Magnetic North

Arriving in Stockholm, I start off by walking around the Vasastan area a bit, starting with the Gustav Vasa Kyrke and then to the Stadsbibliotheket. This is perhaps one of the most striking buildings in the city; a cylindrical drum painted in bright orange, where books ring the interior. Heading down to the waterfront, I walk across a bridge to Gamla Stan, noting that someone seems to have waders on and is fishing the waters of Lake Mälaren below. Stockholm is often compared to Venice for reasons that are obvious enough but it lacks the dense crowded aspect to that city; everything here is spaced out with entire islands in the lake given up to woodland. The crossing point from Norrmalm to Gamla Stan is an odd one, representing a division between a mostly modern city and a medieval old town. The old town looks similar to Germany or the Netherlands, give or take the occasional Runestone embedded in the walls. I start here by looking at the Riddarholmenskyrkan, which effectively serves the same purpose as Roskilde Cathedral in its Royal entombments. The walls are lined with heraldic emblems of the Order of the Seraphim, which is only offered to foreign recipients (hence odd contortions to represent Mexico and Korea in terms of traditional European emblems).

The dominating feature of Gamla Stan is the Royal Palace. An exhibition inside shows models of the previous Three Crowns Palace, which burned down. It’s hard not to regret this, given that its turrets would have fitted in with the rest of the island’s spires rather better than the current dull box resting atop it. The interior is rather more impressive though; I especially like King Gustav’s Antiquities Museum with its collection of Roman statues, with a statue of Endymion standing out. Inside the Palace the most striking things are the Hall of Mirrors with its mimetic replication of Versailles and the silver throne. As I leave the Palace, it’s time for the changing of the guard; which I can now claim to have seen in Sweden but never in Britain. On the rest of the island, I visit the Cathedral, a rather lovely brick gothic affair with a large statue of St George and the Dragon at its centre.

If Gamla Stan rather reminds me of a Swedish Île de la Cité, then neighbouring Sodermalm actually reminds me of Lisbon. It’s the only Island in central Stockholm to rise sharply above the others with large jutting cliffs with viewing platforms sticking out of them. The views from it across the rest of the city rather remind me of Lisbon’s miradors. I visit a church near the summit of this cliff-face. There’s a rather pleasant small park where the fountains rather look like plesiosaurs. The small islands of Skeppsholmen and Kastellholmen are former navalyards and still feature watchtowers and wooden cranes for offloading equipment. The main thing there now is the Modern Museet. The main exhibit therein is Rauschenberg’s Monogram, along with works by Pollock, Matisse, Gauguin and Klein. I find myself especially drawn to the photography exhibits, like Nadar’s aerial photos of Paris along with works by Bresson and Arbus. The only Swedish artist I recognise are some works by Hilma Af Klint. Walking back to the mainland, I rather like the Dramatic Theatre, with its statue of Margaretha Krook standing outside.

The island of Kungsholmen contains the striking brick Town Hall, a rather more impressive building with its tower than either the Parliament or the Royal Palace. The exterior has a large open courtyard, which leads out to a colonnaded terrace looking out over the lake to Gamla Stan. I go on a tour of the interior, from where Nobel banquets are held to the debating chamber. The most striking aspect is the Golden Hall, which is rather like walking into a modernist version of a Byzantine church.

With the weather expected to take a turn for the worst later in the week, I decide to visit Drottningholm earlier than I had originally planned. Much of the design of the palace here is deliberately intended to recall a French chateau but the lakeside setting is rather more beautiful than Versailles. Geese wonder around with goslings in tow. The grounds are less extensive but have some interesting follies; a brick gothic tower on a hill, a Chinese folly (whose interior features a set of opium pipes) and a faked guard tent that is actually made out of wood. There’s also a village originally built for silk production. The interior of the palace has some interesting features; a marble grand staircase and a pair of halls frescoed with images of Swedish wars against Poland. The most extraordinary feature is the court theatre, a wooden building that has been preserved with its original set designs intact.

The next day I visit the open air Skansen museum on Djurgarden. Much of this is given up to traditional architecture transplanted to the island from across Sweden; farmer’s houses, windmills, churches and belfries. Some of the architecture comes from the period when Sweden and Norway were one state; the Finnish huts are filled with a great deal of smoke in the absence of a chimney and are filled with examples of household items made out of bark. There are also examples of Saami architecture, which remind me of Tepees as well as a house built on inverted tree trunks that puts me in mind of Baba Yaga’s hut. A lot of these buildings come with traditional breeds of farmyard animals; pigs, chickens, cows, ponies and sheep (albeit these are a British breed). There’s also a zoo with wild Scandinavian animals; wolves, owls, bison, boar, elk, reindeer, otters, seals and bears. A lot of them are asleep in the heat, although the otters seem especially occupied with fighting with each other so that little is visible other than a sea of froth. There are quite a lot of young animals and some wolf cubs are doing much the same thing. I do find myself a little disturbed by one of the bears, which is walking up and down its enclosure and seems to be deliberately trying to keep out of the way of the crowds. Oddly enough, the thing that most astounds me is the number of red squirrels on the island, which seem pretty indifferent to all the visitors. Leaving the museum, I sit down for a bit at the waterfront, where I discover a statue of Jenny Lind.

The day after, I take a train up to Uppsala. On arrival, I start by visiting the cathedral. The redbrick exterior belies a medieval interior, with rose windows and decorated gothic vaults. The Vasa tomb inside is perhaps the most impressive thing, with an alabaster monument surrounded by frescoed walls. The surrounding grounds have various runestones dotted around them. The small Holy Trinity church nearby is in some ways more striking; a brick gothic affair, whose plastered walls are covered in medieval frescoes of angels. From, there I walk to the Linnaeus garden and house. The house is a rather small affair, with the oddity of wallpaper that could be removed. The gardens are divided into different sections according to either habitat (river or marsh, for example) or type (perennial or annual). The main oddities are a set of boxes on posts where Linnaeus apparently kept his chained monkeys. He also had a pet raccoon with a habit of biting the servant’s legs. Lastly, I visit the University, where you can visit the original Augsburg wunderkammer that formed the basis of its collection (I like the taxidermied albino squirrel), the old anatomical theatre, an exhibition of scientists like Celsius and Berzelius that worked there and an Egyptology section with a series of sarcophagi.

