Posts Tagged ‘art’

With the sharp freshness of autumn now in the air, the long summer break is all but a hazy memory but I can’t let it fade away completely without sharing the delights of my last holiday outing courtesy of my wonderful National Art Pass.

Driving a round trip of nearly a hundred miles to somewhere in south-east London, most of which is on the M25, surprisingly doesn’t hold much appeal, but I had heard such great things about this place that I set off early one morning and arrived as the gates opened.

Eltham Palace

Approaching Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace, now under the stewardship of English Heritage, is tucked away in a delightful backwater between the triangle that is Bromley, Sidcup and Lewisham. Anyone familiar with this particular part of London will know how incongruous the adjective ‘delightful’ is when used to describe the area but Eltham Palace is more than delightful – it’s a marvel.

This bridge across the moat is 14th century

This bridge across the moat is 14th century

With distant views across to the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, Eltham is one of the few medieval royal palaces to survive with considerable remains intact.  Originally it was a moated manor house acquired in 1305 for the future Edward ll. In the 1470’s a great hall was added which still stands today. The Palace went into decline after other royal Palaces rose to prominence – noteably Hampton Court and Greenwich – and for two hundred years after the civil wars it was used as a farm.

img001

Portrait of the Courtaulds by Campbell Taylor
© English Heritage Photo Library

Now let’s fast forward to the 1930’s when fabulously wealthy couple, Stephen and Virginia Courtauld (part of the Courtauld Textiles family), were looking for somewhere within easy reach of central London where they could entertain their friends. The couple, although very different in personality – Virginia, a divorcee, was flamboyant, bordering on the eccentric (she had a pet ring-tailed lemur called Mah Jong) and Stephen, a quieter, more reserved man who had served in the First World War and suffered periods of depression as a consequence – were very much a part of the London social scene. They commissioned architects Seely and Paget to build a house for them on the site of the old palace; leading designers and craftsmen were employed to create lavish interiors in the art deco style incorporating the latest modern technology.

The stunning entrance hall showing marquetry panelling and faithful reproductions of the carpet and furniture  © English Heritage

The stunning entrance hall showing marquetry panelling and faithful reproductions of the carpet and furniture
© English Heritage

The dining room. The central part of the ceiling is covered in aluminium leaf. ©English Heritage

The dining room.
The central part of the ceiling is covered in aluminium leaf.
©English Heritage

There were synchronous clocks in most rooms as well as a loudspeaker system so that music could be broadcast everywhere. A centralised vacuum cleaning system in the basement was linked to sockets all over the house and Seimens installed a private internal telephone exchange. To say that Eltham Palace was, in the 1930’s, at the forefront of cutting edge technology would be an understatement.

The Courtaulds lived at Eltham Palace until 1944, briefly moving to Scotland before emigrating  to Rhodesia, (now Zimbabwe) in 1951 where they stayed until Stephen’s death in 1967.   The British Army education unit moved in to Eltham in 1945 and stayed until 1992. English Heritage took the Palace on in 1995 and completed a major programme of repairs and restoration by 1999 of both the house and gardens. The result is an amazing display of authentic art deco decoration and a glimpse into the world of an extraordinary couple.

West facing  herbaceous border

South moat wall
herbaceous border

This little tunnel leads out to the south garden - I felt like Alice in Wonderland

This little tunnel leads out to the south garden – I felt like Alice in Wonderland

I visited on a Wednesday, which is when there are guided tours of the house. I would thoroughly recommend this as a way to make the most of a visit – the young man who took us round was so knowledgeable and passionate about his subject that I’m pleased to say he made our tour over-run by almost an hour. There are two cafes on site – one providing home-made hot and cold dishes and the other for takeaway sandwiches where you can sit on the lawn and admire the gardens.

Moat and part of the Japanese garden

Moat and part of the Japanese garden

The moat teems with friendly carp

The moat teems with friendly carp

English Heritage have done a fabulous job in restoring the place to its former glory – for anyone with a penchant for art deco, Eltham Palace is well worth the trip.

All interior photographs – English Heritage; exterior photographs – mine.

Read Full Post »

Living close to places of interest often means we pass them by, assuming we’ll get round to visiting some time or another, which is what has happened with me and Chichester Cathedral. I had never been inside, until this week when, after meeting friends for lunch in the town, I remedied this oversight. On first impression, the interior is very much like any other cathedral – except that there is a rather stunning altar piece tapestry designed by John Piper, paintings by Patrick Procktor and Graham Sutherland and a beautiful stained glass window by Marc Chagall.

Depiction of Psalm 150, Marc Chagall, Chichester Cathedral

Depiction of Psalm 150, Marc Chagall, Chichester Cathedral

This immediately brought to mind an outing I took last year with my mother – on her suggestion that she and I visit a tiny church in the Kent village of Tudeley. She had been before, and thought I’d be interested.

