Wow, it’s Wimbledon…

20180709_130241.jpgTickets yet again (we are really lucky….) to Centre Court Wimbledon on Manic Monday. But first we have to get there. At our local station Liskeard there was a goods train waiting and I was amazed to see that not only is its signage not metric but apparently goes back to the old chains and furlongs days! How many chains in a furlong? 22 yards = one chain….10 chains = one furlong….8 furlongs = one mile……easy.20180706_090453.jpgThe thing about going to London on the train, even to Plymouth which is our nearest big city, is that you get some wonderful views. It would be nice to have a route map, and we talked to BR in the Seventies about producing them….but that’s another story.20180706_092911.jpg20180706_120319.jpgAnyway after leaving our bags at David and Jennifer’s flat we decided to use our National Art passes for the Courtauld Institute, a new one for us. All we knew was that is famous for its Impressionists paintings. the cafe was a huge disappointment as they had run out of food….how can you do that? Never mind. The gallery is arranged by period and one of the first things that greets you is this wonderful medieval marriage chest from Florence showing exquisitely painted scenes of Romantic knightly endeavours….20180706_164727.jpgAnd I did like this portrait, a young lady whom you could meet in the streets outside, painted with real feeling.20180706_165200.jpgMr and Mrs Gainsborough on the wall here….and here is the Courtauld on Mrs Gainsborough…. “Family legend holds that Mr. Gainsborough painted a portrait of his Mrs. every year on their wedding anniversary. Sadly we only know of 5 portraits of Mrs. Gainsborough by her husband, but this portrait is a beautiful testament to their (sometimes fraught) relationship. When painting family, someone the artist knows well, the experience is vastly different from a commissioned portrait or working with a professional model. This painting is more informal, the technique looser than in other Gainsborough portraits.”

20180706_165433.jpgThe start of the series of Impressionist paintings shows this Pisarro of a Lordship Lane station in a growing suburb, but curiously devoid of people….20180706_165648 2.jpgA famous painting of course is Degas’ Two Dancers On A Stage, of which the Courtauld indicates…For many years it was assumed that Degas’ depiction of two dancers on the stage did not represent any specific performance and was meant as a general representation of ballet. However recent research has shown that the costumes of the dancers, especially the one on the right, match the bell-shaped tutus and hairpieces with roses of the dancers in the Ballet des roses, a ballet section added to Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni (1787) for performances at the Paris Opera House from 1866 onwards. The scenery in the background suggests foliage, which would have been appropriate to the garden setting of the Ballet des roses. The new expanded version of Don Giovanni was performed more than fifty times at the Paris Opéra between 1872 and 1874, so Degas’ subject is very much engaged with contemporary life. The painting was shown at the dealer Durand-Ruel’s London gallery in 1874, where it was purchased by Captain Henry Hill of Brighton.” Incidentally the bronze is also by Degas….20180706_165815.jpgRenoir’s La Loge or Theatre Box shows a male with binoculars but the female (very unfairly in my opinion known as fish-face!) concentrating – perhaps knowing that she is being observed…..20180706_165830.jpgOver to Gaugin – they keep on coming – “The two figures in the background and the ‘bird of the devil that is keeping watch’, as Gauguin called it, seem to be conspiring against the reclining woman. She lies awake, perhaps conscious of being watched. The title evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, in which a poet, driven mad by the loss of his love, hears a raven repeating endlessly ‘Nevermore’. Here, Gauguin suggests the loss of innocence. He was deeply disappointed by Tahiti, where he had moved from Paris, hoping to find a primitive and unspoilt paradise. Instead, he found a society marred by corruption and colonialism.”20180706_170103.jpgManet’s Déjeuner sur l’herbe was considered shocking in its day “because his pastoral idyll made deliberate references to contemporary life. The men wore modern clothing, and the naked woman was considered ugly. As such, it seemed to mock academic ‘high’ art.”20180706_170134.jpgAnd now the painting the Institute has chosen to represent itself…Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère…..                                                                                                                                “The Folies-Bergère was Paris’s first music hall. A magazine described its atmosphere of ‘unmixed joy’ where everyone spoke ‘the language of pleasure’. It was notorious for the access it gave to prostitutes. The barmaids, according to the poet Maupassant, were ‘vendors of drink and of love’. This picture was Manet’s last major work, exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1882. Manet knew the Folies-Bergère well. He made preparatory sketches on site, but the final painting was executed in his studio. He set up a bar and employed one of the barmaids, Suzon, to pose behind it.                                                                             Manet’s picture is unsettling. An acrobat’s feet, clad in green boots, dangle in the air. The quickly sketched crowds convey the bustle of the Folies-Bergères. In contrast, the barmaid is detached and marooned behind her bar, with her reflection displaced to the right. She stares at the viewer, but the mirror shows her facing a customer.” Strange indeed. What a hypnotic painting though….20180706_170510.jpg20180706_170319.jpgA good gallery visit wouldn’t be a good gallery visit without a bit of sex, and Van Dongen’s 1905 painting Torso, The Idol certainly gives us that. This is in fact the artist’s wife, and surely she is shown at a moment of post-coital abandon with her sexually charged posture and her flushed face. Did the artist pick up his brushes immediately after having sex? That would certainly seem to be suggested, and maybe she is just a bit embarrassed at being painted thus? An in-your-face picture that you can’t ignore.20180706_171801.jpgIn contrast, one of Renoir’s last paintings Woman Tying Her Shoes seems very decorous indeed….20180706_172403.jpgOne of my favourite paintings was this one – Bonnard’s the River Seine In Paris. The sky is so unusual and beautiful, and even the road in the foreground seems to reflect the overall mood. 20180706_172512.jpgNow to a really disturbing painting one of several by Walter Sickert depicting presumably prostitutes in sleazy rooms in Camden Town. The suggestive bent leg and the prostitute’s gaze (one would think at a client at the end of the bed) convey raw sex. But the whole thing is very seedy and threatening. This reminded me that Patricia Cornwall in a recent book, the result of many years research, presented what many would say is compelling evidence that Sickert was Jack The Ripper. Indeed even more disturbing Sickert paintings show depictions of women being attacked: “One of them is tied up in a chair and being stabbed.” Another shows decapitated heads. When you see this painting, you can perhaps see where it leads. Astonishing.20180706_172605.jpgMax Pechstein’s Portrait of a Man has recently been shown to be of his patron an architect of the time. It all seems a little incongruous with him dressed very smartly for the Opera but in an avant-guard setting with its bright colours. Just love it.20180706_172710.jpgGetting even closer to modern times (it was getting near to closing) Lucien Freud’s Girl With Roses is regarded as one of his more important early paintings. Although he went on to marry Kitty, the painting aims to set us on edge with her wide eyes and the fact she is grasping a very prickly rose. Not so much love shown here.20180706_173047.jpgI had to include this last image of Polperro, 20 minutes drive for us. Painted in 1939 by an artist who had just fled from Prague and settled there, Kokoschka it perhaps shows his unease and includes allegorical details such as the large crab which he said represented disaster, and a woman mourning over a prostrate body. Very prophetic.20180706_173223.jpgWhilst staying with David and Jennifer we had a nice ramble through Acton Park, just over the road from them, and another look at the Mini-Golf course which is much the nicest we have ever seen, planted superbly with all kinds of things including mature olives and terrific water features. I really must do a five star review for them.20180707_122728.jpg20180707_122746.jpgThe exercise area was pretty impressive too…20180707_124409_002.jpgOn another day we took the bus out to the river and had a wonderful stroll from Hammersmith with its amazing bridge to Barnes which we really love with its village-like atmosphere……20180708_123540.jpg20180708_123932_001.jpgSome exceptional buildings along the way including this – part of the library of St Paul’s school….20180708_124627.jpg20180708_123645.jpgand a very good pub to finish – The Bull’s Head, famous for its jazz apparently and with its Bolan Room (Marc Bolan died in a car crash nearby….).20180708_132810_002.jpgBeautiful buildings on the river frontage in Barnes…they really are…20180708_135503.jpg Very near to David and Jennifer is Bedford Park which many say is the world’s first real garden suburb. We just knew it was full of nice houses, many obviously by the same architect. But we explored its history a bit and it is fascinating. Do read about it. Sir John Betjeman no less described Bedford Park “the most significant suburb built in the last century, probably in the western world”. Herman Muthesius, the celebrated German critic who wrote The English House in 1904 said, “It signifies neither more nor less than the starting point of the smaller modern house, which spread from there over the whole country.”20180708_192514.jpgAnd now to the real reason we came to London for this visit. We’ve done this before but we always like to take the tube to Wimbledon (not the nearest tube station) and walk up the hill to one of many places for a nice breakfast. We chose well this time, although you can’t go wrong. It is then not too much of a walk to the venue, and what a venue. 