We had the annual Whitebait Dinner last night, a ritual dating back to Turner’s day whereby a boatload of Academicians travel upriver or down in order to feast on a platter of whitebait, which was then, and remains, a cheap dish – fresh sprats rolled in flour and then fried. It wasn’t only painters who liked to travel downriver to the Trafalgar Tavern, but politicians too. This year we feasted in The Narrow, a pub at the entrance to Limehouse Basin, looking out across the bend in the river towards Canary Wharf:-
We had our Annual Architecture Lecture tonight, given this year by Wang Shu and Lu Wengyu, the first Chinese architects to give the lecture in the last 26 years. Wang Shu studied engineering and then moved to Hangzhou, where he and his wife established a small architectural studio which they called Amateur Architecture. His wife had studied the traditional crafts of building construction and Wang Shu has been influenced by Proust, Levi-Strauss, calligraphy and Chinese gardens, establishing a small architectural school with Ai Weiwei and designing buildings of highly inventive ecological traditionalism using recycled materials (‘handicraft is more important than technology’). In Britain or America, such conservatism, involving the preservation of rural traditions, would be unacceptable, but in China it is counter-cultural. In 2012, they won the Pritzker Prize. It is as if the Pritzker Prize was won by Leon Krier.
We had an official tour of our building project in Burlington Gardens in advance of our monthly project board meeting. For the first time, there are the beginnings of new construction alongside the extensive demolition.
The lecture theatre space is open for a full three floors:-
Our Hockney exhibition opened tonight: oddly compelling, because it’s very unusual to see the results of a short period of an artist’s oeuvre all displayed in chronological order together; and because it’s life enhancing to see friends, family and the local dry cleaner all displayed democratically in the same format. The only person I was able to photograph in front of his portrait was Martin Gayford, the art critic who has acted as Hockney’s interlocutor and amanuensis:-
I have spent a lot of time in the last week in the Royal Academy Schools, enjoying the final exhibition of the students to mark the end of three years postgraduate study. This year, for the first time, they opened up the old Architecture Room, which hasn’t been used for the study of architecture since the mid-1950s, but which still retains behind its temporary walls Sir Thomas Lawrence’s collection of architectural casts, which he must have bequeathed following his death in 1830:-
Today for the first time since it was installed behind bullet-proof glass upstairs in the Sackler Gallery in 1991, the glass was taken off the display case of Michelangelo’s Tondo, so that one could see it in its full, fresh and rough-hewn glory. We were told its history in the RA: bought by the artist and collector, George Beaumont, in Rome in 1822; shown in his house in Grosvenor Square; bequeathed on his death in 1827 to the RA; hung on the top floor of Burlington House in the late nineteenth century and in the General Assembly Room after the war; occasionally exhibited, as, for example, in the great Italian Art exhibition in 1930. It certainly looks very different out from behind glass, some parts finished and polished, much of it still waiting the chisel:-
My latest bulletin on the progress of works in Burlington Garden involves a walk outside the so-called laboratory galleries at the back, looking up at the temporary roof in the middle of a thunderstorm:-
I poked my camera through a hole in the awning to take a photograph of the lantern over Sidney Smirke’s Octagon:-
Realising that In The Age of Giorgione closes tomorrow, we spent the morning in it. A few comments. The astonishing generosity of the lenders, particularly the Royal Collection and the Accademia. The complexities of attribution, beyond the Terris portrait, which has an inscription ascribing it to Giorgione. The fact that after more than a century of post-Morellian discussion and debate around attribution, there is no more certainty than when Berenson decided to dedicate his life to its study. The tension between the influence of Durer who visited Venice in 1505 and described Bellini as ‘still the best’ and the influence of Leonardo who had visited a few years earlier. The extraordinary realism and poignancy, particularly in the eyes, of La Vecchia, which I had not realised was described in a sixteenth-century inventory as a portrait of Giorgione’s mother. Hard to imagine the range of works in the exhibition ever being easily repeated.
We had Non-members Varnishing Day today which gives non-members an opportunity to see where their work has been hung and a first chance to see and assess the exhibition. The theme is duos – those artists who work in partnership – although I’m not absolutely convinced that one would realise this if one wasn’t told it:-
Outside Ron Arad’s Spyre was waving at the spectators, but not in the sun:-