It’s probably a benefit to Hastings that it is so hard to get to, although there has been talk about upgrading the line for as long as I remember. It means that it has retained a great deal of its seaside shabbiness – the peeling stucco in Wellington Square and the junk shops in the Old Town. I like it:-
I went down to the Jerwood Gallery for lunch because I wanted to see its exhibition of 100 Modern British Artists which shows off the best of two collections of Modern British Art, the Jerwood and the Ingram. I was pleased to see that there is a policy of indicating whether or not the artists were RAs and that the great majority were – Dod Procter as well as Laura Knight, Glyn Philpot, William Roberts, the landscape artists of the 1950s, John Aldridge, Tristram Hillier (a very good artist represented by a particularly memorable Crucifixion) and Richard Eurich, through to Carel Weight, the now too forgotten guru of the RCA, and Mary Fedden. There is a presumption, fostered by the Bloomsbury Group and not helped by Alfred Munnings, that the RA in the mid-twentieth century was hopelessly reactionary, but this exhibition does much to refute this, showing a great deal of work influenced by surrealism and social realism, as well as the neo-romantics.
I have been mourning the possible closure of Walsall Art Gallery, which was one of the great beacons of cultural revival in the late 1990s, made possible by the lottery, one of the first works by Adam Caruso and Peter St. John, invented and presided over by Peter Jenkinson, bringing art out of major metropolitan areas into ex-industrial towns. I remember travelling to it on a small branch line from Birmingham with a group of Japanese tourists and admiring its stately entrance hall and upstairs galleries. So what has gone wrong ?
We had the annual visit last night from history students at Queen Mary who come to see our house as part of a course in eighteenth-century domestic life. I never feel that it is completely satisfactory as an example because the house is a composite and, to an extent, a replica, built in the early 1740s by a local builder on the site of a much larger house owned by Archibald Hutcheson, a crypto-Jacobite. But in 1854 Samuel Briggs cut an archway through the middle of the house to convert it into a carriage works, so that for most of the twentieth century you could drive through it and, before we bought it, it was an exhaust pipe garage. So, it is better as an example of the changing social fortunes of Stepney than it is of how to live in an eighteenth-century way.
I went for a brisk walk on Martinsell to enjoy the great natural amphitheatre overlooking Wootton Rivers and the woods which have grown up along the earthworks of the Iron Age fort:-
It was the weekend of our annual visit to Oare, normally in the height of the summer, but this year in the autumn, with a multitude of rare varieties of apple, the herbacious borders past their best, the trees in the avenue a brilliant orange, and pumpkins piled up for Halloween. Each year we admire the greenhouses, the immaculate range of tools hanging in the potting shed and the compost bed, and this year the apples and onions all classified in boxes. Going round the garden, we were able to refer to a printed catalogue which details every tree and plant, where it was acquired and when it was planted, which even I, as a non-horticulturalist, admired.
After a week of discussion about the decision to axe art history, it has become clear that it was not a direct decision of government (Gove has denied responsibility and Cameron has claimed that it was his favourite subject), but instead was decided by AQA on grounds of the cost and difficulties of administering the exam: in which case it is surely the responsibility of the Chief Executive of AQA to find a way of examining the subject in a way that is manageable; and the responsibility of the current government to make sure that this is done.