peter Greenham was Keeper and it was all about figurative painting, no abstraction allowed, and the staff included Anthony Eyton and Olwen Bowey, both long – standing RAs. There’s an invisible community amongst those of us being painted for Catherine’s exhibition at the NPG, as we exchange places in her studio, talk about one another, but never meet. I can’t help wondering if it was like this for Reynolds’ s sitters as they went in and out of his studio on Leicester Fields, very punctually on the hour. We had Delius today, rather than Bach.
Good opening for Chiarascuro, a most beautiful exhibition from the collections of the Albertina and Georg Baselitz. I particularly like the design by Eric Pearson which is dark and atmospheric and creates the feeling of a print room with dark colours and desk cases and labels with a thin red rim. The Old Master specialists were out in force and Baselitz gave the opening speech.
It’s been a busy week at the Keeper’s House. On Tuesday morning, the Duke of Edinburgh came to see it as Patron of the Royal Academy’s friends. He was astonishingly spry, joking with many of the volunteers who have been friends since nearly the beginning of the scheme in 1977. Michael Sandle reminded him that they had met twenty five years ago in Malta and Humphrey Ocean told a story of how his grandfather had shared a bed with Jeremy Hutchison on a boat round the Cape of Good Horn. The Duke asked to see the kitchen to the slight bemusement of the cooks preparing lunch. All in all, a good event. Then, last night we had a little ceremony to celebrate all the work done by Edwina Sassoon to make the garden possible. Tom Stuart – Smith came and we all toasted Edwina in prosecco.
From left: Charles Saumarez Smith, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, Earl of Merioneth and Baron Greenwich, Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, CBE, PPRA in the Academicians’ Room © Red Photographic
I’ve spent Saturday afternoon on the train to Salisbury to see an exhibition by John Maine RA of his sculpture in the environs of Salisbury Cathedral. It was a spectacularly beautiful afternoon and the work looked wonderful in the crisp, clear, early spring light. None of the work is site specific, but all of it is enhanced by the relationship to the surroundings, including a group of stone works based on the cosmati pavement in Westminster Abbey, which was previously exhibited at the Royal Academy. Best of all were five beautifully polished stone polyhedra lining the cloister, making one look not just at the work, but at the stonework of the cloister. But I also enjoyed the flat decorated work like tombslabs within the cathedral itself.