Thursday, January 31, 2019

London: The British Library and St Pancras

It seemed fitting that we should get another look at St. Pancras station, where we had arrived on the Eurostar ten days before. It's a remarkable building.

Having opened in 1868, it was commissioned by the Midlands Railway in 1857 and has been going strong ever since its opening.

The building was bombed in both World War I and II but you'd never know.

There is now a hotel as part of the site. I'm guessing it's not low rent!

The station is a few blocks from the British Library and we enjoyed a lovely walk on yet another beautiful fall day.

Some places don't allow for great photo ops. The British Library was one.

No photos inside the exhibits and even if you could, it was such low light, they wouldn't turn out. So, I can't show you what it was like to see the Monty Python exhibit, Shakespeare's first folio, music written in Handel and Mozart's hands, or the Guttenberg Bible.

Source: Wikipedia

Or Leonardo's drawings...

Source: Wikipedia

...or the Magna Carta...

Source: Wikipedia

...or a wonderful original version of Alice in Wonderland.

Source: Wikipedia

But Rick was happy as a clam because he was able to go into the actual library (versus exhibits) part and check out some maps pertaining to an ancestor, a ship's captain, presumably a slave ship captain, which isn't particularly pleasant to think about.

There is even an Acklin's Island in the Caribbean named for him.

I didn't have my passport with me so I couldn't take advantage of the stacks, but there were loads of other exhibits to enjoy -- and one of the best gift shops ever, so no problems!

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

London: A Palace, A Hotel and a Quirky, Fascinating Museum

We've visited art galleries and palaces, toy shops and antique markets, concerts and churches in these posts. All part of a wonderful holiday in our favorite city! Our time in London was coming to a close and still so much to do, and a couple of things to share before my "travel break" in the next week or so. (Just because I'm remembering and sharing all this doesn't mean life hasn't gone on here with baby grands, cooking classes, art classes and making my home cozy for winter! You're probably ready for a break, too!)

Rick really wanted to see the Goring Hotel -- this is one that holds a warrant to the Queen and the spot where Kate Middleton and her family stayed the night before the Royal Wedding. So we took the tube to Victoria station and en route stopped by Buckingham Palace.

The Queen was in residence, we noted, by the flying of the Royal Standard.

No balcony appearances, though. Oh well...

And alas, no guard to change. We'd seen that before but it's always fun. Only a guard walking about.

But then we heard sounds from down the way and soon a parade of sorts.

It wasn't a long parade... now you see it, now you don't!

But it was followed by the Royal Pooper Scooper. Certainly a nice touch, especially for the tourists!

And shortly after that a carriage drove through the gates. We weren't sure who they were (no one turned about or waved) but we later learned they were either from Malta or Bulgaria. Both attended the palace that day, according to the Court Circular.

"His Excellency Mr. Joseph Cole was received in audience by The Queen today and presented the Letters of Recall of his predecessor and his own Letters of Commission as High Commissioner for the Republic of Malta in London. Her Excellency Mrs. Jacqueline Zaba Nikiema was received in audience by Her Majesty and presented the Letters of Recall of her predecessor and her own Letters of Credence as Ambassador from Burkina Faso to the Court of St. James's."...  The President of the Republic of Bulgaria and Mrs. Radeva visited The Queen this afternoon. The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh were represented by the Lord Taylor of Holbeach (formerly Lord in Waiting to The Queen) at the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life and Work of the Baroness Jowell (formerly Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport) which was held in Southwark Cathedral this morning. The Prince of Wales was represented by the Earl of Rosslyn. The Duke of York was represented by Sir Andrew Cahn. The Princess Royal was represented by the Lord Coe. Princess Alexandra, the Hon. Lady Ogilvy was represented by Mrs. Peter Afia."

(Which sounds to me like all the A-list were being represented by someone else, with the exception of the Queen to the fellow from Malta. But what do I know? Maybe they always have stand-ins.)

It was a short walk to the Goring from there. We contemplated visiting the Royal Mews but settled for the gift shop instead. It was a lovely walk, perfect sunny day.

It's an impressive hotel, located a few blocks from the Palace.

I have to say I loved their flowers.

And no one could say they didn't have their British spirit on display.

The Royal Warrant was on display, too.

Then we went back past the palace and had a lovely walk through Green Park. Which was really more yellow on this October day.

It was time for a foot break (pun not intended, since it wasn't actually broken!) and we enjoyed watching people in the park.

And pigeons too!

I've said it before and will again -- the Brits are wonderful with their green space, which certainly makes massive cities much more inviting -- especially for those who aren't able to drive out to the country so easily!

We hopped the tube and headed to Sir John Soane's House. This is one of those little gems that you sometimes see in guidebooks, but I don't think it gets the press it deserves. They didn't allow pictures within so these are from my postcards or sourced from wikipedia.

Source: Wikipedia

In 1792, Soane, an architect who built the Bank of England and was responsible for modifications to the House of Lords at the Palace of Westminster, along with many other known buildings. He bought, demolished and rebuilt three adjoining houses in Lincoln's Inn Fields in London. The buildings, joined together, would be not only his home but an office and exhibit space for his many collections. This is a view of the gallery.

