Time to go and see, indeed!
The problem was, I was a day early, the course starts on the 2nd and not the 1st. Friday is not Saturday, no matter how hard you try and make it so!
So, a day to play with and that leads us to:
How To Fill A Day In London When You Are Unexpectedly Able To Do Something Else
So, the first thing is to go for the swim that you thought would be impossible because of the start of the Study Day.
The Camden Council Pool next to St Pancras is part of a large complex that includes a pool (with changning multicloured dimpled glass wall); a gym; a small children’s library; a café, and who knows what else might be hidden in its imposing sturucture.
The 25m pool has a feature that I have not come (or swum) across before: an adjustable floor at the shallow end which makes it even shallower for school parties. This may be great for school parties but it makes proper swimming impossible and you have to adjust your stroke to a sort of “gathering to your bosom” scooping motion to stop yourself hitting your fingertips against the raised floor of the pool! So, not only do you have to suffer the high-pitched squeals of apprentice humans, but you also have to endure swimming in a pool equivalent of a glorified puddle for part of your length!
I sincerely hope the technology is too expensive for this to be adopted by many other authorities, and I am a little hesitant about speaking of it for fear that my words are seen and acted upon by some neophyteophile public official!
It also makes the time for my metric mile something about which I cannot boast and I have no new “achievements” to show as my smartwatch relentlessly documents my strangely slow progress.
As far as I can see there is no way of programming child-friendly obstacles to progress into the data base.
Swim completed and cup of tea drunk I was ready to throw myself onto and into culture. First stop the V&A.
What is Luxury?
There was a hell of a lot of walking from the South Kensington tube station to the entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum, but What is Luxury? – a V&A and Crafts Council exhibition more than justified the walk.
This is a free, relatively small exhibition which with an intoxicating well chosen series of exhibits poses the question in the title and rather triumphantly does not come to any complete answers, but neatly turns the question into a culmination of possible answers held in each person’s character.
There is expensive bling here: gold, diamonds, and exquisite craftmanship – but there is often a twist in the presentation and by a thoughtful progression of juxtapositions each glance of the spectator is complicated by the difficulty of an easy response.
The exhibition is a totality and isolating a single element is to lessen the effect, but for those of you unable to go (Go! It’s free!) I will pick out a few of the pieces which struck me.
The star of the show, though not the showiest, was, for me a phosophor bronze dandelion chandelier – and that is not a metaphorical description. The ‘shades’ of the lights are literally balls of dandelion seeds captured just before they were able to disperse! The electricity which lights the LED bulbs travels along the intricate and delicate bronze scaffolding thus eliminating the need for wiring. It is a thing of fragile beauty and has to be seen to be appreciated.
At the other end of the fragile scale, one of the exhibits is a flat stone: a found object. This stone has been selected for its assumed ability to facilitate ‘skipping’ across water when thrown. It has been gilded with 24kt gold and comes complete with its own tailor-made leather pouch.
The item which has been most photographed is Giovanni Corvaja’s Golden Fleece Headpiece (2009) which takes the form of what appears to be a golden fur trimmed hat which is actually woven from 16km of superfine golden thread using techniques developed over a ten year period.
An exhibition which has to be seen to be believed. And did I say that there was free admission?
A long walk back to the underground station to get to Tate Britain.
The Rex Whistler Restaurant
One of the indulgences that I was determined to lavish on myself this trip was a visit to The Rex Whistler Restaurant in Tate Britain. I have been patronising this artistic establishment ever since I went to the Tate as a student and couldn’t be bothered to wait in the queue for the self service restaurant and sat at a table in the Rex Whistler before I saw the cost of the food!
It was worth it and I have repeated the experience each (almost) time I visit.
My first course this time was pan fried Isle of Man scallops, Cornish baby squid with citron shallots. This was followed by Gressingham duck breast, confit leg & savoy cabbage parcel, swede puree with seasonal potatoes. I then had salted caramel chocolate pot and to end off I had a selection of British regional cheeses with a glass of port. The wine was a bottle of Passagem and they even made me a pot of Earl Grey and English Breakfast tea when I could eat no more.
