Thursday, June 26th 2014
The Sainsbury Centre resides on the campus of the University of East Anglia which is some distance outside the town – see above map, and click for a live Google Map.
Happily, for those arriving in Norwich by train, as we did, there is a convenient way to travel on to the University campus: the 25 and 25A bus routes link the station and the campus.
Once on the campus, the art gallery is not hard to find. It somewhat resembles an aircraft hangar or some other large utilitarian building. It was designed (if that’s the right word) by Sir Norman Foster and was completed in 1978. It was given Grade II* state in 2012, which I find quite incomprehensible.
We entered and approached the reception/information desk. The staff were friendly and helpful enough until we asked if we might take photos. This question seemed to cause confusion. Telephone calls were made and at last the disappointing decision was vouchsafed to us: no photos of the exhibits were permitted, just general views of the gallery.
I have visited some beautiful art galleries in my time where I would be happy to photograph the building as well as the art, for example the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in Glasgow (see Glasgow 2012 – Day 3), but this tin can of a place was not going to inspire me. I took the above photo just to have something to show for our visit.
The exhibition we had come to see was Sense and Sensuality: Art Nouveau 1890-1914. This made our trip worthwhile and we saw and enjoyed some very beautiful and historically interesting artworks. Of course, I cannot show you anything of what we saw for the reason explained above, frustrating as that is. While we were there, we looked at the rest of the exhibits, a mixture of art of different periods, some so old as to qualify as archaeological specimens as well. Nothing, however, could top the exquisite Art Nouveau collection.
As a sort of consolation prize, I can show you some of the pieces of sculpture that dot the lawns around the campus. Above is the catchily entitled Two piece reclining figure, No 3 by Henry Moore. Of course, whether or not this is a consolation will depend on whether you like the sort of sculptures on show. All are by Henry Moore, not by my choice but because that was what there was.
I don’t know what you think of Henry Moore’s sculpture. It puzzles a lot of people and all I can say is that I almost like a few of his pieces but in general he leaves me cold. On the other hand, he has become so well known that we no longer feel the “shock of the new” when we see sculptures by him. They’re beginning to blend into the environment, as it were. Above is Reclining figure, dated 1956-62, and below is another view of the same piece.
One of the advantages of sculptures is that if they are of stone or bronze, they can quite happily reside outside in the open air. In this way they become part of the landscape and people can interact with them. An outside setting can enhance the sculpture or give it a new meaning.
To refresh ourselves we went to the gallery cafe which looks out onto a lawn. There I spied yet another sculpture by Moore and went out to photograph it. This one is called Draped reclining woman (there seems to be something of a theme here) and it is, of course, also by Henry Moore. Before I went out to take my photo, the lawn was empty of people. Then, I suddenly noticed the rabbits.
On the lawn was a crowd of rabbits, hopping about grazing, obviously used to doing so despite the proximity of humans. This is something I have seen on other university campuses. Nonetheless, something spooked the rabbits and with flashes of their white tails they disappeared into the hedge. When I went out to take my photo, there were just two left but one of these also sidled away leaving the last one. He kept a wary eye on me but didn’t run away. I got as close as I thought I could without scaring him off and then took the above photo.
We caught the bus back to town and, as we had a little time before our train, renewed our acquaintance with parts of Norwich.
Norwich has been an important market town since Norman times when its market was founded. These days its virtually permanent stalls stand in the shadow of the Art Deco City Hall with its tall clock tower. This was completed in 1938 and was opened by George VI.
Rotating our view brings into sight the 15th century Guildhall which was the seat of local government until that role was taken over by the City Hall. The fact that the Guildhall stands on Gaol Hill gives a broad hint as to the layout of the old town.
Norwich has a fine Victorian shopping arcade, called the Royal Arcade, where ladies and gentleman of the dying years of the Victorian era could shop without fear of inclement weather. It was the work, in 1899, of George Skipper, who was born in the full flush of Victoria’s reign (1856) but survived into a very different era, witnessing two World Wars before dying in 1948.
A few years after completing the Arcade, Skipped was responsible for a rather different retail outlet, a department store.
The company called Jarrold & Sons was formed in Woodbridge, Surrey, in the latter part of the 18th century, and moved to Norwich in 1823. They must have prospered because they were able to open this impressive Baroque style store in 1904. Today, neighbouring buildings also bear the name Jarrold and the firm’s future seems as secure as ever.
We now had to return to the handsome Victorian railway station (opened 1886) to catch our train for London. It had been a mixed day. The gallery was a little disappointing (as was the fact we could not take photos) but we had enjoyed and marvelled at the Art Nouveau exhibition. It was also pleasant to renew our acquaintance with a city that we had stayed in on a previous occasion. Norwich is an historic city but it is also a lovely city and we shall certainly return.