Whitechapel: gallery art, street art

After yesterday, we were a little sluggish this morning. Following breakfast at the Glass Works in the N1 Centre, we did our weekly shopping across the road in the supermarket then returned home to put it all away. We needed tea and a little rest after that! By the time we surfaced again, it was the afternoon. How should we spend it?

Whitechapel High Street
Whitechapel High Street
Even here the monstrous Shard obtrudes

As usual, Tigger had an idea and we caught the bus to Whitechapel. Above we are standing in the High Street looking towards the Shard sticking up like a sore thumb on the horizon.

Drinking Fountain
Drinking Fountain
Erected by an unknown donor

Opposite, on the corner of White Church Lane, stands this drinking fountain, though it is no longer functional. There are two inscriptions, one merely factual (“REMOVED FROM OLD CHURCH RAILING AND RE-ERECTED ON PRESENT SITE A.D. 1879”), the other a little more intriguing.

Erected by one unknown
Erected by one unknown…
…yet well known

The second text, presumably the original dedication, reads “ERECTED 1869 BY ONE UNKNOWN YET WELL KNOWN”. What does that mean? The phrase is quoted from the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 6:9, a chapter in which Paul juxtaposes a set of such opposites. Perhaps all it means is that the donor is a man (no doubt it was a man) of faith who preferred to remain modestly anonymous.

Erasmus Weathervane
Erasmus Weathervane
By Rodney Graham for the Whitechapel Gallery

The building for which we were heading is easily identified by the weathervane on its roof. This was made by Vancouver sculptor Rodney Graham for the reopening of the extended Whitechapel Gallery in 2009. Even though the weathervane has been visible for only two years, stories already abound as to its meaning and the identity of the backwards-facing rider. I also note references to a similar or identical weathervane in Vancouver and am unsure whether this one is a copy, a reworking or even that original weathervane.

A conservative interpretation of the work, relying on the artist’s own indications, is as follows. The figure on the horse is the Renaissance religious humanist scholar Erasmus, author of a well known book Moriae Encomium, translated variously as In Praise of Folly or The Praise of Folly. The sculpture refers to a myth or legend that Erasmus wrote the book during a journey on horseback. The backward-facing posture might be taken either as a graphic symbol of Folly (it is surely foolish to ride a horse backwards) or as an indication of Erasmus’ happy absorption in his work, uncaring of the mundane details of the journey. Either way, it is a striking piece of work and one that seems apt to become the Gallery’s icon.

The extended Whitechapel Gallery
The extended Whitechapel Gallery
It incorporates the Passmore Edwards Whitechapel Free Library

The original Whitechapel Gallery appears under its name on the left and this is still the entrance. It has been extended by absorbing the Passmore Edwards Whitechapel Free Library building. The Gallery opened in 1902 and the library in 1892. Both are Grade II listed buildings. (Needless to say, the tube station entrance was added later.)

Blue plaque and roundel
Blue plaque and roundel
Two pieces of history

Of the above artefacts, the blue plaque is self-explanatory and is a modern addition to the station wall while the Underground roundel is itself a historical object. This form of the famous roundel was designed by Edward Johnson and was in use from about 1919. It was replaced after the Second World War by the simplified roundel that we are familiar with today. This one at Aldgate East station is therefore an interesting survival.

Gallery lobby
Gallery lobby
Photography allowed here but nowhere else

Admission to Whitechapel Gallery is free but photography is not allowed in the exhibition galleries though you are allowed to take photos in the lobby. I took one photo, the one above, “for reference purposes”.

The Gherkin
The Gherkin
Seen from Osbourn Road down an alley

After visiting the Gallery, we went for a walk in the Whitechapel area. We walked up Osbourn Road where I spotted the Gherkin, seen in the space between buildings made by an alley.

Brick Lane
Brick Lane
The famous centre for Indian cuisine

Osbourn Road leads to Brick Lane, the famous Road packed with Indian restaurants. If you enjoy Indian cuisine, this is a good place to go, especially in the evening when all the restaurants are open. The Road’s reputation has suffered in recent years from aggressive canvassing on the part of restaurant agents. This became such a problem that the local council has imposed massive fines on this activity. In all the time we were in the Road, no one approached us, so perhaps the policy has been effective.

