Saturday, May 23rd 2015
Dulwich Picture Gallery, one of my favourite art galleries, is hosting an exhibition that we would like to see. We have arranged to meet friends at the gallery to see the exhibition together. The exhibition is entitled simply Ravilious, and features a collection of works by that artist.
Eric William Ravilious (because his name is so unique, he is generally referred to simply as ‘Ravilious’), lived from 1903 to 1942. His paintings, mainly water colours, depict scenes from life and the countryside in a style that once seen is always henceforth recognized as his. Ravilious was employed as a war artist during World War Two and was presumed dead after the aircraft in which he was travelling disappeared off the coast of Iceland.
As is often the case, photography was not allowed in this special exhibition so I cannot show you any of the paintings we saw. For that reason, I will say only a little about the exhibition. I found the paintings ‘good’ and could admire the technique and the artist’s love of of detail (no ‘abstract’ rubbish here!) but I did not feel any particular connection with them. Critics like to waffle about Ravilious’s allegedly ‘magical’ and ‘mystic’ portrayal of things, something that I did not feel myself though I admire the naturalistic, if also stylized, picturing of scenes, events and people. When I look at a scene painted by Ravilious, no matter how lively it is, I feel as though there is an invisible screen or barrier between me and it that prevents me from entering fully into it. It is as though, despite their realism, they are one step back from reality.
Unable to take photos of the art work, I photographed other things, in particular a walk through Dulwich Park with our friends. This is a very fine park and well worth a visit. I will show you some of those photos. If you want to see examples of Ravilious’s paintings, you will find some here (the Tate) and at various other locations.
All but two of these photos were taken in Dulwich Park and the two odd ones out sit at the beginning and end like bookends. The first, above, shows Blackfriars Railway Bridge. Until recently it was just a bridge, though an important one, carrying trains over the Thames. It was remodelled and the platforms extended onto it in order to increase capacity on what was becoming an overcrowded line. Visible are two of the red-painted support columns of the 1864 bridge, left in place when the bridge, no longer strong enough to support heavier trains, was demolished. They make excellent rest and observation posts for pigeons and gulls.
We entered Dulwich Park from College Road where the Picture Gallery resides (see map of the park here) and made our way first to the lake.
The lake attracts water fowl, of course, and these are used to people passing by or stopping to look at them and perhaps feed them. Coots are fairly shy birds and I didn’t try to get too close to this one though s/he showed no alarm at my approach. Coots do not have webbed feet but separate toes. These are flattened and broadened and despite the lack of webs, an angry coots can work up quite a speed on the water.
Nearby was this female duck taking her ease in the undergrowth beside the lake. Less nervous than the coot, she gave me a rather quizzical stare, perhaps hoping I had some food to share. Female ducks tend to be dowdy compared with the show-off males, no doubt so that they are less obvious when sitting on the nest, so it’s not always easy to know which species they belong to though I think this one is a Mallard duck, the most common duck on lakes and ponds in the UK.
I became aware of a flurry of interest further along the path and when I went to investigate found it was caused by two families of Canada geese with goslings. Despite their name, these handsome birds are resident here and are frequently found in parks with lakes, and along rivers and canals. There are now so many of them that some people consider them a pest. Who, though, could entertain hostile feelings towards these parents and young?
It was noticeable that though the females and the goslings were busily grazing, the males were standing alert and watching, ready to defend then from attack. The threat is real, not least from dogs that people unthinkingly let off the leash in the park. The male stretches his neck upwards to full extent to get the best possible view over the surrounding land.
Though still dressed in down and having stubby little wings, the goslings were very active, busily grazing among the grass.
I was concentrating on one particular family under the watchful eye of the male. Eventually he came over to let me know that my attentions were not welcome. I am not particular afraid of geese but I took a step back to give them some room. That seemed to satisfy Mr Goose.
Because this is a bank holiday weekend, part of the park has been given over to a fun fair, not any old fun fair, though, but a Victorian Fun Fair. (After nearly a century of neglect and dismissal, the Victorian era seems to be catching people’s attention, though how accurate the resulting representations are is another story.)
Even on its own and without any other entertainments, whether Victorian or modern, the carousel has remained popular. It may seem strange that such a simple device should continue to attract children (and adults too), generation after generation.
Perhaps it is its very simplicity and nursery rhyme appearance with galloping horses and mythical creatures to ride that exercises its charm.
I am not sure how Victorian the roundabout and the wheel are but surely the bouncy castle, seen in the background, is a modern invention. But let’s not be fussy and accept that what matters is that people should have fun, that being the whole point of a fun fair.
An important part of fairground fun is sound and music. Nearly every stall and ride has its own music. These days this is often supplied electronically but a few music machines still exist like this one. How it is driven I do not know. It is possibly a modern machine with an antique mask but the music emanating from it sounded authentic.
I spotted this radiator cap mascot on a van. One of our friends identified it for me. It is the cartoon character ‘Old Bill’ from the First World War, dreamed up by Bruce Bairnsfather. Little known now, ‘Old Bill’ was a popular morale booster in his day. (More about him here.)
Leaving the fun fair, we continued through the park. There were several paths to follow but we were heading for Lordship Lane where we hoped to catch a bus.
We were captivated by the banks of flowers in a mixture of bright colours.
Nor we were the only ones: the flowers were full of bees collecting pollen. I tried to photograph some of them but it was difficult because they were very active, never still for a moment, and by the time I pressed the shutter release, the bee was often nowhere to be seen!
Other less popular, but equally interesting, insects were also present and could be photographed if I was quick enough.
The park has other denizens too. Can you spot one in the above photo? Here’s a clue: what’s green, can fly and is a recent immigrant to the UK? Look in the centre of the photo.
Dulwich Park has a colony a parakeets as do most parks of any size now. Originally, a few individuals bought as cage birds escaped from their captors and established themselves as a feral species. Since then, their numbers have greatly increased. They are small and harmless to humans but what their impact is on the environment, I do not know. Or why this one chose to sit here quickly, away from its companions, casting the occasional glance at me over its shoulder. Personally, I would rather that birds fly free than live in cages but I fear that parakeets may become so numerous that steps will be taken to control their numbers.
We took a bus to Forest Hill from where we would go our separate ways. First, though, we stopped for tea at the Capitol. This handsome building looks like a cinema for the very good reason that it was built for exactly that purpose. It opened its doors to the public in 1929 with a screening of the silent Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer film, Man, Woman and Sin (1927). Changing its name to ABC in 1968, the cinema soldiered on until 1973. It was left empty and its fate remained uncertain until 1978 when it became a bingo hall. This incarnation ended in 1996, after which it once more remained empty until 1991 when the Wetherspoons pub chain took it over and gave it back its old name, The Capitol. Uncertainty is once more its lot as Wetherspoons has announced that it is to close the pub. As it is a Grade II listed building, there is hope that it can be saved. Let us hope that a good use can be found for it that also suits its dignity.