Back in Stockholm and I return to Djurgarden. It’s a rainy day and I spend the morning in the Vasa Museum. I rather expect something similar to the Mary Rose and am astonished by what I find; a ship that is essentially intact and rather larger. It was also raised from the seabed much earlier than the Mary Rose and the exhibition covers a lot of details on how this was done. The afternoon is spent in the neighbouring Nordiska Museet. This is a wonderfully impressive building but the exhibitions are perhaps rather more anodyne. The main hall is dominated by a massive painted statue of Gustav Vasa, which rather has the effect of looking like a shrine to a deity. The upper floors contain exhibitions of Swedish folk art, Strindberg’s rather impressionist paintings and the history of the Saami people, but exhibitions on the lower floors of traditional dress and dollshouses are perhaps of less interest. Lastly, I visit Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, the house of a Prince and the art he painted. I rather like a lot of his landscapes although he seems to have been better at photography than painting. An exhibition covers the work of Swedish painters at the Grez-sur-Loing colony, including works by Carl Larsson. The gardens and grounds are also rather pleasant; the reeds by the lake have notices on them warning of nesting swans and there’s an old windmill used for grinding lindseed. Back in central Stockholm later, I’m sat down beside an old church waiting for the time of my restaurant reservation where a hare runs out of the shrubbery, pauses in front of me, runs off and then comes back for a repeat performance ten minutes later.

The day after also has rather poor weather, so I visit the Historiska Museet. The entrance has a rather good collection of runestones but the Viking section is unfortunately shut. I start by visiting the prehistoric section and then the medieval, which has an extensive collection of items like gilded church sculptures and gold reliquaries. Some of the more unexpected exhibits include the crown of Elizabeth of Hungary and both Buddhist and Islamic finds from Viking settlements. Nearby is the huge National Museum, with its huge entrance hall filled with replicas of famous sculptures like the Laocoon and the Discobulus. A lot of the collection isn’t all that famous but it’s still rather enjoyable. Some of the artists that are quite well known are Rembrandt, Cranach, Arcimboldo, Hilliard, El Greco, Bellini, Cezanne, Delacroix, Fuseli, de la Tour, Bronzino and Hals. Some of the paintings by Swedish artists like Zorn, Osslund and Liljefors are also rather striking.

The following day I visit the island of Vaxholm in the archipelago. It’s a rather attractive place, where a local history society keeps a traditional cottage open as a local museum with exhibitions on herring fishing and shoe making on the island. I take a cable ferry from the main island out to its accompanying castle, which once defended Stockholm from Russian invasion after the rest of the archipelago had fallen. One of the more interesting exhibits is a small submarine. The weather is rather grey when I arrive but by the time I’ve left the museum in the castle everything has changed and the sky is blue.

On my final day in Stockholm, I go for a walk to the Rosendal Palace and Botanical Garden on Djurgarden, before visiting the Museum of Mediterranean History. Sweden did a lot of archaeological work on Cyprus and Egtptian consuls helped it build a large collection. The things that most strike me are a the huge stone sarcophagus of Taperet, Fayum paintings, fake doored mausoleum sculptures, an Anubis sculpture and some Greek gold diadems in the shape of a wreath of leaves. The very last thing I do is visit the Strindberg museum. In one of the upper floors in an attractive art nouveau set of apartments, it was where he lived for the last years of his life and from where he appeared on the balcony as crowds protested at him not winning the Nobel prize.

Some final observations on the country – a lot of what I saw conformed to the set of Swedish stereotypes I had in my mind; rather pretty buildings with good transport, for example. But homelessness did seem more of a problem than I had expected, if nowhere near as bad as in the UK. The presence of lots of stalls selling falafel in some places testified to the reception of Syrian refugees some years ago.

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Open House

Open house in London starts for me this year with standing in the rain in a queue outside a hotel at Liverpool Street. When I’m finally allowed in, it’s to wait in the lobby to wait for the previous group to leave and for a marketing manager to subject me to a toe-curlingly awful brand statement about their new cocktail bar. Finally, the tour begins and I enter the Masonic Temple I’ve been waiting for. Bricked up sometime in the nineteen forties, it had been forgotten about until it had been rediscovered. A chequered floor expands out beneath a gold ceiling depicting the constellations, while red lighting illuminates the sculptures. At one point I find myself wondering about the music being played in the background, until I realise it’s one of Murray Gold’s Doctor who soundtracks.

Next up is 1 Finsbury Circus. I have to wait even longer here until being ushered through security checks into the rather opulent lobby designed for BP by Edwin Lutyens. The rest of the interior is rather more modern and somewhat anodyne; the original listed board room now rests in the basement, inverting what happened at the Lloyds building with its Robert Adam boardroom now sitting on the top floor of a skyscraper. After that, I visit the churches of St Andrew Undershaft and St Olave, before visiting the Lloyds Shipping Register. This renovated building includes a series of archaeological exhibits from its reconstruction, including a Roman Sphinx. The original interiors are especially impressive, including frescoed ceilings, Morris wallpaper, De Morgan tiling and Brangwyn paintings. Next is Clothworker’s Hall, which rather bizarrely veers from heraldic stained glass and tapestries to golden sheep, before Clothworker’s Hall, a modern reconstruction after damage in the second world war. There are some rather impressive carvings in the style of Grinling Gibbons.  Lastly, I leave the City and arrive at Soho to see Aston Webb’s French Protestant Church. There’s a small library near the door and my attention gets drawn to one of the books, a Bible with versions in Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Syriac and Aramaic.

I also go on a late visit to the Soane Museum. I’d forgotten how labyrinthine the interior is, with spiral staircases, internal courtyards and balconies. I finally get to see the sarcophagus of Seti in the basement as statues of Apollo and Soane look down form above. I also like the visit to the art gallery, with its collections of paintings by Hogarth, Gandy, Fuseli and Canaletto, mounted on wooden doors that can be opened to expose a view down to the lower floors.

I’ve just finished reading Iris Murdoch’s A Fairly Honourable Defeat. As with a lot of her novels, it dwells on the muddled nature of morality. One of the aspects that does stand out particularly here is the implicit defence of gay rights in the novel. The relationship between Axel and Simon proves far more enduring than that of Rupert and Hilda when faced with attempts to undermine it. It also has what must count as one of the earliest discussions of the ethics of coming out, when Axel is forced to consider his hypocrisy in keeping his relationship separated from other aspects of his life. Oddly enough, something similar applies to The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller. Muller’s novel exists in a far more deterministic universe than Murdoch’s, one that is dominated by the objects of the Labour camp and the protagonist’s own drives and instincts, especially the hunger referenced in the title. Leo’s homosexuality is only obliquely referenced throughout until in the end it proves an instinct as powerful as the hunger in the camp, as it drives him out of communist Romania to Austria.

Ascending and Descending

Travelling to North Wales, I stop en route at Powis Castle. A medieval building updated to include Clive of India’s Elephant in its crest throughout, it has a collection of paintings by Sargent and Romney, the Tipu Sultan exhibition and the Hilliard painting of Lord Herbert. The garden at the castle is beginning to look somewhat autumnal, but a lot of the flowers are still blooming and the terraces are still filled with Banana plants and Bamboo alongside the English topiary. The clouds lazily clear and cast a warm light over the red stones. By contrast, when I finally arrive to visit the castles at Harlech and Cricieth, the weather is wet and blustery, as the sea winds sweep inwards. The landscape in this part of Wales could probably never really be called pretty; it’s a rather forbidding landscape of craggy hills that are often shrouded in mist. Much of the buildings are hewn from slate or pebbledash, so that the landscape’s palette is a muted set of greys and greens.