Moorish Market
Moorish Market
An architectural triumph but a financial disaster

We had come to the intriguingly named Fashion Street to see this building. It occupies the entire south side of the street and was a bold plan when conceived early in the 20th century. Its Moorish-inspired design perhaps seems less exotic today than it would when it was built.

Brick and terra cotta
Brick and terra cotta
Arched windows and graceful columned bays

Abraham Davis took a lease on the site in 1905, intending to build and let out for rent two covered arcades with cross-passages comprising 250 lock-up premises and accompanying facilities, hoping to attract local traders. What was completed was called the Fashion Street Arcade and contained 63 units. The project failed through insufficient take-up and Davis was evicted in 1909 for non-payment of rent. Today the arcade is occupied by a number of businesses.

Tiny world
Tiny world
Complete with shadows

Fashion Street is a place of graffiti (though some might call it wall art). To be honest, I do not approve of graffiti whether done by an amateur with a spray can or a popular artist such as Banksy. Graffiti degrades the environment and makes it ugly. However, graffiti is a fact of life and has to be taken into account if you want to faithfully reflect your world. I was photographing the doorway when Tigger pointed out the tiny figures at bottom right. No more than a few inches high, they are expertly painted, down to the fictitious but realistic shadows. Intriguing.

Long-handled roller
Long-handled roller
Precarious painter

In White’s Row, I spotted this pair carrying out a precarious painting job with a roller on a long handle. They noticed me taking pictures but reacted with good humour.

Tenter Ground
Tenter Ground
Part of London’s Huguenot history

It’s an ordinary-looking London backstreet, apart from the strange name, Tenter Ground. The street has been built on open land used by Huguenot weavers who set up here in the 17th century. In order that the new cloth dried flat, it was stretched taut while wet onto frames called tenters. The street name recalls the industry and those French immigrants who brought their valuable skills to Britain.

Providence Row Night Refuge
Providence Row Night Refuge
A non-sectarian charity founded in 1860

The Reverend Daniel Gilbert founded the Providence Row Night Refuge and Home and Convent of Mercy in 1860. This building was completed in 1868 as a Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. It provided accommodation for 300 homeless women and children and 50 men. Having closed in the 1990s, it has been converted into student accommodation.

Christ Church Spitalfields
Christ Church Spitalfields
A famous view along Brushfield Street

We walked on through Spitalfields and crossed Brushfield Street which runs along in front of Spitalfields Market. I took this photo looking back towards Christ Church Spitalfields with its characteristic spire.

Liverpool Street Station
Liverpool Street Station
Quieter than weekdays but still busy

We finished the day with coffee at Caffè Nero beside Liverpool Street Station. I took the above photo while passing through the upper gallery. It is a spacious, airy station but still becomes crowded during weekdays.

It had been a relatively short expedition in an area known to us that we visit often but we still managed to find some new points of interest. History, it seems, lies just below the surface in London and a little scratch can often revealed its traces.

Faces at a window
Faces at a window
In Fashion Street

Copyright © 2011 SilverTiger, https://tigergrowl.wordpress.com, All rights reserved.

About SilverTiger

I live in Islington with my partner, "Tigger". I blog about our life and our travels, using my own photos for illustration.
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2 Responses to Whitechapel: gallery art, street art

  1. WOL says:

    Isn’t Spitalfields where a medieval plague cemetery was unearthed? I seem to recall seeing a television program to that effect. Re: “it was stretched taut while wet onto frames called tenters.” — I believe that is where the expressing “being on tenterhooks” comes from.
    Whitechapel seems to have been rehabilitated since the late 19th century when it was made notorious for something besides art galleries.

    • SilverTiger says:

      Correct on both counts. The origin of the phrase “on tenter hooks” to express anxiety or (literally) suspense comes from the stretching of new cloth.

      There is indeed a plague pit in Spitalfields but also in a number of other places. For example, when we travel south from Angel on the tube, just after the first stop the tube descends then rises again. This is to avoid a plague pit which it was thought safer not to disturb.

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