Brexit News

By Sunday evening, I feel the need to describe what is happening in order to understand it, if only for myself.

We watched the debate in the House of Commons yesterday. To give him his due, Boris Johnson struck a slightly more conciliatory note, trying to unite the House and the country behind his new, but actually mostly old, Brexit deal. The problem is that his camp Churchillian manner doesn’t work. He has made too many enemies. There are enemies behind him, stabbing him in the back as well as massed enemies in front of him, not to forget the DUP. The front bench looks like a group of pantomime villains, retirees from a sitcom about the 1950s, behaving as if they have the support of the country, when it’s increasingly obvious they don’t, with 2 million people massed in Parliament Square outside.

So what happens now ? They put the bill back to the House and maybe it will pass with the help of Labour MPs who will ignore the forensic analysis of Keir Starmer as to the direction of political travel and the abrogation of workers’ rights. But how unsatisfactory that will be, hated by so many, no-one prepared to pretend that it is to the economic benefit of the country. An election, which the Conservatives might win with only 36% of the vote ? Another referendum ? Even I don’t believe that this will heal the divisions which have opened up, and deepened, in the country. But what else will do ?


DixonJones (2)

One of the many pleasures of the second volume of Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones’s work is the opportunity it provides to study and examine uncompleted work, often presented as models alongside their own sketches and line drawings, including, which I had forgotten, an unexpectedly convincing visualisation of steps leading out from the portico of the National Gallery (you blink before you realise that this picture is not as is):-

Ed Jones did a project for a National Portrait Gallery in Ottawa:-

What one sees is the extent to which their architectural practice is rooted in intelligent visualisation, exploration of the ground plan and volume, and drawing, more consistently classical in form than I had expected.


DixonJones (1)

I have spent the afternoon looking at, and admiring, the first available copy of the second volume of the work of Jeremy Dixon and Edward Jones, which has been a long time in gestation, but is at long last close to fruition (to be published in January and something to look forward to). I was asked to write an Introduction about the experience of working with them and trying to place them in a broader context, not an easy task, because their work is so deliberately various, stretching from early housing projects in Milton Keynes through to the recent, prize-winning Marlborough Primary School, just behind the Conran Shop in South Kensington, and work in Edinburgh, which I haven’t seen. My piece is titled ‘City Sensibilities’ – their title, not mine – but it does summarise the virtues of their deliberately low-key, urbanistic approach to the task of design.


Led by Donkeys

Like many people, I have been full of admiration for the work of Led by Donkeys, a small guerrilla group who have commandeered advertising hoardings and used them to remind the public of previous statements by politicians, which they would presumably prefer forgotten, unless they are even more shameless than they appear to be, including Michael Gove’s hostility to No Deal, Farage’s previous advocacy of two referenda and Dominic Cummings’ statement that most Tory MPs don’t care about poor people. They recently commandeered a field in Wiltshire on which to plough the words BRITAIN NOW WANTS TO REMAIN, set to the music of Land of Hope and Glory. They have been far more effective – funny, caustic, slightly anarchic – than more mainstream organisations.


Lucian Freud

I have at last finished William Feaver’s extraordinarily long and strangely dispassionate biography of only the first half of Lucian Freud’s life, which tells one not just a huge amount about Freud’s psychology and appetite for both low life and high – gambling, women, poetry – but, also, about the different atmospheres of London in the 1950s, especially Paddington, but also Soho and, more intermittently, St. John’s Wood. It is a remarkable achievement to have documented and recorded so much about an artist who kept his private life private. Does it help to explain his art ? I am less sure, except that it explains his obsessive, energetic, sometimes animal drive, careless of women, who loved him for it.


Chatsworth antiquities

I have been waiting till the end of the week to do a small amount of investigation about the antique heads that line the corridors at Chatsworth and which caught my attention as I was waiting for the bus. I assume that they were collected by the sixth Duke, about whom the DNB is unexpectedly uninformative, in spite of his being the subject of a full biography, The Bachelor Duke by James Lees-Milne, and a passionate and knowledgeable collector of both antiquities and, more especially, modern sculpture (in his Handbook to Chatsworth, he described how ‘it was in vain to hope for time or opportunities of collecting really fine ancient marbles’). He was in Rome in 1819, where his step-mother lived, and recorded what he bought and saw, including his commission from Canova of Endymion.

These were the busts that attracted my attention:-


The Chatsworth Leonardos

Not only did we see the Chatsworth Freuds, but we were also shown their Leonardo drawings, shown recently in New York and about to return to cold storage. The greatest is Leda and the Swan (c.1505), a powerful study of female, animal and plant form for a lost painting:-

They also have a remarkable group of grotesque heads, one of Leonardo’s perennial obsessions and a symptom of his interest in the pseudo-science of physiognomy:-