Wednesday, 16 April 2014

POETRY: Philip Larkin

'Within the dream you said'

Within the dream you said:
Let us kiss then,
In this room, in this bed,
But when all's done
We must not meet again.

Hearing this last word,
There was no lambing-night,
No gale-driven bird
Nor frost-encircles root
As cold as my heart.   

Monday, 14 April 2014

COMMENT: The British Museum

The way to tackle the British Museum is to zero in on an exhibition, or a particular set of rooms - I did this last week. 

The Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries contain marvels, but Japan deserves better. The refinement, the incomparable gardens, the fabrics, the sheer volume of what is to be seen in Kyoto alone - none of this is conveyed in these sad, airless, sterile rooms. 

Vikings Life and Legend is an exhibition marvelously curated, admirable and clear, a revelation. The boats have such elegant lines, intriguing facts and artefacts, a boost to one's knowledge and imagination. 
A - The Viking Age defined as a period between the late eighth and late eleventh centuries during which there was an unprecedented movement of people out from the Scandinavian homelands. 

And what of the CP Cavafy poem on the Vikings predecessors centuries earlier?


Waiting for the Barbarians.
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

            The barbarians are due here today.


Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?

[and the last two lines]
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Monday, 7 April 2014

LIVING BY DESIGN: Renzo Mongiardino

A master slavishly imitated but never equalled, Renzo Mongiardino, who died in 1998, was a hugely influential Italian designer who lived in Milan but worked all over the world, his stencilling, his mixture of colours, his double-sided sofas, his love of historical detail resulted in sophisticated rooms of great warmth and comfort, however grand in reality, thanks to his masterly trompe l'oeils.


Thursday, 3 April 2014

POETRY: Anna Akhmatova - Summer Garden

Who would have thought in 1959, the year this poem was written, that Leningrad would revert to glorious St. Petersburg?

Summer Garden

"I want to visit the roses

In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely 
Double. And a hundred thousand steps, 
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend, 
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shade
Between granite vase and palace door. 
There my white nights 
Whisper of someone's discreet exalted 
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper, 
But the light's source is a secret."

- Anna Akhmatova, July 1959, Leningrad.

Friday, 28 March 2014

ART I admire: Francisco Goya [1746 - 1828]







Watch: Goya Crazy Like a Genius by Robert Hughes who is original and never dull.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

LIVING BY DESIGN: François Catroux


François Catroux -
well known for his good looks and charm, as well as for his unmistakably French style of comfort & grand luxe in an idiom that mixes old with new. 

His work in France, England, and the USA includes beautifully detailed Yacht interiors, famously the M/Y Limitless.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

COMMENT: Mozart's Don Giovanni

Mozart's Don Giovanni at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden - thunderous applause for this opera in which one delicious aria follows another. For some reason the conductor Luisotti took Leporello's aria listing Don Giovanni's conquests (names written and jumping all over a transparent curtain) very slowly but it was otherwise marvelously sung and conducted.

The hero of the evening, the Brazilian Atalla Ayan (he replaced Antonio Poli who was ill) he had arrived at 8 in the morning from Stuttgart - rehearsed , got his costumes and was on form on stage at 7:00 in the evening. He was cheered enthusiastically 'a l'anglaise' for being a good sport, but also because his singing was so good.


The sets and costumes were a mixture of avant garde and traditional and worked very well.


Tuesday, 18 March 2014

POETRY: Bai Juyi

Song of the rear palace

Her silk handkerchief is soaked with tears, 
       but no sleep, no dreams will come. 
Late in the night in the front palace, 
      they are beating time to songs. 
Her looks have yet to fade with age, 
      but his royal favours have ended;
Leaning across the incense warmer 
      she sits until it is light. 

- Bai Juyi 

Monday, 17 March 2014

ARCHITECTURE/MUSIC: Kings Cross Station & The Artemis Quartet

An invitation to a concert in Cambridge meant I went to Kings Cross Station, revamped by John McAslan + Partners, the trains easy of access, the jumbo fan of steel in brilliant white is a towering accomplishment.

The music was Camerata Musica at Peterhouse, in a theatre with peerless acoustics (half the seats are reserved at the cost of five pounds for undergraduates). Built in 1883 to designs of the architect Basil Champneys, who is said to have been inspired by Palladio's Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza [see my blog entry of 11/05/2013] - and there the resemblance ends!


The Artemis Quartet played Brahms, Bartok and Beethoven superbly.




The violoncello was played by Eckart Runge, sitting down, the other three players all stood. Friedmann Weigle viola, Gregor Sigl and Vineta Sareika violins. Off next morning, this masterly quartet, based in Berlin, were going on what sounded like a very taxing tour of the USA and Canada. They record with EMI. 

Friday, 14 March 2014

ART I admire: David Michalek

I have very ambivalent feelings about portraits of people. Now that photography has evolved into such an art form and the quality has improved by leaps and bounds, paintings in oil, or guache or watercolours all seem inadequate, unless abstracted à la Francis Bacon.  In future, if asked my opinion on portraiture, I would recommend David Michalek, whose hyper-slowed down digital-video portraits, some life-size or larger, can last ten minutes or over an hour.  