The weather is calmer when I visit Portmeirion. Here, the buildings have been painted in a series of bright colours that only warm in the light; blues, reds, yellows, pinks and turquoises. The architecture is an oddly postmodern mixture of styles; although often described as Italianate the architectural references seem much more diffuse, ranging from traditional English building elements through to Baroque and Palladian designs, with elements like Burmese sculptures. A Buddha from an Ingrid Bergman film defines a landscape that is already heavily mediated through viewings of the Prisoner and Doctor Who. A Norman Shaw fireplace is weirdly re-purposed as an entrance lodge while a pine figurehead sits atop a petrol pump. Much of the effect is deliberately artificial, featured trompe l’oeil designs of curtains and gods painted onto corrugated iron. A boat moored by the shore turns out to be made of stone. The surrounding landscape is equally contrived, planted with Rhododendrons and Gingko, while featuring Pagodas and Chinese bridges.

The weather is not so kind, when I visit Caernarfon the following day. The castle here doesn’t dominate the landscape in the way Cricieth does, but with towers built on top of towers it’s a rather more imposing prospect. Walking round is a repeated sequence of walking up and down spiral staircases inside the towers. There’s also a museum dedicated to the Royal Welch Fusiliers, featuring a stolen Napoleonic Eagle and a stuffed Regimental Goat. After that, I go to Bangor and walk down the Victorian pier over the Menai strait. The museum in the town has a small collection of Scrimshaws, traditional Welsh crafts and naval paintings.

The following day I go to Plas Newydd on Anglesey. The house is a mixture of neo-classical with early Regency gothick and the history is similarly layered; from an ancestor who lost a leg at Waterloo to a dress display for a Marquess with a taste for theatre, costumes and jewellery. The most impressive element are the Rex Whistler paintings and especially his mural scene covering the entire wall in a dining room. The trompe l’oeil effects rather remind me of Portmeirion, with the scene including Harlech Castle, St Martin in the Fields and Trajan’s column. The Italian gardens outside are mostly still in flower, with bees buzzing around the Dahlias and Autumn Crocuses. Walking around the estate, it’s filled with Eucalyptus and Palms, in spite of the winds blowing down the Menai strait. Afterwards, I go to Beaumaris Castle, another empty shell that formed part of Edward’s campaigns against Welsh insurrection. Unlike the others, it wasn’t built directly on the coastline and its moat accordingly represents a rather more classic idea of what a castle should look like. One thing that is also different is the survival of a gothic chapel building. Afterwards, I return to the mainland and visit Penrhyn castle. This time, the building is a Victorian attempt to create a hyperreal idea of a castle,emulating Norman design and building in Romanesque revival designs that are far more complex than in any actual medieval building. Perhaps rather fittingly, it’s being used as a filmset when I visit, with furniture jumbled up in storage and hospital beds laid out in the main hall.

On the last day in Wales, I visit Conwy Castle. I haven’t really allowed enough time for everything, but the castle is once more a series of travels up and down spiral staircases, with towers that are surmounted on top of other towers. The view out towards the bay is rather impressive, even with the incongruous spectacle of Telford’s now defunct suspension bridge sitting alongside Stephenson’s covered railway line and the modern motorway. Walking back, I quickly visit the church, with its monument to John Gibson and Burne Jones stained glass. Lastly, I stop off at Erddig Hall on the way back. The gardens here were originally filled with trees growing Peaches and Plums; today I see large orchards alongside Medlar and Fig trees. Some beehives have been placed in a corner of the gardens. The interior is rather striking but light sensitivity means that a lot of it is plunged into darkness and items like models of the Palmyra ruins and a Pagoda made out of Mother of Pearl have to be pointed out via torchlight. The family were clearly very musical; the house boasts two organs (only one of which was in the chapel), two pianos, a harp lute and a device called a Polyphon that played records that looked like circular pianola rolls or punched cards.

Walking around a lot of these places reminds me of childhood holidays; plastic buckets and spades on sale along with bags of shells, fish and chip shops and old fashioned shops you just don’t see in the South East. But there’s also a marked aspect of faded gentility to a lot of them, with each high street having shuttered premises. Lastly, I notice how widespread the use of Welsh is here; it seems odd that Wales is relatively well integrated into the UK (compared to Scotland) despite its linguistic exceptionalism, while the two tend to go together in places like Catalonia.

 

Dublinesque

Dublin is often a confusing mixture of styles; the Georgian brick buildings look like parts of Bloomsbury while the bright wall paintings make it resemble Copenhagen and the number of bridges along the course of the Liffey makes it resemble Amsterdam. Upon arrival I walk down to the banks of the Liffey where the dome of the Georgian Custom House is reflected in the water. I then cross over the river and walk down towards College Green and visit Trinity College. Trinity seems very familiar; with its lodge looking out onto a quadrangle with a Henry Moore sculpture, it obviously resembles Oxford and Cambridge. Details like the campanile differ though and I visit the Old Library, looking first at the Book of Kells exhibition and then the Long Room. I then walk down to Merrion Square, with its slightly bizarre Oscar Wilde statue. I notice the green post boxes, some of them still bearing the emblem of the last British King. The relics of British imperialism recur throughout my visit, with plaques, posters and memorials of the Rising visible throughout. There’s also the awareness of British symbols that have been erased as thoroughly as Marx statues in Eastern Europe, like a statue of King George in Dublin Castle or the demolished Nelson Pillar near the General Post Office. I spend sometime in the Natural History Museum, with its Victorian collection of skeletons (an Irish elk and a whale) and taxidermy (amongst many others; a panda, a walrus, a rhino, a hippo, an elephant a giraffe and a polar bear still bearing a visible gunshot wound to its head).

In the afternoon, I visit the castle and walk around the State Apartments, decorated in a range of Regency Gothick and Victorian styles.  I then visit Christchurch; both it and St Patrick feel very familiar, with extensive Victorian design work on their interior from stained glass through to floor ceramics. Both feel a lot more like the cathedrals in Newcastle and Edinburgh more than York or Lincoln.  The crypt of Christ Church is very distinctive though, with its collection of old monuments and statues; the last Stuart Kings share the space with a cat mummified inside the cathedral organ while chasing a rat. There’s also an Armenian Khachkar outside in commemoration of the genocide. From here I pass onto St Parick’s Cathedral; sets of Tudor monuments are balanced with the flags of Victorian regiments and monuments to Victorian imperial campaigns in Burma and China. Lastly that day, I spend sometime walking around St Stephen’s Green with it statues to Joyce, Tagore and Yeats. There’s a heron on an island in the lake that doesn’t seem to get on with the crowd of rather aggressive gulls. I’m amused by some of the details about the park during the rising; a cease fire had to be declared between English and Irish forces so that the park keeper could feed the ducks.

