It was pretty icy in the park this morning and I felt old and shaggy like the aged heron:-
I went in to Hatchard’s art department today to sign some more copies of East London for Christmas. It always gives me a slight frisson because it is where Romilly was working when I first met her in December 1973, nearly 45 years ago. In those days, there were three people working in the Art Department: Maureen Boland, a spinster who always wore a nylon overall and went on to publish Old Wives’ Lore for Gardeners jointly with her sister; Baron Nicolas van den Branden de Reeth, a very well read Belgian baron who lived with Terence Davis, the architectural historian, in a grand flat in Cornwall Gardens; and Romilly, who got the job by walking in off the street.
We went to Monochrome at the National Gallery, an intriguing subject. I didn’t know quite what to expect, since there is no immediate reason to replicate the characteristics of drawing, a black-and-white medium, in oil paint. It starts with a piece of grisaille stained glass from the V&A, discovered to have come from the St. Louis chapel in St. Denis; the Donne Triptych (painted for Sir John Donne, a Welshman) left ajar to show the Virgin and Child between the shutters; and a grisaille set of indigo cloths used as an ephemeral chapel in Genoa and assembled for the first time in the exhibition. Of course, I realise that black-and-white painting is often used like black-and-white photography as a way to explore and emphasise the characteristics of a composition. There’s a staggering Dürer drapery study from the Albertina and a Beccafumi St. Matthew from the Met. Amazing to have been able to borrow the van Eyck Saint Barbara from Antwerp, where the fields in the background are drawn in metalpoint and the construction workers are on the parapet of the cathedral. I hadn’t seen the Peder Balke, acquired recently. The exhibition uses the collection of the National Gallery interestingly, placing it within a long and unexpected way of looking and ends with a wonderful abstract room before the Eliasson. A Christmas treat.
I took a slightly eccentric route on my Christmas shopping trip and found myself walking across Highbury Fields where there were the remains of snowmen like dolmens:-
At the bottom of Highbury Fields is a memorial to the Boer War by Bertram Mackennal, the Australian sculptor who became an ARA in 1909 and was knighted in 1921:-
At the bottom there is a phantom entrance to the old Great Northern & City Railway which ran from Finsbury Park to Moorgate:-
I read an article last night about the old In and Out Club on the north side of Piccadilly, which is due to be renovated as a hotel. I hadn’t remembered its history, athough I’ve written about it before, not surprisingly as it’s complicated. It was originally built for the second Earl of Egremont, who succeeded his uncle, the second Duke of Somerset, in February 1750, when it was known as Egremont House; it was taken over by the Marquess of Cholmondeley in the 1820s, when it was known as Cholmondeley House; then in 1829, by Prince Adolphus, Duke of Cambridge, when it became Cambridge House. It was designed by Matthew Brettingham, a building contractor, originally based in Norwich, who was employed as Clerk of Works at Holkham, and became increasingly well known as a safe pair of hands in designing both grand country houses and their London equivalents, being employed by Lord Egremont at Petworth in 1751 and asked to design his London house in 1759.
It’s very hard to photograph as currently boarded up:-
I was tipped off today that the website Art UK has a facility whereby one can find out where works by Royal Academicians are located. You can indeed. You google Art UK and then put Royal Academician into the search facility. You then have the option of searching by artwork or, at least as interesting, by location. There is a map which shows you how many works there are by Royal Academicians in Cambridge (151) and you can then highlight exactly where they are in more detail (actually, only 40 works in the City of Cambridge itself). I looked to see what works by Royal Academicians belong to my old college, King’s College, which has a rich art collection and then remembered that it is one of only three institutions in the whole of the British Isles which, in a total dog-in-the-manger-ish way, has refused to participate in this nationally significant exercise in the listing of artworks. In case you think this odd, I do too.
I have been alerted to a very nice piece in today’s Spitalfields Life by Gillian Tindall, accompanied by photographs her husband took of what it looked like in the early 1960s, still very run down after the war. It shows that ordinary photographs are actually more useful in recording what a place was like than arty photographs (http://spitalfieldslife.com/2017/12/14/in-stepney-1963/). And it provides an eloquent description of the consequences of post-war planning on the old, more domestic East End.
Each year I am asked to read something at the Friends’ annual carol service in St. James’s, Piccadilly. I enjoy it, as once a year I am reminded how sunk I am into ungodliness and how much I still respect the language of anglicanism and its music. This year I was offered a poem Expectans Expectavi by Anne Ridler, who was the daughter of a housemaster at Rugby, went to school at Downe House, and later worked for T.S. Eliot at Faber and Faber. She belonged to the same school of faintly intense, high church latinity as Eliot, writing with a deep sense of the intelligence of language, informed by her involvement with the University Church in Oxford.
I took the view from the window of my office yesterday as we prepare to pack up from Unilever House. It is not always so picturesque as it was in the early morning light with the sun rising over Tate Modern and Renzo Piano’s Shard hovering in the distance like the glass church in Oscar and Lucinda:-