A Week in London

It was a busy week last week.  I probably said it before and will inevitably say it again, there is so much to see and do in London.  Tuesday, I went to the Royal Academy of Arts located in the Burlington building on Piccadilly.  It was a rainy day and the museum/exhibit was crowded!

Rather than presenting the bronze statues in chronological order, the statues were presented by groups – figures, animals, heads, objects (bowls, vessels, mirrors, etc), reliefs and gods.  I learned much about bronze and its use in sculpturing.  Bronze has been around for thousands of years and is highly durable.  This exhibit had statues from 3500 BC to 2012!  Isn’t that just amazing???

Upon entering the exhibit, in the center of the room, dramatically exhibited in soft lighting was the Dancing Satyr statue from Greece, second half of the 4th century BC.  It shows a figure running or hopping on one leg, which is how it would have been displayed so many years ago.  Having such a sculpture balance on one leg is only possible with the use of bronze as a medium.  With other material, say marble or granite, there would have had to be some kind of base to support the statue. In 1998, this statue was found by a fisherman off the coast of Sicily.  How fortunate that this graceful work of art is no longer lost.

When working with bronze, the artist has a greater ability to show details of muscles or expressions on human figures for example.  In looking at the various pieces on display, I felt that some of the statues were so real that they would start walking toward me in any moment.

Chariots of the Sun which is estimated to be about 3500 years old was another favorite of mine in the exhibit. It was found in a peat bog in Denmark and is considered to be the best northern European bronze age sculpture.  It is believed to have been used as some type of calendar.  I just think that it is remarkable how they were able to design a figure that really represented a horse during that time.

Bronze has been used all over the world. They had art pieces not only from Europe but from Asia and Africa, as well.  Many of the techniques used in casting items from bronze are still used today.  I have a whole new appreciation for this art form.

Italian artist Giovanni Francesco Rustici (1457-1554) was on display here. He was considered one of the best sculptures during the Renaissance period and was associated with Leonardo da Vinci.  Another well-known Italian artist displayed was Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455).  Picasso’s Baboon and Young was in the animal section and Henri Matisses’s near-abstract monoliths were displayed in the Relief Exhibits, along with ancient works from Italy and Nigeria.  So, there was a variety of bronze work over the centuries from a variety of well-known and unknown artist.
It was a nice exhibit but way too crowded. Sometimes, it was difficult to even get close enough to read the description of the art!

Human figures have been the most popular subject for bronze sculptures however I really liked the animal figures that were on display.  The simplicity of the Islamic lion from southern Italy in the late 11th century is one of the examples.  In a similar style, from 16th century Nigeria were leopards. Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Indian statue of Nandi, the happy bull from the 1200 for the god Shiba.  All were so simplistically done they were elegant.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention Il Porcellino Piglet by the artist Tacca done in 1634.  It was like seeing an “old friend” again.  We saw this statue in Florence, Italy in the market area.  People rub his snout to ensure a return trip to Florence and a coin in his mouth, to fall in the grate below, for good luck.

An incredible discovery in 2004, was Sofia, Bulgaria’s King Seuthes III’s bronze head sculpture from the late 4th century or early 3rd century BC.  This image still had the alabaster eyes intact with copper eyelashes.  Doesn’t it look like he is about ready to say something to you?  Imagine that this was done so many, many years ago!

I left the exhibit around 5PM and being the time of year, it was dark.  It is so nice to walk along the streets that are all decked out in Christmas lights.  It is so festive!  My walk home took me near Hyde Park where I discovered that they have a “Winter Wonderland” Festival.  There is a Christmas market with rows of booths selling a variety of gifts for someone special in your life, food booths to get a warm drink of hot chocolate or mulled wine or something more substantial to eat.  Then, there is the carnival with rides. It is a very festive place, even on a dreary night like Tuesday was!

Wednesday, the Victoria and Albert Museum offer lunchtime lectures for free.  Each week is a different subject and I have been trying to attend as many as possible. Currently, the V&A has an exhibit of Hollywood Costumes.  The lecture this week was about the organizing that went into presenting this exhibit.   It took 5 years and all of the items on display are from loans from private collectors.

During the 1970s and 1980s, many of the major studios’ auctioned these costumes.  Today, they are trying to buy them back!  Keith Lodwick presented the lecture and was the assistant curator, who helped with the exhibit.  He had some wonderful stories to share about how they acquired various pieces.  It was interesting to learn that the costumes are not well made at all and it is a challenge to put them on display.  He said that various pieces, from different collectors, were donated in order  to present the complete costume. An example of this was Charlie Chaplins suit, bowler hat, shoes and cane came from various collectors.