The next day I visit the National Gallery of Ireland. The collection of European art is extensive; a set of medieval Russian icons, paintings by Perugino, Titian, Moroni, Velasquez, Poussin, Zubaran, Ruysdael, Panini, Bellotto, Goya, Monet, Sisley, Feininger, Caillebotte, Reynolds, Lawrence, Hogarth and Fra Angelico. Much of the Irish art is new to me, like the work of John and Jack Yeats. It also includes works by Douglas Hamilton,  Danby, Hone, Leech (Leech’s Breton paintings seem especially memorable) & Lavery and stained glass by Harry Clarke. Lastly, there’s an exhibition of Kathe Kollwitz engravings. In the afternoon, I visit the National Museum of Ireland. Although it does have a small Egyptian section (more mummified cats), it mostly focuses on Ireland from the neolithic period through to the Viking and Medieval periods. That includes a log boat, bog bodies, gold torcs & lunulas, medieval relquaries and crosses as well as a psalter retrieved from a bog. There’s also a small collection of objects gathered by Roger Casement in his travels in South America and Africa.

On my final day, I go for a walk along the Liffey past the Ha’penny bridge down to Four Courts. I then backtrack and walk north of the Liffey, past the General Post Office and the Parnell and O’Connell monuments to the City Gallery. The collection of Impressionist paintings is very good, with works by Pissarro, Renoir, Manet and a Rodin sculpture. There’s also more stained glass by Harry Clarke and the contents of Francis Bacon’s studio, transplanted here from London. Some paintings that catch by eye are Robert Ballagh’s pop-art Third of May – After Goya,  Brian Duggan’s Wall of Death Rider, Paul Seawright’s Invisible Cities: Mist and some of Elizath Magill’s landscapes.

Bristolian Open Doors

Having comprehensively photographed Oxford out in previous years, I decide to visit Bristol instead for this year’s Heritage Open Days. When I arrive a visit a few of the churches first, starting with St Thomas the Martyr and Christ Church with St Ewen. I’d wanted to see the latter for a long time; the beautiful Georgian interior glows with light as painted cherubs look down. The original Quarter Jacks that used to stand outside on the church clock are on display inside. I then walk to St John on the Wall, with its long & thin interior and medieval monuments. I then go to St James’ Priory, with its Romanesque interior and Tudor monuments.

After these, I walk to the Red Lodge. Originally built in the Elizabethen period, as evidenced by the knot garden, while the interior is a mix of Tudor and Georgian; the chimney and some of the carved wooden cabinets are especially impressive. Next to it is the Bristol Wigwam, home of the Savages artistic society, filled with odd paraphernalia and generally not very good paintings. The weather becomes a bit unpredictable at this point and my umbrella makes an appearance. I walk to visit the small Colston Almshouse Chapel and the Emmanuel Meeting House before visiting the interior of the church of St Stephen, which has a particularly elaborate set of monuments.

Walking back towards the town centre, I notice that the statue of Edward Colston has had its face spray-painted white; presumably a protest against a statue of a slave owner given the recent removal of Confederate statues in the United States. While I’m walking around someone asks me if I’m going on the march; I have no idea what they’re talking about but I notice later that there’s an anti-austerity demonstration outside City Hall. I wryly note placards attacking Bristol’s Mayor for cutting the city budget and calling him to pass an illegal budget instead; Bristol’s Mayor is of course from the Labour Party.

I then visit the Georgian House Museum; the house of a slave owner who made his wealth in the sugar trade. The museum does a good job in explaining the background. My visit is drawing to a close at this point; I visit the Cathedral and the church of St Mary Redcliffe before going round the Redcliffe caves. The caves are unlit and I find myself stumbling around somewhat, but there’s enough light from phones and torches to show details like the roots of trees intruding through the save ceiling.

Journal of a Voyage to Lisbon

There are certain classes of city for whom their geography is an intrinsic part of their aesthetic; thinking of the Venetian archipelago with its canals and bridges, Prague with its castle on the hill and the lower town separated from it by the river or Manhattan island. Lisbon, with its self-conscious series of miradours as new views unfold between differing combinations of hills overlooking the Tagus, certainly also fits into this class.

The first day on my arrival is spent in the Gulbenkian. It’s a rather odd building building; a Barbican style brutalist conceit surrounded by pleasant gardens occupied by swimming ducklings and sunbathing terrapins. It looks like stumbling across an illustration of Speer’s theory of ruin value in the jungle. Some of the things that leap out to me; the Lalique jewellery, the Islamic tiles and ceramics, a Rembrandt painting of an old man, Greek coins depicting Alexander, Chinese porcelain, Majolica and Della Robbia roundels, paintings by Hubert Robert, Guardi views of Venice, a Monet winter landscape, and some unexpected Burne Jones paintings. Afterwards, we got to the modern art museum; less interesting but I like some of the paintings by Amadeo de Souza Cardoso and, a Sonia Delaunay painting and the tapestries by José de Almada Negreiros. Afterwards we go for a walk in Parque Eduardo VII to the Aqueduto das Aguas Livres.

The following day I get off the Metro at the Praca dos Restauradores and visit the Igreja de São Domingos, with its ruined interior. I then wonder down to the steampunk Elevador de Santa Justa before visiting the Convento do Carmo, the bleached bones of a church ruined in the 1755 earthquake combined with a museum in its surviving buildings, that spans medieval tombs, Peruvian mummies, English Alabaster, Incan sculptures and an Egyptian mummy. After that, I go to the Igreja de São Roque. Like a lot of Portuguese churches, it’s an especially elaborate exercise in gilded baroque, in this case with a large collection of Saint’s head reliquaries. The accompanying museum features a range of medieval painted sculptures. I then walk down past the Pessoa sculpture at the Cafe Brasileira towards the city’s riverfront at the Praça do Comércio.  It’s an especially beautiful square with the open vista of the Tagus on one side and the yellow of the Arco da Rua Augusta buildings on the other side. I then walk eastwards in the direction of the Alfama, past the Manueline remains of the Church of Nossa Senhora da Conceição, and the Casa dos Bicos up to the Sé. The cathedral is a dark Romanesque building with  a later gothic cloister in contrast to the rather colourful architecture surrounding it. After that, I head further up the hill to the Castelo de São Jorge. Little remains of the Moorish castle beyond an extensive series of walls that seem to meander endlessly. It’s hot in the late afternoon sun and I finally sit down to watch a rehearsal for a Tango concert.  A somewhat territorial part-albino peacock occasionally cries out.

The following day I travel out on a rather crowded tram to Belém and the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos. I’m a little surprised at how busy this is relative to anything else in Lisbon and have to queue for a rather longtime. Once inside, the detailing on the Manueline gothic is incredible, while the church of Santa Maria is rather more impressive than the cathedral in Lisbon, complete with Vasco da Gama’s tomb. Afterwards, I walk around some of the nearby park, looking at a Thai temple and the Padrão dos Descobrimentos, before visiting the Torre de Belém. The queues are again rather long here, but once inside it really does feel like looking out on the edge of the world as one stares off into the infinity of the Atlantic ocean.  I spend a bit of time in the Archaeological Museum; some impressive gold torcs, Lusitanian warrior statues, Egyptian cartonnage masks, Roman mosaics, and a beautiful plate depicting Perseus and Medusa. Lastly, I go for a walk along the Tagus to get a view the Golden Gate style Ponte de 25 April.

