Friday, June 29, 2007

Day Fourteen In London

Thursday, September 13

Tate Britain
The Eleanor Cross
The Savoy Chapel
Somerset House
The Historic Naval Rooms
The Courtauld Institute Of Art
“In Celebration”

We will have breakfast at our hotel, and leave for the day at 9:30 a.m.

We will take the subway to Pimlico Station and begin our day with our third and final visit to Tate Britain.

Today’s Tate Britain visit will be devoted to J.M.W. Turner, a painter I have never learned to appreciate. Turner has always struck me as bargain-basement Claude Lorrain (Turner admired Lorrain above all other painters, and borrowed from Lorrain shamelessly).

Tate Britain owns the largest cache of Turner paintings and watercolors and drawings in the world, and an entire wing of the museum is devoted exclusively to Turner. We will explore the many Turner rooms, and I will be keen to learn what my mother and father think of Turner, after seeing so many of Turner’s most-loved and most–respected works in a single, concentrated setting.

I also think that it will be interesting to see what Josh thinks of Turner, especially since Josh dislikes Claude Lorrain. (However, Josh will have an opportunity to change his mind about Claude Lorrain if Queen Elizabeth’s great Claude Lorrain painting, “Coast Scene With The Rape Of Europa”, is on display at Buckingham Palace. That painting is widely considered to be Lorrain’s masterpiece. If Josh does not like that Lorrain painting, there is no other Lorrain painting that will change his mind.)

When we are completed viewing the Turner rooms, we will take a quick swing through Tate Britain’s rooms of 20th-Century British art. We will not have to worry about making our way through crowds of onlookers in these rooms, because Tate Britain’s 20th-Century rooms are always empty. This is quite understandable--there are only so many Stanley Spencer paintings that art lovers can view without breaking out with a case of the giggles.

When we are done with our art-viewing, we will have lunch in the Tate Britain restaurant, the museum’s formal dining venue, and after lunch we will proceed up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and nearby Charing Cross Station.

In front of Charing Cross Station, we will examine The Eleanor Cross, a memorial that marks the point from which road distances from London are measured. Named after Eleanor Of Castile, wife of Edward I, The Eleanor Cross is a 19th-Century creation, built to resemble a medieval monument. Seventy feet high, with eight statues of Eleanor on the top, and eight statues of angels on the bottom, The Eleanor Cross is a Neo-Gothic conceit much akin to the contemporaneous Albert Memorial.

Eleanor died in 1290, and she died outside of London (she died in Canterbury, I believe). Her funeral cortege to Westminster Abbey was marked with twelve commemorative crosses, each cross representing one of the twelve stopping places for the cortege on its journey to London.

From The Eleanor Cross, we will walk to The Savoy Chapel, a private chapel of the Queen that has a very lengthy history--and very constricted opening hours. Portions of the building date from 1502, but much of the structure was aggressively reconstructed during the 19th Century. The Savoy Chapel has a few interesting monuments, and a beautiful adjoining garden, and it is a nice church to visit.

From The Savoy Chapel, we will walk over to Somerset House, the great Classical building that is William Chambers’ masterpiece.

We will first explore the Thames-side exterior before entering the building.

Inside the building, we will explore The Historic Naval Rooms, which have been restored to their original splendor.

There are lots of things to see in The Historic Naval Rooms. We shall visit the gallery that explains the history of Somerset House, and the gallery that describes the magnificent palace that formerly occupied this ground, and the gallery that houses The Royal Barge. We shall also visit The King’s Barge House, and The Seamen’s Hall, and visit and climb The Nelson Stair, one of the world’s most unusual (and frightening) staircases. If it is open, we will visit The Navy Board Room, perhaps the most beautiful room in Somerset House.

Afterward, we will cross the main courtyard of Somerset House and visit The Courtauld Institute Of Art.

The Courtauld is a very frustrating museum, because the artworks are not well-displayed, because many of the greatest works from the collection are seldom, if ever, on view, and because the premises are shabby and dilapidated (the interiors of this portion of Somerset House were fully restored in the 1980’s, but they look like they have not been refurbished since the 1880’s).

I believe that The Courtauld needs a new home, and a new governing body, and new curators. It is one of the most irritating, if not depressing, museums in the world.

We will not attempt to see the entire collection, both because we will have spent our entire morning viewing art at Tate Britain and because trying to view the entire collection would take more time than we will have at our disposal.

Instead, we will make a swing through the first two levels, concentrating on a handful of works, and spend most of our time on the third level, where most of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings are located.

In all, we plan to view only a couple of dozen paintings (assuming that these paintings will even be on display).

On the first two levels, we hope to find on display: Cimabue’s “Virgin And Child”; Lucas Cranach’s “Adam And Eve”; Correggio’s self-portrait; Lorenzo Lotto’s “Portrait Of A Man With A Skull”; Titian’s “Cameria, Daughter Of Suleiman The Magnificent, As Saint Catherine”; Rogier Van Der Weyden’s portrait of Guillaume Fillastre; Rubens’ “The Family Of Jan Bruegel The Elder”, perhaps the most restrained work Rubens ever painted (and one of my very favorite Rubens paintings, and painted entirely in his own hand); Jan Woutersz’s “Woman Weighing Gold”; Claude Lorrain’s “Landscape With An Imaginary View Of Tivoli”; Francesco Guardi’s “Landscape—Capriccio”; Allan Ramsay’s “Captain Sir William-Peer Williams Of The 16th Light Dragoons”; and George Romney’s “Georgiana, Lady Greville”.

On the third floor, we hope that the greatest of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings will be on display: Renoir’s “La Loge”; Manet’s “A Bar At The Folies-Bergere” (which should have returned from the Getty Museum, where it will have been on display through September 9); Seurat’s “The Bridge At Courbevoie” and “Young Woman Powdering Herself”; Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With Bandaged Ear” and “Peach Blossoms In The Crau”; and Cezanne’s “Montagne Saint-Victoire”, “Man With A Pipe” and “The Card Players”.

At the conclusion of our Courtauld visit, we will walk over to historic Simpson’s-In-The-Strand and have a nice dinner at this London institution.

After dinner, we will go to The Duke Of York’s Theatre and attend a performance of David Storey’s 1969 play, “In Celebration”.

After the play, we will walk to Leicester Square Station and take the subway to our hotel.

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