29 November 2015

Dutch life and great satire at the Queen's Gallery London

The Royal Collection is the British Royal Family's art collection and is one of the largest and most important in the world. This holds so many pieces that only a fraction can be on display at any one time in the royal palaces across the UK. The Queen's Gallery holds exhibitions throughout the year, curated to show a different range of these precious works. 

Their new exhibitions bring together Dutch art and Georgian caricatures  linked by kings George lll and lV who were art collectors and the subject of the cartoons. The Masters of the Everyday: Dutch Artists in the Age of Vermeer' presents 27 of the Royal Collection's finest Dutch paintings. My eye is always drawn to Rembrandt's paintings, there's something about his use of light to illuminate faces that is so powerful. I was rewarded with several in this show:

Rembrandt's Rabbi with a Cap. 

Rembrandt's Agatha Bas
Rembrandt's An Old Woman called the Artist's Mother

Desmond Shaw Taylor, the curator, explained how they had chosen to use plain walls, popular at the time, to display key painting in one of the exhibition rooms which certainly contrasts with the lush blue of the walls in the other display room.

Unusual plain grey walls 
We saw popular painters from the 17th and 18th century such as Gerrit Dou, Peter Bruegel the Elder and Jan Steen as well as Vermeer and Pieter de Hooch who both took Dutch genre painting to a new level of brilliance.  Genre paintings capture everyday life, ordinary scenes and these painters bring extraordinary detail to their work. 

Pieter de Hooch
Johannes Vermeer

Both George lll and lV were keen collectors, paying high prices to secure these works as well as Sevres porcelain and fine French furniture, examples of which are on display around the rooms. 

The accompanying exhibition at the Queen's Gallery is High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson showcases the brilliant work of Thomas who was one of the most popular and wittiest caricaturists of Georgian Britain, poking fun at the kings who collected the fine works we've just seen as well as the politics, fashions and mores of the time. Rowlandson was inspired by Dutch art and although seen to be a cartoonist was a fine artist as this exhibition shows. 

From showing the public criticism the Prince of Wales for his drunken behaviour during his father George lll's illness to laughing at the misfortunes of the Duke of York, these drawings give us a great insight into the gossip of the time. I loved the drawing of the Duke of York, who had been caught up in a huge love scandal and had to resign amid the public humiliation of his love letters being published. Here he is pleading with a whale that had been found in the Thames to help keep him out the headlines which feels very modern! 

The Prince of Wales dancing at his father's sick bed
Pleading with the whale to keep distracting attention from the Duke

This cartoon lampoons the Duchess of Devonshire who was rumoured to be trading kisses for votes at a time when canvassing outside of ones family was considered unseemly for a woman. Here in this cartoon which was damaging to her reputation, she is kissing a butcher.  Given our own political scandals of votes for cash in parliament, these again feels very contemporary. 

'Most Approved Method of Securing Votes

His sense of humour shines through and the man himself was great company and a popular man in society which makes for an enjoyable exhibition.  He went to the Royal Academy school and his skill shines through.

One of the things I love about the Queen's Gallery is their education room where they bring fun and interest for younger visitors. One example of how they do this is shown below where they have picked out a section of painting to encourage the viewer to look at the detail not just the overall impression of a work.  Here the game in the corner of the painting is highlighted, something I had missed in the main gallery. 

The exhibitions are on until 14th February 2016 and for more information click here.

Bye for now,

Disclaimer:  I was invited to visit the gallery for free and the curator tour was part of this.

13 November 2015

Lunch at ..... Corrigan's in Mayfair

Anyone who follows me on Twitter (@itsyourlondon) will know that I'm often to be found out and about trying new restaurants and bars, so I thought I catch my blog readers up on a few good venues I've enjoyed lately.  So I'm starting a new series of short pieces, a whistle stop tour around some places I have checked out for you. 

Mayfair can be a worrying place to have a meal as the prices tend to be aimed at the larger wallet. However, many of the fine dining venues offer a set lunch which is affordable and allows us ordinary folk to mix with those who have no concerns about a heart stopping bill at the end of a meal.

Corrigan's has a good looking exterior on a very smart street just in sight of Hyde Park. The friendly staff welcomed us and no sooner had I sat down before Richard Corrigan himself walked past into the kitchen, so we felt assured of a good meal.  

I have a weakness for good warm bread with soft creamy butter so they had me right away with these lovely nutty loaves in mini flower pots. 

The starter of 'Rooftop salmon tartare, oyster mayonnaise and pomegrante was light, flavoursome and very pretty. 