Source: Wikipedia

Soane was a serious collector of many things but particularly art and antiquities. He kept expanding the house, rebuilding parts and opening up spaces to give him more room for his displays, eventually opening his home to his students at the Royal Academy to assist in their studies.

I wish I could have shown you the sarcophagus of Egyptian king Seti I. It was enormous and housed in the home's crypt. (How many homes do you know with a crypt?) His art collection included works by Turner and Canaletto, among others, and Hogarth's "The Rake's Progress."

"The Rake's Progress" is a series of eight paintings that are kept behind a closed panel but opened to guests at a given time. We were lucky to arrive shortly before the opening and it was quite magnificent.

Source: Wikipedia

But it was also a personal home as well, and the rooms reflect a warmth and charm, despite the size.

To be honest, I didn't want to leave his library.

The home was his gift to the country, negotiated through an Act of Pariliament in 1933 to preserve the house and collection, exactly as it would be at the time of his death and to keep it open and free. The museum is described in the Oxford Dictionary of Architecture as "one of the most complex, intricate, and ingenious series of interiors ever conceived.

And then, a walk back to the tube, a short rest and time for that St. Martin's in the Fields concert I wrote about the other day. A long, good day -- but the next would be our last in this wonderful city.

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Sunday, January 27, 2019

London: National Gallery

As we arrived in the West End, one building you can't miss from Trafalgar Square is the imposing National Gallery. The building is the third to house the National Gallery and was designed by William Wilkins from 1832-1838. There are additions to it that are far more contemporary and even somewhat controversial in design. (By the way, for a great post about Trafalgar Square, visit Mike's A Bit About Britain here. In fact, for anything related to England, make sure you stop at Mike's blog! His posts are terrific, well researched and filled with loads of fun trivia bits you wish you knew before you visited!)

It also houses one of the most magnificent art collections in the world.

One could spend days at the National Gallery. We didn't have that much time, having first enjoyed the guitar exhibit at Canada House. So we opted for some of the classics and older pieces, starting with some of the beautiful religious pieces.

I was sitting down during our trip, Rick wheeling me through, so most of my photos are a tad off kilter, shooting "up" and I don't have all the names of the pieces I'm sharing here, but this is a sample of what we enjoyed.

I particularly liked the colors and delicacy of this one, although that's one pretty ugly baby face and out of proportion to the skinny body. But I do love the fruit.

The goldwork here was tasteful and quite lovely.

Moving forward in time, this is my favorite of all of Leonardo's work, the reason why I wanted to visit the National Gallery the first time in 1973 and the reason I wanted to go back. It is his interpretation of the Madonna with Saint Anne.

The painting is in a small room with another of my favorite Leonardos, The Madonna of the Rocks.

When the large tour group admiring this painting left, I could get a better view!

Just look at that fabulous face!

I should remember who did this and the title -- it's one I've always loved. Laura Ingalls Gunn, feel free to weigh in on any of this. Your art history degree is far more current than my studies long ago!

Another of my favorites is Jan Van Eyck's Marriage of Jan Arnolfini and his Wife. (Also: The Arnolfini Marriage, The Arnolfini Wedding and The Arnolfini Portrait.) I'm pretty sure you can't see this in the photo unless you can click it to original size but if you look at the convex mirror in the back, you see the image from the back of the wedding couple.

It also seemed to attract quite a following. Maybe not Mona Lisa crowds, but certainly seemed to be a favorite of others.

I did find this painting of Saint Barbara dong in 1437 quite different from much of Van Eyck's work and rather enigmatic. The palm branch in her hand indicates her martyrdom.  Although signed and dated on the original frame, it is unknown whether the artist considered it finished. I find it perfect. (Just think of that -- over 500 years old, closer to 600, and still so beautiful.)

Vermeer is a favorite of mine. I'd already seen one of his at Kenwood, again with an instrument. This one spoke to me... did this one.

I don't remember who did this one. We didn't have time for the gift shop but if we had, I would have bought something that featured this painting. The faces are so trusting and you can just feel the relationship.

I'm also fond of the artists from the Netherlands, like Landscape with Travellers and Peasants on a Track, done in 1610 by Jan Brueghel the Elder.

...and this wonderful piece by Hendrick Avercamp. This is the kind of painting that really lets your imagination go. I can envision showing this to a group of writing students and letting them develop stories for one or more of the characters.

And of course there were the Rembrandts. He had quite the section of his portraits. Also from the Netherlands, Rembrandt aspired to paint biblical subjects, considered more prestigious than portraits. But after he settled in Amsterdam he enjoyed tremendous success in portraiture.

He did at least 40 self portraits. We saw one at Kenwood. Here is another...

...and another.

And this is his wife, Saskia.

Much of the rich collection of Impressionist work in England is at the Tate Britain. But here is a VanGogh you may recognize...

...or perhaps you prefer one of his sunflowers.

And of course, there is Monet, painting Paris' Gare St. Lazare.

 We could have gone on and on, enjoying the Turners (they are enormous) and Raphaels, Rubens and Titians. Constables, Gainsboroughs, Renoirs and more. But it was getting dark.

Time to go to the theatre!

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