The next day sees me to take a train out to Sintra. I make the mistake of walking to the Palácio da Pena, which proves a rather uncertain path, but it’s certainly worth it on arrival. The Palace is a blazing riot of colour and fantastical architectural styles. Elaborate gargoyles compete with ceramics to detail the exterior walls. I begin by walking round its outer walls; the view off into the distance is surprisingly hazy. I walk inside the chapel with is strikingly colourful stained glass before entering the palace; I especially like a lot of the detailed stained glass and Turkish sculptures. I then walk around the park; it’s effectively a botanical garden with valleys filled with ferns, giant Redwood trees, lily filled ponds,  all dotted with follies of Islamic domes, Swiss style chalets and Greek temples, before ending in a series of lakes. Dragon flies flit across the lake. I then walk up to the  Castelo dos Mouros. Butterflies flit about and rest in the sun on the walls.

The following day, I decide to return to Sintra, having not had enough time for everything I’d wanted to do the previous day. This time I stay closer to the centre of the town and visit the Palacio Nacional. There’s a series of centrepiece rooms revolving around their ceiling designs; the Swan room, the Magpie room, the Galley room and the Mermaid room. The Mudejar style chapel and Coat of Arms room are probably the most impressive, along with a pagoda model given to the Portuguese Queen by the Senate of Macau. The kitchens are actually also rather striking, given the massively over-sized chimneys that resemble kilns more than anything else. Finally, I walk to Quinta da Regaleira. The house here is rather small, albeit with much of the interior covered in elaborate plasterwork, frescoes and mosaics. The grounds by contrast are extensive and filled with follies, from crenellated towers through to spiralling wells and underground tunnels. As I pause for a break a small vole scurries across the path.

The next day is back in Libson and I visit the Pantheon. Loosely modelled on its Parisian equivalent, most of the building was originally an uncompleted church until the Salazar government had the dome added to complete it for this purpose. The monuments are eclectic, ranging from cenotaphs to Vasco da Gama and Henry the Navigator, Fado singers and football players. You can walk up to the dome gallery and from there out onto the roof of the church. After that, I go to the church of São Vicente de Fora, with its elaborate series of cloisters whose walls are lined with Azulejo tiles, many of them based on Fontaine’s fables. The monastery also contains a series of Royal tombs and you can go up onto the roof here as well. Lastly, I visit the rather steampunk Water Museum at Barbadinhos.

The next day I take the tram out to Alcantara and the Museu do Oriente. It’s rather out of the way and seems somewhat sparsely visited but it’s a really excellent museum. It covers Portugal’s colonial history, dwelling on Macau and Goa in particular, with exhibits ranging from Namban screens, porcelain, Bodhisattva sculptures, Netsuke and carved ivory; there’s a good set of paintings of early Macau and a small area dedicated to east Timor, including carvings of Westerners. The upper floor in the museum is dedicated to Chinese opera; from Mao-era glove puppets through to series of strange masks and costumes. I then walk eastwards back to the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga. There’s a range of paintings by Memling, Metsys, Cranach, Tiepolo, Bosch (a painting I’d seen last year in the Prado) as well as Nuno Gonçalves. There’s also a complete Della Robbia statue, something I’d not seen before. The crafts section spans Islamic tiles, Brussels tapestries, an ornate monstrance, a Benin saltcellar, Mughal cabinets and medieval Portuguese sculptures made of wood. The museum has a pleasant garden filled with statues and I pause for a bit for the view out to the Ponte de 25 April.

The next day I take the train up to Porto. The train station itself is particularly impressive, its walls covered in Azulejo depictions of scenes from Portuguese history. The first thing I do is visit the nearby cathedral; like Lisbon, it’s a dark Romanesque affair but here the gothic cloisters have been covered in Azulejo tiles. I then walk downhill to the Rraca da Ribeira and the Dom Luís I Bridge; it’s a rather more impressive waterfront than in Lisbon due to sharp incline down to the river on both sides. From where I stand, I can see over to the monastery and port cellars on the others. I then visit the Igreja de Sao Francisco, a beautifully gilded baroque church filled with elaborate painted wooden statues showing scenes from the martyrdom of Saint Sebastian to a Tree of Jesse.  The church has an extraordinary series of catacombs, filled with named niches for dead priests until it ceased to be used as an ossuary in the mid 19th century. I then visit the Lello bookshop with its Escheresque staircase.  I then visit the Clerigos tower, with its rather labyrinthine series of stairwells sitting between the outer and inner walls before visiting some of the churches and returning to the train station.

On the final day, I walk to the nearby bullring before visiting the Decorative Arts Museum and the Casa Museu Dr A Gonçalves.

While out in Lisbon, I was reading Multatulis Max Havelaar. It’s an interesting book; I can’t think of any English account of its colonial practices that was so critical, although the author does veer between a number of positions; criticism of the colonial principle as intrinsically wrong, criticism of specific aspects of colonial administration and criticism of the corrupt rule of the native aristocracy; for all of the criticisms of colonialism there is little here to advocate self-rule. Part of the reason for this diffraction lies in the Matryoshka like structure of the book. It is ostensibly the product of the editing of a set of documents written by Droogstoppel’s former’s classmate Sjaalman, with the distance in views between them being satirically foregrounded. Then within the novel itself, Havelaar’s narrative is counterpointed by the tale Saidjah and Adinda, the one point in the novel where the Javanese are allowed to speak for themselves.

I also read Interzone, a set of stores and drafts that preceded Naked Lunch, albeit mostly written in the still realistic style of Junky. Much of the content is familiar; Burroughs makes clear that he was in Tangier due to its lax attitude to gay sex, but the narratives are filled with internalised homophobia; he writes of a “silly fairy… under (whose) vacuous camping, I see pure evil… a loathsome insect.” Elsewhere he writes of “embattled queens… histrionic guestures and pathetic screams.” It also shows a lot of the fear of the feminine, as when he writes of “her cunt clicks open like a snap-knife.”As ever Burroughs’ homosexuality is partly a revulsion against femininity but which manifests itself further in fear of male effeminacy.  One of the ways this manifests itself is in the creation of the William Lee character, a version of Burroughs distanced from such things; “I include the author, Lee, in the novel and by doing so separate myself from him so that he becomes another character.” Everything in the narrative is fractured; “Tangier seems to exist on several dimensions…. fact merges into dream and dreams erupt into the real world… nobody in Tangier is what they seem to be.”

