Thursday, July 21, 2011

And Then My Heart With Pleasure Fills, And Dances With The Daffodils. Hyde Park in March.

I WANDER'D lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,                            
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

                 For oft, when on my couch I lie
                 In vacant or in pensive mood,
                 They flash upon that inward eye
                 Which is the bliss of solitude;
                 And then my heart with pleasure fills,
                 And dances with the daffodils.

                              William Wordsworth

Forgive me for going all English-teachery, but how could I not think of Wordsworth when I walked into Hyde Park and saw wave after wave of daffodils!  "The bliss of solitude..."  They are indeed!

The Serpentine Restaurant on the Serpentine River in the middle of Hyde Park.  Even on a nippy March day, there were plenty of people enjoying the sea gulls and paddle boats.  This restaurant was supposedly one of Princess Diana's favorite lunch spots.
I like this picture!  Dad and daughter out for a Saturday stroll by the river.

The sun came out for a few minutes and lit up these flowering shrubs.

I smelled their sweet scent before I saw them.  When I found them, six or seven people already stood  
by them snapping pictures of the sun and shadow in the sculptural branches.
We were nature paparazzi.
This sculpture was enormous!  It must have been thirty feet high.  The top section was polished so
that it became a mirror.  Do you see that person in the middle wearing a red jacket?  That's me.

This is the Italian Gardens which lies on the north side of Hyde Park.  This garden is more formal
than most of Hyde Park, and it contains some beautiful garden sculpture.

This swan urn is appropriate because many mute swans nest in this area.

I loved this.  A stepladder for the geese and swans!

Gorgeous Urn! 

Here's a close up of her beautiful face and floral detail.

I know it's strange, but I love these grey March days! 

One last urn.  This time it's a ram.

After the Italian Gardens, I strolled down the Serpentine where the water fowl were putting
on a show.  These Mute Swans begged for food, but very politely.

The doves in Britain are huge!  I'd guess they are about twice the size of our sweet little doves in
North Central Texas.  I don't know how they manage to fly. 
They sure don't look aerodynamic.

A little further on I stumbled on this scene.  These big sea birds occupied almost every post and they
were all facing into the wind.

Finally!  I found Peter Pan.  That's Wendy at his feet.  I had forgotten that the first part
of the story takes place in Hyde Park.  Wendy and her brothers lived close by.

This was just too cute to pass up.  It's a water fountain - beary refreshing.

It's so easy to imagine a Hobbit peeking around the corner of the tree or Dobby, the house elf,
apperating in a puff of air. 

These mounted police officers just ambled down the street and over the Serpentine Bridge not seeming to care that they were making a whole line of Mercedes and black taxis wait behind them. 

My last picture of the bridge before it started raining cats and dogs!


Monday, July 18, 2011

"If You Would Not Be Forgotten" Spencer House and Franklin House

Spencer House - The State Dining Room

 "If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write something worth reading, or do something worth writing."  Benjamin Franklin

Old Ben's witty quote seems to sum up the historic houses I saw in London and the people who built them. 

After the Linley Sambourne House, I took a bus and the tube to Green Park to get to Spencer House.  This fabulous house sits just across the Park from Buckingham Palace.  Just imagine being able to look out of your back garden and see if Liz and Phil are home or not!

See that circle where Constitution Hill and The Mall meet?
That's Buckingham Palace.  Pretty nice neighborhood
wouldn't you say?
If the name seems vaguely familiar that's because the house belonged to Princess Diana's family.  Remember?  Before she married Charles the Philanderer she was Lady Diana Spencer, the daughter of an Earl, from a very old English family.  The Spencer family used the house as their town house when ever they came up to London.  In fact they lived in the house until 1924 when inheritance taxes made it too expensive to keep in the Spencer's portfolio.  For several years the Spencers leased the house out to various government agencies and to Christie's Auction House.  Finally in 1985 The Rothchilds took the lease and began to restore the house.  Yea!  That's right.  Those Rothchilds.   I didn't know they were still around.

Countess Margaret Georgiana Spencer. 
Just squint your eyes and imagine her with
a little mascara.  See!  She was pretty. 

The house was very, very grand as you would expect a house that neighbors Buckingham Palace should be. In fact, it is actually a palace.  The web site says it is the only remaining 18th century private palace in London.  I wonder what the requirements are for a house to be considered a palace rather than just a fancy-shmancy house?    I wish I had thought to ask that question! 

The story behind the house was really pretty romantic.  It was built by the very first Earl Spencer as a wedding present for his wife.  Theirs was a marriage based on love.  In fact, John Spencer's father had forbidden him to marry Margaret Georgiana Poyntz because she came from an untitled family.  In other words, she was a commoner!  She was also beautiful and smart.  John loved Georgiana and couldn't live without her, so they married privately in his mother's dressing room and only told his father after the deed was done.  John and Margaret had a long and very happy marriage and five children.  Good for them! 

