Basil Taylor

I gave a talk earlier in the week at the Paul Mellon Centre and tried to find out a bit more than I already knew about Basil Taylor, the art historian who befriended Paul Mellon and both encouraged him to take an interest in British art and, I think, acted as a go-between with the London dealers. But there is very little information available online apart from a photograph of him, which is being sold by Amazon.

From what little I know, now supplemented by information supplied by Charles Matthews, he was educated at Tonbridge and Wadham, studied at the Slade after the war, then produced arts programmes on the Third Programme. In 1953, he was appointed librarian at the Royal College of Art and, in 1958, Reader in General Studies, which, at the time, included George Steiner and Iris Murdoch on the faculty. He developed an interest in George Stubbs, on whom he became the greatest expert, but never published the monograph he planned, only a shorter book published by Phaidon Press in 1971. He met Paul Mellon in Virginia in 1959, and encouraged him – very successfully – to take an interest in, and support research on, British art. He became the first and only Director of the Paul Mellon Founation for British Art, which was dissolved in 1968 because of his over-lavish expenditure. His widow, Kay, supported a student every year on the V&A/RCA MA Course in the History of Design and I remain eternally grateful to her.

But there are surely people still alive who remember him.


Coffee in Abu Dhabi

I am prompted by the controversy about how much the Tate are paying their head of coffee to post photographs I took of a coffee shop in Abu Dhabi which was nearly as memorable as the Louvre Abu Dhabi, run by an Ethiopian publisher who talked about the different varieties with such deep knowledge and poetic expertise that by the time he had finished talking about its qualities, I didn’t have time to stay to drink it. He would make a great Head of Coffee:-

And, by the way, the Louvre Abu Dhabi has a special coffee pavilion in its park:-


Bubble Cars

I have been prompted by a comment on my recent post about a bubble car flying Union Jacks to find out about the history of bubble cars, which I assumed were a good emblem of small-minded 1950s British-ness; but, on the contrary, I discover that the Isetta – the version I saw – is a perfect example of European collaboration: designed in Italy, launched in Turin in 1953, and only manufactured in Britain in small numbers from 1957 under licence from BMW. But I thought I remembered playing I-Spy as a four-year old (1958) and choosing bubble cars because at the time they were the most popular car on the road. Is this possible ?


Brexit Day

I’ve been encouraged to do a post about Brexit Day, but I don’t have anything to say about it. The only sign of it that I have seen on the streets of London was a perfectly preserved bubble car driving down Pall Mall flying two ostentatious Union Jacks, which I took to be a perfect emblem of the public mood: a small minority with an entirely outdated and somehow diminished jingoism driving at high speed into irrelevance; but I am trying not to be pessimistic.


Odo Cross

The mention of Odo Cross, who was sufficiently well-to-do to finance the purchase of Benton End for Cedric Morris and Lett Haines in 1939 (Cedric Price was, after all, rich enough to buy it himself), has sparked interest in who he was. I don’t know much. He was painted by Cedric Morris in an undated portrait in the National Museum of Wales and appears in Bill Feaver’s biography of Lucian Freud living in Jamaica in great style with Angus Wilson (from New Zealand, not the novelist), surrounded by Impressionists and looked after by black house boys. His money apparently came from Crosse and Blackwell soups, a big and international company which made Lea & Perrins sauce and Branston Pickle and he is said to have been an ex-ballet dancer, as well as Morris’s lover. In 1947, he published The Snail that Climbed the Eiffel Tower, illustrated by John Minton and the inspiration for John Lennon’s ‘I am the Walrus’. Any other information would be welcome.


Benton End

I spent the middle part of the day at Benton End, the house which Odo Cross bought for Cedric Morris and Lett Haines, after Lucian Freud had burned down their School of Painting and Drawing in Dedham. The house is more atmospheric than I had expected, with Tudor bits at the back and their garden still semi-extant just under the surface of the lawns and snowdrops – Morris having been one of the great post-war plantsmen, known not just for his irises, his mentoring of Beth Chatto, but for his early interest in semi-wild planting:-

Very fine snowdrops:-


Christine Keeler

Now that I’m back in Old Blighty, suffering from almighty jetlag, we watched the final episode of The Trial of Christine Keeler with fascination, not least because I hadn’t realised that Jeremy Hutchinson had acted in her defence, apparently, as shown in the film, brilliantly, but not enabling her to escape prison, by suggesting that Stephen Ward had not been her friend, as he previously appears in the film, nor encouraging her in prostitution, for which he was prosecuted, but had been grooming her for high society, an older man corrupting a younger girl, as she apparently thought by the end of her life. It’s a very effective critique of double standards in the early 1960s, before a more liberal society.


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (30)

Jeremy Dixon kindly alerted me to this article, which appears in today’s Daily Mail. It demonstrates the extent to which the public mood is now wholly in favour of retaining the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a foundry and hostile to Historic England encouraging its sale to a venture capitalist as a hotel. Let’s hope the planning inquiry shares this view !


Whitechapel Bell Foundry (29)

The decision of Robert Jenrick to call in planning permission for the Whitechapel Bell Foundry will, I assume, place Historic England in an odd and potentially indefensible position of being required to publicly account for why they have consistently supported the redevelopment and effective destruction of such a historically important and valuable site.

After a bit of judicious digging, it has become clear to me that when this was first discussed by the London Advisory Committee, one of the officers argued that since it was not originally designed as a Foundry (in 1744), it was hard for them to argue for its retention as a Foundry. Isn’t this view going to look faintly ludicrous in court ? It’s been Britain’s – and, indeed, the world’s – most important Bell Foundry for over 250 years, a piece of industrial heritage of incomparable historic importance. But Historic England whose job it is to defend the heritage have never even discussed the issue at a meeting with their Commissioners, although it is hard to find this out because they don’t publish their minutes.


Sydney (2)

I wanted to write another entry on Sydney, but it was hot – hot beyond anything I have ever experienced, hot like sitting in the performance of Alfredo Jaar’s Inferno where the follicles on the top of my head were frizzled by the electric elements overhead. If this is what global warming is going to be like, I don’t recommend it. I walked down from the Art Gallery of New South Wales – the temple in the park – to the Museum of Contemporary Art – the warehouse on the harbour. It was a big mistake. I was wiped out and spent the afternoon watching Cornelia Parker’s film of Noam Chomsky talking about vested corporate interests unable to handle anything beyond the Chief Executive’s next pay check with gloomy fascination.