 

 

 

 

Cottonopolis

Manchester reminds me of London rather more than anywhere else in England. Some of this is attributable to some of its rather warren like streets, but its more to do with the nest of cranes covering much of the skyline. Whereas coming into Birmingham on the train still passes an empty waste ground near the former Euston station, the train into Manchester passes through a series of construction sites. The only substantial skyscrapers outside of London are to be found here, although there’s nothing comparable to the Shard or the Gherkin; the Beetham tower deserves more comparison with the Heron Tower. Equally, there’s nothing really to match some of the public sector projects in other English cities, like Birmingham and Liverpool’s new libraries or the Sage in Gateshead. With that said, it’s impossible not to notice that beneath all the new towers the number of rough sleepers in Manchester seems a lot higher than in London.

Arriving at Piccadilly, I walk into the centre of town. Most of the city’s architecture is unsurprisingly Victorian, but the walk passes through a range of periods; the central Library built in the thirties by Vincent Harris with its beautiful stained glass panels based on Shakespearean characters, the gothic revival town hall built by Waterhouse with its corresponding statues of Cobden, Gladstone and Prince Albert, the church of St Ann with its enamelled stained glass built just before the Georgian period and the medieval Cathedral. Damaged during the blitz, the interior is in itself a conflation of styles with medieval choir stalls sitting near contemporary stained glass.

I spend sometime in Barry’s art gallery. I recall most of the pieces from a previous visit years ago; it’s nice to re-acquaint myself with paintings like Waterhouse’s Hylas and the Nymphs, Mengin’s Sappho, Valette’s Windsor Bridge on the Irwell, Prinsep’s At the Golden Gate and works by Sickert, Augustus John, Lowry and Gewn John. There’s also a rare Giacometti painting. Annoyingly a lot of the galleries are shut, but there is an exhibition on work by Wynford Dewhurst, an early English advocate of impressionism, whose work is heavily influenced by Monet.  There’s also a small Dutch painting exhibition, including some landscapes by Ruisdael. Afterwards I visit the John Rylands Library. Built to a design by Basil Champneys, the interior is essentially based on a gothic revival church, with reading desks substituted for pews and statues of the founders substituted for the altar. Lacking Victorian high-church decoration, the gloom of the interior is only counterpointed by the lights. Lastly, I visit the Manchester Museum, through its collections of Egyptian sculpture and sarcophagi, coral, body casts from Pompeii, Palymran sculpture, Scrimshaws, Samurai armour, a stuffed Tigon, Benin ivories, a terrarium inhabited by rare frog species, an Elephant skeleton, gold Buddha statues, mounted Butterfly specimens, an Archaeopteryx fossil, Moche & Nazca sculptures, a Whale skeleton and a stuffed Dodo.

Liverpool is a more eclectic prospect. The area outside Lime Street Station is filled with Victorian building and monuments, from St George’s Hall to the Walker Gallery, but as you walk down towards the Mersey the area is filled with Edwardian designs that seem rather more reminiscent of New York than most English cities. The Portland stone recalls London more than Manchester or Birmingham. Liverpool’s most impressive buildings cluster around the waterfront here, facing outward to Ireland and the United States; combined with immigration from Ireland it’s little wonder that the city seems atypical for England.  Unlike Manchester, the skyline is not dotted with cranes and the contemporary buildings resembling black shards house the public sector bodies like the Museum of Liverpool. The redbrick warehouses around Albert Dock revert to Victoriana, while the two twentieth century cathedrals sit alongside Georgian houses. Statues of Queen Victoria compete with the Beatles and Cilla Black.

I start by visiting the Walker Gallery with its large collection of casts and Victorian sculptures; a painted Venus by Gibson mirrors a plain version I’d seen at the Fitzwilliam a few months earlier. There’s also an arts and crafts section showing Victorian ceramics from local potteries alongside stained glass and tiles by Burne Jones, a Minton peacock and Fornasetti plates. Upstairs houses the huge painting collection, featuring works by Holbein, Cranach, Rembrandt, a fake Mona Lisa, Titian, Veronese, Poussin, Hogarth, Wright, Freud, Doig, Minton and Knight. I’m especially struck by a set of Bosch like paintings by Albert Reynolds, a local artist who died in the First World War. As another local artist there’s also rather more of Stubbs than I would really have liked. The Victorian collection is quite large already but there’s an additional exhibition featuring works by Sandys, Rossetti, Millais, Maclise, Holman Hunt and Burne Jones. There’s also an unusual example of a Daguerre painting. Some of the artists are less familiar as they’d stayed with the Pre Raphaelite style well into the twentieth century, like John Struthwick or because of their gender, as with Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. A lot of the paintings like Dante’s Dream by Rossetti or Stanhope’s Expulsion from Eden are new to me in any case.

Down at the Pierhead, I visit both the Tate and the Maritime Museum. The former has a small Ellsworth Kelly exhibition as well as a smattering of works by Rothko and Lowry; particularly memorable works include an abstract painting by Gabriel Orozco, Perlin’s painting of Two Orthodox Boys and above all Grosz’s Suicide. The Maritime Museum includes a set of paintings showing how the Liverpool seafront changed over time but the main exhibitions dwell on the sinkings of the Lusitania and the Titanic.

Walking away from the waterfront I arrive at the Anglican cathedral. Despite the gothic detailing it’s hardly less imposing than his power station designs; the vast interior is incredibly dark with floodlights doing little to illuminate the cavernous interior. More than anything, it reminds me of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Brussels (and to a lesser extent Sacre Coeur in Paris), which also towers over the city. As I leave on the train, the only thing visible from a distance is the cathedral tower rising up above the sea of terraced roofs. Close-up, walking around the building takes you down a cliff edge to a Victorian graveyard (including Huskisson’s tomb) and then leads back up a to quiet wood at the back of the building. Not too far is its Catholic counterpart; an unusual circular building designed by Gibberd which already seems to be falling apart if the bad state of the interior is enough to judge by. The main interest is the Lutyens crypt which extends well beyond the area of the building. Plans showing the full Lutyens design for a building which would have dwarfed everything else in the city do rather remind me (almost certainly unfairly) of Speer’s Germania plans.

The last place I visit in the North West is Chester. I walk in from the train station, noticing the redevelopment of the derelict shot tower and steam mills by the canal before heading into the centre with its half-timbered buildings. The main thing I’m interested in is the cathedral; a red sandstone affair like Lichfield whose exterior is covered in grotesques and gargoyles. The first thing you see are the cloisters, whose windows are filled with Victorian stained glass and whose interior garden pond seems popular with the local ducks.  The cathedral proper has a wonderful set of medieval misericords, an Austrian cobweb painting, Minton tiling and some unusual Victorian wall mosaics.  Afterwards, I go for a walk along the Roman walls, stopping at the amphitheatre and baths.

Lenin’s Finger

The Design Museum’s Imaginary Moscow exhibition recalls a lot of points from the Royal Academy’s Revolutionary Art exhibition that I’d attended the week before; suprematist inkwells, ‘Those who do not work do not eat’ porcelain or the film of the destruction of Moscow’s cathedral to build the Palace of the Soviets (although the film of the freezing cold swimming pool Brezhnvev converted the aborted construction project into is new). A suprematist children’s book featuring the adventures of two squares is also something of a novelty.