I was. I was astonished.

All Saints' Tudeley

All Saints’ Tudeley

Views across the Weald of Kent

Views across the Weald of Kent

All Saints’ Tudeley sits nestled in beautiful countryside, overlooking the Weald. From the outside, although pretty, it looks similar to many other small churches in this area, but inside…well, the inside is unbelievable.

The walls are whitewashed which complements the stonework and instantly this evokes an airy atmosphere of meditative calm.

Light through the windows onto white walls and honeyed stonework

Light through the windows onto white walls and honeyed stonework

The windows, all twelve of them, were designed by Marc Chagall. It is the only church in the world to have all its windows decorated by the Russian artist – and it’s only here in the UK and in Chichester where his stained glass can be appreciated.

Chagall was originally commissioned to design the east window at Tudeley in 1963 for Sir Henry and Lady d’Avigdor-Goldsmid in memory of their daughter.

Window commissioned as a memorial to a drowned daughter

Window commissioned as a memorial to a drowned daughter

He had been searching for a place of worship in which to display his stained glass since being disappointed at his artificially lit windows, depicting the Twelve Tribes of Israel, at the synagogue of the Hassadah Medical Centre in Jerusalem. When he arrived at Tudeley for the inauguration in 1967, he was so taken by its simplicity and natural light that he agreed to decorate all the windows.

An abstraction of butterflies

An abstraction of butterflies

The final windows to be installed, those of the chancel, were fitted in 1985 – the year of Chagall’s death.

Find out more about the church at Tudeley here.

Churches seem to house the most unexpected works of art which, unless you visit on the off chance and discover them for yourself or you hear by word of mouth, these treasures are likely to remain hidden forever.

John Piper's tapestry at the altar, Chichester Cathedral

John Piper’s tapestry at the altar, Chichester Cathedral

Noli me Tangere, by Graham Sutherland, tucked away in Chichester Cathedral

Noli me Tangere, by Graham Sutherland, tucked away in Chichester Cathedral

Read more about Chichester Cathedral here.

Read Full Post »

I spent last weekend lurching from chair to sofa to kitchen to deckchair and reading in between which was wonderful and not something I get the chance to do very often. Apart from acquiring sore, square eyes, it felt like I had achieved quite a bit, although of that I’ve absolutely no proof whatsoever.  I got through a book and a half, so have lowered my reading pile a smidge and caught up with blogs I follow, most of which caused me to deviate somewhere or other. (I now know a little about Galileo’s Paradox – impressed? I know – I amaze myself sometimes).

However, one funny account of early driving experiences, on Rod’s blog, jogged a distant memory which in turn, reminded me of a recent four hour car journey my sister and I took where we talked nonstop, all the way to beyond Liverpool.  ?????????????

The purpose of our overnight trip was to view Another Place, sculptor Antony Gormley’s iron men, spread out along the soft sand at Crosby, staring out to sea, as if waiting for a sign from some alien force. There are one hundred of them, all the same, although several years of salt water washing over them has given each his own patina, and in some cases, a clothing of crustaceans. It is an eerie place: windy, with a power station and cranes in the distance adding to the bleak atmosphere. Over the years, some of the men have become half buried in the sand while others stand upright, hands by their side, waiting, waiting…

But where was I? Oh yes, driving.  I mentioned above that my sister and I talked nonstop during our drive up north. So what, nothing surprising about that, I hear you mutter. Two women incarcerated in a tin box for hours – what else would you expect. Well, I know, but actually, for us to talk in a car at all is a bit of a novelty, as we acknowledged more than once during our four hour marathon.

We have fond memories of being bundled into the back of the family car on a Sunday afternoon, aged six and three, and told to be very quiet while Dad taught Mum to drive. We’d sit there scarcely daring to breathe as Mum crunched around the Kent countryside with Dad tutting as he managed to find impossible gradients for unsuccessful hill starts.  Now, whether the insistence of absolute quietness came at a crucial stage in our childhood development, I don’t know, but neither my sister nor I ever talked much in the family car ever again, apart from asking, before we’d even passed Guildford, if we were ‘nearly there yet’ on our annual holiday to the west country.

Mum eventually passed her test but not before bearing the good-natured brunt of many a joke about women drivers, culminating in Dad buying her the record of Bob Newhart’s The Driving Instructor.  So for Mum and for Rod, who I think will appreciate this – here is Bob Newhart, taken from that original record.

Read Full Post »

Here’s one art form I don’t like: tattooing – because I don’t understand it. What’s that all about? I’d rather go to see Damien Hirst’s Thousand Years than have a young girl’s shoulder with its badly pricked out butterfly foisted in front of me in a queue at the post office. Did she have this done on a whim, after a night of tequila slammers? Why else would she deface her unblemished skin with irreversible graffiti? I understand that ‘corrective’ surgery is available at a cost but it’s apparently painful and leaves scarring. According to the British Association of Dermatologists, one third of people with tattoos live to regret them.

