I have often wondered about the metallic figure of Justice which glowers over the building at the top end of St. James’s Street where it meets Piccadilly. The building was originally designed in 1909 as the headquarters of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Society by Ernest Augustus Runtz and George McLean Ford, architects who had previously worked with Norman Shaw on the design of the Gaiety Theatre. Justice was the work of Hibbert Binney and is oddly butch. She stands over a man and woman who symbolize foresight and prudence, appropriate emblems of the life insurance business:-
On Friday night we watched a film which was made by Jenny Barraclough about the Summer Exhibition made for the BBC in 1976. Many aspects of the exhibition remain the same: the way that television loves to track the hopes and aspirations of the unknown entrant, the policeman who claims his work was bought by the Queen, the cartographer who gets his work accepted, the lonely old lady who doesn’t, the man in a camper van who can’t find his way to the back entrance; the role of the President is the same and of the committee; but some things are surprisingly different, most especially how truly terrible a lot of the work looks, and how much less veneered people are on television, more hippyish, less self-aware, so many with untrimmed beards.
I missed the excoriating reviews of Tate Britain’s exhibition of Victorian sculpture. I don’t understand why it should have attracted such odium apart from a general vendetta against Tate Britain and a high-minded aversion to an art form which was genuinely popular. It seemed to me to be a perfectly coherent and well displayed attempt to get a modern audience to engage with the different varieties of Victorian scupture in all its aspects – medievalising, classical, reproductive and commemorative – and including the work of many now forgotten, but rather wonderful sculptors – John Gibson, Henry Armstead, Mary Fraser Tytler (who married Watts) and George Frampton – most of whom, I note, were trained in the Royal Academy Schools.
A few weeks ago I was sent some very delicious chocolate bars from Williamsburg in New York. I have now discovered that their makers, Mast Brothers, have opened a gigantic chocolate emporium on Redchurch Street, where it is possible to buy not only their chocolate bars (at a price), but also see the great vats of boiling chocolate:-
I normally only see Shoreditch Town Hall late at night when it is mobbed by teenagers, but, in passing it today, I realised how grand it is and how fine some of the detailing. It was designed by a little known architect, Caesar Augustus Long, in 1866:-
I went on a Saturday morning mooch round Hoxton having been told during the week how über-trendy the Kingsland Road now is. All I could find on the Kingsland Road was some nice detailing:-
There are the remains of an old timber yard at the bottom end of Hoxton Street:-
I spent the day at a conference in the Royal Academy Schools which explored the great variety of eighteenth-century drawing schools, mostly in London, but also the Foulis Academy, which was founded in Glasgow some time before the Royal Academy. What struck me was the range of opportunities which were on offer in eighteenth-century London for someone to learn to draw. There were drawing masters employed by the major schools, including Alexander Cozens at Christ’s Hospital and Eton. There was a movement to establish drawing schools at the ancient universities. There were individuals who advertised themselves as drawing masters. There were drawing prizes offered by the Society of Arts for girls as well as for boys. And the Duke of Richmond decided that it would be a good thing to offer facilities for boys to learn to draw at his newly established sculpture gallery on Whitehall. Why this great emphasis on drawing ? Part of it was a public recognition that for Britain to compete as a trading nation was going to need people who were good at designing objects and ornament, clocks, fabrics and all the things that stocked the shops on the Strand. Part of it was an understanding that drawing lay at the heart of all the fine arts, as was emphasised by Joshua Reynolds in his Discourses. But there was more to it. People understood that good quality drawing improved skills of invention, understanding and interpreting the world, as well as recording it for posterity.
I went to a talk at the Thomas Heatherwick studio, hidden behind a Travelodge just south of King’s Cross. I missed the introduction by Thomas himself, but arrived in time for a presentation of the full range of their recent projects, including the seed bank for the World Trade Fair in Shanghai (‘The Seed Cathedral’), based on the Sitooterie Thomas designed for Belsay in Northumberland, the building they have recently done for Bombay Sapphire at Laverstoke in Hampshire, the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art in South Africa, a garden projecting into the Hudson River by the new Whitney in New York and, most recently, a new spatially organic building for Nanyang Technology University in Singapore. And the great cauldron for the opening of the Olympic Games. And the Garden Bridge. I liked the sense of controlled anarchy in the studio, of making as well as design, not a procedure of strict problem-solving as was described, but more of left field project disruption:-
Set into the garden wall of Marlborough House at the junction to The Mall is a shallow relief bust of Queen Mary, who lived in Marlborough House. It was done by Sir William Reid Dick, one of those forgotten RAs of the mid-century, reponsible for innumerable war memorials, President of the Royal Society of British Sculptors, a Trustee of the Tate, and the Queen’s Sculptor, responsible for a bronze bust of her now in the NPG and this rather successful plaque with its slate lettering which was only unveiled in 1967, on the centenary of her birth and after Reid Dick’s death:-
We had an event in the RA Schools in which Usher, an American R&B star, talked to a large group about his experiences in life. He was surprisingly soft spoken, deeply thoughtful, with the intonations of the church choir. He came to the RA first for the Hockney exhibition, then for the Summer Exhibition (which he sees as providing unique opportunities for emerging artists), now supporting our learning programmes, interested in art and influencing the young for good. Emotion, illusion, delusion, these were his descriptions of the experience of art.