I retired about 30 months ago. I moved back to the family home in Gloucestershire and gave up my London flat to Eldest Son (ES). The flat is centrally and very conveniently located in the Barbican but it was, during my 18 years of mid-week living there, never more than a bolt-hole for temporary occupancy. It rarely received any love and attention and, if I am honest, was only subjected to a proper cleanse when Long-Suffering Wife (LSW) occasionally came to visit. (Then, I’d ‘tidy’ beforehand to create a tolerable impression, and LSW would tut at my inadequacy and grudgingly do a more thorough ‘clean’).
ES continues to live in the flat and now shares it with his girlfriend. They were in Paris last week celebrating their birthdays. That gave LSW and I the opportunity to pop up to London to see Middle Son, Youngest Son and some old friends, and to visit a few exhibitions. We had a great time.
What made the trip especially nice was that our stay was anchored by a very comfortable stay in the Barbican flat. We were able to see how it has been turned into a spotless, house-plant friendly, warm (in all senses of the word) home by ES and, especially, his girlfriend. It’s great to see the flat still being put to such good use.
Our London trip was also helped by lovely clear blue skies. All cities look better in sunny weather but the views of the Thames and its surrounds are especially enhanced by brilliant winter sun.
LSW and I visited the Garden Museum in Lambeth. The tower was open and, having puffed up a long, steep, spiral, stone staircase, we came out onto a lovely view of Lambeth Palace, the Houses of Parliament, the City and, of course, the winding Thames.
We also saw the latest exhibition in the museum. This was a small but concisely curated history of London’s Royal Parks. It covered their origins as royal hunting grounds in the 15th century and their gradual opening up to increasing proportions of the public during recent centuries. It covered their use as recreation spaces (and how such recreation has changed over time), places of protest and places for celebration. Perhaps most surprising was the section on how the parks have been used for military training including trench warfare during the First World War.
We walked along the Embankment south of the Thames to Tate Modern; a really refreshing walk in the sun. While LSW went off on a shopping assignment, I wandered through parts of Tate Modern and took in the Dora Maar exhibition there. I only knew of Maar as one of Picasso’s many muses but the exhibition shows her to be a successful and diverse artist in her own right.
Maar’s early fashion photos are clearly impressive even to my untrained eye. I was less satisfied with her surrealist photography, although it was interesting to see her attempts to meld the photographic capture of reality with the weirdness and spontaneity of the surrealist movement she became part of. More interesting, were her later paintings. One of these captured brilliantly, I thought, the inevitable tension of the period when she was living with Picasso under the same roof as his wife!
For me, the best exhibition LSW and I visited during our stay was the Anselm Keifer exhibition at the White Cube Gallery in Bermondsey which had astonished me back in late November. I loved the way the enormous art worked for me when standing right back from it and when right up close. The exhibition was almost as impactful this time as last. I will remember it for a long time.
However, almost as good was the exhibition of colonial Indian master artists’ work at the Wallace Collection. The art was commissioned by leaders of the East India Company at the height of colonial Britain to capture the fauna, flora and culture of paintings of India.
The exhibition showed how the Indian artists cleverly and subtly chafed against their subordinate position by portraying their masters in uncomfortable or unusual positions. For example, a grimacing British officer was shown lying ill at ease in a coffin-like box being carried by beautifully painted natives. Elsewhere, a daughter of an officer was portrayed on a wonderfully rendered horse surrounded by clearly proud, indigenous stable hands, but with her face hidden from view by her bonnet.
Best of all in this exhibition were the wonderfully detailed and beautifully painted pictures of the animals and plants of India. The animals had every hair of fur meticulously drawn and the pictures of butterflies and birds in branches of trees were cleverly structured and strikingly laid out. I love the Wallace Collection and this was another very good exhibition there.
I’m in London again next month and am looking forward to more cultural exploits then, although ES will be in town this time and so the flat’s sofa bed will have to suffice for me.