This exhibition dwells on unbuilt aspects of Moscow; the Palace itself (including a fullsize model of the finger from the Lenin statue),  designs for Lenin’s mausoleum, the Lenin institute, communal housing and government buildings. Architectural blueprints from Lissitzky and Melnikov are punctuated by suprematist drawings from Popova and propaganda posters. Leonidov’s Lenin Institute and Lissitzy’s Cloud Iron designs are utopian gravity-defying designs that would be challenging now, while Vesnin’s Commissariat of Heavy Industry and Iofan’s Palace are much more similar to buildings that were actually constructed at the time (in concept if not in scale). The designs for Lenin’s Mausoleum are rather more fantastical given that many of those submitting designs worked in professions like carpentry; in one such concept Lenin is precariously balanced on top of a large globe surmounting the building. A film showing all of the planned construction in Moscow sits alongside Aelita Queen of Mars, and much of it does indeed look like a set of model for a science fiction film.

Afterwards, I walk round Holland Park, looking at the lovely Kyoto and Dutch gardens; the waters in the pond are perfectly clear and carp can be seen swimmingly lazily about below. I also run into a squirrel and encounter a peacock before walking down the Thames to Albert Bridge and then back to Victoria.

The following week I go to the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition. As one might surmise the interest is as much in a social history than in art; items include the fatal calling card from the Marquess of Queensbury (unsurprisingly his handwriting was as terrible as his spelling), physique magazines, Wilde’s cell door, stills from Victim, Noel Coward’s dressing gown, a copy of the Wolfenden report and (most entertainingly) a set of over two hundred buttons collected as trophies from guardsman a gay couple had slept with. Much of the exhibition dwells on theatreland and music hall; there are probably few exhibitions where photos of historical drag acts sit alongside the Bloomsbury Group.

The exhibition begins in the Victorian period with Simeon Solomon, Edward Leighton and Henry Scott Tuke; I’d previously been unaware that Evelyn de Morgan’s relationship with Jane Hales is often interpreted as like that of Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal, with Jane’s face recurring on paintings like that of Aurora, shown here. Interpretation plays greatly here; if Meteyard’s painting of Love in Bondage was not intended as an allegory of forbidden love, it gains that interpretation by the association of its context here. Equally, figures like Semele and Endymion take on a same-sex aspect purely due to Solomon’s androgynous rendering (which is not intrinsically all that different to someone like Burne Jones) rather than by the specific subject matter. Even so, it’s often a rather mournful section; a Solomon drawing shows a male bridegroom holding the hand of his melancholy lover behind his back as he embraces his bride. A cup is dedicated ‘on the mournful occasion of his transition into matrimony.’

In a lot of cases, the gay element is the subject rather than the artist; the next room features paintings of Edward Carpenter and Havelock Ellis along with a series of beautifully elaborate miniatures designed for a lesbian couple (one of the many reminders that while figures like Solomon and Wilde loom large so many people quietly lived, loved and passed away unremarked). Two portraits of Radclyffe Hall and Oscar Wilde stand near one another. Both are dressed similarly but where the Wilde portrait is a full length depiction of a confident and successful man (auctioned after his disgrace), Hall’s is more emphatic. She looks away from the viewer and her expression is somber. Much of the exhibits are much defiantly pagan; Beardsley’s Yellow Book illustrations, Cecil Beaton’s glittering photos of figures like Stephen Tennant through to Duncan Grant’s paintings of bathers.  A painting of Laura Knight painting a female nude is another example of the layers of meaning being accrued to a work rather than something inherent in it, in contrast to the more explicit intention behind a similar nude by Dora Carrington.

I’m surprised to see examples of Halliwell and Orton’s legendary defaced library books and equally surprised by how funny they are; there’s also one of Halliwell’s paintings. For all his reputation as an artistic failure, it’s rather good. Finally, the later sections are taken by with Hockney and Bacon alongside less well known artists like Keith Vaughan, John Minton and John Craxton. The Minton paintings particularly interest me; I also like some of John Deakin’s photographs of London’s gay scene, from Francis Bacon to a woman dressed as a drag queen, Afterwards, I go to the David Gwinnutt photos at the National Portrait Gallery, extending the same theme into the eighties. I also note one of Grayson’s Perry’s drawings; Map of Days. It uses a medieval town map as a model for mental states, including pastiches of a range of architectural styles. Not sure I’ve liked all of Perry’s work, but I like this.

Corbet’s Childhood of a Leader is something of an oddity; an attempt at depicting the childhood of a future fascist leader during the drafting of the Versailles treaty. Some of the incidents used echo actual events (Mussolini would throw stones at a church in his childhood just like his proxy here) but the comfortably bourgeois background as the son of an establishment diplomat looks little like those of Hitler, Stalin or Mussolini, who all came from rather more lower class milieu. The abstraction is something of a problem; it doesn’t really tell us much about the likes of Franco or Mosley and doesn’t really seem to apply well to contemporary demagogues either; it would work as well as a frame for a serial killer film as for the purposes devised for it here. The film intends to show how power changes depending on the social status involved, with this being paralleled to the peace conference; the sacking of an elderly servant forming one of the key events.  Nonetheless, the film mostly stresses the personality traits that go into the development of such a mentality and decentres social or economic elements (perhaps this is rather welcome given the contemporary tendency to stress the former above all else). The film is loosely based on a Sartre story showing such a scenario in Freudian terms; The boy’s infatuation with his tutor turns to anger when he discovers her alone with his father; the plot does deviate from the straightforward Freudian line when  his conspiracy against both of them to end in an act of violence against his mother whose absence had previously given him nightmares.  The child’s feminine appearance is often commented on (with the boy’s long hair he looks a lot like Bjorn Anderson in the film of Death in Venice). The use of the same actor to depict both a family friend and the adult dictator (this time with his hair entirely cropped) further suggests the issue of paternity is complicated.

I get taken to a couple of plays as well; firstly, The Miser at The Garrick. Played as a straightforward farce with plenty of topical references (trickle down economics, boom and bust) and audience interaction (mostly to an unnamed banker in the front row), it works very well. A pointed reference to the Guardian’s three star review (on the grounds that all the characters were played as grotesques, not just the Miser) doesn’t really diminish this. By contrast, Salome at the National Theatre is plain dire; the staging is often very imaginative (as a character walks along a ladder into the light or as a curtain of sand falls in the background) but even the incessant wailing in the background and the turning of the circular stage are just plain annoying but its turned from an exercise in eroticism into rather trite political agitprop.

Ascending and Descending

I’ve wanted to visit University College for sometime now, mostly because of the Shelley Memorial. Set in a railed off part of the college the memorial is a beautiful piece with the white marble of the naked figure set against spare purple walls. The college chapel is also rather wonderful with a series of stained glass panels showing Genesis and Jonah & the whale. Next, I visit the Blavatnik building. The circular exterior has an amphitheatre as its lecture hall as the base, with concentric ramps up to the upper floors. There’s a series of spiral staircases that lead upwards to a terrace looking out over the city. Later, I go to Pembroke where the chapel has a Bach organ concert.

