Spitalfields Tour

I went on one of the tours of Spitalfields organised by – and currently still delivered by – the Gentle Author, who has published the blog Spitalfields Life since August 2009 when he pledged to write a post a day for thirty years.

I found the tour incredibly moving because he knows the area so intimately and cares about it so passionately, not least from fighting so many campaigns to save it (he is currently awaiting the verdict on the judicial review of the battle round the Truman, Hanbury and Buxton site in Brick Lane).

We started at Christ Church.

Then The Soup Kitchen for the Jewish Poor:-

Then, down Parliament Court, a passageway I don’t know:-

We walked at a fantastically brisk pace through Spitalfields Market to Elder Street:-

Then, to Hanbury Street, down Fournier Street, Puma Court and back to Christ Church with stories at nearly every street corner animating its past. I thought I knew the area reasonably well, but as nothing:-



Oslo City Hall

I somehow missed seeing Oslo City Hall last time I was there, although it is very dominant on the harbour edge, a fine example of the Scandinavian abstracted classicism which was so influential in England as an alternative to French and German modernism. The result of a competition held in 1918, it was largely completed by 1936, although not inaugurated till 1950:-


The National Museum, Oslo (3)

Upstairs on the first floor where the fine art collections are displayed is as impressive as the ground floor: the same attention to a broad narrative, interspersed with occasional display cases holding decorative arts, a reverse of the policy on the ground floor; some sculpture; they decided to keep a broadly chronological layout.

Johan Christian Dahl studied in Copenhagen, taught landscape painting in Dresden and encouraged the establishment of Norway’s National Gallery:-

Caspar David Friedrich, Greifswald in Moonlight (1817):-

Adolf Tidemand, Portrait of a Farmer from Vossevangen (1855):-

I like Karl Jensen-Hjell’s portrait of the artist Kalle Løchen, At the Window (1887):-

Christian Krohg, Sick Girl (1881):-

I don’t recommend trying to see it all at once !


The National Museum, Oslo (2)

I have been trying to digest the character – and quality – of the new National Museum in Oslo. Its architect, Klaus Schuwerk, is not modest about it. ‘I’ve always wanted to design my own pantheon’, he is deeply interested in the proportions of the rooms, he views himself as working in a tradition going back to Michelangelo and Frank Lloyd Wright, and he has required the museum to issue a disclaimer, making clear everything for which he was not responsible (see below). Actually, by the standards of most museum architects, he has achieved an incredible amount of control over the quality of the materials, the quality of the construction and its detailing, including shallow marble sinks in the Gents and a beautiful long, Neapolitan café, looking out onto the square outside:-



The National Museum, Oslo (1)

I have come to Oslo to see its new National Museum, which opened in early June after a long period of design and construction.

The competition for a new building on a new site down by the docks behind the old West Station was held in 2010 and won by a relatively young German architect, Klaus Schuwerk, born in 1967, trained in Stuttgart, Zurich and Madrid and now with offices in Naples and Berlin. As with all such projects, it has taken a long time, approved by the Norwegian parliament in 2013, construction starting in 2014, scheduled to open in 2020, but delayed because of COVID.

It is deliberately and wilfully austere, constructed out of dark Norwegian slate from Oppdal in central Norway, with a luminous, temple-like structure, the Light Hall, made out of translucent marble, for temporary exhibitions.

Room 1 is classical antiquities, drawn from the collections of the former National Gallery, one of several institutions which have been joined up to create the new National Museum – also, a museum of applied arts, part of a museum of architecture and adopting the role of a museum of modern design, as if the V&A, the Design Museum and the National Gallery were compulsory amalgamated.

Room 2 is a gallery of casts, shown as an integral part of the sequence, originally the Kristinia Sculpture Gallery, which itself apparently preceded the National Gallery:-

Then, a sequence of decorative arts galleries, laid out by Italian museum designers, Guicciardini and Magno, beautifully done, with sculpture from Trondheim:-

And wood carving from one of the stave churches:-

It manages the difficult balance of being beautifully laid out and lit, and also lightly didactic – such an amazing privilege to do it all, all-at-once, in a consistent style, everything carefully and freshly considered, a model of how to present a collection:-

Work by Kändler, staggeringly kitsch:-

There’s a small amount of theatre, including a simulated ball at the back of an early nineteenth-century ballroom, and a lot of music – and fashion. It’s a project on the same scale as the British Galleries at the V&A, but a bit lighter in feel, a touch less academic, to its benefit, I think.

