It was the last of the Portrait Dinners, perhaps the last big gathering for a while, before the gallery closes at the end of June for its refurb. The former Directors were invited – those who were living, at least – including Roy Strong who started work at the NPG in 1959, more than sixty years ago, and was a protegé of Cecil Beaton, whose exhibition is downstairs. After being photographed in front of the Somerset House Conference, as Roy was as a Young Turk in 1967, we trooped downstairs for champagne:-
St Mary Magdalene is a fine church – high gothic, tall and brick, designed by G.E. Street as an outpost of All Saints, Margaret Street, originally surrounded by working class housing, now by tower blocks:-
Inside is high church, with crucifixes shrouded for lent and a reredos by Martin Travers:-
Best of all is the Chapel of St. Sepulchre downstairs, locked up while waiting for restoration, designed by Ninian Comper in memory of Father West:-
In so far as my blog is a record of my routine preoccupations, which it half is, it would be odd not to make reference to the fact that the whole of the last week has been occupied by anxieties about the consequences of Coronavirus: from early in the week when it seemed odd and a bit discourteous not to shake hands and embrace to the end of the week when the best one could expect was a greeting elbow to elbow, when travelling on the underground meant standing stock still terrified of the first person who might sneeze, and even the Wolseley was half empty for breakfast. It is presumably sensible what we are all doing: making efforts to avoid crowded places; paying attention to the passage of germs; earnest hand washing to rid one of the taint of possible infection. But it is odd how a week can change everything.
I found myself walking the full length of Park Village East, Nash’s early garden Suburb, down towards Euston and a big area of social housing, which, I assume, was in an area which was heavily bombed: an unexpected set of architectural contrasts:-
A session in the archive of the Tate gave me an opportunity to see the exhibition on British Baroque, which I used to regard as my period.
I don’t remember seeing the John Bushnell terracotta bust of Charles II from the Fitzwilliam which shows his intelligence and sensuality:-
The bust by Honoré Pelle is comparatively stylised:-
There’s a sensational Grinling Gibbons font cover from All Hallows by the Tower, commissioned by a parishioner in 1682:-
Jan Siberechts contemporary view of Chatsworth shows its colossal ostentation as it appeared to Siberechts who was there in 1699:-
It’s good to see the Kneller portrait of Prior from Trinity, which shows what a wonderful artist he could be on a good day:-
There’s a picture of the Junto, painted in 1710, only acquired in 2018. It surely should have gone to the NPG. Hard to see as a major contribution to British art:-
The exhibition is good on the martial character of the period and the dominance of the monarchy, but it’s hard to convey its wealth and variety through so many royal portraits, no tomb sculpture, and mostly two dimensions.
I was tipped off by Nicholas Thomas who I met in the tube about the display Concealed Histories: Uncovering the Story of Nazi Looting which reveals the problematic provenance of objects in the Gilbert Collection.
This beaker is thought to have belonged to Alfred Pringsheim, a Professor of Mathematics at Munich University:-
A clock, which belonged to Nathan Fränkel, a clockmaker in Frankfurt:-
The third item are gates from a monastery in Kiev owned by the dealers, J&S Goldschmidt. Interestingly, it does not speculate how they had acquired such an amazing piece of eighteenth-century Russian goldwork:-
The exhibition brings to public attention the complex issues surrounding provenance. My only regret is that it does not reveal more. For example, the Snuffbox which was seized from Maximilian von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, was given to the Frankfurt Museum. So, how and when was it sold to the Gilberts ?