I have been watching with interest how museum directors have responded and reacted, first, to lockdown and now, as of yesterday, to the opportunity to reopen. Few have been as insanely adventurous as Christopher Woodward, the director of the Garden Museum, who is not only re-opening the Garden Museum on July 4th, the first day he is allowed to, and is opening a Derek Jarman exhibition and the lovely Garden Museum cafe for takeaway sandwiches, but in September is embarking on a sponsored swim from Newlyn in Cornwall through the treacherous seas of the Atlantic eight hours a day to the gardens of Tresco in the Scilly Isles. I salute his bravery. The Museum is still open to donations to give him strength in his endeavours (https://gardenmuseum.org.uk/a-sponsored-swim-to-save-the-garden-museum/).
I’m sorry the blog has gone so silent. The truth is there is so little to say. The days roll by with occasional meetings on Zoom. I bicycle every so often to Spa Terminus to buy cheese from Neals Yard and now bread from St. John whose bakery has reopened. I went to the local branch of the Co-op for nearly the first time yesterday to buy two bottles of Brecon gin and was petrified by the necessity of human interaction, wanting to tell the man behind me to back off, but knowing that the two metre rule has now been dropped. It’s a curious in-between time, half normal, half not quite knowing what one is allowed to do, and half not wanting to do it anyway as there is so much time now for reading, writing, sitting in the garden and rumination.
We were en route to the Thames Barrier Park which we had been tipped off is an unexpectedly mature piece of French garden design with rolling asymmetric yew hedges all in a straight line pointing towards the barrier and Kent beyond:-
We walked past Millennium Mills, one of the last remaining grand industrial ruins still in Silvertown, used by Derek Jarman for the filming of The Last of England. It was originally built in 1905, destroyed by an explosion in the Brunner Mond works next door in 1917, reconstructed for Spillers in 1933, who dealt in flour before they turned to dog biscuits:-
I have just read the extraordinary and unexpected news that Marlborough Fine Art is closing down its New York operation (https://news.artnet.com/art-world/wet-paint-marlborough-gallery-to-close-permanently-amid-board-coup-while-patriarch-nearly-died-of-covid-19-and-more-juicy-art-world-gossip-1888324) as a result of what sounds like a family feud, as well as a downturn in the art market and Covid-19.
It was well known that its New York operation was now being run by Frank Lloyd’s great-nephew, Max Levai, who is said to be something of a playboy figure with a taste for the glitzier style of contemporary art; and that they had bought the beautiful Cheim and Read space in Chelsea, right next door to Marlborough’s existing downtown gallery, which had been converted into a gallery space by Richard Gluckman, the best of the New York austerely modernist designers. It was briefly leased to Blain|Southern which is how I know it. The demise of Marlborough, if it is being closed, will mark the end of one of the greatest of post-war galleries, which has looked after the estate of Francis Bacon and supported many of the best painters, including R.B. Kitaj, Frank Auerbach and Paula Rego. It’s hard to imagine the art world without it.
Another very sad restaurant closure ! The interiors were done by Eva Jiřičná in the early 1980s and it retained a feel for its period – smart and a bit glitzy, but with an incredibly nice and always welcoming staff. I have eaten there a lot over the years and always loved it, including the dinner after the launch of the film of the Royal Academy and lunch in the alcove at the end on the left, now no longer possible.
I was shown bits of docklands this evening I didn’t know existed.
First, we looked at the plinth of the statue of Robert Milligan, the Scottish merchant and slave factor who was responsible for the construction of West India Docks. Only the bronze plaque remains showing a helmeted warrior – is it Britannia ? – sitting on a sleeping lion receiving gifts, presumably brought by the sailing ship behind:-
Then the new Wood Wharf tower by Herzog and de Meuron:-
A nice doorknocker in Coldharbour:-
A good view across the river towards the dome:-
The ventilation shaft for the Blackwall Tunnel designed by Terry Farrell when he was working for the GLC:-
And an egret in East India dock:-
I have spent the weekend immersed in Timothy Brittain-Catlin’s new book The Edwardians and their Houses: The New Life of Old England, a form of architectural escapism as it was for them, full of large, well-built, spacious houses, as well as cottages, which have never made the history books either because they have been forgotten or deliberately written out. Not so much Lutyens, who has been much written about, more W.H. Romaine-Walker, who was responsible for Canford Manor in Dorset, now a school, Stanhope House next to the Dorchester, and part of the Tate, as well as providing illustrations for a new edition of Alice in Wonderland; W.D. Caröe, who designed a new tudor house for himself south of Godalming; and Horace Field, co-author of English Domestic Architecture of the XVII and XVIII Centuries (1905). I felt like J.M. Richards whilst reading it, suddenly nostalgic for the architecture of the suburbs – Queen Anne Revival and Stockbroker Tudor – which continued the language of Edwardian architecture into the 1950s. Of course, it was nostalgic, but it was also well designed, comfortable and beautifully built, much of it designed for progressive members of the liberal government, now turned into private schools and luxury hotels. As it happens, it also includes Chequers, a Tudor house much altered and remade just before the First World War by Reginald Blomfield, with gardens by the architectural writer and Oxford don, H. Avray Tipping, before being presented to the nation by Sir Arthur Lee for the use of Lloyd George from 1917 with a requirement that nothing ever be changed.
For us, the nearest place we can get even a sense of the sea – seagulls, mudflats and open water – is in Island Gardens, the park at the bottom of the Isle of Dogs where the foot tunnel goes from, but the lift is not working, and one can look across the Thames to the noble accumulation of fine buildings on the other side, with the Queen Anne Court in the afternoon sun. It was designed by Wren and Hawksmoor to replicate the work of Webb to the west, begun in 1698, financed by the proceeds of a state lottery:-
Since I have a small number of overseas readers who presumably don’t see the British newspapers, although I can’t help noticing theirs are equally scathing, I am re-posting Andrew Rawnsley’s op-ed piece in the Observer today because I admire his writing, he tends to be very well informed from within government, and his judgment is well considered. This makes this week’s verdict all the more damning of two months of relentless spin doctoring, making up policy on the hoof, endless false promises, allowing disproportionately high numbers to die, and making Keir Starmer look and feel like a proper grown-up in contrast to the arrogant, small-minded, jejune idiots who run our government so incompetently.