As you may have detected, there is a lot to see, far too much for a single visit, so there will be more tomorrow.


John Wonnacott (4)

I have done a summary version of my book about John Wonnacott for the ArtUK website, based on the fairly numerous works by him in British public collections (we would have also included the picture by him in the Metropololitan Museum, but copyright is complicated). I hope it might encourage people to read the longer version in the book, and perhaps even pre-order it. Lund Humphries and their designers, Wolfe Hall, have done a really beautiful job designing it. Publication date is September 5th. and we are showing a small number of his works in our dining room from September 5th. to 7th. to celebrate (please let me know if you are interested).



Olympic Park

Olympic Park is celebrating its tenth anniversary this weekend and Rowan Moore has published an account of its architectural legacy which is conspicuously more generous than that of Oliver Wainwright. I’ve done an analysis which will appear in the August/September issue of The Critic, which has the advantage or disadvantage of having been delivered before I had read theirs, but won’t appear online for a month or so. Yesterday I took a photograph of Stratford from the north (there is an area of nondescript land immediately north of Olympic Park).

One thing I will say, which I don’t say in the article, is that it’s very good for bicycling:-




It being sunny and not too hot, I thought I would bicycle to see Peter Barber’s housing development in Enfield, not least because I have been meaning to explore the further reaches of the River Lea, where it turns more desolate, a landscape of open fields and pylons next to the reservoirs which presumably provide water to London.

The estate is in Barber’s standard idiom, more Berber than London vernacular, a terrace with idiosyncratic fenestration. It nearly killed me to get there:-


The Sainsbury Wing (3)

Since the National Gallery itself is unlikely to feel able to respond to the attached criticism of its current plans, it is perhaps worth making some comments in defence of them (of course, I am not impartial).

Hewitt is correct that the key is circulation. The system of circulation for most of the National Gallery’s history was a circuit from the original entrance, starting with Italian paintings to the west and ending with nineteenth-century French painting to the east. There was a clear logic relating to national schools, which was a nineteenth-century taxonomy. The clarity of this system of circulation was complicated by the addition of an asymmetric new wing at the back (look at the ground plan) by the Property Services Agency in the 1970s and then further complicated by the addition of the Sainsbury Wing in 1991 which sits slightly separately and at an angle to the original building, as Hewitt correctly points out.

It seems to me that there is a perfectly good architectural and art historical logic to treating the Sainsbury Wing entrance as the main entrance, even if it wasn’t designed to be. It is much larger and more spacious than the original Wilkins Building entrance and more disabled accessible. But to make it the main entrance requires some degree of adaptation of the Sainsbury Wing to accommodate the huge number of visitors. This is what Annabelle Selldorf has been hired to do through a process of international competition.

It creates a more linear route through the collection, starting with fourteenth-century Italy in the west and ending with nineteenth-century France (and coffee) in the east. The changes she has proposed involve some degree of change to the entrance vestibule, giving it more height, putting the cloakroom downstairs, and getting rid of the bookshop which made the Sainsbury Wing entrance a bit cramped.

But there is no change whatsoever to the main floor galleries which have been recently and beautifully restored. So, it looks to me to be pretty – and rightly – respectful of Venturi and Scott Brown’s original, although I know strict conservationists and possibly Denise Scott Brown herself may not agree.



Nithurst Farm

Some time ago, I went on a small pilgrimage into Sussex to see Nithurst Farm, a project which caught my eye when it was shortlisted for the RIBA’s House of the Year in 2019. A project like this would be unlikely to win because it has obvious historical references in its design, but I think in an intelligent and interesting way, wearing its classicism lightly. I also revisited the Ditchling Craft Museum recently, a lovely small-scale, thoughtful project by Adam Richards, the architect of Nithurst Farm. I wrote about it for The Critic (see below):-