Tower Hamlets Town Hall

I was kindly invited to see the new Tower Hamlets Town Hall currently in process of construction in what was the old London Hospital.

The old hospital was an incredibly complex site, beginning with a highly logical Enlightenment ground plan, with staff room at the front and wards behind, then almost immediately being extended with flanking wings. It then grew additively, with a west wing added in the 1830s, the Alexandra Wing in the 1860s, all of it remodelled at the turn of the century with the addition of a chapel and porte cochère at the front, Edwardianising it. When the hospital moved out to a huge new industrial building to the south, the old building was left unloved, but has been bought by the Council as its headquarters – a massive and extremely impressive project, involving keeping as much as possible of the old building to give character to the new. There will be a new Council Chamber, a vast new public reading room, and open plan offices for the staff.

This is one of the big public spaces under construction:-

And the view over Whitechapel High Street from the top floor:-

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Portraits of Prime Ministers

I was interested to read the attached account of Prime Minister’s portraits (see below).

When I went to the NPG in 1994, there was already the portrait of Attlee, but I don’t remember ever seeing it, and of Callaghan and Macmillan, both commissioned some time after they were in office.

I went to see Edward Heath who wanted to be painted by Lucian Freud; but Freud wouldn’t consider it. He didn’t mention that he had a good portrait by Derek Hill and I don’t remember seeing the portrait in his house in Salisbury. We commissioned John Wonnacott to paint John Major and caught the tail end of his time as Prime Minister (it’s the subject of a short chapter in my forthcoming book about Wonnacott). Then, we tried hard to get a portrait of Tony Blair early during his period of office. He originally wanted a drawing by Nicola Hicks, but the Sunday Times got wind of it and the plan was vetoed.

It’s far from straightforward and I think a pity if recent ones haven’t been done. Maybe they refused.

https://artuk.org/discover/stories/painting-power-britains-post-war-prime-ministers?s=09

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The centre of town

It felt like my first trip back to the west end: an opportunity to go to the bank, an unfamiliar experience; and the London Library, which was packed.

The Mall was beautifully deserted:-

And Duke of York steps:-

So was Kensington Gardens:-

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Current events (2)

I may be the last person to have seen the attached, but if you haven’t I recommend it:-

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Current events (1)

How much worse can it get ?

We now discover that on the day the Prime Minister instructed the country in a pre-recorded message that we all must stay at home, he himself jumped into the back of a chauffeur-driven limousine to drive out to Chequers – no doubt lovely, but quite obviously against the rules which he himself had just announced to the country as a whole. Of course, there was an excuse: he wanted to join his pregnant wife. But it was the moment of total, compulsory lockdown announced and enforced by the Prime Minister’s own edict.

And now he says lamely that no-one had told him that the party in the garden was a party in spite of at least one person willing to testify on oath that he had done.

It’s utterly lamentable: pathetic, if it wasn’t so tragic.

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Weaver’s Fields

I walked across Weaver’s Fields to the Royal Drawing School today – a pleasure in the clean January sun.

Westhope House is one of those 1950s Corbusian blocks designed by the LCC Architects’ Department as part of the Hereford Estate, a bit identikit, but not bad:-

The north side of the Bethnal Green Road looking towards two of the many new vast housing blocks:-

The steeple of St. Leonard’s Shoreditch seen from Arnold Circus:-

Smoke puffing out of the Boundary Estate:-

And on the way back, a view of the City like distant triffids:-

And one of those garages underneath the arches on Dunbridge Street:-

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John Sainsbury

I was very pleased to read the attached article commemorating John Sainsbury’s amazing generosity to so many institutions through the Linbury Trust, including the Royal Opera House, the National Gallery (the three Sainsbury brothers not only paid for the Sainsbury Wing, but oversaw and organised all aspects of its construction), Dulwich Picture Gallery, the Ashmolean under Christopher Brown, and the British Museum, not to mention the role of Sainsbury’s when he was chairman in commissioning new architecture (eg the Camden branch by Nicholas Grimshaw and the Plymouth branch by Dixon.Jones) with Colin Amery acting as advisor. An extraordinary record of achievement.

https://www.theartnewspaper.com/2022/01/17/john-sainsbury-former-supermarket-boss-and-major-patron-of-british-museums-has-died-aged-94

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John Wonnacott: A Biographical Study

I’m pleased to see that my forthcoming book about John Wonnacott is now advertised online (https://www.lundhumphries.com/products/john-wonnacott). It’s going to be designed by Wolfe Hall, an admirable design agency based in Walthamstow, who have recently designed the book about the Tate’s Hogarth and Europe exhibition (https://www.wolfehall.com/), so I’m looking forward to what they come up with in terms of cover, typography and layout. Should it be justified or unjustified ? I like all these detailed questions. Due out in early September.

I feel his big Royal Family portrait ought to be somewhere on display for the Platinum Jubilee (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw16828/The-Royal-Family-A-Centenary-Portrait) if anyone has any suggestions. Maybe this year’s exhibition for the Royal Society of Portrait Painters ?

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The Civil Service

I notice that there is an increasing attempt by Tory politicians to shift the blame for what has been happening in 10, Downing Street onto ‘the Civil Service’, a very useful target for blame because it is anonymous and because tories anyway tend to dislike the civil service as being full of EU-supporting pinkoes. But from what I read, it was not necessarily (it may have been, but is not yet proven) the army of career civil servants in the Cabinet Office who introduced a drinking culture but a) the Prime Minister who certainly tolerated, if not encouraged and participated in it, and is ultimately responsible – it was under his rule b) the army of special advisors who were brought in by Dominic Cummings as laddish rule-busters (wasn’t Cummings himself spotted wandering the House of Commons blind drunk ?) c) the press office who were recruited from the tabloids and hosted the parties. This may be a needless distinction, but I hope that Sue Gray, a career civil servant, will investigate it.

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