Elizabeth: A Portrait in Parts

Following my recent post about Roger Michell and The Duke, I have just learned that his film about the Queen is being released for the Platinum Jubilee (June 3).

I’m really pleased – it’s very brilliant, irreverent, but none the worse for that. Something to look forward to, with an amazing use of documentary and archival footage, and showing her as a human being as well as the Queen.


The Duke

I went to see the Duke last night: such a treat. Of course, it’s open to the accusation of being over-sentimental and caricaturing those northerners from Newcastle and the smooth ways of Londoners who spend money on art, but I didn’t think any the worse for that. I knew some of the story, but certainly not all of it and not the twist at the end, revealing, as I now discover is true, that it wasn’t Kempton Bunton who stole the painting after all, but his son, John, who, as the film reveals, subsequently confessed, but wasn’t prosecuted as an unreliable witness. They showed a picture of Michael Levey as if he was the Director at the time, whereas it was Philip Hendy, but the film is not intended as factual, but a funny, entertaining romance, true in spirit and true to Jeremy Hutchinson’s successful defence of Bunton.

So sad that it was Roger Michell’s last film, not least because he was working on a celebration of seventy years of the Queen for her platinum jubilee, which I hope was sufficiently finished before his death still to be seen.


The New Library, Magdalene College

A while ago, I spotted the very distinctive silhouette of Magdalene’s New Library from the rooftop restaurant of the Varsity Hotel.   It looked interesting and indeed is.   First opened a year ago, it is the product of a competition in 2013, won by Niall McLaughlin, not least for a drawing he did showing the relationship between the planned New Library and the existing seventeenth-century Pepys Building which used to house the college library on its ground floor.  

It’s not purely a library – more a complex set of private and semi-public work spaces for undergraduates, full of daylight, partly because of its high wood vaults, and with an exemplary use of oak, designed for a lifespan of four hundred years, quite a remarkable achievement given the extreme sensitivity of its site in a corner of the Fellows’ Garden.  If it’s not shortlisted for the Stirling Prize, it deserves to be, as good a modern building as I’ve seen.

One’s first view over the wall of the Master’s  Lodge:-

This is how it looks from across the Fellow’s Garden – built from Yorkshire brick to fit in with the material of the rest of the college:-

This is the entrance façade:-

Inside, it’s three storeys high, with a deliberately complex layout of staircases and smaller library spaces round the top-line main hall, all of it very beautifully detailed:-


Accordia Housing

In spite of having been to Cambridge several times since 2008 when the Accordia new housing development won the Stirling Prize, I have never previously made the effort to visit it, although I now realise that it’s within walking distance of the railway station, just south of Brooklands Avenue. It’s pretty impressive – on a big scale, quite varied, keeping existing trees, very slightly eerily quiet, with hundreds of bicycles which people don’t appear to lock up, which says something about their sense of security, and limited access by cars. Actually, quite utopian. It shows that contemporary architects are perfectly capable of producing good quality, well designed housing, providing there is a good site, old trees and lots of money, so it may not be such a good model. Simon Bradley compares it to Dutch models, but this is probably because there is so little good housing in the UK, owing to the dominance of commercial volume builders. Most of it is by Feilden Clegg Bradley, but some also by Alison Brooks, including the Brass Building, to create a sense of variety:-


Newnham College

The next stop on my whistlestop tour of new buildings in Cambridge was to see the new Walters and Cohen building at Newnham.

Newnham itself has a good track record of buildings, starting with the wonderful set of buildings and gardens, laid out by Basil Champneys in best Queen Anne Revival style:-

The Walters and Cohen building follows the brick idiom with tact and opens the college up to the street, so that it feels a touch more connected to the world and less of a retreat (it’s the building in the distance):-


Artists’ Studios

I have been neglecting my blog – poleaxed by the war in Ukraine and its consequences, about which it is hard to say anything without sounding trite, although this hasn’t prevented the Prime Minster trying.

We went yesterday to the exhibition at the Whitechapel on Artists’ Studios, a long-standing project which I think we considered at the RA: it’s a very nice, thoughtful, wide-ranging exhibition, so full of interesting material, lots of fascinating photographs, mixing photography and artwork successfully.

This was from Matisse’s house, but presumably not his studio:-


Chinese rhubarb

The garden is erupting – in some cases, literally. I don’t remember ever seeing a Chinese variant of a rhubarb plant in our back yard, which looks as if it is producing red-painted Easter eggs:-


John Wonnacott: A Biographical Study (4)

I have been told that Amazon doesn’t ship to Paris.

This enables me to say that the publisher, Lund Humphries, is also taking pre-orders and I’m hoping they can, although Brexit may of course have made this, like so much else, impossible.



John Wonnacott: A Biographical Study (3)

My book about John Wonnacott is now available to pre-order. Instead of a conventional book launch on Monday 5th. September, I’m planning to show a small number of his recent paintings in our house in Stepney, including the Self-Portrait on the cover of the book. I’ve tried to get public galleries interested, but it’s an uphill struggle for an older generation painter – although the Focus Gallery in Southend did him proud a couple of years ago.



The Holy Tavern

Last time, I passed the Jerusalem Tavern, it looked as if it was closing, so was pleased to see this afternoon that it is still extant under a different trading name, with its very atmospheric interiors:-