If you are wondering why I have made no comment on the dishes, it is for the simple reason that each and every one of them was utterly delicious.
I have no intention of revealing just how much I paid for this succession of culinary delights because I went outside the normal parameters of the set three (not four) course meal, but I would say that the three course meal costs just over thirty quid, and it’s worth it. I had an extra course, a bottle of wine, a glass of port and a pot of tea – and it was still worth it!
Thus fortified I ventured out into the gallery to view My Painting.
A Bigger Splash by David Hockney 1967
Having just had a very full and very leisurely meal I was in no fit position to stand around writing without some support so I hunted around for one of those little gallery folding chairs and took that to Hockney’s canvas and started pondering.
Sitting with a Caro metal sculpture behind me and the Hockney in front of me, I presented an intimidating picture of academy and people behaved as if I was writing words of artistic profundity in my little notebook.
From time to time I darted up to The Work and took photos of details that had taken my notice. I do think that I looked at this painting in a different way from the way that I would have looked at it before I started this Art History Course. I saw details and noticed techniques that I think would have passed me by before.
I think that I have a couple of perceptions that will add weight to my observations. At least I hope so.
What a good painting it is!
Tired, but not yet exhausted, I walked to the tube and went to Leicester Square to walk to The National Gallery.
The sub-title of this exhibition is ‘Paul Durand-Ruel and the modern art market’ and it collects together some of the paintings that went through Durand-Ruel’s hands as he tried to establish a market for the New Painting that Impressionism was at one time.
This is a ravishing exhibition and god alone knows how much it cost to insure because the value of the stuff on show is probably hundreds of millions of pounds. That doesn’t make much difference to the experience, but in a show which constantly points out how difficult it was to establish a market for these paintings (only a dozen or so sold in one epoch making exhibition!) it also shows how successful he was – eventually!
Go on line and look at what is there, because there is too much which is too famous to go in to here. It was an astonishing experience to go round it and the hefty catalogue looks as though it will provide me with hours of happy reading! And looking of course.
I couldn’t go to the National without looking at my Van Eyck and as I attempted to find it I read one of the many notices informing people that many of the galleries were closed because of industrial action.
The management of the National is trying to privatize the employment of the guards and there has been a national outcry against this attempt to lower the working conditions and pay of a loyal group of workers. I have already signed a petition to stop this retrograde action, but felt the need to do a little more.
I asked for a comment form and wrote a strong letter to the authorities and I am now awaiting their reply!
Fired up by my fearless letter writing I strode out into the growing gloom of central London and noticed that there were posters advertising an exhibition of the work of John Singer Sargent in the National Portrait Gallery.
Sargent: portraits of artists and friends
With my remaining strength I threw myself into the artistic fray once more and paid the not insubstantial entrance fee to an exhibition of an artist I have always admired for the sheer easy brilliance of his handling of paint.
You get a long vista in one of the galleries and at the end you see Sargent’s masterpiece, the tweely named, but staggeringly accomplished, Carnation, lily, lily, rose – two young girls lighting paper lanterns at dusk in a garden with carnations, lilies and roses. The capturing of a particular quality of light is extraordinary and the painting is one of the real treasures of the Tate.
His ability to capture a character in paint is amazing and although at a distance his work seems highly finished, at close quarters you see exactly how free his brush strokes are.
This exhibition also has his charcoal drawing of W B Yeats used as a frontispiece to the first volume of Yeats’ Collected Poems of 1908.
Lots of things worth seeing here!
And so . . .
A short debate with myself about whether or not I could stay awake long enough to eat a meal ended with me prone on the bed. And soon in it.
Before I fell asleep, or rather plummeted into the darkness, I wondered how I ever managed to do even more in London when I was a mere stripling in my thirties. And perhaps there is the answer!