Landscape Artist, Constellation and Wednesday at V&A

Monday, I attended a lecture on the landscapes of the famous British artist, Turner, Gainsborough and Constable.  It was held at the Royal Academy of Arts which is currently offering an exhibit of their landscapes.  The speaker was Mary Ann Stevens who is the director of library affairs for the Academy.  She was an excellent speaker and really knew her subject.  During the hour that she spoke, she almost gave too much information to process.  This picture is of the ceiling in the room that the lecture was given.  Very ornate, no?

The exhibit is dedicated to the landscapes, of the British Isles, during the period of 1750-1850.  It was during this time that landscape artist began to shift from an idealize landscape in their paintings, to a more realistic representation of what they had actually viewed.

From about the 1660s, it became a tradition for wealthy young men to take a Grand Tour through Europe after finishing their education at Oxford.  This would take them through France and into Italy in search of culture, art and history.  Often, they would commission paintings.  This custom was interrupted when the French Revolution broke out in 1789 and the travel was limited to the British Isles.  Due to this, English landscape and monuments became of interest.  
Ms Stevens mentioned French artists Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorraine, Gaspard Dughet  and Italian artist Salvator Rosa as key landscape artist from the 17th century.  She said that these artist didn’t record the true landscape in their paintings but used it as a tool to instill drama for their subject.  
Most paintings were in the hands of private collectors and it was difficult for an artist to actually see another’s work.  Two forms of art emerged to help disperse works of art…those being prints and watercolor.  
During her talk, she made various references to the Royal Academy of Art that piqued my curiosity to find out more about the R.A., as it is referred to.  I initially thought that it was an art museum.  However, it is actually an art school.  It was established as national art school for the education of artist and a place to exhibit their creations.  The academy was officially established on December 10, 1768, had 34 founding members and allowed for a total membership of 40.  King George III signed the Academy’s charter.  During the 18th and 19th century, the R.A. dominated the English art scene.  Along with being a school of art, it was also a society for artist to oversee the conduct and pricing of established artist. 
On April 25, 1789, the R.A. held its first public exhibition of 136 paintings.  It was known as the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition. Since the inception of this exhibit, it has become an annual event that has run continuously over its 223 year history!  Membership to the Academy is by election and up until the late 1800s, almost every well-known British artist belonged to the Royal Academy or at least displayed his art at one of the exhibits. 
Thomas Gainsborough is one of the founding fathers of the Royal Academy of Art.  He was a portrait and landscape artist.  He is credited to founding the 18th century British Landscape School.  Gainsborough painted romantic landscapes using light to bring attention to the subjects. For example, how light would filter through leaves on a wall of a building.  Many landscape artist had sketch pads that they would “take notes” in when viewing a subject area.  Rarely would the artist sit and copy a landscape. Often, the painting would be a combination of scenes that they had observed in their travels.  In Gainsborough’s case, he sometimes created a landscape with the use of a box using sticks and broccoli for the trees.
J. M. W. Turner was a natural as an artist. He attended the academy at the age of 14 and a year later, he was accepted as a member.  It is Turner who is credited with recording landscapes as they actually are and not to emphasize a historical event.  He is often referred to as the “painter of light” in reference to his use of light to draw the eye to the subject in his paintings.  It is said that his works inspired the Impressionist movement that was dedicated to painting landscapes in their natural light.  He was an oil painter but is also well-known for his watercolors and prints.  Turner worked closely with print makers to get exactly what he wanted to portray in his prints.  His series of prints “The Picturesque Views in England and Wales” made between 1825 and 1830 are considered one of the greatest series of prints ever made.  He collaborated with print maker Charles Heath to make this series from watercolors that he had made while traveling through the British Isles.  
Many artist would carry watercolor sets when they went on they traveled, to record what they had seen.  It is equivalent to our cameras today.  Watercolors were easy to transport and easy to work with.

John Constable was the late bloomer of the group of artist and had to work for his art skills.  His father was a wealthy corn merchant and it was expected that would take over the family business, which he eventually did.   In 1799, when he was 23, he finally convinced his father to let him pursue a career as an artist.  He chose to paint natural scenes to which he had personal and emotional attachments, like scenes from ordinary life or landscapes from the Lake District in England.  He strove to paint the landscape as natural as it appeared.

It was a great introduction to these three artist and the current exhibit which I hope to visit after the holidays.  After attending the lecture, I now have a better understanding of what to look for in each of the works of art on display.