It isn’t even a fashion thing. Fashion, by its definition is ‘something that is popular at a particular time;’ it’s transient: it doesn’t last. Tattoos, whether you get tired of them or not, do. Where has this current trend sprung from?

david-beckham-tattoo-chest-580x333[1]

Celebrities. Let’s blame them. Many high profile people – especially footballers – flaunt their heavily tattooed torsos, none more flagrantly, I’m sorry to say, than David Beckham. I say sorry because, even though, in 1998 he contributed to England’s early exit from the World Cup and I, along with most of the country at the time, held him culpable for the whole team’s short comings, am very fond of dear David. In spite of his ‘body adornment’ he is a beautiful sight to behold; he has an endearing grin, appears charmingly honest and by all accounts is a model parent. His celebrity marriage is standing the test of time and I’m prepared to accept there is a side to his wife that the public don’t see.

He earns millions through sponsorship deals – currently the face of Sky Sports TV; previously – to highlight a couple – the face of Breitling watches (fair enough) and Armani underpants. (Odd, being the face of underpants). Amongst his charitable work he is a Goodwill Ambassador for Unicef and supporter of Help for Heroes. The boy’s done good, as they say; he’s become a national treasure, part of our sporting establishment culminating last year in a starring role at the Olympics ceremony.

Arise, Sir David. Or will he? Are tattoos preventing him from becoming a knight of the realm? (Or would that be Posh?).  Do tattoos deter potential employers, I wonder. I know I’m being unnecessarily judgemental, but if I was in a position to recruit staff, I’d be put off by a display of exhibitionistic self harm. It seems that many folk start off by embellishing themselves with the name of a loved one. There’s an obvious flaw to that straight away, given the rising divorce statistics. Even the name of a child. Who’s to predict they won’t turn out to be an axe murderer?  Enough of this – it’s turning into a rant.

michelangelo-sculptures-13[1]

Let’s look at another perfect David. Michelangelo’s. Would his looks be enhanced if someone were to doodle over him with an indelible pen? I don’t think so. The act of vandalism would cause outrage.

Venus_de_Milo_Louvre_Ma399_n4[2]

The Venus di Milo, now residing in the Louvre and discovered in Greece in 1820, was found in several pieces and reassembled. Her arms were never re-attached as they didn’t appear of the same quality as the rest of the sculpture, so were discarded. I’m just wondering if her ancient creator, Alexandros of Antioch, had been experimenting with a bit of ancient sleeve graffiti. We’ll never get to the bottom of that one but I’d be genuinely interested to hear from the pro tattoo lobby.

You never know, you might convince me it’s art.

Read Full Post »

I’ve been a fan of Henry Moore for years, possibly since Dad, on driving us past the newly installed Knife Edge Two Piece, in front of the Houses of Parliament, dismissed it with a scathing grunt as ‘modern art.’

Knife Edge Two Piece

Knife Edge Two Piece

I was at that age when everything one’s parents say is complete rubbish so automatically I strove to like it. And I still do, so thanks, Dad.  Having been to a major retrospective at the Tate a few years ago and to an exhibition of Moore’s works at Kew Gardens, it was with excitement that I planned my trip to Hertfordshire with a competent map-reading friend.

It takes a while to find Perry Green, the tiny hamlet where Henry Moore lived. When you get there, you feel like you’ve dropped through time, to an era before technology ruled the world; a peaceful, slower time, where people stopped to pass the time of day. The sort of place where a whistling butcher’s boy rides past on an old bicycle and the bus comes once a week. There are no shops, but there is a telephone box, which, on closer inspection, is a tiny exhibition gallery called the Red Cube. The Hoops Inn, tucked away behind a hedge, provides a further clue that this is no ordinary village: the size of their car park suggests they expect a crowd.

Hoglands - Henry Moore's home

Hoglands – Henry Moore’s home

Hoglands, Henry Moore’s delightful house, is part of the Henry Moore Foundation, a registered charity founded in 1977 by Moore himself to encourage public appreciation of the visual arts. The garden and adjacent fields are home to many of Moore’s finest pieces, the setting complementing both the structure and form of his sculptures. Opposite the main house is a little cottage which doubles as the ticket office and coffee shop. We were advised to book a time to see the interior of the house as only a few people are let in at once. This is well worth clock-watching for as inside the house there is a real feeling of the artist’s presence – as if he and his wife have just popped out to the nearest town and will be back any minute.

