Colchester Museum

We looked in on the Colchester Museum which is in the keep of the Castle and has a very strong, particularly Roman collection, owing to Colchester’s importance as Camulodunum.

We admired the Colchester Vase, which initially I thought looked fake as it’s so amazingly well preserved, discovered in a Roman grave in 1848, the figures so playful, like cartoons and in such high relief:-

The Gosbecks Mercury, found by a farmer while ploughing in 1945:-

And a child’s lead coffin, beautifully patterned and sadly squashed:-


Peter Coker

We went to see the exhibition of the work of Peter Coker yesterday at the Minories Gallery in Colchester, thinking that it is probably the only time that it will be possible to see a good representative collection of his work. But we went away not much the wiser about his strengths as an artist, partly because the exhibition is split on two floors, with a loan exhibition on the ground floor and a selling one upstairs, and partly because he seems to have painted in a number of different styles, depending on his subject matter, with works from his extensive travels in France and more local studies, which looked stronger and less derivative.

This is the Persian Bowl and Red Tablecloth (1976):-

And the etching of his son, Nick, to whom he was so devoted and which hangs in our bathroom:-


Cunningham (2)

I have been thinking more about the film about the life of Merce Cunningham. One is the extent of his self-belief. He didn’t mind if audiences didn’t like or appreciate what he was doing or how he was dancing, which they didn’t. He just carried on, criss-crossing America in a Volkswagen bus with his troupe for the pure pleasure of the performance until, in London, he first received international recognition. The second is the extent to which his generation of artists – he was an artist in dance – came not from the east coast, but from the mid-west and west coast. He was born in Washington State and was educated in Seattle. They were self-consciously free of, and opposed to, received tradition. The film brilliantly encourages an understanding of him and his achievement in an utterly unconventional way, not by interpreting him, but by just showing who he was and the way he danced.


Cambridge Festival of Ideas

If you are going to be in Cambridge next Wednesday, do please come to my talk at Wolfson College as part of the Cambridge Festival of Ideas, assuming that it’s still possible to get tickets (although I won’t cover all the topics I planned to):-


Cunningham (1)

We went to an early screening of Cunningham, a film directed by Alla Kovgan, about the life and work of Merce Cunningham, using documentary film footage, quotations and reconstructions of original dance sequences in an astonishing and literally three-dimensional film biography (one watches it through 3-D glasses). I had very little idea of Cunningham’s life – his relationship to John Cage, the way his belief in radical pure movement and abstraction was appreciated and, in the 1960s, supported by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, with Rauschenberg involved in making sets for the company. All of this is shown, but in a way which is brilliantly inventive and creative, not at all a conventional documentary. Distributed by Dogwoof and coming to our screens in February. See it if you can in 3-D.


Eileen Hogan

We went to the opening of Eileen Hogan’s beautiful exhibition at Browse and Darby, a smaller-scale version of her big retrospective held at the Yale Center for British Art over the summer, which sadly I didn’t see. Nobody is better at painting the spray of water, a view of Chiswick House seen through the trees or the atmosphere of a deserted sports field.

Hyde Park, Plane Trees (2018):-

Victoria Park, 7 February 2016:-

Kensington Gardens, 17 May 2017:-

Chiswick House (Study):-

Amongst the most impressive pictures in the exhibition are the oil sketches of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, an incredibly difficult genre, but handled with admirable informality:-


Blenheim Palace

I don’t mind how often I go to Blenheim, Vanbrugh’s greatest masterpiece, but one for which he has never really got the credit – partly because, from the very beginning, the Duchess of Marlborough vilified him for his extravagance, partly because it ended up costing far more than parliament allowed, partly because British taste has never really warmed to its full-blown, palatial magnificence and because, more recently, it has been thought that much of the detail was carried out by subordinates. But I remember going through Vanbrugh’s detailed correspondence when it first arrived in the British Library and how devoted Vanbrugh was to all aspects of the choice of stone, building management, and supervision not just of the design, but its construction as well. He was much more proud of it, more involved and less buccaneer than has sometimes been thought, not least by the odious Duchess.

The entrance courtyard:-

The Hall:-

Details of the interior:-

The library:-

The parterre:-


Maurizio Catalan

I enjoyed the Maurizo Catalan exhibition at Blenheim – playful, provocative and subversive and, in an odd way, works well with Vanbrugh’s architecture which itself has playful and theatrical aspects.

The Great Hall has a copy of Emmanuel Frémiet’s statue of Joan of Arc:-

We’ll Never Die (2019):-

Here is Catalan himself, perched on a ledge next to the first Duke of Marlborough:-

He hangs himself in the Green Drawing Room:-

Novecento (1997):-

There are two of him in the Saloon:-

La Nona Ora (1999):-

Ego (2019):-

The tomb of the Duke is bedecked with pigeons:-


Leonardo Drawings

I finally made it to the Queen’s Gallery for the last week of their astonishing exhibition of Leonardo drawings, the first time that so many have been displayed since they were shown at the Royal Academy in 1952. I should have known and expected the range of his different subjects, from his early Florentine studies of details of composition while working on paintings, but I don’t remember ever seeing his amazing anatomical studies, except in reproduction.

A skull (1489):-

The cardiovascular system (c.1509):-

The gastrointestinal tract and bladder (c.1508):-

The bladder (c.1508):-


Design Museum

I’m very pleased for Tim Marlow that he is moving to the Design Museum as its Chief Executive and Director. I always admired the energy, knowledge, extraordinary articulacy and enthusiasm which he brought to the role of Artistic Director at the Royal Academy, where he was a wonderful and supportive colleague:-