Thursday, January 5, 2012

Tate Britain

I finally made it to the Tate Britain yesterday, where I wandered among classic examples of British art. There's a lot of incredible stuff in that museum, but I was most impressed by the John Singer Sargent painting above, "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," from 1885. Isn't it amazing how well he captured the glow of those paper lanterns? You feel like you've stepped back 125 years into a dusky English garden.

I also liked Gerald Brockhurst's "Portrait of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll," from 1931. The Duchess was a great beauty and a controversial figure in her day -- this rather biting obituary notes her famous sexual exploits and her role as a "mistress of boring banter." The painting was done before any of the controversy, though, and depicts her as a privileged 19-year-old, about to step into a world in which England would be transformed. Another online biography notes that the duchess "was in many ways a symptom of the aristocracy’s inability to adapt to the seismic changes in society after the Second World War. She could neither boil an egg nor make her own bed, and was unable to cope with life outside the confines of wealth and class."

I also saw a fascinating exhibit of the apocalyptic work of John Martin (even though the admission was a rather steep £14!) and wandered through the museum's more modern works, including a bizarre maze-like installation of gloomy, dingy rooms called "The Coral Reef." I topped off the day with lunch in the museum cafe and a walk through the neighborhood of Pimlico.

The weather, however, is not cooperating with my efforts to get out and about. It's supposed to rain again today and the wind is howling against the windows. I also need to hang around home to receive some expected deliveries -- my brother sold Florence and I'm waiting for related paperwork.

I did sign up for a weeklong photography course, beginning Monday. It occurs to me, though, that January may not be the best time for a class that takes place partly outdoors!


  1. Way back in 1995 or 1996, I visited the Tate Britain and saw one of the most powerful contemporary art displays that I had ever seen. It was by an artist named Michael Landy and it was called "Scrapheap Services". It filled a room with a giant shredder and several workmen with brooms who were sweeping up cutouts of people to be tossed in the shredder. The idea was that Scrapheap Services were providing a service to eliminate the undesirables from society. Wow, did it ever have an impact on me. I remember it vividly to this day.
    Of course, there were more pleasant things to see there also, like a wonderful display of Turner paintings.

  2. roaming museums one day, holing up inside the next. the rhythm of that sounds perfect to me.

  3. No grass is growing under your feet! I hope the weather cooperates for your class.

    I aways did like the Tate. What I found amazing at all the London museums was the number of school children touring and taking notes. I suppose the sort of literacy most Brits have isn't accidental.

  4. I love the paintings that you've highlighted, particularly the weird and curious story of the Duchess. Thank you for that!

    Were there any William Blake etchings or drawings at the Tate? I've never been to London, but I'm dying to visit --

  5. Sharon: Impressive that you remember that exhibit in so much detail even today! That artist really made an impression!

    Elizabeth: I didn't see any Blake drawings, but I didn't see all of the museum, either.