 A second starter was the 'Ribble Valley duck croquette with glazed plum', the fruit giving the duck a clean taste in contrast with the rich but light duck. 

I was in the mood for meat so went for the 'Confit Middlewhite pork belly, kale and apple sauce'.  For my palate the kale was a little sharp but the pork was soft and tasty with some crispy crackling but not the sort that takes your teeth with it!

My dining companions preferred a fish main course and chose the 'Cornish seafood grill with rouille' which had a good range of fish, full of flavour and perfectly cooked with a light green salad.

Luckily we had saved a small space in order to check out a couple of the puddings which we ordered for the table. The 'Chocolate cheesecake, chantilly cream' managed to silence one of our group, always a sign that the chocolate has hit the spot. 

The 'Fine apple tart' was unexpected visually as we thought a flat classic French tart was coming but this version was full of good apple and the tart was light and flaky. 

A final treat was a baking dish straight out of the oven to accompany our coffees with the freshest Madeleines I've had the pleasure of tasting for a long time. 

Our bill was modest given the surroundings and the quality of the food as their Seasonal Lunch Menu is £25 for 2 courses and £29 for 3 courses.  Drinks were expensive but we were not looking for more than a glass each as it was lunchtime. 

I highly recommend this restaurant although I cannot guarantee Richard Corrigan will be overseeing your meal!

For more information about the restaurant click here to their website. 

Full disclosure:  I booked this restaurant myself and we all paid for our own meals. This was not a press trip but just a great lunch out with friends!

Bye for now,

23 October 2015

4 horses and 100,000 balloons in London!

You don't expect to 4 horses to appear in the river Thames nor to find 100,000 balloons in Covent Garden but then London is always coming up with the unexpected to keep us guessing.  

Public art is one of London's great strengths and my only complaint is that sometimes it is too short lived, it's gone before we realise we need to rush to see it and I'm going to show you two perfect examples of this in today's blog post. 

The Totally Thames Festival lasted all of September and saw a range of events and exhibitions of all things Thames related. You could enjoy all manner of river races, Tall Ships, concerts inside the Tower of London and a night of poetry readings celebrating wild swimming!  It was the horses that really caught my attention. I read about 4 life sized horse statues that had appeared on the foreshore at Vauxhall, a piece entitled The Rising Tide,  so I set off, at low tide, to find them and learn more.  

Skirting round the outside of MI6, much loved of the Bond franchise and not at all secret, I took the slipway normally used by the Duck tours boats, down to the river. My timing was spot on as the Thames was at low tide so there was no danger of falling in and drowning - I'm not being dramatic, I just can't swim! However, despite a helpful warning from the man guarding the slipway, I managed to step on the softer area of the foreshore and spent the rest of the day walking nonchalantly around London with one foot covered in grey mud!

One very muddy foot

Turning my attention back to the horses I was amazed how powerful they were. The Rising Tide is a piece by Jason deCaires Taylor, an underwater sculptor.  The artist is known for his focus on conservation and climate change and these themes are clearly explored.

Each horse is a life size shire horse with their wonderful large hooves and powerful bodies There are 4, a number that may be a nod to the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. Placing them within sight of Parliament seems to ask questions of lawmakers, questions which the sculptor feels they are ignoring, choosing instead to make damaging deals and compromising policies. 

It was a delight to be able to wander around the horses and see them from all angles, to get so close you could touch them without guards telling you to keep away. Photographers, both the iphone folk and those with tripods, were there in big numbers, taking away their own digital memories. A passing beach comber was rather non-plussed by horses and crowds appearing on his regular patch but showed us a few pieces of metal he had found, including a very worn coin and a belt buckle which he dated as Victorian.

The head of the horses has been replaced by the head of an oil well pump giving them an eerie futuristic look.  Two of the horses have male figures, looking like business men or politician whereas the other two carry children giving us the contrast of those with responsibility for what is happening now and the hope for the future. 

Horse with an oil well pump in place of a head

As the tide comes in the figures are submerged until the heads alone are above the waves and I would have loved to have seen this dramatic sight but after a month, the horses and their riders moved on and we are left with the fleeting memory of this wonderful work.

The thousands of shoppers who crowd into Covent Garden were treated to another short lived art installation when balloons outnumbered people for just one month. 

100,000 white balloons, each one of a different size, floated delicately under the Victorian roof of the South Hall. French artist Charles Petillon created a work called Heartbeat to delight and intrigue visitors. Pulses of light run through the balloons making the experience of viewing them rather hypnotic and symbolising the beating heart of the market, now and stretching back into its past. 

