Charles Jencks (1)

I went to the several times deferred event to celebrate the life and work of Charles Jencks, who died on 13 October 2019 and had wanted to be celebrated a year later, but COVID thwarted that.

A film had been made of his life by Jill Nicholls which was extraordinarily informative about all aspects of his life: his upbringing in Connecticut, not Baltimore as I thought; his summer holidays on Cape Cod which he went back to at the end of his life to look out of the window towards Provincetown; his time studying English at Harvard and then the move to architecture, inspired by the work of (late) Le Corbusier; then, a Fulbright Scholarship to the Architectural Association where he started teaching and lecturing, much more knowledgeable than his peers about history and influenced by semiotics, passionate about the belief that there was more to architecture than merely function; maybe, a bit of a hippy, but in an intellectual way. You learn so much more about someone from seeing them on film than obituaries.

Then he became a superstar, the advocate for post-modernism. But that part of his life is better known. A critic and writer, but, most of all, an incredibly passionate enthusiast for everything he did.


Vikingur Ólafsson

For anyone like me who is mildly obsessed by the curiously hypnotic and I occasionally think over-seductive piano playing of the Icelandic pianist, Vikingur Ólafsson, I strongly recommend the first fifteen minutes of a recent episode of Music Matters as below, in which he explains the thinking which has gone into his new album, From Afar, in which he plays the same music on an upright and a grand piano to differentiate the nature of the experience. The upright is like being inside the piano. He talks nearly as intensely as he plays:-


Freud at the National Gallery (2)

I have been prompted by the Freud exhibition at the National Gallery to look back on his long relationship to the collection, which hangs over the exhibition implied, but unexplored.

The answer to one of my questions is given in William Feaver’s admirable biography, vol 2. Freud did a Painter’s Eye exhibition in 1987. Few Italians: ‘ Most of the paintings in the National Gallery are Italian and I was made more conscious of the fact that they weren’t the things that I felt were essential to me’. A wall-full of Rembrandt’s – ‘Seven Rembrandts on one wall in natural light’. Chardin’s The Young Schoolmistress. The Rokeby Venus. Ingres. Whistler and Vuillard. Freud wrote, ‘I have been asked to give the reasons for my choice of paintings. The paintings themselves are the reasons’.


Freud at the National Gallery (1)

The Freud exhibition at the National Gallery – Lucian Freud: New Perspectives – looks pretty amazing, insofar as I could judge in the hurly-burly of a private view: so many paintings, so many of them unfamiliar, at least to me, from private as well as public collections: the full span of his career from the early works, painted when he was still a student under Cedric Morris, through to the big, late works and including many wonderful, unknown portraits, as well as more ambitious compositions. So good to see them in the grand galleries upstairs where Freud was said to roam late at night.


King’s College, Cambridge (3)

One of the pleasures of going back to King’s was a piano recital in the Provost’s Lodge by Susan Tomes of work by female composers only – Hélène de Montgeroult, Fanny Mendelsssohn, Judith Weir (she was the year below), Amy Beach – very fine -, Cécile Chaminade and Raise da Costa. Now I am reading Susan Tomes’s book on The Piano: A History in 100 Pieces, which includes detailed analysis of the music in a way that even I, not very musical, can half follow, as well as a lot of historical information which I can and am very much enjoying:


King’s College, Cambridge (2)

I spent some of the time at dinner trying to figure out the pictures hanging on the other side of the hall, many of which were easily recognisable, but not all.

They were, from right to left:-

Montagu Rhodes James, artist not identified.

Goldworthy Lowes Dickinson by Roger Fry. They were friends and both Apostles.

Eric Milner White, the Dean of King’s from 1918 to 1942, responsible for the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols.

Lydia Lopokova, painted in 1923 by Duncan Grant in a dress that he had designed based on Ingres’s Portrait of Mademoiselle de la Rivière.

Julian Bell playing chess with Roger Fry, painted by Vanessa Bell presumably at Charleston c.1930.

Maynard Keynes by Duncan Grant (1908). This was the one I didn’t immediately recognise, less familiar than other later portraits of Keynes.

Dadie Rylands by Romi Behrens, an artist based in Cornwall.

Morgan Forster by Edmund Nelson, a strong portrait. Nelson had trained at Goldsmith’s, lived in Hampstead, and painted quite a few portraits of Cambridge figures after the war.

A.C.Pigou, the economist, also by Nelson

It’s a pretty impressive group, so much better than the Victorian worthies who used to be hung in the hall, and demonstrating the close links between King’s, the Bloomsbury Group and the Apostles from just before the First World War through to the 1920s, maintained into the 1960s by the presence of Rylands and Forster.


King’s College, Cambridge (1)

I travelled back to Cambridge for the 50-year reunion of the Class of 1972, of which I was a member, and also the fiftieth anniversary of the admission of women. The strange thing is that I don’t remember it feeling such a big deal at the time. Maybe I was just obtuse and assumed that it took women. I had a female tutor and a female Director of Studies and came from a school which itself had gone partially co-educational (15 girls, 800 boys). Now, in retrospect, it was obviously historically very significant, as one of three colleges – the others being Churchill and Clare – to change their statutes after the students themselves had lobbied for the change: it’s still the cause of discussion, debate and, it became apparent, some considerable residual ill-feeling:-


The Queen at the National Portrait Gallery

I have just had pointed out to me the attached short article in the New Statesman which reproduces the official version of the John Ward picture of the opening of the Ondaatje Wing at the NPG, of which I reproduced a detail of a different version a couple of days ago. John Ward stood on the balcony overlooking the scene painting it in situ and, as Pippa Bailey rightly suggests, it is a good record of the occasion (her father was Nigel Bailey, the excellent project architect):-


The Watercolour World

One of the projects that I have been very involved with is a charity called The Watercolour World, established by Fred Hohler to digitise both private and public collections of a medium which, because it is so light sensitive, is much less well known than it should be.

Now, after running it since its inception, Fred has decided to step down and so the Trustees – I am chairman – are preparing to recruit a new Director, who will have the responsibility of maintaining its momentum and raising funds to secure its future. I am posting the job description on the off chance that someone suitable will see it. If anyone knows of someone suitable, could they please let either me or Fred know ? It should be an extremely interesting role:-

The Watercolour World

The Known World before Photography


Anticipating the retirement of its Founder and current CEO, Fred Hohler, the Trustees of The Watercolour World now seek an energetic and committed Director,  knowledgeable about the history of watercolours and well-informed about the history of the period, to lead the project under the guidance of its Trustees into the next stage of its development.

The purpose of The Watercolour World is to create from private and public collections globally a freely available digital record of watercolours to help illuminate all aspects of the historical period 1750 to 1900.   Launched in early 2019, great progress has already been made towards this goal.  As currently constituted, the charity employs two full-time members of staff working under the Founder, supported by a dedicated team of volunteers.   There is adequate funding for the next two years, but funds will need to be raised to support the project thereafter.

Whoever is appointed will have considerable freedom under the Board of Trustees to develop the charity.   It will require someone of energy and determination to make this happen.   In addition, good social skills are required to work with private owners, together with an ability raise money and management experience to ensure that the charity is run in an efficient, cost-effective and appropriate way.

Application should be by email, including a cv and statement of intent, to the Founder, Fred Hohler (