Old Chelsea

We arrived early for lunch in Flood Street, so explored the local neighbourhood:  Oakley Gardens, the home of George Gissing, and Phene Street, which is spelt on the street sign Phené after the local developer, Dr. J.S. Phené, a now forgotten archaeologist, collector, poet and recluse, who wrote about symbolism in literature, whose house at 32, Oakley Street was covered by shields and flags, and was a passionate advocate of trees:

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Orfeo

We went to Monteverdi’s Orfeo at the Roundhouse last night.   I realised how shamefully ignorant I am of Monteverdi’s music, so much earlier than the majority of the classical repertory, hovering between the sacred and the secular, the sacramental and theatre, working in Mantua, then Venice, and writing Orfeo in 1607, before Shakespeare’s Tempest, for the Carnival in Mantua.   There was a huge audience for it.   It was intense, highly dramatic, Orfeo ending up dangling from a trapeze, and brilliantly performed.

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Strawberry Hill

I had arranged to come out early to Strawberry Hill, Horace Walpole’s suburban retreat by the Thames in Twickenham, which he bought in 1747 from Mrs. Chenevix, the toy seller, and gradually added to and gothicised during the course of his life with the help of his friend, John Chute, whom he had met on the Grand Tour.   The building history is immensely complicated, beginning with a small house of the 1690s which was redecorated, stained glass inserted in the windows and flock wallpaper by Thomas Bromwich, some of which survives in a cupboard.   In 1753, a grand gothic library was added, based on Chute’s drawings of Old St. Paul’s, together with a gothic staircase, designed by Richard Bentley, son of the classical scholar.   Then, Walpole’s ideas got grander and he added a gallery, based on Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey, and the Tribune, which was his cabinet of curiosities.   It’s a fascinating combination of collecting, antiquarianism and slightly more playful ancestor worship.

This is the exterior:-


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The Laskett

It’s a long time since I’ve been to the Laskett, Roy Strong’s garden, made out of fields in rural Herefordshire.   For most of yesterday, it was misty, but at the end of the day the sun came out, illuminating the pleached avenue and highly compartmentalised different sections of the garden, much of which is wrapped away for winter:-

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Sir Roy Strong

Some time ago, I was asked if I might be willing to interview Sir Roy Strong for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s oral history project about his time as Director, which lasted from 1 January 1974 to 1987.   Since he gave me my first job in September 1982, I agreed with enthusiasm.   So, it was that I found myself travelling on the slow train to Hereford armed with a picnic and stout tape recorder.   It was hard work, not so much for me as for Roy:  the task of remembering the évènements of the mid-1970s, the three-day week, the Heath government, the introduction of compulsory museum charges, the way he was treated by the Keepers, and the closure of the Circulation Department.

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Rubens

Today has been Rubens, Rubens, Rubens.   Our exhibition is about vastly much more than just Rubens, but is fundamentally about how to get contemporary audiences to engage with Rubens’s stature, not just in his own lifetime across Europe, but his influence on eighteenth-century artists, nineteenth-century artists, and, in the room which has been specially curated by Jenny Saville and added to the exhibition since it was shown in BOZAR in Brussels, on contemporary artists, including Picasso and Sarah Lucas.   I think the exhibition looks – but then, of course, I’m prejudiced – pretty wonderful in our big galleries (wall colours chosen by Eric Pearson), which enable the thematic system of organisation to work quite clearly:  love, sex, war and poetry;  he did them all.

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