Wednesday, 20 July
CORRECTION: Please note the correction I’ve made on the Churchill War Rooms post. I unintentionally referred to the clock tower as Big Ben. Big Ben refers to the bell or chimes from the clock tower. While our culture has extended that term to mean the clock tower, it is actually as of 2012 now known at the Elizabeth Tower in honor of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee. I’ve also added an additional image.
After class this morning, we went to visit the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) and the National Gallery (NG). Lunch was at the Portrait Gallery and I love these two museums. The National Portrait Gallery is just that. Portraits of historical figures, scientists, artists and anyone of importance in British history from all walks of life are displayed in this museum. Those images displayed are based on the sitter not necessarily the creator. Portraits include primarily paintings but, also sculptures and photographs. We spent about an hour and a half in the Gallery before moving on the National Gallery. The problem is time. There isn’t enough time to see even a fraction of the collections contained in these museums. The NPG has changed what’s out considerably since I was last here but, most of it remains the same. It was interesting to note that the famous portrait of Shakespeare by Chandos was out on loan to a museum in Russia since it is the 400 year anniversary of his death. The controversial portrait of Catherine I saw the last time was not out but, the really lovely portrait of William and Harry that I love was on display. Last time, I saw a reproduction in the gift shop. This time it was nice to actually see it. There was also a beautiful portrait of Ian McKellan as well as the usual king and queens.
Moving on to the National Gallery, we only had about an hour and a half. Where do you begin? We basically went in three different directions. One painting I saw that I don’t remember being in the museum last time was The Ambassadors by Han Holbein the younger. I love this painting for the detail of the figures and the clothing. Seeing it in life and up close I could see the painting techniques that are lost in a photograph. I had an interesting encounter with a young man that wanted someone to talk to about the painting and he was very knowledgeable but, he didn’t know about the distorted skull at the bottom center of the painting. If you look the image from the far right, it becomes a skull. I’ve included the title block from the museum with the picture of the painting.
The other mannerist painting I enjoyed seeing is Brozino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid. This is a great example of mannerism. The distortion of the figures and the layers of images make it a fascinating painting. I love Bronzino’s work because of the sharp, clear detail, particularly in his portraits. I’ve always been drawn to this non-portrait paining because of the sharp, crisp quality of the figures and it’s whimsical nature.
That evening we attended Unreachable at the Royal Court Theatre. This is my first time at the Royal Court. This theatre has a reputation for new and cutting edge theatre. The piece we saw this evening was created essentially, it seems, in rehearsal. The cast included Matt Smith, who currently plays Dr. Who – for which I have no connection. However, I did see him in a film called, Christopher and his Kind about Christopher Isherwood. I enjoyed him in that immensely. The play concerned a director (Smith) of a film trying to find the perfect light for one moment in the he is shooting. I knew nothing about this play since it is new but, felt rom the title it would be a drama. I was wrong. It was very funny evoking Chekhov although no mention of that was made in the talk back following the performance. We were on the front row and again it made the experience of the play much more visceral. I felt at time assailed by the performances. The ending (when the light is revealed) was something of a deus ex machina. moment. The spare set was transformed into what appeared to be a cherry orchard with scrims, light, fog and a live fox. Brilliant. It was, for me at odds with the post-apocalyptic film that was being made but it made for great theatre.