The Painted Room.  Notice all that expensive green paint.
This room really was fantastic!  I couldn't find any pictures that
truly did it credit.
The first Earl Spencer built the house between 1756 and 1766, a few years before the plane trees were planted all over London. In one of the rooms there was a painting of Spencer House and Green Park behind it.  The park had absolutely no trees at all.  It was a grassy pasture used to graze the Duke of Buckingham's sheep.  The tour guide told us that the plane trees were planted because the early Victorians figured out that plane trees helped clean the polluted London air. They absorbed the bad air and then shed their bark to discard the toxins. 

Our tour guide also told us that most of the rooms were painted various shades of green because green was the most expensive paint color in the 1700's and 1800's.   Huh!  Who knew?  I wish I had asked her why?
There's all kinds of details I could tell you.  It was the first Palladian house built in London.  The house was designed and built by Vardy but the interiors were finished by James Stuart.  Stuart liked his ale and liked living at Earl Spencer's expense, so he took his time finishing the interior.
The Library looked out over the lovely gardens and into Green Park.
It was definitely a million dollar view.
But when he did work, he was a perfectionist about filling the house with the finest neo-classical detail.  Fashionable Georgians like the Spencers were fascinated by anything from ancient Greece.  And Stuart, although he procrastinated, knew his stuff.

There was another interesting tidbit.  During World War II when it became obvious that Germany would bomb London, the Spencer's took everything they could out of the house:  all the priceless paintings, sculptures, ceramics, furniture, silver, and china.  They even took the skirting boards, marble columns, and  irreplaceable architectural details like fireplaces and chandelier surrounds on the ceiling.  All these treasures were carefully numbered and tagged and then stored in the basement and cellars at Althorpe, their country estate.  Things that couldn't be taken down like the one of a kind wall paintings were covered with canvas to protect them as best they could.  It was a good thing the Spencer's did this because Buckingham Palace was bombed at least two times and the house right next door was obliterated!  They built a very ugly mid-century modern steel and glass house in its place.  Yuck!  Why do people do that?

After Spencer House I walked up the Mall to Trafalgar Square and over a few blocks down The Strand to the Benjamin Franklin House.  It was fascinating, just like Ben.

According to the historians who run the museum, this is the only remaining Benjamin Franklin house.  That was a shock!  Franklin lived in the house for sixteen years during the mid 1700's while he was the American Ambassador to England.  He came back to the colonies in 1775 when the Americans decided they had no choice but to declare independence.  "No taxation without representation!"  King George wouldn't listen to anyone, so Franklin came home to help the Continental Congress write the Declaration of Independence.      

The house was actually a boarding house.  The landlady, Mrs. Craven, lived on the ground floor and Franklin rented out two of the floors above her.  Some other tenants lived above him.  The house was built in the 1730's and was ideally placed for a politician like Franklin.  After all, Franklin only had to walk two blocks over to Whitehall where most of the government offices were and still are.  A quarter of mile more brought him to St. James Palace where the king lived.  Buckingham Palace didn't become the Royal Residence until Queen Victoria took the throne. 

The   house experienced some hard times during the 1800's and early 1900's.  The neighborhood became a slum.  The absentee landlords let the building slide into disrepair and disrepute.  For a while a surgeon lived there and he took to discarding amputated arms and legs in the basement.  Today archaeologists are having a field day digging around in the basement.  Sometime in the 1940's a group realized that this was the last Benjamin Franklin house and set about restoring the house and setting up a Franklin research center.  Today the neighborhood looks great!  It's been restored as well.  

This is Casa Magnetica at Six Flags.  Benjamin Franklin's
House tilted almost this much!
The house looked so Georgian.  I really felt like I was walking through one of those historic homes in Virginia or Colonial Williamsburg.  I like Georgian architecture.  I like the simple elegance and the rich colors.  The trust had restored the original plank paneling and uncovered secret closets that had been covered up for decades.  They kept the beautiful original floors.  But I guess there is nothing they can do about the 300 year old foundation.  The higher up we went in the house, the more we could feel the floors slanting!  By the time we got to the top floor I felt like I was in that crazy house they use to have at Six Flags.  Casa Megnetica was built at such a crazy angle  that things appeared to roll uphill.  It felt almost that bad at the Franklin House, almost, but not quite.

