We have – rather belatedly since it is about to go off air – watched Adam Curtis’s epic historical documentary on the influence of Saudi Arabia and militant Wahabbism on the politics of the west and radical Islam from the moment when the elderly Franklin D. Roosevelt made a deal on oil prices with Prince Faisal. Curtis claims that the programme, over two hours long and shown only on iPlayer, is intended to make history emotionally compelling through dramatic archival footage and dissonant music, but I was more impressed by its sense of emotionally detached grand narrative, looking at all invasions of Afghanistan as doomed to failure by their landscape and history and by western incomprehension of their society.
On a bleak November Sunday, I am posting views of the way the November sun lit up the unrestored wall of our dining room yesterday. The wall was left when we restored the house and dates back to the years when it was a Victorian carriage works and possibly earlier to when it was built and covered in some form of textile, of which fragments survive round the nails. The photographs were taken in Sherbrooke Village in Nova Scotia where a photographer replicated the technique of Victorian studio photography. Is it tin type ?
In writing about Pont de la Tour last week, I discovered that there is a nice volume of essays produced by students of the MA in Critical Writing in Art & Design at the Royal College of Art which documents the earlier history of Butler’s Wharf. Built in 1873 as a warehouse for tea and spice, it ceased to be used in 1971, when it was colonised by artists including Richard Wentworth and Derek Jarman. Andrew Logan did the first Alternative Miss World there in 1975 and Jarman filmed Jubilee and Sebastiane. The artists had moved out by 1980. Conran bought the Wharf in 1984 and developed it with Fred Roche who had worked at Milton Keynes. The restaurants moved in. Tony Blair ate roast rabbit with the Clintons:-
We set off to darkest south London to go to a Christmas sale of ceramics at the Kiln Room down a dark alleyway off Peckham Rye. We discovered a wild and wonderful bar called The Nines just behind it where we were able to have a brunch of fried eggs and harissa, scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, pancakes and pale ale:-
I called in at the New Craftsman on South Row to pick up some John Julian plates. We’re short. Luckily, they had some samples which they sold at Black Friday prices. I am full of admiration for what Mark Henderson and his staff (I say this not just because they found what I needed at short notice) have achieved in the New Craftsman in terms of making the crafts, which traditionally have been cheap, earnest and rural into sophisticated, but still affordable, one-off art objects. And they’ve redecorated the shop as a souk:-
Arriving in Paddington this afternoon, I took the opportunity of calling in at the new Kioskafé in Norfolk Place near Paddington as I thought it could be a possible precedent for what we might do in Burlington Gardens. It’s a version of the Monocle Café in Chiltern Street, a café-cum-newsstand selling a wide variety of international newspapers and magazines, which are perhaps just staffage for the sale of tea and coffee, but giving it a European atmosphere:-
We called in rather briefly on the River and Rowing Museum on the banks of the Thames in Henley as an early project by David Chipperfield (it opened in 1998). As a building, it’s worn well: a modern version of a traditional barn form, built out of oak. It’s odd to think that it’s one of a relatively small number of projects which he did in the UK in the 1990s at the height of the lottery boom:-
I spent the morning looking at artefacts from the history of Iran, learning about the extraordinary antiquity of the region, demonstrated in the sophistication of objects from the third millennium BC, the layer upon layer of different cultures of production before the invasion by Alexander the Great, the beauty of the gold objects, and the early influence and mimicking of objects from China. It reminded me of visiting Tabriz, Isfahan, Persepolis and Herat in the early 1970s, inspired by reading Robert Byron.
I have now been to the launch of a small, but beautifully produced, book called The Essence of Mayfair, published by British Land in celebration of its new building development in Clarges Street. What became clear is that everyone has a different view of Mayfair. For Jeremy King, the proprietor of the Wolseley, it is, not unnaturally, a neighbourhood of grand hotels (The Beaumont), restaurants and fine car show rooms (although the Wolseley was short-lived as a car show room). For Kathryn Sargent, the former head cutter at Gieves and Hawkes, it is somewhere where Terence Stamp might emerge from Albany in his dressing gown to post a letter. For Rupert Sanderson, it was once a neighbourhood for men only – guns, suits and clubs – which is now responding to the invasion of international fashion. There is a sad little note inserted in the book to the effect that Allens, the long-standing butcher on Carlos Place, is moving. So, the question is how long this mixed ecology can survive.
I have been swotting up for a talk I’ve been asked to give on the development of the art market in Mayfair. I was pointed in the direction of an amazing website, http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org/autumn12/fletcher-helmreich-mapping-the-london-art-market which shows very graphically the way that commercial art galleries, including Colnaghi, originally clustered round Waterloo Place, but, following the opening of the RA on Piccadilly in 1868, they all, including Agnews, the Grosvenor Gallery and the Fine Art Society, either opened on, or moved to, Bond Street. Of course, there is now a danger that they will move back south, as Philip Mould has done, but I hope that Cork Street at least will remain, as it has been historically, a centre for the art trade.