20180709_105751.jpgWe like to look at what is going on in the outside courts first, where you get really close to the action, and realise what incredible athletes these people are. And anyway everywhere is so pretty….. it really is my best sporting day out ever even, I would go so far as to say, the best day out ever.20180709_115727.jpg20180709_115918.jpg20180709_120424.jpg20180709_121103.jpgAfter picking up some lunch and a drink we made our way to our seats in Centre Court, towards the back this time but what a view…20180709_130241.jpgand on such a hot day we were glad to be in the shade…first up was Federer who won easily…what an elegant and brilliant player, a privilege to see him..20180709_131904_002.jpg20180709_132248.jpgThen it was Serena Williams, also in super form and winning fairly easily….she’s big, strong and athletic (and with a lovely personality – when not on Court!).20180709_152252.jpgIt’s quite something to examine your fellow-spectators too, not all middle-class oiks by any means.20180709_163927.jpgNext up the masterful Nadal, what a trier he is. Jimmy Connors was one never to let a point go by without maximum effort, but Rafa excels even him. His efforts are super-human. Won in straight sets. maybe this was all a bit too straightforward. We saw the big names but not for long. 20180709_164047.jpg However, we had an amazing bonus because transferred to our court now was the mixed doubles match featuring Jamie Murray and his new partner Victoria Azarenko.20180709_190659_035.jpg20180709_190715.jpgand the match was so tight and went on for so long that they had to close the roof and finish under lights…..a wonderful experience. How exciting was this….5-1 down in the final set and led by the brilliance of Azarenko the ‘British’ partnership drew level and won. Fantastic! The atmosphere was indeed electric, a cliche but in this case so true. We couldn’t have asked for more…..Federer, Williams, Nadal and a Murray victory.20180709_205422.jpgOn our last day having a couple of hours before my train and F.’s plane we had lunch at the V&A. It never fails.20180710_121405.jpgHow could you eat in more impressive surroundings?20180710_122200.jpg20180710_123449.jpg20180710_123500.jpgAnd we had time to fit in things we didn’t see last time round, including the sculpture gallery….20180710_124445.jpgYou’ve just got to love this statue of the quack doctor Joshua Ward, maybe intended for a monument in Westminster Abbey (in the event this didn’t happen). Rather touchingly the V&A says ‘His hand gesture may indicate generosity, while his bulky figure suggest prosperity’. That’s certainly one way of putting it.20180710_124505.jpgEverywhere you get marvellous surprises like this striking portrait at the top of the stairs. I can’t for the life of me remember who this is, and I have searched the V&A archives to no avail….20180710_124723.jpg20180710_124800.jpgBut the real eye-opener came when we visited the jewellery rooms. No wonder the V&A say this is one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of jewellery in the world. Over 3,000 jewels tell the story of jewellery in Europe from ancient times to the present day. The displays use themes…20180710_124910.jpg20180710_124926.jpgand a historical timeline…here is Etruscan gold jewellery for instance…20180710_130304.jpg….not too dissimilar, you have to agree, from the Art Nouveau jewellery except that they are separated by 3000 years!20180710_131025.jpg The piece de resistance  in the rooms is a collection of 154 gems bequeathed to the V&A by the Reverend Chauncy Hare Townshend, a cleric and poet, and a friend of Charles Dickens and later his literary executor.  The stones were mounted as rings before they came to the Museum, mainly in a series of standardised gold settings, often of the coronet or galleried type. How absolutely staggering!20180710_131546.jpgBut even the staircase to the upper level of the collections is amazing. You could spend hours in here……20180710_130006.jpgOn the way out we peeped at the Cast Halls, closed for refurbishment, but worth a look over the balcony….20180710_131811_001.jpg…..and so to the long, long tunnel leading back to the Tube…I certainly did my 10,000 steps today….How lucky we are that our son and lovely daughter-in-law live in London. I wouldn’t like to, but I love what London has (including Jennifer and David!)……20180710_133749.jpg

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