Canterbury, Chichester and Rochester

I‘m visiting Canterbury to go on a tour of the city and the cathedral but before the tour begins I have a look inside the Beaney Institute (avoiding the Greenpeace polar bear posing for photographs outside). There are rather too many of Thomas Sidney Cooper’s cattle paintings for my liking but I rather like the Anglo-Saxon collections and a wunderkammer complete with stuffed Pangolin. The tour begins with the Hospital of St John the Baptist, exploring a crypt that still periodically floods and an upper chapel containing a mandorla fresco that had been hidden underneath whitewash. We walk around the city, exploring Dane John Mound and the city walls before entering the War Memorial Garden by the cathedral. The interior is relatively stark but as the sunlight draws thin a golden sheen over everything while the candle at the shrine of Thomas Becket shines all the brighter. I particularly like the crossing, a macabre tomb chest monument, St Michael’s monument, the effigy of King Henry and the maritime Hales monument.

A few weeks later, and it’s the turn of Chichester. This is particularly wonderful cathedral, filled with artworks commissioned by Dean Hussey, such as tapestries by Piper, a painting by Sutherland and a marvelous Chagall window. The artworks also go further back; wooden panels painted with the Kings and Queens of England, medieval sculpted reliefs and a monument to William Huskisson. Peregrine falcons are nesting on the cathedral spire while I’m there and the outside of the building has an encampment of photographers pitched outside it. I also have a look at the Georgian church of St John the Evangelist, an octagonal building In the afternoon, I visit the Pallant House Gallery. Most of the collection here is modern, but there are medieval wooden panels painted with portraits of historic women. Sickert and the Camden Town Group are well represented in the collection and I’m especially struck by a homoerotic painting of male bathers by Duncan Grant. There are also landscapes by Gertler, Ravilious, Nash and Fry as well as a striking view of Jerusalem by Bomberg. Elsewhere there are paintings by Piper, Sutherland, Nicholson and sculpture by Hepworth. The gallery is hosting an exhibition by Paolozzi from sculptures through to dress designs.

The last cathedral city I visited is Rochester. The main street is draped in bunting as I walk up to the cathedral. The interior has some extraordinary monuments such as the Henniker monument with its sculpture of Father Time. I also rather like the Victorian green men designs on the cathedral crossing, Minton tiling the medieval fresco of the wheel of fortune. I then visit the nearby castle ruins. The view from the castle keep over the river Medway with its boats (and even a submarine, if I recall correctly?) is wonderful. Finally, I visit Restoration House, an Elizabethan mansion with layers of successive periods accreted within it; Chinese flowers made of precious stones, French tapestries, stained glass with maritime scenes, a bust of Cromwell, Reynolds paintings, Pre-Raphaelite paneling, William and Mary coronation wallpaper inside an old sideboard. The garden outside is divided between a formal garden (stalked by a long haired cat), a pond, an orchard and a flower garden.

The British Museum’s Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition is based around the structure of a Roman villa from one of the cities. The contents accordingly range from extraordinary garden frescos to wind chimes prominently featuring cocks as a good luck charm, fresco portraits, bronze statues, carbonised bread and pomegranates and a marble statue of Pan fucking a goat. The Tate’s exhibition of Lowry’s work is intriguing. Although it compares his work to that of various European counterparts, the work of Valette or Utrillo is close to the European avant garde in a way that Lowry’s work is not. His perspectives are often distorted in order to create a bird’s eye or panoramic view, rather reminding one of Japanese art. His figures resemble cartoons; although it can be argued that this reflects the dehumanisation of people the overall effect is still reminiscent of Disney. The ground is always white in Lowry paintings, rather creating the impression of a Brueghel winter scene. For all of the documenting of social injustices in Manchester, the same style is exactly applied to places like Berwick Upon Tweed. The paintings I most like, such as St Augustine’s church, Pendlebury or The Empty House have a rather gothic quality to them, like an English version of Hopper’s House of the Railroad.

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