I loved the fragility of the balloons that become almost solid in such numbers and how the light changed so much even in the hour that I was there. Each time I looked back at the roof I saw a different colour, a new shape, almost like watching clouds change and reform. 

For those who like to know the behind the scenes info, the balloons were blown up by people, 25 of them who spent 5 nights and a lot of puff to make sure there were 100,000 perfectly filled balloon to form this work.  

Now, both art installations have gone and we look forward to whatever comes next. London is full of surprises but sometimes you have to be quick or you miss them, passing moments in a city of such enduring history. 

Bye for now,

12 October 2015

Take a peek into the Museum of Crime for some grisly, fascinating history

I'd never heard of the Museum of Crime so was curious when I saw the Museum of London was launching a new exhibition of items from this mysterious museum.  How had we not heard about this museum and why was it only just being opened up to the public?  The chance to see never before seen objects from the famous crimes of history was not to be missed. 

As we entered this scene met us - a classic crime scene!

The Curator, Jackie Keily, explained the history and took us through some of the key exhibits in this  fascinating new show at the Museum of London, one of my favourite London museums.   The Crime Museum, also known as the Black Museum, dates back to 1875, set up by collector Inspector Neame before the Metropolitan Police took it on and until now has only been open to Police Officers and their guests.  Opening up this sensitive material to the public did give the Museum of London staff cause for concern and this sign on the wall as you enter sums up their dilemmas:

The Museum of London focus on social history so wanted to bring out the human stories behind this remarkable and important collection.  They worked closely with the Met Police ethics Panel to help make the right choices to avoid sensationalism but keep the powerfulness of the items to tell the story of crime solving.  The Museum is used for Police training to show new detectives the history and lineage of their work and to examine how crimes have been solved.

One of the earliest sights to greet the visitor is this line of nooses took me aback but learned that each noose had a name and a personal story associated with it. We reminded that hanging was the standard punishment for murder in the UK.   One strange fact here is that nooses were often used more than once - to save on rope perhaps.

Execution boxes contained everything needed  for an execution:  nooses (always packing a spare), a hood, straps and buckles to restrain the prisoner and chalk used to mark the spot where they should stand. Several were kept at Wandsworth Prison and sent out around the country when needed. 

 One of the older items is this gun, used in an attempt on Queen Victoria's life in 1840, which I had not heard about but luckily Edward Oxford missed. He was subsequently found not guilty by reason of insanity and sent to Broadmoor. 

We then move onto the main room where an impressive set of 24 panels illustrating individual cases between 1905 and 1975, ending at this date so as to not get too close to those who knew the victims. It also marks 100 years since the Crime Museum was founded.  Each panel tells us about the crime, the victims and how it was solved, we learn about the human impact and the people involved, including the Police who solved the crime.  Although many but not all victims are women, there is only one solo woman criminal here, Ruth Ellis who was hung in 1955 for shooting her violent lover dead in a premeditated crime. Edith Thompson was also hung for murder back in 1923 although her accomplice always claimed she was innocent.

Other famous cases you can learn more about include the Krays, Christie and Crippen, all infamous in the criminal history of the 20th century.  The information panel also show us how developments in police investigation techniques have helped bring criminals to justice and I was surprised to discover that fingerprinting was first used to secure a conviction in 1905 when Alfred Stratton's thumbprint was found on an empty cash box. 

Footprints can also help Police to find a criminal and of course criminals have been trying to evade capture in whatever way they can. One case showed us how one burglar made false feet (in the photo below) to put the Police off his trail, however he was not smart enough to wipe out his own foot prints next to the false ones and was caught!

There are fascinating sections on Weapons, Police Procedures, Terrorism, Abortion - a crime for so many years - Disguised Weapons, Forgery and Espionage.  

The Terrorism section brought the exhibition closer to my life  in 2001 with a replica of the bomb that was detonated outside Television Centre where I was working and was similar to the one which blew up part of Ealing, where I lived at the time.  A chilling moment as was the section on the July 2005 London bombings.  

All the objects and stories have a powerful message and connect us with events, near and back hundreds of years.  The exhibition ends with a Reflection Room, a chance to pause and think through what you've seen and how victims and their families suffer. 

To find out more and book tickets click here.  Please note this exhibition is not advised for under 16 year olds due to the disturbing nature of the some of the exhibits. 

Disclaimer: as is customary for a preview, I was invited by the museum and did not pay for my ticket. 

Bye for now