Easter

As the waters slowly recede from flooded fields and the sun returns to the sky, I decide to visit Portsmouth. The train takes my straight to the harbour and I walk along the quayside to the Royal Dockyards and I look around inside Warrior and Victory. I’m especially impressed by Warrior’s engine room, with the furnaces lit up by red lights. I also have a look at some of the museums, looking at strange figureheads designed around Gods like Apollo, nymphs and Arabic princes and the various memorabilia created around the cult of Nelson; paintings, busts, china plates, Wedgewood vases and locks of hair. I then walk past status of Captain Scott and King William in the Porter’s Garden before visiting the Mary Rose. When I had last visited as a child the wrecked timbers were still being hosed down with water; now they are being dried out and are much more visible. Finally, I go for a walk on the beach and along the sea front, past the Nelson statue and the ruins of the Royal Garrison church before visiting the cathedral. Unsurprisingly, the nineteen thirties facade looks rather militaristic but the gothic interior with its naval memorials is rather elegant with the Buckingham monument and a Sergei Fyodorov icon. I then walk back to the austere Guildhall with its war memorials and monuments to Queen Victoria surrounded by the rather dilapidated buildings of modern Portsmouth befor boarding the return train.

The following weekend and I travel up to the Midlands. I stop on route at the Ripon Chapel at Cuddesdon. The interior is extraordinary with the linden beams serving as elegant flying buttresses on the inside of the building, with the modernist curtain wall on the exterior bearing all the load. Light streams through the uppermost windows, refracting into butterfly colours on the pillars beneath. Back up in the Midlands and I revisit Pugin’s church at Cheadle before returning to the gardens at Biddulph Grange. Since my last visit some of the Chinese follies have been re-opened and the Giant Redwoods have started to grow tall and strong. It’s too early for the Dahlias to be in flower but Tulips and Rhododendrons are in flower. Carp and ducks swim alongside one another in the lake. As we leave, we walk up to the ruined castle at Mow Cop, from where we can almost see as far as Liverpool across the Cheshire plain. Lastly, I visit Little Moreton Hall. The next day, and we drive down to Herefordshire. We revisit the church at Brockhampton, with its thatched arts and crafts exterior matched by an almost art deco exterior and the church at Kilpeck with its Romanesque door decorations. We also visit Abbey Dore for the first time, with a pain interior whose walls remain covered by frescoed homilies. I rather like the detailed medieval bosses, wooden carvings, medieval tiles and Victorian stained glass. I then carry on to the church at St Margaret, with its beautiful carved wooden rood screen, the church at Hampton Bishop with its arts and crafts stained glass and half timbered tower. Lastly, I also visit Castle Frome, whose tower is also half timbered. The most interesting things here are the Romanesque font and medieval tomb monument.

Travelling back down south, I visit Compton Verney. The gallery has an exhibition of Moore and Rodin sculptures, the latest in a sequence of Moore exhibitions paired with another rather more powerful artists (Bacon, Epstein, Gaudier-Brzeska). In this case, there is a genuine influence and thee are several points of comparison. Rodin’s stress on the unfinished and fragmented, creating the aspect of sculptures as pitted and scarred as ancient Roman sculpture certainly emerges as an influence (although an unfinished figure atop a classical column reminds me of Mitoraj more than Moore) but Rodin’s work is figurative and predominantly occupies a world of history and mythology, while Moore’s work is at its best when entirely abstract; any referential content relates to a private mythology. A room showing their respective collections is occupied by Roman sculpture for Rodin but a much wider frame of reference for Moore, from Oceania to Medieval Europe. The grounds are filled with several of their paired sculptures, including the Burghers of Calais and Moore’s Arch. Of the works inside, many come from Rodin’s Gates of Hell designs. As before with Moore, I prefer many of his drawings to their counterpart sculptures; they retain a definition where his sculptures tend towards the amorphous; parallels are drawn between Moore’s drawings in the Tube during the Blitz and Rodin’s work after the Commune. Outside, the chapel is also open, and I can now see a range of medieval floor tombs and alabaster monuments.

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