"They look like stills until you see the smallest movements. When you realise that what you are looking at is slowly metamorphosing, it is like watching life itself" - Quotation from the Financial Times

Sunday, 9 March 2014

COMMENT: Dreyfus Affair

The clearest summary of the Dreyfus Affair (pace Marcel Proust) in the International New York Times* January 18. by Robert Harris.
"The whistle-blower who freed Dreyfus". There will follow a book about Georges Picquart "An Officer and a Spy".

*Is it proof of American hegemony that this newspaper title was changed from 'The International Herald Tribune'? Reminiscent of Americans in Paris - cosmopolitan and so well established in the European psyche - a pity. 

Thursday, 6 March 2014

POETRY: Lovely Woman - a ballad - Du Fu

On the third day of the month, when the weather
is clear and fresh
A number of lovely women come to the lakeside in
Chang'an.
Exquisite to look at, they carry themselves with a
distant, decorous air,
Their skin refined, their figures formed in elegant
proportions.
The clothes they wear of embroidered silk shine in the
late spring air,
With peacocks done in gold trim and silver unicorns.
And what are the ladies wearing on their heads?
 Flowered plumes of kingfisher green hung to the edge
of their hair.
And what are they showing at their backs?
Closely fitting outer skirts of pearls that hug their
waits.

Among them are kin of the Mistress of the 
Cloud-draped Pepper-scent Chambers,
Ladies ennobled with the names of the great states
Guo and Qin.
Purple camel humps are served, protruding from green
cauldrons,
And pure white fish is brought to them on plates of
crystal glass,
But sated with food, they have little use for their rhino
horn chopsticks,
So chefs waste effort cutting slices with their tinkling knives
While eunuchs' horses fly to and fro without
disturbing the dust
Bringing a series of delectable dishes from the
imperial kitchens.

Then flutes and drums call mournfully with a sound to
stir the gods,
And guests and followers come in throngs, a truly
mighty gathering,
As last of all a rider brings his sauntering horse to
the railing, 
Where he dismounts and goes inside to sit on the
patterned carpet.
Willow blossoms fall like snow and cover the
white frogbit;
A crimson kerchief in its beak, a bluebird flies away.
His power is extraordinary, enough to burn your
hands on;
Take care - do not get too close and provoke the
Chief Minister's anger.

- Du Fu

ART I admire: Robert Campin [1375-1444]

 

Portrait of a Woman [1435]                          Portrait of a Man [1430]

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

POETRY - Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore 1864-1941, the great Indian writer, whose poems were written in Bengali. Gitanjali (song offerings) was translated into prose by the author himself. The general consensus by W. B. Yeats, E. M. Forster et al is that much was lost in translation

Tagore wrote Gitanjali in 1910, received the Nobel Prize three years later. A polymath whose influence on Indian culture and Indian nationalism was vast - out of fashion perhaps his poetry lives on. 




Here is a fragment from song offering number 62.
"When I kiss your face to make you smile, my darling, I surely understand what the pleasure is that streams from the sky in the morning light, and what delight that is which the summer breeze brings to my body - when I kiss you to make you smile."

Saturday, 1 March 2014

LIVING BY DESIGN: Boudin

Stéphane Boudin, who died in 1967 was the President of Maison Jansen the Parisian Interior Decoration firm founded in 1880. 
Mrs Charles Wrightsman - Palm Beach Living Room
Famous in England for the decoration of Leeds Castle in Kent for Lady Baillie and Henry Channon in Belgrave Square., London, SW1 - in the USA for his work for Jacqueline Kennedy at The White House, Washington DC, and the fabled philanthropist Mrs Charles Wrightsman, in Palm Beach and New York


Classical style, rigorous with emphasis on the best French furniture, very good pictures, beautifully bound books and 'objets de vertu', created a luxuriousunmistakable atmosphere of sophistication. 

Perpetuated by Henri Samuel who started his career with Boudin and became the doyen of this high style for decades.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

PEOPLE I Admire - Christiane Amanpour

I hugely admire Christiane Amanpour (CNN), forthright, a melodious voice, well briefed natch but convincing on screen. Her personality and her looks are outstanding in the world of reportage where jabber jabber predominates - she is a beacon. 

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

LIVING BY DESIGN: Zaha Hadid

Zaha Hadid's talent simmered for years and then there was an explosion of buildings thanks be to an architects who is both innovative and a life enhancer

Sunday, 23 February 2014

COMMENT - Tate Britain, London

Tate Britain at Millbank in London – extensively refurbished, more places to eat!  Very well done EXCEPT for the lights on the stairs and lobbies, the most mundane milk glass balls, surely the budget could have run to have hanging lights designed?  There are enough talented designers in this country. Admittedly on a very grey day, the lighting in the galleries was poor. The pictures, whether of the 1940’s or the 1600’s look FLAT, rather depressing - not so the Turners or a glowing Howard Hodgkins. 

Another exception - Henry Moore’s monumental sculptures, a room dedicated to him has pale lavender/blue walls – they look great.