I have been able to find out a bit more information about the house where I had supper in Fournier Street. It was built in 1725 for a silk weaver called Peter Bourdon – a Huguenot, of course – who would have had a showroom on the ground floor and lived upstairs, with a two-storeyed timber framed building at the back which would have served as a warehouse. He took out a 99-year lease on 14 December 1725 from Wood and Mitchell who owned and were developing the surrounding estate. The date 1725 is apparently on a rainwater pipe, but I didn’t spot it. Bourdon was listed amongst The Eminent Merchants and Traders in 1744 and provided 26 workmen the following year to resist the Young Pretender. But by 1759, the lease had been taken over by another merchant called Obadiah Agace.
Today is Leonard Manasseh’s 100th. birthday He is the first RA ever to be 100. Born in Singapore in 1916 in the house which is now the luxuriously sub-tropical residence of the High Commissioner, his father was a trader in rubber and jute. Trained at the AA in the late 1930s, the era of the MARS group and high modernism, he won a competition after the war to design a restaurant for the Festival of Britain and established himself in private practice as an architect in 1949 in partnership with Ian Baker. In the 50s, they worked mainly on cafés and shop designs including the interior of the Time Life Building in New Bond Street. In the late 50s, they did the Rutherford School of Lisson Grove. He was elected an RA in 1979 and continues faithfully to attend meetings of General Assembly.
I had supper in Fournier Street. In the daytime its hyper genteel, a set of houses of eighteenth-century merchants from the 1720s, built by artisan developers. But in the evening, one gets more of a sense of as it was, with the tower of Christ Church lowering over the backs of silkweavers’ houses.
This is Christ Church seen in the dark:-
This is its steeple seen from Fournier Street:-
And from the garden behind:-
These are doorways in Fournier Street:-
And the garden:-
I realised that it was unusual for me to be at Charleston on my own, which meant that I was able to pay slightly more attention than usual to the lushness of the garden and to the unexpected number of plaster statues, perhaps not surprising given Quentin Bell’s interest in them, but did they maybe antedate his time as a potter ?
I went to the opening event of this year’s Charleston Festival, which commemorated the centenary of the day in October 2016 when eight people, including Clive and Vanessa Bell, their children, Julian and Quentin (aged six), David Garnett and Duncan Grant and a nursemaid and cook arrived in a taxi at Charleston Farmhouse which they had rented from the Firle Estate in order that Grant and Garnett could work on a local farm as conscientious objectors. Virginia Nicholson (née Bell) spoke of her memories of the house, both inherited (the distant sound of the guns in France) and during the summers of her childhood. Claire Tomalin talked of a visit by Contance Garnett not long afterwards. Garnett didn’t make a good impression. Christopher Hampton showed extracts from his film about Carrington, which suggested that Lytton Strachey had first met Dora Carrington at Charleston when really it was at Asheham, four miles away. And Carmen Calil spoke of the long association between the Bloomsbury Group and not just the Hogarth Press, but just as much Chatto and Windus, including the work that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant did as book illustrators.
The talks gave a strong sense of the multiple meanings and associations of Charleston and Bloomsbury (most of all, freedom of expression) to a generation, many of whom had first discovered Bloomsbury through Michael Holroyd’s two-volume biography of Lytton Strachey published in 1967.
I was asked to say a few words at the tail end of a conference organised by the Professional Advisors to the International Art Market (PAIAM). It is hard to speak at the end of a conference that one hasn’t been able to attend. But at least I was able to catch the debate as to whether or not the art market would benefit from greater regulation. The voting before the speeches was very evenly divided – 43 in favour of more regulation, 38 against. Ludovic de Walden and Bendor Grosvenor spoke against increased regulation. There are already plenty of rules and regulations that govern the operation of the art market and they can, and have been, reinforced where, as for example in the antiquities market, there is obvious evidence of criminal behaviour. Robert Hiscox and Corinne Herschkovitch spoke in favour of tougher regulation as has been applied to the City and Lloyds on the grounds that there is plenty of informal evidence of collusion, misattribution and money laundering. It felt as if there was a consensus in favour of enforcing existing legislation, but wariness of parliament imposing a bureaucratic body which Bendor Grosvenor thought would be called OFART.
The last of my weekend blogs is a picture of Stephen Taylor’s extension to a purely utilitarian cowshed, which adds a touch of monumentality to the structure. It has apparently been criticised by modernists as being too pomo and by historicists as lacking any obvious historical detail, but to my eye its lineage seemed obvious, deriving from Laugier’s idea of a primitive hut through Boullée’s belief that columns can be a systematic language: a clever and provocative use of abstract classicism to decorate a cowshed (with apologies to Bob Venturi):-
Today is the day of the official launch of Yinka Shonibare’s amazing and wonderful so-called Wrap which covers the huge scaffolding over 6, Burlington Garden and reveals something of what has, does and will happen inside.
This is the work in the process of being installed:-
This is the finished work:-
We went on a pilgrimage yesterday to see the wooden obelisk which was nearly Peter Smithson’s last work, designed for a vista in Hadspen and recently re-erected in a field nearby. We had been there to celebrate its original installation, but missed the recent party to mark its move. It’s smaller than I had remembered, less monumental, a pure wooden structure of ingenious geometry, with its wooden model nearby:-
Although I had been to Wells before, I had never seen the Vicar’s Close, the extraordinarily well preserved, still medieval group of small houses established in 1348 for the Vicars Choral, with front gardens added fifty years later by Bishop Bubwith and tall chimney stacks another fifty years after that:-