After the lecture, I took my book on Walking Tours of London and did the one on Belgravia, an upscale neighborhood near Victoria Station.  I really enjoyed it because it introduced me to side streets that I would have totally missed had I just been walking through on my own.  I walked past the house that Ian Flemming, the creator of James Bond, lived in from 1936 to 1939.  The pub Plumber’s Arm has been on Lower Belgrave St since the 1820s.  However, it is known for the event of November 7, 1974 when a bloodstained women came racing into the pub screaming that her husband was trying to kill her.  Her husband was John Bingham, the seventh Earl of Lucan and estranged husband of Lady Lucan.  She claimed that he had murdered the nanny.  Unfortunately, the nanny was later found in the basement of the house, near the pub, in the basement.  Later that night, Lord Lucan went to a friend’s house and said that he was passing the house when he saw an intruder attacking his wife.  He rushed in to her aid, slipped on a pool of blood, she ran out into the street screaming “murderer”.  He panicked and ran off.  After that night, Lord Lucas has never been seen again.   No one really knows what happened to him although there are several theories and claims of several sightings of him from around the world.

One of the side streets that my walk took me down was Groom Place.  It is a quiet, cobble stone mews where the coachmen for the grand homes of Belgravia lived.  In an earlier post, I mentioned mews.  They are throughout London and are small, alley like places where, in earlier times, horses and coaches were kept and people lived in the apartments above.  This was the case for the Grooms Place and today, they are still homes but the stable area has been converted to either a garage or as part of the living area.  Nestled among the houses is a small pub called the Horse and Groom and on the corner is a small deli.  I would just love to live in a mews…any mews would do, they are so intimate in such a big city!

Around the corner from Grooms Place was 24 Chapel Street which used to be owned by Brian Epstein, the manager of the Beatles.  He had the launch party for their album “Sargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album in this residence.  There is even a picture of the Beatles in the doorway.  Unfortunately, 3 years later, he was found dead in this house from an apparent drug overdose.  An investigation ruled it an accident but many wondered if it was the stress of managing the Beatles or trying to deal with his homosexuality that might have caused him to commit suicide.

I was directed into another quiet mews area on Wilton row.  This also had a pub from historic times.  It is the Grenadier as you can see, is painted red, white and blue….very patriotic….as is the red sentry box!

That was the walk through Belgravia, an area known for the many embassies located here and upscale homes.  I have walked pass it many times but have never ventured into the mews that my walk took me on today.  So glad I took the hour to do the walk.

My day ended at Harrods.  I was walking down Sloane Street another upscale shopping street and David called.  I was having a difficult time hearing him, so detoured down a side, more quiet street.  I walked along it, talking to David when I came upon Harrods.  Since it didn’t look busy, compared to the other night when I walked by, I decided to go in.  It was busy enough.  Isn’t this Harrod Bear the cutest???  I bought a small gift for my brother….shhhh, don’t tell him!  Then, I made my way home!

Tuesday night, I attended the play Constellation at the Duke of York Theater on St Martins Lane.  I had to walk through Trafalgar Square to get to it.  There is a large Christmas tree near the center of the square.  As I walked pass, I heard carolers.  It was fun to hear the Christmas music and really put a smile on my face….I love Christmas!  The decorations, the music, the meaning…. I could care less about the gifts.  I just love watching Christmas unfold around me!   In the picture that I am sharing, shows the Trafalgar Christmas tree, behind that is Lord Nelson’s statue and way down from the square in the horizon, you can barely make out the outline of the face of Big Ben!  How cool is that?  I mean, I have to pinch myself that I am really living in London. I can hardly believe it!!!

The play was one act with just two actors. It was an interesting concept.  A scenario was introduced and then several endings were acted out. The two characters, Marianne played by Sally Hawkins and Roland, played by Rafe Spall meet at a party.  She is a physicist, he is a bee keeper.  They meet at a party and the same “conversation opener” is said by Marianne with Roland responding in different ways.  It was a love story with a sad ending…no choosing for the audience on that senario.  I enjoyed it but sadly, they used the “F-word” way too many times….heck, once is too many times for me!  The actors were great though and kept the audience attentive for the full hour and ten minutes!

Walking back to my apartment…it is about 45 minutes….three young girls approached me and in broken English, said they were lost.  They were college friends, from Italy, in London for a vacation.  They were trying to find Buckingham Palace.  Heck, I was walking right by there.  I just think it is so much fun to be able to tell a tourist with direction to go in to get to a destination….and I am not even from here! I just have walked all over this city and have a fairly good idea where everything is now….at least the major tourist areas!  The other day, someone asked me which direction to Harrods!  I got him headed in the right direction. So cool!

