We went to London to hear Jonathon Porritt, Richard Wilkinson and Robert May discuss ‘Making Healthy Environments’ at the Royal Institution – one of the events marking the 50th anniversary of Sussex University.
But first we walked to the Duke of Wellington’s house, but it was shut, perhaps he was out. On the way we passed a fine bronze by Jonathan Kenworthy, commissioned by local landlord the Duke of Westminster to mark the opening of Upper Grosvenor Gardens to the public, in 2000.
Rethinking the plans for the day we decided on The Courtauld Gallery after lunch at The Harp in Chandos Place – just east of Trafalgar Square.
The Harp had Harveys and two from Dark Star, but I felt adventurous and had a pint of Sambrooks Brewery Wandle Bitter and Milestone’s Black Pearl, seen above. Both excellent. Sausage in a baguette proved to be the extent of the menu, so we had one each.
A brochure picked up at Brighton Station got both of us into the Courtauld for the price of one. Picasso’s Pigs was the first drawing I saw in the ‘Spanish Drawings’ temporary exhibition. The caption said that he was in a remote Catalonian village in the summer of 1906, with his friend Gertrude Stein, who liked pigs. She either got this drawing, or a painting based on it – I can’t be expected to remember everything, dammit.
Into the permanent exhibition galleries. Wyndham Lewis (1882 – 1957) painted the Betrothal of the Matador in 1933. He gives the matador’s agent an evil look, and shows that the woman is a whore from the nearby red-lighted building. He was going to paint her bare-breasted, but his wife suggested otherwise. I think I like the story more than the painting.
In the next room we saw Wassily Kandinski (1866 – 1944) at every stage of his development from a straight landscape of 1903, through growing abstractions – Improvisation on Mahogany (1910) and On the Theme of the Last Judgement (1913), right up to what I know as his usual work, represented here by The Red Circle (1939).
Then a room with some Seurat sketches and another with Ivon Hitchens, Ben Nicholson and Graham Sutherland. Its odd how difficult it is to maintain the level of concentration. Soon its hard just to keep looking. Took a brief rest in a room with 3 by Dufy – not a guy I like much. Odd how he selects colours with no reference to the likely colour of the thing portrayed. Found the same idea better expressed in the next room where a Matisse called Red Beach had the descriptive line: ‘The brilliant colours are almost entirely independent of any descriptive function’.
Here is one for Fred Pipes (he likes steam trains). This was painted when the suburb was only just being developed. The green fields and even the station have gone now, but after the other paintings it has a sense of familiarity about it.
But the tree paintings by Cezanne seem more . . . what? They certainly retain my interest longer than the Pisarro. But I’m not sure I like them more. They seem more painterly, not a more accurate representation, but a better use of paint.
In the shop I saw a book with the fine title, ‘The Arse in Art’ by Edward Lucie-Smith. The assistant heard me mention it to Jackie, and he said, ‘Its a very good seller’.
On to the talk at the Royal Institution in Albemarle Street. Good news: you can go in free and see the Faraday collections and stand beside a big periodic table of the elements and listen to The Elements by Tom Lehrer. Bad news: you can buy two small glasses of red wine in the bar for £11.50.
The talk was great, in that it reinforced all my beliefs. Always satisfactory to hear your own views spoken by others. Prof Wilkinson (an ex-Brighton resident) kept on about the damage done by inequality, Prof May expressed doom and gloom about the future, whatever we do, and Porritt seemed more up-beat, believing we have the skills and spitit to find solutions, provided the rate of decline is not too fast (not too many tipping points in the immediate future).
Afterwards we ate lots of free nibbles and made up for that expensive wine earlier with lots of free wine. As usual we were amongst the last to leave, made our bleary way to Victoria and slept on the train to Brighton.