Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Guess who? Well, no, I wouldn't have guessed either. It's Picasso. (Self-portrait with Wig, 1900)
I stole an hour this afternoon to visit Picasso's Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery.

Woman in a Hat (Olga), 1935

On the page, this portrait of his first wife Olga looks whimsical; but when you see the actual painting, those big eyes - painted as their marriage ended - look terribly sad and bereft. 

Portrait of Olga Picasso, 1923
Olga again, looking so troubled - she worried about her family in Russia. I loved this portrait, and the wonderful bronze folds of her dress ...
Francis Poulenc
And was taken aback by this somewhat unexpected herringbone jacket.

Perhaps a bit too sentimental for me - but the friend I went with enjoyed a good blub - and it's ages since I've been to a real weepie ... even if the strongest emotion I felt, if I'm honest, was acute knitwear envy. There's a review and trailer here. And whoever knitted all those truly adorable 1920s baby clothes deserves an Oscar for best children's wear in a movie. Actually, the babies (and I counted seven in the credits, playing baby Lucy-Grace at different stages) should win a joint Oscar for cutest supporting children. There's a feature about the heartbreakingly lovely New Zealand island where the film is set here.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Visited the famous giant pumpkin on Saturday, grown at RHS Hyde Hall in Essex from a pumpkin seed that cost £1250; if it's a bit pale and wan, that's because it has been kept out of the sun to make sure it didn't split. It's displayed in the Hallowe'en pumpkin graveyard where someone has had fun writing pumpkin epitaphs. Not being a gardener, the tombstone inscription Ms Belle S Perennis: Pushing Up Daisies had to be explained to me before I got the joke.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

I went to a lovely little exhibition at Compton Verney last week of watercolours commissioned as souvenirs of Queen Victoria's visit to Paris in 1855, first time a British monarch had set foot there since Henry V - in rather different circumstances. The paintings are as fresh as if they were painted yesterday,    and it's the first time they've all been shown together.
And there's such a lovely sense of Victoria being away on a bit of a jolly and enjoying every moment (except the Opera which she clearly found a bit of a trial). These days she'd probably be posting it all on Instagram. But you can so imagine her showing the ladies back home ... Look, this was my dressing room, and wasn't it gorgeous and look at the clouds on the ceiling ...

But poor Albert had to dance with this frightfully plump Princess ...

Monday, 17 October 2016

What a lovely cover (At the Piano, by Harold Knight, from Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne). But how disappointing to discover that there's a novel by EH Young that I haven't much enjoyed; haven't at all enjoyed, really. I've been ekeing them out - having so loved Miss Mole, William and Chatterton Square - but it seemed time for another second-hand treat from Amazon. (Oh, I'm high-maintenance!)
This one was published in 1928. I've been limping through it, because I can't bring myself to care much  about any of the characters, and especially not about the central character, the vicar's most unappetising cousin Maurice, a deservedly-lonely, petty-mindedly revengeful, blundering, sanctimonious clergyman. Maurice has been standing in as a summer holiday locum for the more attractive Edward, whom he hasn't seen for many years, but now Edward and his wife and daughter have returned home. Maurice - a most pathetic excuse for a man - has fancied himself in love for years with his cousin's wife. Not that she'd have looked at him in a month of Sunday sermons. (Although I couldn't understand why she hadn't done rather better for herself than marrying the vicar, when it's clearly rather tiresome being a clergy wife and feeling that one's husband looks a bit of a twit on Sundays in church.)
I suppose it is a comedy of errors, so many secrets and misunderstandings and to-ings and fro-ings that I rather lost track as I wasn't very interested. It's an odd book ... there's a feeling of building up to some moral tragedy, but then it all fizzles out.  Of course, the suspicion that a vicar might have had a 'past' would have caused more of a frisson in 1928 than today.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

I like Anne-Marie Duff - heavens, for once in my life I'd booked weeks in advance - but her new play Oil at the Almeida is a bit of a mess.

It opens in 1889 on a grim Cornish farmstead that seems to have been modelled on Van Gogh's Potato Eaters, with a dash of Cold Comfort Farm thrown in for good measure. Not that anybody will be able to see anything nasty in the woodshed because these Starkadders are still dysfunctioning by candlelight -  when, as you can see, even the miserable Potato Eaters (1885) have embraced paraffin lamps that I'm pretty sure have been around for decades. Heigh ho ... well, you can see why pregnant Anne-Marie wants out when the Esso Blue man calls and turns on the lights. Before we know it, she's time-travelling through decades of squandered fossil fuel and global politics - until finally she and her daughter end up in a dystopian near-future where the lights have been switched off, they can't afford the leccy, and the Esso Blue man calls again but this time he's selling something nuclear. Oh, it's all very well-meaning - and there's a good dollop of Guardian feminism along the way - but sitting there for 2hours 40 mins felt like being hectored by an intense adolescent eco-warrior. Seemed like quite a few in the seats near me voted with their feet after the interval - and they didn't miss much, because with every time-change the play gets progressively less engaging. But I still like Anne-Marie Duff so I'll be generous and give it 6/10. When you've only paid £10 for a seat - and the Almeida's restricted view seats aren't all that restricted - well, that's less than a cinema ticket, so who's complaining?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Loving this gorgeous botanical art book that has just arrived here by courier. I want to stroke that cover ... those shiny patchwork petals have a lovely embossed feel under my fingers. Stroke or read?????

Read ... I'm fascinated by all the quirky details in the captions. South African artist Olive Coates Palgrave, who painted this gardenia, began painting on excursions into the bush in the 1920s. When her children were small, she mosquito-proofed the pram and took them along. Although - before any mums reading this start feeling inadequate - looking at the dates, Olive's children must have been long grown-up by the time she painted this one in 1956.