While I am about it, I might as well record what I know about the foundation of the Friends of the Royal Academy in the hope that others can correct me. The key figures in the foundation were:- Hugh Casson, the sprightly then President, who had become President the year before; Griselda Hamilton-Baillie, the then Press Secretary; the mother of Gerald Libby, our Professor of Anatomy; and at least two others I think I know. But I would be interested in anyone who knows more about the circumstances of its foundation and to hear from them.
This week we are celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the foundation of the Friends of the Royal Academy, which was, and remains, the bulwark of its funding. There were precedents. Les Amis du Louvre had been established in 1897 and the National Art-Collections Fund not long afterwards, originally as a way of providing acquisition funds for the National Gallery. Sir Sydney Cockerell founded the Friends of the Fitzwilliam Museum in 1909 in order to acquire works of art by purchase as well as gift. Then there was a long lull until the Friends of the Tate Gallery was established in 1957 and the Friends of the British Museum in 1968. But we like to think that the Friends of the Royal Academy is the first large-scale, democratic Friends’ organisation which exists not just to support purchases, but the institution as a whole. We could not exist without them.
I have been prompted by comments on my blog to find out more about what is being done to Bancroft Road Public Library. The answer is that there is no information online other than the fact that a firm of architects called Kennedy O’Callaghan have been commissioned to undertake its repair which it certainly needs. I assume it has got funding to renovate it following the outcry over its proposed sale to Queen Mary in 2008. The building is significant, designed as the local Vestry Hall by an architect called James Knight in 1862, about whom I can find out no other information, and only converted into a library in 1901. I’m reposting the photograph of its very fine Corinthian columns, which look as if it could be in the Roman Forum:-
Yesterday I passed the door to the old Jewish cemetery on Alderney Road which is forever locked and happened to spot a small notice which said that it would be open today between the hours of 11.30 and 3.
Indeed, it was, through the door, two quite substantial spaces, larger than expected, with an air of melancholy neglect. It is said to have first opened in 1696 for the burial of Ashkenazi Jews – those who came from Germany and Eastern Europe, escaping persecution. They were granted freedom of worship in England by Cromwell in 1656 and established a synagogue in Duke’s Place in about 1690 (dates differ) just south of Aldgate (the adjacent street is Jewry Street).
The cemetery has a special place to readers of W.G.Sebald, who in Austerlitz described how ‘there was a plot where lime trees and lilacs grew and in which members of the Ashkenazi community had been buried…In the bright spring light, shining through the newly opened leaves of the lime trees, you might have thought, Austerlitz told me, that you had entered a fairy tale which, like life itself, had grown older with the passing of time’:-
As if to reassure myself that East London has pleasures to compare with those of Japan, I went on a brisk morning walk round the streets of Stepney.
Past Tollet Street (the streetsign is normally defaced):-
Past the local library, now being turned into a Heritage Centre:-
To the canal which unusually was iced over:-
Past the Ragged School Museum:-
And the Wall Street Bakery:-
To St. Dunstan’s:-
The church was open:-
And back along Stepney Green:-
As I sit in Narita Airport waiting for the departure of my flight and reflecting on what I’ve seen, I am posting one photograph which I left out of the sequence of photographs of Sayama Chapel. It’s of a joint in the pine planks (Architectural Review calls them ash) which make up the interior of the chapel and shows the extreme quality of cratsmanship which is taken for granted in the process of construction and which both Hiroshi Nakamura and Hiroshi Sugimoto require, an attitude of admirable precision in the detailing of a building, such that Sugimoto was annoyed by the way the tables had been cleaned. It’s part of what makes the character of the buildings as a whole:-
Having spent the last few days navigating the Tokyo subway system and since most of the Japanese I have met have expressed surprise at this (I’m not sure they use it themselves), I can only say: it can be done, packed in the morning like sardines, occasionally taking a train in the wrong direction, confusing the JR suburban railway system with the subway system, and sometimes buying the wrong ticket or two. I can only say that the officials are exceptionally helpful, although few speak English, never more so than on a previous trip when they stopped the escalator for a wheelchair, converted the escalator into a travelling wheelchair platform, and stood to salute top and bottom. They don’t do that in London.
Last stop was the restaurant designed by Hiroshi Sugimoto – unexpectedly quiet and contemplative given that it is just off the hubbub of Omotesando. One approaches by a lobby lined with huge chunks of Chinese granite:-
And then you sit eating tiny fragments of duck and the most delicious sushi looking out onto a terrace of rock and brush which protect one from the experience of the city:-
I went southwards this morning to Shinagawa in order to see the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, a prewar modernist villa, designed by Jin Watanabe, which was requistioned during the American occupation, left uninhabited for twenty years, and turned into a Museum of Contemporary Art in 1979 by Kunizo Hara, inspired by the example of Louisiana. It shows regular exhibitions – it was about to open an Elizabeth Peyton exhibition – and has the most sophisticated collection box I have ever seen.
In the afternoon, I went out into the countryside again – this time by car – to see the Sayama Chapel, a recent project, completed in 2014 by a young-ish architect, Hiroshi Nakamura, who previously worked for Kengo Kuma. He was initially selected to design a Community Hall to serve the interests of those visiting the cemetery, a satisfyingly simple project consisting of a slightly asymmetric cone which frames the view onto the surrounding countryside.
The view out of the hall:-