I’ve done blogs on Somerset House before. One of the pleasures of working in Blackfriars is that it provides frequent opportunity to walk through its monumental courtyard, free now of the parking of tax officials and I prefer it free of skating, so that one can see and appreciate the qualities of William Chambers’s restrained style of scholarly French classicism, informed by his training in Paris under J.F. Blondel and his studies in Rome, together with sculpture by the first generation of RAs:-
I had a meeting in Knightsbridge first thing this morning which I walked to across Green Park. It’s an oddly indeterminate shape, an empty bit of grass and trees alongside the rushing hoardes down Constitution Hill. I was surprised by a) how empty it was b) how attractive it is that it leads from nowhere to nowhere and c) how spacious it can feel with trees and what is nearly a field, so that you can lose any sense of London fragmentarily:-
I’m not that keen on Piccadilly as a street, which never seems to have the monumental coherence of Regent Street, nor the opulence of the shops in Bond Street. Maybe it’s a memory of it being yellow on the Monopoly Board, a bad square to land on, next to Jail. But tonight, walking across Piccadilly Circus, with the sun going down beyond the carriage lamps, it had vestiges of its Edwardian stateliness, looking past the old Swan and Edgar building, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield in 1910, hit by a Zeppelin in 1917 and then rebuilt, down past the columns of Norman Shaw’s Piccadilly Hotel, his last work, towards the RA somewhere in the distance:-
I went last night to dinner at Goldsmith’s Hall, not one of the livery companies that I had been to before. It’s in Foster Lane, close to St. Paul’s. Designed by Philip Hardwick of the Euston Arch and built between 1829 and 1835, it’s a robustly classical building with rich polychrome decoration, bombed in the war, but restored in such a way that the vigour of the original is undiminished. In his speech at the dinner, Peter Murray, the Master of the Worshipful Company of Architects, claimed that the idea of a bridge across the Thames from Temple to Waterloo had been his and derived from a competition held at the time of the Royal Academy’s exhibition Living Bridges. I hadn’t heard this before. It helps give the current controversy over the Garden Bridge a historical perspective.
I go through Blackfriars Station several times a week and sometimes more than twice a day, but it was only today that I spotted the great carved sandstone lettering commemorating the destinations that could be reached when the London, Chatham and Dover Railway originally opened what was called St. Paul’s Station in 1886 (the name was only changed in 1937). I like the idea that one could take the train to Cannes, Deal or Sheerness:-
I spent the morning working behind the till in the RA Shop. It was slightly scary learning the mysteries of the till system, remembering to ask if customers are Friends (they get a 10% discount), putting in my pass number, watching the amount of time people spend browsing, seeing the huge pile of catalogues gradually go down, cack-handedly trying to put postcards into a paperbag, and enjoying the camaraderie of the other shop staff under the eagle eye of Ramon. Someone asked me if I was a regular. They could probably spot that I wasn’t. In fact, the last time I served behind a till was driving an ice cream van across the South Downs.
We had a site visit of our building project this morning with Sir Peter Luff, the chairman of Trustees of the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s interesting seeing the project through the eyes of its biggest funder and someone who has not previously seen the site. Even I was impressed by the scale of it: 100 people working on site, what is said to be the largest temporary roof structure in Europe, deep excavations to create new art handling facilities, the floor removed to create the new gallery behind the main staircase. Every time I go round there is more to be seen, more change, and more of a sense of a radical transformation of the building and of the site as a whole, particularly in the areas behind-the scenes in Burlington House.
This is the crane:-
I went to a small exhibition held in the foyer of Bonham’s to show the plans for the redevelopment of Bond Street. These have been drawn up by Publica under the auspices of the New West End Company and look well judged – reducing the number of traffic lanes (at the moment, it’s a three-lane highway) broadening the pavements, renewing the paving stones and creating a town square at the junction of Burlington Gardens outside Ralph Lauren. I just hope the scheme can be extended to include the grid of streets laid out and developed by Lord Burlington in the 1720s, including Cork Street, Clifford Street and Savile Row.
We had a meeting yesterday of the trustees of the Royal Academy Trust in the empty space due to be occupied by our new lecture theatre. It was faintly surreal sitting in the cold uninhabited space wearing high visibility vests whilst discussing the finances:-
Meanwhile, the British Academy Room has been stripped to the bone. I felt the ghost of Sir Mortimer Wheeler, with his large moustaches, who used to smoke his pipe by the fire:-
The absence of a large poster for Ai Weiwei – or, indeed, for Painting the Modern Garden, our next major exhibition – means that the full breadth of the Burlington House façade is visible, including the figures who were placed in niches on the attic storey when Sidney Smirke added an extra floor to Lord Burlington’s piano nobile. They are those who were regarded as the greatest artists of the time. Reynolds, of course, and Wren, both by Edward Stephens (although where did Stephens get this idea of Reynolds as a robust young figure in an academic gown ?):-