5 August 2022

Talking Pictures

 Staircase to Heaven

It doesn't happen often, but I have just managed a fleeting visit to London.  From remote, rural Norfolk, where the clap of a butterfly's wings is a disturbance of the peace, to the mixed up confusion of the Qatari Capital of the World, where a fetid spatter of international tourists clamour with the exhausts of a million air conditioners....  it's just a disrupted train ride, it's merely a hundred miles, though it seems like a light year.....

I carry a camera.  People don't seem to notice - everyone's too busy talking on their phones or taking selfies.....  And I snap away at this and that; young:

And old:

Day (this was breakfast in Bar Italia - Frith Street, since 1949 - and the girl was trying to sip tea between visits to the bathroom - she really wasn't very well poor thing):

And night (there are a lot of very very expensive cars to be seen prowling the streets of Mayfair - and there are a lot of very very smart young women too....):

Some scenes are humdrum:

And some slightly bizarre:

But I found most delight in galleries, where framed faces from the past were eager to catch my attention.  In the wonderful Courtauld Gallery this gilded child was desperate for attention:

Mary Magdalen, by Fra Angelico (active 1417 - 1455)

And a couple of handsome young chaps seemed immersed in discussing the contents of a suspicious box one held in his left hand....

Tobias and the Archangel Raphael, from The Trinity with Saints Mary Magdalen and John the Baptist
by Sandro Botticelli (1445 - 1510)

And I love the cross talk between and embarrassed Adam and a bored Eve in the Garden of Eden:

Adam and Eve
Lucas Cranach the Elder (1526)

And there are the famous faces, too, ones that everyone knows (but not everyone hears....) From the self-harmed Vincent:

To the long suffering Suzon:

A Bar at the Folies-Bergère

Édouard Manet (1882)

To the quietly reflective younger Seamus Heaney:

Portrait of Seamus Heaney
Edward McGuire (1974)

Currently at the Courtauld, there is an exhibition of Edvard Munch's Masterpieces from Bergen, amongst which there is this scene:

Evening on Karl Johan
Edvard Munch (1892)

Then it is time to descend the staircase from heaven to the ground again:

Out into the heat and glare of the drought of London.  Parched parks:

Trees shaken by the oven breath of a southerly breeze:

And trickling slime at low tide:

The mouth of the Wandle, Wandsworth

But then I find refuge on the site of the Millbank Penitentiary, in that marble monument to the sugar cube, the Empire's Tate Building.......

Here I am welcomed by one Walter Sickert, a proto-Europhile (born in Munich, raised in London, active in France and Italy):

I knew nothing of this man, confusing him perhaps with a mash up of Whistler (his tutor), Sisley and Seurat (what do I know?) and at first I am not sure about what I see:

His portraits seem distorted and almost garish, like this 1923 painting of Cicely Hey, a painter herself, and close personal acquaintance of Sickert, who modelled for him several times.

But as I move through the rooms, he grows on me.  Pictures of Music Halls in London and Dieppe capture a world of entertainment more or less lost to the modern sofa.  I particularly like the energy of this shot of the Tiller Girls, reminding me of an old acquaintance, Pamela La Marca, once a Tiller herself, whose lively manner and homely speech enlivened many a dull parents' evening in Rome:

High-Steppers (c 1938-9)

And on the other hand, he finds art in domestic boredom in this study of a listless couple.  It was posed in his Hampstead Road studio using models Marie Hayes and Hubby (one of Sickert's assistants and models), 

Ennui (c 1914)

But most of all, I like his street scenes, bold, colourful slices of urban existence, exploring light on architectural planes. It's a familiar world.... without the noise and heat of today:

Maple Street (1916)

And with that, I'm gone. Back to the world of pierrot and parades, sunshine and shadow, empty deckchairs and the strained vaudeville of everyday modern life....

Brighton Pierrots (1915)

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