Monday, August 22nd 2016
We are leaving tomorrow to spend a few days in another city (more of that soon) and so today we thought we had better take things easy. We started with a little street art ramble around Camden Town and then paid a visit to one of our favourite museums, the Victoria and Albert, known fondly to its fans as ‘the V&A’ (‘the vee and ay’).
Street artists had been busy in Camden town and we toured the usual spots that we have come to know as likely places to find new work. Below I include half a dozen examples of what we saw. A lot of street art is signed these days, at least with the artists’ street names, making it easy to ascribe paintings to their makers. Collaborative works to which two or more artists have contributed are not uncommon and working out who did which part of a painting can pose an interesting challenge.
I have indicated the names of the artists without any further comment. (Click their names for more details.)
We walked along Kentish Town Road and this crosses the Regent’s Canal. From the road bridge you have a good view of the nearby lock. This is Lock No. 3, the Kentish Town Lock.
As a means of allowing barges to pass from one section to another of the canal where the water level is different in each section, the concept of the lock is simple and logical. The engineering is a different matter altogether, because the lock gates have to stand massive pressure as the locks fill and empty and yet must be easy to operate by hand.
In the above photo, you can see a barge in the background. We noticed that it was preparing to move through the lock so we stopped to watch. I took 7 photos which I have combined into a time-lapse Gif of the barge’s passage through the lock.
What would happen if you were to open the wrong gate? It is a virtue of the system that this is impossible to do because the weight of the water on the gate that must remain closed prevents it being opened. A gate can be opened only when the water level is the same on either side of it.
The Victoria and Albert Museum was one of the many offsprings of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and was known as the Museum of Manufactures, echoing the theme of the Exhibition, when it opened in 1852 in Marlborough House. It soon moved to Somerset House and then, five years later, found a permanent home in its current location. This was Brompton Park House which was extended and modified to receive it. Queen Victoria herself opened the new museum in June 1857 and since then it has continued to develop as one of London’s best loved museums.
Admission is free (though you are invited to place a suggested contribution in one of the several donation boxes) and photography is allowed. Like most of London’s museums, the collection is so large that you need to visit the V&A again and again in order to take it all in. Below I present just three of the objects we saw.
This highly decorative ceramic fountain was made by Mintons in 1877 and exhibited in the Paris International Exhibition of 1878 for which it was undoubtedly made in order to demonstrate the firm’s prowess in the manufacture of pieces decorated by inlaying different clays. It was possibly the largest piece ever made by this process.
I have mentioned elsewhere that I feel a certain fascination for the life and person of Queen Victoria. She was no doubt a complex personality and that personality is today hard to discover, girt about as it is by myth and legend and biased opinions. She must, I think, be one of Britain’s most frequently portrayed monarchs as well as the first to be photographed. Many towns and cities possess statues of the Queen in later life, perhaps sculpted for her jubilee, showing her solidly robed and with imperial mien. There also exist portraits done earlier in her life in which the freshness of youth lends a liveliness and spontaneity. The above pictured bust by Johann Jacob Flatters (1786-1845) is not one such: it is highly idealized and I do not recognize the features from any other portrait I have seen of the young queen. Did Victoria like it? We shall probably never know…
Some older readers may remember seeing in guest bedrooms a marble-topped stand with a bowl and jug upon it. This used to be standard equipment in the days before bedrooms were provided with washbasins with plumbed-in hot and cold water or en suite bathrooms. Few, though, will have seen anything quite as elaborate as this remarkable example.
It was made in 1880 and was designed by William Burges (1827-81) for the guest bedroom of his own house. The design theme is based on Dante’s poem Vita Nova and suggests a garden full of life.
Incorporated within the structure is a tank to hold water, obviating a need for the traditional hot water jug. Water enters the bowl through a tap or faucet fashioned to represent what I think is an ibex coming to drink from a pool.
The designer considered the natural veins of colour of the marble to be sufficient decoration for the wash basin but did add a further detail: a silver fish. This beautiful and striking piece of work would grace any bedroom and shows that the Victorians loved colour and elegant design as much as we do.
The building which the V&A occupies has its own set of beautiful and fascinating features. For example, I was intrigued by this pair of circular interior windows aligned with a glazed external window, bringing daylight across two rooms.
Or how about this ceiling dome that brings in daylight but also contributes a feeling of space and airiness. With a substantial permanent collection and a rolling programme of special exhibitions, the V&A is always worth a visit.