I went this evening to the launch of Anthony Green’s exhibition Looking Back which is showing work from the full span of his career, stretching back to a period he spent in the United States on a Harkness Fellowship. As he said himself in a brilliant, funny and sometimes wry speech, he is thought of as an English Eccentric, but with a French mother and the product of the Slade under Coldstream, he is exceptionally knowledgeable and deeply informed about the history of art and talks about it with admirable freedom. He’s got an exhibition too at the RA, but I sadly missed its opening.
We had an all-day event at the RA on Artists’ Estates – ‘Managing the Artists’ Legacy’ – which turned out to be wildly popular, particularly amongst artists concerned as to what to do about managing their inheritance. I was asked about relationships with museums and initially thought that I didn’t know the answer as I had no recollection of ever being approached by artists concerned about their legacy; but then I realised that there is a historical dimension to this. Reynolds has much less of a legacy because his great collection of paintings and drawings was turned down by the RA – I assume because they did not want to be burdened by the responsibility of managing a historic collection (or was it because they were resistant to him imposing his will on the organisation in his old age ?). On the other hand, they were only too happy to accept a gift of a work by Gainsborough from his daughter, Margaret, and a more generous gift of paintings and watercolours from Constable’s daughter, Isabel. Turner left a will which was famously tricky and contested by his family. Francis Chantrey left an extraordinarily generous will, and is now better remembered for his Bequest than his work. So, there are plenty of historic precedents, good and bad.
We went yesterday afternoon to a performance of Philip Glass’s opera/ballet of Cocteau’s Les Enfants Terribles in honour of Glass’s 80th. birthday weekend. There was beautiful dancing, but I wasn’t convinced that the production conveyed the carnality of the attraction between brother and sister except in the highly abstracted and sensual dance round the bath at the beginning. Too many people on stage for the narrative.
Encouraged by Larry Schaaf’s kind comment about my misty view of the Palace of Westminster last week (he is the great guru on Fox Talbot), I am posting an even mistier one I took of Canary Wharf last weekend, which demonstrates the compositional elegance of Cesar Pelli’s original tower, completed in 1991, which still holds its own even though it is now surrounded by grander, but blander other office buildings. Pelli is Argentinian, still alive and still designing tall buildings:-
I went in search of any evidence of the square huts with eaves at the back of 37, Stepney Green, which used to shelter TB patients, presumably as facilities for the London Jewish Hospital which opened in 1919 and closed in 1979. In the 1980s, the huts were used for art classes. It took me time to find exactly where they are, but first looking at the end of Louisa Street, which has good surviving nineteenth-century workers’ housing:-
Then, I poked about Maria Terrace, slightly more upmarket with pretty gothic doorways and hoods, with one neglected:-
I couldn’t initially see any sign of them looking over the garden wall at the back of 37, Stepney Green:-
It was only later in the morning that I discovered that they are indeed still there, although nearly invisible, so I will have to wait to find out if I can explore further.
We managed to get to the tail end of the Opus Anglicanum exhibition at the V&A which shows off the great wealth of copes, chasubles, albs and orphreys which were embroidered in London by highly skilled, mostly male embroiderers, used in the elaborate Catholic liturgy of the middle ages and then preserved by the Catholic families like the Butler-Bowdens who ensured their survival until after emancipation. I hadn’t realised, because I hadn’t seen (there hasn’t been an exhibition at the V&A since 1963), how sophisticated the imagery is, meticulous and imaginative, at least the equal of the painting in Italy at the time.
In walking back from the Nationaal Portrait Gallery to Piccadilly this morning, I noticed the detailing on a building on Lisle Street, visible as one looks north up Leicester Street from Leicester Square (next to the ill-starred St. John Hotel). It’s 5, Lisle Street, which turns out to have been the site of the Pic-nic Club. The current northern Renaissance building was designed by Frank Verity, a theatre architect, and was originally occupied by the French Club, then Pathé News, and since 1935 by St. John’s Hospital for Diseases of the Skin:-
I looked out of the window of the Portrait Restaurant this morning (I was there for a tasting) and realised how much the new construction in Vauxhall is affecting the historic view of the Palace of Westminster down Whitehall. Instead of Pugin’s towers representing Imperial power on the skyline, you see the cranes of the new London:-
I was asked some tricky, but interesting questions about the Earl of Burlington this evening. What was the nature of his relationship with his mother ? His father died when he was only ten and his mother then had charge of the management of the house and estate. It’s much more likely that she was responsible for the commissions of work on the staircase by the fashionable Italian painters, Gianantonio Pellegrini and Sebastiano Ricci. So, it’s imaginable that he was the product of an over-dominant mother. Who advised him on the purchase of works of art in Rome ? Presumably then as now there were plenty of British artists and antiquarians who were happy to offer their services and advice to a wealthy young aristocrat, including William Kent and John Talman. Did he mind the criticism that was levelled at Chiswick of it being a bit too bijou ? I doubt it. He strikes me as having been pretty confident, if not arrogant. One of the first men of taste.