The following weekend is the open doors days for London. I visit the baroque church of St John Smith Square (an orchestra here is giving a  rendition of the Van der Valk theme tune) before visiting Cutler’s Hall in the city. As one might expect the hall features elephant designs everywhere; in the stained glass, the banisters, cushions and rafters. There’s some rather beautiful stained glass showing a series of industrial scenes; rather unusual for the Victorian period. I then visit some of the Victorian dock warehouses at Wapping before visiting the Royal Society. Exhibits like Newton’s death mask and some of Priestley’s electrical equipment are on display. Lastly, I visit the William Morris gallery in Hammersmith, where a printing press demonstration is being held. The next day, I visit the Sandys Row synagogue. Tucked away in a warren of lanes, the interior is rather expansive, although the combination of an old Bimah with a set of what look like thirties pews is rather odd.

A few weeks later, and I head to Reading for the open day at Reading Gaol.  A tour leads us throughout the original debtor’s prison, through rooms that look like they were only abandoned a few weeks ago.  The highlight of the main prison wings is obviously Oscar Wilde’s cell and the prison chapel, along with photo and video installations by Nan Goldin and Wolfgang Tillmans. Alongside the modern installations are various photographs of the prisoners and of the prison as it originally stood.

A few weeks later and I visit the Royal Academy’s Abstract Expressionism exhibition. The most impressive room is dedicated to Clyfford Still’s work; where Pollock’s work aims to emulate the entropic element of nature, Still’s work does often rather resemble natural patterns; the bark peeling off a silver birch, rust on old machinery or paint peeling off a wooden door. The sense of depth is a lot greater than on Pollock’s accreted layers of dripped paints. The other highlight is the room dedicated to Barnett Newman and Ad Reinhardt. Reinhardt’s work composites layers of similar paint combinations on top of one another; the black paintings in particular require quite a lot of time for the eye to adjust to see the colour variations. It’s like the visual equivalent of  a Philip Glass painting. The Newman works remind me rather more of Mondrian, with their flat planes of bold primary colour intersected by vertical ‘zips.’ Other things that strike me; Barbara Morgan’s black and white light paintings, Lee Krasner’s The Eye if the First Circle, Kline’s Vawdavitch, De Kooning’s Villa Borghese and a small collection of Rothkos. There’s also a small John Gibson exhibition, showing a range of scuptures and funerary monuments.  A few weeks later and I go to the National Gallery’s Caravaggio exhibition.  Works by Caravaggio are interspersed alongside pieces by his followers.  Some of the earliest works, like those by Francesco Buoneri mirror his master closely. Later works by Gentilleschi, Reni and Ribera, Regnier and Tournier diverge more in their greater use of colour. Later sections record the irony that while Caravaggio never painted a candlelit scene this was arguably  his greatest influence, shown here in works by Honthorst and de la Tour.

Lastly, I find myself spending an afternoon in Cambridge. I visit the chapel at Robinson college, with its wonderful stained glass landscape window by John Piper, before spending a few hours in the Fitzwilliam. Things that catch my attention; a bust of Antinous, Greek dramatic masks, a Roman mosaic, a Gibson Venus, the collection of Egyptian sarcophagi, the spectre of Braze Alonzo, a Burges cupboard and a trillion Dollar Zimbabwean note.

Tombland

Arriving in Norwich, I walk over the Wensum river and through a park with a Hepworth sculpture in it, through to the church of St George Colegate. The exterior of the church looks a lot like other buildings in the city, the exterior is of beautiful flint but the interior is Georgian, with plain white walls and wooden furnishings. Walking into the centre, I visit the main square, which is a slightly bewildering concoction of architectural styles. The Guildhall’s wall are filled with white and black diamond patterns while opposite is the City Hall, a sort of brutalist art deco building with an entrance flanked by two rather elegant lions. I then visit the church of St Peter Mancroft, with its ornate wooden flèche.  The interior includes a medieval wooden font canopy, Flemish tapestries, medieval stained glass and a Comper designed reredo. The architectural gallimaufry is further compounded by the nearby presence of a beautiful art nouveau shopping arcade. I then wonder around some of the other nearby churches in Norwich, many of them shut like St Giles, or others that have been turned into shops like St Michael-at-Plea or indoor markets like St Gregory Pottergate.

The next day begins with a rare burst of sunlight and I visit rather dark and gloomy Catholic Cathedral before visiting its Anglican counterpart. It seems somewhat odd to have to walk in through a modern visitor centre, although I do like (admittedly rather incongruous) Zen gravel garden. This leads out into the cloisters and I spend some time looking at the ceiling bosses; Green men, Hellmouths, Demons and the Many Headed Beast from Revelations. Inside the cathedral I look at medieval frescos, Burne Jones stained glass, medieval stained glass, a former toffee vat re-purposed as a font and the famous Gooding monument. I also visit some of the now open churches nearby; St George Tombland with its papier mache civic dragon, Flemish reliefs of St George and the dragon and Kempe stained glass. I also visit St Peter Hungate, which is mostly empty and home to a photo exhibition of Norfolk churches. There are some old wooden pews with carvings of muzzled bears, medieval stained glass and brass monuments left though.

That afternoon the weather worsens and I visit the Museum and Art gallery in the castle. Sections like the Norwich school of painters with their bucolic scenes of the local countryside do little for me, although I do like one night scene set in Amsterdam.  There aren’t many works I recognise; a version of the Anunciation by Burne Jones and a portrait by Zoffany. There’s also the painting of the Paston treasure, accompanied by some of the objects in it. Things I like; the original Snap the Civic Dragon from St George Tombland, medieval stained glass showing the seasons, Roman metal bowls showing mythological scenes, the original Romanesque entry door, the Spong man ceramic lid, the Worthing helmet, the Snettisham torcs and medieval alabaster carvings. I’m also rather struck of the country’s largest collection of teapots; stoneware through to Wedgewood, teapots cast as tanks and as camels, as well as the world’s largest teapot, a chinoiserie affair from the Great Exhibition. The design section has a large collection of medieval stained glass, de Morgan tiles, while the Natural History section has a large collection of taxidermy animals; lions, a boxing Kangaroo and a Cassowary. I also like Scrimshaw Whale teeth and Nautilus shells. As in Exeter Museum, there’s a small room showcasing the displays of a Victorian collector, ranging from mounted butterflies through to custard pots. I’m especially taken by the Egyptian room, including a Mummy sarcophagus and Rider Haggard’s faked sherd from She. Lastly, there’s a rather macabre basement dwelling on the castle’s time as a prison and featuring casts of the heads of various murderers and criminals.

On my last day in Norfolk, I take a train out to Wymondham. It’s a rather dark and gloomy day and the old ruins look suitably gothic against a blackened sky. The interior is actually rather colourful, with another vivid set of Comper reredos in the midst of a series of Romanesque arches.