Monday, May 25th 2015
I had never thought of the art movement called Impressionism as having been “invented” but this is just what is postulated by a current exhibition at the National Gallery entitled Inventing Impressionism. We went along to take a look. I am still not sure that “invention” is the right concept to apply but, by whatever means it happened, Impressionism came into being and remains one of the most important art movements of modern times, not least because the public finds it easier to relate to paintings by Monet, Renoir, Sisley et al than to those emanating from some of the more modern movements. The exhibition teaches us that a central figure in the development of Impressionism was the Parisian art dealer, Paul Durand-Ruel who bought and exhibited works by the soon to be famous painters while they were still young and controversial.
I enjoyed the exhibition and learnt from it – the best combination. It was interesting to see so many famous – and some not-so-famous – works gathered together in one place. I discovered that some of the artists, Monet for example, were more versatile than I had previously understood. We are continually shown their “typical” paintings and do not always have the opportunity of seeing those that do not find their way so easily into the art encyclopaedias. If I have to choose a favourite, it will be a boringly conventional one: Pierre-Auguste Renoir continually surprised and charmed me.
Photography was not allowed, of course, and would in any case have been difficult because the place was crowded, as was to be expected on a bank holiday, and it was not always easy to get a clear view of a painting. It was well worth waiting, however, and the paintings shone in a way that no reproduction in a book ever can.
Traipsing round an exhibition such as this, especially when there is limited seating, can be tiring. Afterwards, we felt as though we had been on a long ramble and our main thought was to find somewhere where we could sit down and refresh ourselves. We walked around Trafalgar Square rather than through it because it was crowded, and found comfy seats in Caffè Nero. Before leaving, I went out and took a picture of Trafalgar Square, London’s famous landmark and always impressive.
At bottom left, you can see some road cones. There was some event going on in town that caused some of the roads to be closed. That was quite good for us because it turned those roads into pedestrian areas where we could wander back and forth without worrying about traffic. There were also some drummers making a fearful racket and I never did find out what that was for.
From Nero, we walked along Cockspur Street where, at numbers 14-16, is a building that once belonged to the P&O shipping line. Before that company inherited it, the owners had been the Hamburg America Line but this company was deprived of it and possession transferred to P&O as part of war reparations following the 1914-18 conflict. It was P&O who commissioned the elaborate bronze sculpture shown above. The female figures represent Britain (on the right) and the Orient, the two terminal points of P&O’s route.
We walked along Pall Mall and peeped into the Royal Opera Arcade, built in 1818 to a design by John Nash. The Georgians and Victorians enjoyed their arcades and this is one of four in just this area alone (see Four arcades and some portraits).
Enjoying the quiet and the lack of traffic occasioned by closure of the roads, I stepped onto the carriageway of Pall Mall to take this photo. A moment later I essayed another one and was almost hit by a speeding vehicle: the roads were open once more!
We arrived at Waterloo Place where stands this group of memorials to the Crimean War (1853-6). It consists of the central war memorial by John Bell, and personal memorials to Florence Nightgale, by Arthur George Walker, and Sidney Herbert, by John Henry Foley. Herbert was War Secretary during this conflict and was responsible for, among other things, sending Florence Nightingale to the war zone. Perhaps this is why one of the plaques on his monument shows her visiting wounded troops.
As well as arcades, there are many courts and passages in the area, some large and open, others narrow and seedy, but all with a history.
Angel Court is such a one though it might be called a passage rather than a court as it has entrances at either end. At the far end there is a pub whose customers use the end of the passage as a covered place in which to smoke (smoking being banned in pubs and other enclosed public places). It is no longer obvious that a theatre called St James’s Theatre, once stood here within. Oscar Wilde’s plays Lady Windermere’s Fan and The Importance of being Earnest both received their first performance here. Despite such historical connections, the theatre was demolished, to great protest, in 1957.
Little of interest remains there now among the modern buildings except for some memorial plaques by Edward Bainbridge Copnall. One, the largest, is quite difficult to photograph because access to it is by a narrow entrance. It is not possible to stand in front of it and photograph the whole of it. Forgive me if I bore you by explaining how I overcame the problem.
The only way to photograph the whole relief with a normal camera lens is to stand to one side as in the above picture. This shows the whole thing but subject to uncomfortable perspective effects.
My next attempt was to photograph the relief in parts and then to stitch the photos together later with software. This works but because of the angle at which the photos had to be taken, there is still a perspective effect that I would rather eliminate. For stitching, I use Microsoft’s Image Composite Editor (ICE) which has some limited image manipulation functions.
On a second attempt, I was able to select the rotational mode and rotate the photo to make it seem face-on. There is still some distortion, noticeable for example in the spurious curved top of the plaque but the result is surely better than the previous two efforts. ICE is good but has limited facilities and it is to be hoped that Microsoft will develop it further and turn it into a very useful professional tool.
In the middle of the panel there is a full-face close-up of the author of A Picture of Dorian Grey.
At the other end of the court, under an archway, is another relief, this one commemorating the lost St James’s Theatre. To photograph it, you may have to push through the crowd of smokers from the Golden Lion. The plaque shows Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in their famed roles in Shakespeare’s Anthony and Cleopatra. They led a hard fought campaign to save the theatre but, sadly, they lost.