I begin this Easter I drive up to Compton Verney for its Canaletto in Britain exhibition. I recall a lot of the paintings from a similar exhibition at Dulwich a few years back but it still impresses; areas like Greenwich and Horse Guards Parade emerge as rather quiet and pastoral locations in contrast to the dense packing of buildings onto London Bridge. Other paintings show a lost London (the Ranelagh Rotunda or Vauxhall Gardens) or one that never was, as with Marlow’s painting of St Paul’s relocated to Venice.
Back in Staffordshire, I visit the church at Clifton Campville with its alabaster monuments before visiting the Brockhampton estate in Herefordshire. I also visit the church of St George at Brinsop, with its combination of medieval stained glass. designs by Ninian Comper and a medieval tympanum & green man. I also visit the church of Saint Mary at Madley,which has an extraordinary set of medieval stained glass windows. On the subject of stained glass, I realise that the Herkenroode stained glass has been reinstated at Lichfield Cathedral; the interior of the Lady Chapel certainly seems a lot lighter than I remember it from before the glass was restored,
Lastly, I spend a day visiting Derbyshire, staring with Hardwick Hall. I’d forgotten how lovely the collection of tapestries and rugs inside it is, but it does seem a pity that a building notable for its large glass windows has to be kept shrouded in darkness with drawn curtains in order to protect them. I’s also forgotten the wonderful wood carving on the furniture, with table legs formed as sea dogs. I then travel onto Eyam, where I visit the church with its Celtic cross, plague memorial window and graveyard suffused with buttercups. Nearby Eyam Hall proves to be full of curiosities; a poem etched into one of the windows, a tapestry room and a weird pair of bacon settles in the hall.
Back down south, I decide to revisit Canterbury, mostly so that I can see the place for myself rather than at the whims of a tour guide. This time I’m able to see a bit more of the cathedral, including the cloisters, chapter house and the frescos of St Hubert. I’m also able to visit the ruins of Augustine Abbey and the church of St Martin, as well as the remains of Canterbury Castle. On the way back, I’ve booked tickets for a performance of King John at the Temple Church in London. The performance takes place in candlelight, with a stage having been erected in the middle of the nave. John is shown as a rather weak and indecisive figure than as being ‘determined to prove a villain.’ The absence of a dominant central protagonist gives a degree of unpredictability to events, as with the unexpected deaths of Arthur, Eleanor and ultimately John himself. I also go to see Tom Morton Smith’s Oppenheimer at the Vaudeville Theatre; it does occur to me that I don’t think I’ve ever see a play performed in a West End theatre before. The theatre does come over as having seen better day. The play rather reminds me of a film or documentary; the narrative suddenly flashbacks between different times without the actors leaving the stage while images of atoms are projected onto the stage, effectively providing a form of special effects. The play even has its own soundtrack.
At the British Museum a few weeks later, I visit its exhibition of Greek sculpture. This contrasts original Greek sculptures (the Discobolus of Myron, the Westmacott Youth and the Parthenon sculptures by Phidias, for example) with replicas of Greek sculpture as it originally appeared, such as a gilded statue of Athena which shines out against the darkness. Nude depictions of Greek warriors counterpoint to more puritanical Assyrian depictions. The Sonia Delaunay exhibition at the Tate rather reminds me of their previous exhibitions on Malevich and Rodchenko; like them Delaunay works in many different media, with the exhibition including bookshelves, mosaics, curtains, book bindings, dresses and home furnishings as well as her painting. Much of the work also demonstrates a lot of the familiar tropes of the time; partial abstraction in which figures like singers and dancers blur into light and movement or more full abstract work based around electric lights (circular patterns called electric prisms – it rather reminds me of Klee’s magic squares) – the most orginal pieces are the mural she created for the International exposition, based around aircraft parts. Painted in bright blues and yellows and overlaid with blueprints, it’s quite unlike most of her work. I also enjoy the Eric Ravilious exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Much of the watercolours on display are pastoral, but it’s a heavily qualified version; ruined buses and dilapidated caravans rest in England’s green and pleasant fields. Unsurprisingly his war work strongly shows this tension with many paintings of ships and fighter plans but also frankly picturesque depictions of the locations he was sent to. Lastly, I also go to the Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery; being primarily about the art dealer who backed the impressionists it does accordingly rather lack focus; I find myself rather disliking Renoir’s sentimental paintings of children and much preferring his dance paintings, surprised by a Manet painting of a naval battle and liking Sisley and Monet’s landscapes (especially of Dutch windmills and of the Houses of Parliament).
Another weekend, and I visit the Sky Garden on Fenchurch Street. It’s a rather grey and dull day, so the visibility is somewhat limited; one one side the only comparable building is the Shard while on the other a few buildings like the Gherkin compete. The garden at the summit with its assemblage of ferns seems rather odd, like something out of a film.
Lastly, I visit Oxford to see a couple of exhibitions at the Ashmolean. This is mostly for a set of Gilray prints. As often with Gilray I’m struck by how his preferences vary; for the most part his work is anti-whig propaganda, but he equally turns his fire on Pitt, while his attitude towards the royal family is hardly that of a conventional Tory. There’s also an exhibition of British drawing, including Ravilious, Nash, Sutherland, Piper, Ruskin, Holman-Hunt, Hamilton-Mortimer, Turner, Beardsley, Rossetti, Rowlandson and Francis Barlow. I have a bit of time before the return train, so I go for a walk along the Oxford canal.