The garden is informal with hedges and plantings masking the next treasure. At the far reaches of the garden are the sheds and barns HM used for creating, and these too, are open for inspection – some are as he would have left them; one is an indoor exhibition of his work and another, The Aisled Barn, has an exhibition of tapestries designed by HM and woven at West Dean College in West Sussex.

Colour composition with half moon - tapestry

Colour composition with half moon – tapestry

Beyond these buildings is the sheep field where some of his largest pieces can be seen, magnificent against the landscape, yet completely at home with the animals resting against them. ???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

I’ll finish with a few more images from my day at Hoglands. Henry Moore’s home is most definitely on my top-ten-places-to-visit list.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Double Oval

Large Internal Form

Large Internal Form

Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae

Three Piece Sculpture: Vertebrae

If you decide to go, be prepared to spend the whole day there and book a table at the Hoops Inn the food is good but they do get extremely busy.

Hoglands is open until 27 October 2013, Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holidays 11am – 5pm.

Header picture shows Large Reclining Figure, situated on a mound in the far corner of the sheep field: an imposing sentinel.

Read Full Post »

I’m so excited. I’ve just signed up for a National Art Pass, thanks to a tip off from my niece. She has a degree in fine art and is striving towards an illustrious career as an illustrator.  (As I’m keen on promoting creativity within the family, you can check out her work here). When she first mentioned it to me I thought it was probably something only available to students or recent graduates, but no, it’s for everyone so I’m passing on the message. The Art Fund is the national fundraising charity for art and by supporting them in this way I am indirectly responsible for helping museums and galleries across the country add to their collections.

???????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

For around £40 a year, this little piece of plastic allows me free entry to over two hundred galleries, castles and historic houses all over the country as well as half price admission to major exhibitions. I shall recoup my money in no time! My welcome pack arrived over the weekend and includes a comprehensive guide-book to all the participating venues.

With the school summer holiday fast approaching I am filling my August calendar with days out inspired by the contents of the Art Pass guide-book. I had already earmarked the Lowry at Tate Britain so while I’m there I’ll pop in to see the Patrick Caulfield – double whammy.

There is one place that I went to last year to which I would return time and again if it wasn’t such a horrible drive from home. Henry Moore’s home at Perry Green in Hertfordshire is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited and is worth a post in its own right, so watch this space. As it is covered by my Art Pass I don’t think that making the drive through the M25 road works is a good enough excuse not to go… and there’s a jolly nice pub next door. There we go – I can talk myself into anything.

Read Full Post »

The Royal Academy in London recently housed a retrospective of Edouard Manet’s portraits; apparently this particular permutation has never been shown before, despite pictures of his literary, artistic and political peers, together with his friends and family accounting for half his total output.

So, as the exhibition was nearing the end of its run, a few friends and I fought our way along Piccadilly to see for ourselves this belle époque spectacle. Clutching our soon-to-be irrelevant timed tickets, my heart plummeted when we were faced with the prospect of viewing these fabulous paintings in a shuffling queue of at least five deep.

While it’s great that so many people want to view these treasures, I wish that there was some way of diluting the crowds. Timed ticketing doesn’t work because there is no shepherding out of the gallery at the other end. If only a certain amount of people were allowed in at any one time, they could ring a bell at the end of a designated timed session: viewers could then leave for the gift shop or restaurant and let the next batch of eager art lovers in. It’s at times like this my commuter elbows come into their own and  my height is a bonus  – in other circumstances, such as buying jeans, it’s something of a nightmare – but that’s another story entirely.

However, despite the gallery resembling Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour, the exhibition was delightful – some of the paintings were familiar, some had never been previously exhibited – some are unfinished. I wondered if Manet would have approved the selection. There were scenes of the artist’s friend Monet with his family in their Normandy garden; a picture of Emile Zola at his desk; we had fun spotting Manet himself among his contemporaries in an early work, Music in the Tuileries Gardens.

music in the tuileries gardens

music in the tuileries gardens

I never understand why curators choose the paintings they do – or, more importantly, choose which ones to leave out, and why? Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, was smaller and less colourful than I had imagined, but The Bar at the Folies-Bergère, the painting which I think is instantly recognisable as a Manet, and depicts beautifully Parisian cafe society, was conspicuously absent. Odd, when Le déjeuner had to come from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Folies resides at the Courtauld Institute, less than a mile away.

le dejeuner sur l'herbe

le dejeuner sur l’herbe

Later in the week I popped into the Courtauld for the Becoming Picasso exhibition, which concentrated on the year he had his first exhibition at the precocious age of nineteen. No queues, no crowds, no timed tickets – the best way to view paintings. On top of this I was able to pick up, free of charge, a very informative teaching pack complete with CD – and – I was able to view, at my leisure, The Bar at the Folies-Bergère.

the bar at the Folies-Bergere

the bar at the Folies-Bergere

Double Whammy – marvellous!

All pictures borrowed from Wikipedia!

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts