Oh, my, I love history and art and architecture and they all come together here in the most beautiful ways. Here are some of my observations of our time in London, so far.
One of my favourite pastimes is sitting on the top level of a big red bus as we make our way across London and looking up to all the turret and attic windows and wondering who lived there over the past few hundred years and who lives there now or what is it being used for? Are there still attics that no one has been in for ages, attics full of old treasures? The history of this place makes me feel curious about so much.
I had a tour of the museum part of Kensington Palace (on the way, I went by the guards looking after Kate and Will’s front door). Random royals lived there at different periods. Queen Mary the Second lived there after her marriage to William. I liked being in a room that was designed and furnished in 1691 by Christopher Wren. Queen Victoria was born there and I stood on the steps of the King’s Staircase in the place where she first laid eyes on Albert, the love of her life. There is an exhibit in rooms used for her children’s nursery filled with their toys.
We have seen so much beautiful art, one very memorable morning was at The National Gallery at an exhibit called “Inventing Impressionism”, the exhibit was the story of a man called Paul Duran-Ruel and the Modern Art Market. He was basically the first art dealer in many ways and the exhibit was comprised of 90 paintings that he bought and sold, works by Renoir, Monet, Degas , Sisley, Pissarro and many more of our favourites. I think the light in the Renoirs caught my eye the most, they were portraits and the people looked lit up from within, very vibrant and alive compared to the portraiture before that time. The Tate Modern did not do too much for us this trip. The National Portrait Gallery had a John Singer Sargent exhibit that we both loved.
At the Victoria and Albert Museum I went to a wedding dress exhibit with dresses from 1750’s through to now, they were all so interesting and lovely. My favourite was Kate Moss’s wedding dress from just a few years ago.
I kept thinking of my friend Adele in the jewelry rooms, they have collected jewelry through the ages, and when I say that I mean it. It starts in 5500 BC, I think and just goes on and on and on. All so fun to see and read about, all though hard to absorb it all in just one day. The English are so good at museums and collecting things. One watchmaker made a display for the Worlds Fair in London (in the 1800’s but don’t know the exact date) of how he made watches—starting with the first part and adding it to the second but still having the first part there, until at the end was the final product. Well, the Victoria and Albert Museum bought his display, just a few years after he made it, to keep forever a record of the art of watchmaking at that time.
At the British Museum we saw the huge friezes from the top of the Parthenon that were removed by Lord Elgin in the 1800’s. Last summer when we were in Athens, the Greek guides made quite a bit deal about the friezes being in the British Museum. I know the British took a lot of things they should probably not have taken from a lot of places, but at the time Lord Elgin really was trying to ‘save’ what he could, as Greece had been part of the Ottoman empire for 350 years and nobody was taking care or thinking about preserving the Acropolis much at all. I felt the same about the things we saw from other ancient civilizations, the wall friezes from Ancient Assyria, all the artifacts from Levant, and many other ancient areas that are modern countries now. I am beyond thankful that artifacts of these cultures were gathered up and preserved and help us understand the history of the world.
There is something about the beauty of all the hand made artifacts, I am especially drawn to the ancient pottery and figurines (especially the ones of Goddesses) and take many photos for inspiration later. I get a sense of the care that was taken by the person that made it with their hands. I am so fascinated that in many cases the thing I am admiring is 2000 or 3000 years old and often even older and the person that made it is communicating to me across time! I see and feel something of them through the beautiful thing they made that it survived through time. I am thinking of writing more on this subject, I am very interested in the way art and craftsmanship eventually turn into historical record and also art as talismans, the way objects have meaning
I was also intrigued with the “hoards”, collections of coins and other treasure that people buried and then they were found much later. There were many of these displayed in the British Museum. I am especially fascinated by the stories of the people that have found them and Bill has noted that if I lived in Britain I would have to have a metal detector!
We’ve found the smaller museums nice too, and in a way more fun because we don’t get overwhelmed by too much to see and absorb. Just a few blocks from our home exchange in Kensington is a place called Leighton House, Lord Leighton’s home. He was an artist during the Victorian Era and his house is preserved much as it was. There were many of his paintings there as well as an exhibit of a collection of Victorian paintings collected by a wealthy Mexican man, Juan Antonio Perez Simon. Another smaller gallery is the Courtauld Gallery, in Somerset House. Samuel Courtauld collected art his whole life and then left it for this gallery. It is very comprehensive, and had a painting of Degas ballerinas, which I always love. The Museum of London was also good, going through the pre-historic London area finds, 450,000 BC to AD50 called London before London, and then Roman London AD50-410, then Medieval London AD410-1558, and the 1550-1660 War, Plague and Fire, and then a whole other area devoted to Modern London which included a Victorian Street with all authentic original shop fronts, fittings and inventories.
We also found the Roman amphitheater ruins under the Guildhall Gallery which were only discovered when remodeling the Guildhall in the 1980’s.
Fashion fascinates me. Skinny-legged pants, I mean skinny. Every age. Both sexes. The guys aren’t quite so tight around the calves. Generally the people we see seem to be very well turned out. It might be because everyone is still in winter coats and scarves. We saw a group of school girls today in the most beautiful wool coats with grey wool tights and black shoes with the one strap across and a buckle (not clunky laceups). They looked so lovely.
The markets are fun, we’ve been to Camden and Portobello markets. The food is wonderful; we have lunch out and try to buy dinner to take home. We had a leek and vintage cheddar tart that was very memorable. I wish I had more room for shopping. I like the antique/old stuff at the markets. Lots of old china and silver to look at and interesting things like old typesetting stamps, compasses etc.
We’ve been to many shows, “The Book of Morman” was absolutely hilarious- in a Southpark way. It sure makes you think about religion and beliefs. Our favourite show was “Memphis”, Beverley Knight was the main character and is apparently the reigning queen of English Soul. We saw “Once” with Ronan Keating in the lead and found that lovely to watch. “Jersey Boys” and “The Commitments” were both entertaining evenings as well. “Woman on the Verge” was good and for high culture we went “Madame Butterfly” and enjoyed keeping an eye on Sam Jacobs in the orchestra (our daughter-in-law Rachel’s sister Olivia’s fiancé)
We’ve enjoyed socializing with a few people we know, we had a great night out celebrating Sam and Olivia’s engagement and got to meet his parents and 3 sisters and their partners and have also had social evenings with a few Methven girls, Kayla and Erica Dynes, Kate May and Bridget Lumsden. Kayla invited us to her birthday party at a pub and there we met more New Zealanders. We also had a lovely dinner with my cousin Gaye’s daughter Katie and her husband, Ross.
We still have one more week here. We are off to explore the river Thames tomorrow with a trip to Greenwich by boat, we still want to see the Tate Britain, we have an exhibit booked that starts on Friday at the British Museum called “Defining Beauty: the body in Ancient Greek Art” AND New Zealand is playing in the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup this week, so we’ll have a day of watching cricket!