I started the day with a viewing of the David Bowie collection which is being shown in Sotheby’s for a few days before going to Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong. What was immediately obvious was how serious he was as a collector – thoughtful and well informed, with a good eye for modern British work, including an early sketch of Lytton Strachey by Henry Lamb (why, one wonders, was Strachey being drawn so early in his career ?), a beautiful small Family Group by Henry Moore, good work by Kenneth Armitage and Peter Lanyon, and a fine Auerbach of his cousin, Gerda Boehm. The sale is not till November.
We went round the BP Portrait Award last night which I haven’t done for a while and was pleased to see the broad range of work and the fact that it is slightly more lightly hung than it used to be, more international and with more established artists. I particularly admired the gentle, reflective winning portrait by Clara Drummond which holds it own in the space; was interested to see the work of some hardy perennials of the Award, including Frances Borden, Lewis Chamberlain and Mark Shields; and liked the austere portrait of Martin Chaffer standing in front of a map of London by Sopio Chkhikvadze.
I have only been to Le Gavroche once before, invited by Michael von Clemm, who borrowed $900 to establish it in Lower Sloane Street in 1967 and helped to develop its international reputation as chairman of the board (I have just noticed that the Economist wrote an exceptionally nasty obituary of him in spite of – or perhaps because of – the fact that he was the most intelligent, well educated and far sighted businessman that I have ever met, responsible not only for supporting the Roux Brothers, but converting the banana warehouses of the East India Docks into Canary Wharf). Today I had lunch there (not, I hasten to say, at the RA’s expense). It was as good as could be.
A rare visit to my bank gave me an opportunity to have a good look at the equestrian statue of Charles I which sits in the middle of the roundabout at the top end of Whitehall and must be one of the most difficult works of art in the world to see and appreciate. The statue was commissioned by Charles I’s Lord High Treasurer in 1630 for his country house at Roehampton (the date 1633 is inscribed on the horse’s front foot). It was sold during the civil war to a metalsmith called John Rivet, who instead of breaking it up, hid it, pretended to sell spoons made from it and enabled it to be re-erected in 1675 on a pedestal, now very worn, by Joshua Marshall:-
I had lunch yesterday at Berry Bros. & Rudd which, rather amazingly, was founded in its current premises at 3, St. James’s Street in 1698 by the widow Bourne to supply coffee to the neighbouring coffee houses, as well as the Court. It began by selling groceries of all sorts and continues to trade under the ‘Sign of the Coffee Mill’, but graduated into selling mainly wine under the aegis of George Berry who started working for the firm in 1803. In the 1840s, it was the home of the Texas Legation which rented space upstairs. Now they own a stake in the Anchor Steam Brewery:-
It’s not often that I go to Westbourne Grove, but whenever I do, I like and admire Piers Gough‘s public lavatories in the middle of the street, still as smart and urbane as when they first opened in 1993, commissioned by the local residents who didn’t like what was proposed by the Council, with glazed bricks by Shaws of Darwen. It only cost £190,000:-
In what may be the last of the summer heat, I appreciated the greenness of Stepney Green, a surviving strip of municipal park in amongst the industrial dwellings. It is shown in John Roque’s 1744 as Mile End Old Town, built up only on the east side, with fields to the west and what is now Redmans Road called Mile End Green Lane. It was used for political campaigns in the nineteenth century when candidates would speak from hustings and in 1872 was made into a public park, following a campaign to protect it from further development:-