Until yesterday I wasn’t really familiar with the area known as Somers Town, which was called after Charles Cocks, Lord Somers, and was developed during the 1780s to the north of the so-called New Road (now the Euston Road) and south of the Regent’s Canal. Once an area of market gardens, it was originally a middle class neighbourhood, but went rapidly downhill when the big railway termini arrived, together with the Irish navvies required to build them. Now it’s an area of social housing, where life expectancy is apparently ten years less than in Hampstead:-
I drove past the Francis Crick Institute recently which is rising immediately to the north of the British Library and was impressed by its scale, its grand barrel-vaulted roof and its use of terracotta to reflect, but not replicate, Sandy Wilson’s use of brick in the British Library. So, I was pleased to be invited to go on a site tour by Larry Malcic of HOK, who has overseen its design and construction. It is indeed a huge project – ‘a cathedral of science’ as its Director, Sir Paul Nurse, calls it – broken up into four quarters, all open plan, with tiny offices for the Principal Investigators, in order to encourage social interaction:-
I called in at the Louis Vuitton exhibition which is a pop-up in a building just up from Temple tube station. It co-opts the language of the Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A by making maximum use of new technology together with close attention to the craft of making, which has been a long-standing interest of Louis Vuitton, emphasising its connection to the original workshop in Asnières-sur-Seine and its history stretching back to 1854 when its first shop opened in Paris (its first shop in London opened in Oxford Street in 1885):-
In trying to find out who was responsible for the statuary in the gardens of Chatsworth, I have realised that one of the key people in the decorative carving on the house was Henri Nadauld, a Huguenot stone carver who I first came across in the accounts at Castle Howard as Mr. Nedos. At Castle Howard he was responsible for the statues on the pediment and work in Ray Wood. At Chatsworth, he was paid for the carving of Cleopatra (£22), Antonius (another £22), Mars (£36) and the Muses. In 1702, he was paid £114 10s for ‘Ornaments in frieze and around windows over entrance, cyphers and coronets on 4 keystones in middle windows’, so he was presumably responsible for the magnificent ornamental detailing on the West Front:-
While I was on holiday I read the proof of Edmund de Waal’s latest book, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts. It’s a nearly impossible act to follow Hare with the Amber Eyes and the book is more ruminative and episodic, as suggested by the tentativeness of the title’s ‘a pilgrimage of sorts‘. But it has many of the same characteristics: an imaginative intensity of investigation into aspects of his private history, on this occasion the making and meaning of porcelain; his rich and often poetic use of language; an understanding of the relationship of the present to the past. He is particularly good on the discovery of porcelain in the court of Augustus the Strong, recreating the world of baroque alchemy, and on the Quaker milieu of William Cookworthy. There’s an alternative concealed narrative about the development of his own work, including a cryptic reference to Grievance. Maybe this will be the subject of his next book.
I heard last night of the death of Brian Sewell which is not wholly unexpected as Max Hastings gave him a valedictory dinner at the National Gallery in 2001 at which Sewell apparently gave brilliant impromptu responses to the paintings. I remember the moment when he emerged as a public figure defending Anthony Blunt from a telephone box in his etiolated voice. As a critic of historical exhibitions, he could be impressive. The first exhibition he reviewed that I was associated with was of Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery. He took the trouble to compare the English with the American catalogue and lambasted us for omitting some of the drawings from the London showing. But as a critic of twentieth century art he was unnecessarily and tiresomely negative.