Another great story was about Dorothy’s dress from the Wizard of Oz.  One day, out of the blue, Mr. Lodwick received an email asking if he would be interested in having the dress to display.  Of course, he would….this is one of the classic movies and everyone recognizes the dress that Judy Garland wore.  He said that the instructions to see it were all very clandestine.  He and his colleagues was instructed to come to Temple Street Tube station with their passports on June 10 at 10:30 in the morning.  The arrived and were met by the assistant of the owner of the dress.  From there, they went to bank on Fleet street where they presented their passports for identification before being accompanied to the vaults below to open the security box that the dress is stored in.  Finally, a large box was brought out, the tons of tissue paper was removed and there was the dress from 1939.

Mr. Lodwick asked how the dress came to be in a bank in London.  The owner is a huge fan of the Wizard of Oz.  Former actress, Debbie Reynolds, had collected over 3,000 costumes, the dress was among them; and in 2011, she put her collection up for auction.  The current owner started bidding on the dress at the auction, however, someone else was very interested in the dress and at one point, she dropped out of the bidding.  She was disappointed but felt it wasn’t meant to be hers.  The following week, she and her husband were celebrating her birthday and he gave her a big box all wrapped up.  You guessed it, it was the dress.  At the time, because they were bidding either over the phone or the internet, they didn’t know they were bidding against each other!

What would the dress be without the ruby slippers?  Those are on display as well but they are not the originals.  However, the shoes on display were made by the same company who made Judy Garland’s ruby slippers!

I have yet to see the exhibit.  Personally, I don’t know if I want to see it badly enough to pay the $25 for the ticket.  If I go, it might be after the holiday season.  It was an interesting discussion and very well presented.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the Medieval and Renaissance section of the museum.  In college, I took several courses and really enjoyed the art and history from these eras, especially the Renaissance.  I took several notes but have decided to just write those down in a separate journal for my own personal use.  (I can hear the sighs of relief!!!)

Thursday, was a visit to the National Art Gallery to hear the lunchtime lecture on the painter and sculpture, Degas.  Many of you might be familiar with Degas’ work.  He has many paintings of ballerinas and a sculpture of a ballerina that is a very famous piece.  Collins Wiggins, the head of the Education department for the museum gave the lecture.

It was very interesting.  He started by saying that he believe Degas was the best sculpture of the 19th century, better than Rodin.  I don’t know if I would agree with that statement.  The gist of the lecture was how Degas used photos as a reference when painting.  Through the use of photography, he was able to present horses running properly instead of the front and hind legs, completely off the ground, stretched out in front of them.  His picture, False Start, from 1869 is a good example of this.

After spending much time studying Eadweard Muybridge’s series of photographs of a horse running, Degas had a better understanding of how to draw them.  In 1877-78, Muybridge was a pioneer in using the camera to catch animals in motion.

Degas used photographs of models to refer to when painting, especially if he had the live model in a pose that was difficult to hold.  An example of this is his painting of The Bather.  He said that he has tried to have models hold this position for art classes and the angle of the right arm, while holding the towel with the left arm is next to impossible for anyone to hold for any length of time.

Another use of the photos was an understanding that when something was in motion that it might be slightly blurred.  Or, if a photo was taken at a distance, the subject might not be clear.  Mr. Wiggins used the example of an winter scene that Degas had painted of a street in Paris in 1874.  Degas displayed this piece of art at the Impressionist Exhibit.  It was as if he was painting the street while looking out the window from the sixth floor.  The people were represented by small smudges of black.  In the lecture, he pointed out the Impressionist painting was not telling a story by realistic images but that Impressionist paintings were “pure optical reality”.  It allowed the viewer to decide what he is looking at.  This is what Degas was doing with the painting that I was describing earlier.  By the way, the critics didn’t like the painting.  They referred to the people as “black paint licking canvas”!

The lecture was over too soon but Mr Wiggins gave me a new appreciation for Degas’ work.  The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering through the museum looking at the art work from the 1250 to the 1450s.  It was mostly religious paintings, as was the main subject of that time period, from Italy and some from the Netherlands.

My week ended, on Saturday, by going to a Christmas Fair at the Physic Garden nearby my apartment and then walking 20 minutes towards Victoria Station to see the musical Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace Theater.  I went to the matinee and as always, thoroughly enjoyed it.  Kaine Ward is the 12 year old boy who is currently playing Billy Elliot.  I thought is was quite a demanding role as he danced ballet, jazz and tap.  There is one scene that he is dreaming of being a ballet star when he is older.  At one point, they put young Billy on a cable so he can “fly” through the air, which includes a great spin.  This young kid comes down from this long spin and continues to dance.  I was amazed!  He is very talented.

It was a good week in London!

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