Sunday, 21 September 2014

Open House London 2014

This weekend properties in London that are normally closed to the public have been flinging their doors open so inquisitive people like me can enjoy some time poking around inside their private spaces. It's been a few years since I've been able to indulge this interest so I was quite excited at the prospect of joining an enormous queue of like-minded souls bent on oohing and aahing at high ceilings and impressive windows. I have in the past spent hours queuing to get into the Foreign & Commonwealth Office or mooched around Three Mills Island.

This time I headed for the Canary Wharf Crossrail station which is currently under construction. This very large site is merely a small part of a colossal engineering project taking place as far afield as Reading to the west of London and Shenfield to the east. When Crossrail is complete it will reduce the time it takes to travel into and out of the Capital. For example it can take us up to two hours to travel to Heathrow airport from where we live in Hackney. Travelling by Crossrail should cut that by about half which will be great but it's not going to be finished until 2018.

For the last few years London has been full of vast holes while tunnels have been dug and platforms built but there has been nothing to see for all this labour apart from hoardings so this was a chance to peek behind them. Our next door neighbour visited the same site last year and warned me that she had queued for three hours to get in so, bearing that in mind, I set off fairly early and was surprised to find there was no queue to join. I simply wandered around with a gaggle of other people taking photos and admiring the views. The tunnelling is complete, the platforms exist, the tracks are laid but you can't actually see them behind the boarding. The ticket hall is very large and impressive and the positions for the escalators are in place. All they have to do is finish it!
An unfinished roof
Looking towards the City of London
The Roof Garden - a public space due to open in 2015
The Roof Garden as a construction site
The ticket hall - the point where you will need to have paid
The platform
On the way out

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Monet: The Thames below Westminster

Taken from the National Gallery's What's On brochure
Yesterday was my birthday and I spent it indulging myself. At lunchtime I visited the hairdressers and then I had intended to visit Lord Frederick Leighton's house in Holland Park. However by the time I had left the salon it was too late in the afternoon to trek over to west London to do the museum justice.

So I walked from the Cut in Waterloo over Hungerford Bridge to the National Gallery because there is always something worth seeing there and last week I had been listening to Front Row on BBC Radio 4 where an interviewee had been raving about an exhibition that was worth visiting. It was only when I was sitting in the Espresso Bar reading the above leaflet that I remembered that the exhibition in question is on at the National Portrait Gallery just around the corner.

I decided that exhibition could wait until another day because by then my eye had spied that in 30 minutes there was going to be a 10 minute talk in Room 44 on Monet: The Thames below Westminster at 4pm. I liked the sound of this so sauntered upstairs to Room 44 and spent about 20 minutes enjoying the Impressionist paintings by Monet, Pissarro and Seurat's Bathers at Asnières which is vast. One of the paintings on display was of a cluttered mantle piece. It was a very ordinary and mundane view but somehow the painting raised it above its very ordinariness.

My sketch of Monet's painting
The Monet painting in question is quite small compared with the others in this gallery. It was painted on a misty day in spring in around 1871. The colours are muted and the shapes indistinct but you can clearly see Westminster Bridge, the boats, the Houses of Parliament and people standing on a jetty in the foreground. I like the way he describes the reflections in the water and how they change in different parts of the river. I should try to do that sometime – I think it's probably more difficult than it looks.

Four o'clock came and went and there was no sign of any one who looked like a speaker. People were milling around though in expectation and then someone said that the bus with the speaker on it had been held up so the talk was cancelled which was a bit disappointing. But I had spend more time than usual inspecting a few paintings and for the first time understood that Monet, Pissarro and Daubigny had all temporarily located to London to avoid the Franco-Prussian war that was raging away in France. So if it hadn't been for the carnage taking place on the Continent we wouldn't have these contemporary impressions of Victorian London.