The last lunch lecture of the year at the Victoria and Albert museum was Wednesday.  The topic was the new furniture gallery that was recently opened on December 1.  With over 200 pieces, this furniture display is the most comprehensive exhibit in the world showing furniture from the Renaissance to current day. The lecture was presented by Nick Humphrey, the curator of the Furniture, Textile and Fashion department.  I don’t know if it was the subject or the presentation but I didn’t take any notes.  Mr. Humphrey mostly discussed the process of deciding which piece of furniture would be in the display, how it was arranged and the process involved in making some of the pieces.

After the lecture, I visited the four rooms that explained Buddha and the history of Buddhism.  Silly me, I thought that Buddha was more of a mystical creation who people have worshipped over the years.  I learned at the museum that Buddha was an actual person who lived in northern India from 485-405 BC.  He was Siddhartha, prince of the Shakya clan.  He was raised in luxury and was deeply affecte by the human suffering he saw all around him.  He denounced his family and their wealth and devoted his life to understanding how to overcome human suffering.

While meditating, he became the “enlighten one” or Buddha, with an extreme wisdom and great depths of compassion through an awareness that went beyond thoughts and words.  By understanding that desire causes suffering and becoming enlighten, an individual is released from the cycle of rebirth into a state of nirvana – feeling of joy, harmony and stability.

Buddha developed the Four Truths of the Noble Ones: 1) In all life, there is suffering.  2) This suffering is a result of desire for or an attachment to something. 3) To end suffering, we must overcome attachments.  4) This can be done by following the path of righteous thought and behavior (the Eightfold Path of the Noble One).

Buddha spent the next 45 years of his life teaching and obtaining a new monastic order.  He died or shed his physical form for a permanent state of nirvana in 405 BC.

In early art, Buddha was represented by imagery. In the picture to the right, is a sun resting on an empty throne.  The sun represents Buddha, sitting on his throne with admirers standing around.  This piece is from Mathura UTtar Pradesh, India where the earliest forms of Buddha’s image was created.

Eventually, statues representing Buddha in a human form were introduced.  This statue is a common pose of the hand being held up, to calm fears.  The head bumps represent wisdom.

Another popular pose for a Buddha statue, which I am certain you are familiar with, is him seated with a hand held down to the ground.  This represents the moment of enlightenment that he had.  Hands resting in his lap is represents him meditating.

Many believed that the quickest route to nirvana was by becoming a monk or nun.  Many monasteries became learning centers.  Gradually, these monasteries became centers for pilgrims seeking enlightenment.  Other ways to nirvana were to do good deeds, give to an ordain community  a stupa, which is erected on all major Buddhist sites.  It is in the shape of a dome, to represent the early burial mounds and have the remains of Buddha or a teacher of Buddhism.  These stupas are worshipped as symbols Buddhism as well.

This picture to the left is of a shrine, 1857-1880, is from Mandalay, Myanmar.  It is made from teak wood, gilded lacquer and semi-precious stones.  It is believed to have come from the royal palace which has since been destroyed.  It is of the seated Buddha, on the beds are two chief disciples, Sariputta and Mogallana.  The box is for holding manuscripts.

During the 7th and 12th century, Buddhism in India declined and Hinduism grew.  The religion of Buddhism was introduced throughout Asia and Tibet became the leading center for the Buddhist religion.  There are several sects of Buddhism.  There is so much more which I learned about the religion but honestly, I am tired of writing this section of the blog and will end it for now.  Buddhism is a kind and gentle religion.  I mean, have you ever heard of Buddhist starting a war? Christians, yes; Muslims, yes but Buddhist?  No!  Their goal is for spiritual wisdom and compassion.  It sounds like lovely concepts to strive for in a lifetime.

I wandered through the Gothic art section.  I like Gothic art, especially the architecture!  My day ended delightfully at the cafe where I indulged in a scone and cappuccino while enjoying the piano music being played.

As I finish this, it is Friday, the 14th of December.  David is arriving tomorrow morning at 7:10 from Saudi Arabia.  He has been gone for six and a half weeks!  I am so ready to have him come home.  He stayed extra because he wanted to be here for Christmas and when my brother, Perry, was here.  It will be so much fun to have the both of them here!  We have a week full of activities planned…..a visit to the Tate Modern to see the Jackson Pollock exhibit, the London Eye, shopping, a trip to Winchester to see where Perry went for a semester of college and a play.  It will be a huge let down when they both leave on the 27th!

However, I have much to look forward to.  My friends, Kyle and Michael, who I visited in Passau, Germany in October are coming for a four day trip to London Jan 16.  Shortly after they leave, I will be meeting David in Dubai where we will visit with our friends Diane and Jose.  David, Diane and I are going to Jordan for a visit.  We are so blessed and I am so very, very grateful!

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