Up on the top floor, they had a glass armonica.  What!?!  You don't know what that is?  It is the musical instrument that Franklin invented.  It looks like a series of glass bowls, diminishing in size, that are pierced through the center by a metal rod.  The contraption is mounted to an electric motor that spins it.  The performer dips his or her fingers into some water and lightly touches the rim of the glass bowls.  Smaller bowls make higher pitches.  We all got to play the armonica!  It had kind of a ghostly sound.  I'm sure it freaked out some of his neighbors when Ben practiced his technique on quiet evenings.

"Benjamin Franklin" and a his wife about to play
the glass armonica. 
I think I enjoyed my tour even more because two of the young women who worked at the house museum were Americans.  One had been living for London for several years and I could just hear a little American under the new British veneer.  The other girl had only been in London for six months.  She was still busily trying to work out day to day life in a somewhat foreign land.  I liked listening to their take on London and the Londoners!

This was a good way to end my day of historic and stately homes.  A serious artist, a quintessential Victorian, an aristocrat, and a Renaissance man.  They all did "something worth writing" and will not soon be forgotten.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Leighton House and 18 Stafford Terrace

The Arab Hall in Leighton House Museum
Yes.  That is a fountain and pool in the floor.
Today it was cold and damp, all day!  I was almost, but not quite, warm in my thickest sweater and my rain proof coat.  When I packed for this trip, I debated whether or not to bring my nice, warm gloves with me. I considered just bringing a cheap pair of stretchy knit gloves that I keep in the car's glove box in case of emergency.  After all, space and weight are always a consideration when packing a suitcase.  Finally I decided that I would rather be safe than sorry, so I trudged up the stairs and rooted around in the dresser for fifteen minutes before finding them buried underneath a pile of socks in my nightstand.  Today, however, I felt very grateful to have them with me.

The back garden of Leighton House
Despite the cold, I saw four historic houses; the Leighton House Museum, the Linley Sambourne house, Spencer House, and Dr. Johnson's House.  The houses contrasted quite nicely with one another.

First I went to the painter, Frederic Leighton's house in Holland Park.  I intended to take the tube, but when I got to the tube stop it was shut down.  In fact, the entire District Line and the part of the Circle Line that I needed were both closed for the morning.  It was too far to walk and it was starting to rain, so I hailed a black taxi and hung on for dear life.  Have I mentioned that EVERYONE drives fast in London.  The driver turned out to be a young guy from the East End who had a very strong accent.  Because I so enjoyed listening to him talk, I didn't notice the scenery much until we got close to the house.  Let me tell you, Holland Park is nice!  There must be some serious money here.  If the neighborhood sounds familiar, you might know it from the show "As Time Goes By" with Judy Dench.  Jean and Lionel lived in a very comfortable townhouse close to Holland Park from which the neighborhood takes its name.

Lionel and Jean Hardcastle
from As Time Goes By

Frederic Leighton's House was much grander than Jean and Lionel's townhouse.  Leighton, who made his name and quite a bit of money during the mid 1800's, was part of the Aesthetic Movement.  He and his artist friends were appalled by the ugliness of Victorian England, so they tried to reintroduce beauty into British society. After seeing the Albert Memorial, the Queen's quintessentially Victorian, and truly ugly tribute to her much loved husband, I could understand why Leighton and his friends wanted a change!
Leighton and his cohorts were fascinated by Middle Eastern art, so he made his house into a Victorian fantasy of a Moroccan palace.  Exotic tiles brought back from his travels covered the lower floor. The first thing I saw when I entered the house was a turquoise stuffed peacock that match the tiles behind it perfectly.  It was quite spectacular! Not cozy. Not cozy at all! But it was the type of house that a serious artist would want.  In fact, during the 1910's and 20's, it was used as the setting for several silent movies. 

Leighton kept working on the house over the years, refining and decorating until the large house only had one small bedroom.  All this style made the house impractical as a home for normal people.  No one wanted to put the money it would require into the house to convert it a home for a family, plus it was freakishly beautiful.  After his death, it sort of hung in suspended animation until a group got the money together, restored the house, updated it for the computer age, and turned it into a museum.  I'm glad they did! 

18 Stafford Terrace
The Linley Sambourne House
I could have stayed there all morning, but I had an appointment to see the Linley Sambourne house.  I started walking what was suppose to be a short ten minute walk to this Kensington townhouse.  I must walk slower than normal because it took closer to twenty minutes in the rain to get to the street and find the address.  It turned out that I was the last one in the group to arrive and they had waited for me.  I felt embarrassed!  The house is only shown at particular times and only with a tour guide and you must reserve your tour ahead of time.  You can't just show up at the doorstep.  I thought this was a little strange and little OCD until I saw the house.  Man alive.  The Victorians loved their clutter!

The Sambourne's moved into the brand new townhouse in 1874 in the growing suburb of Kensington, which at the time, was not part of London.  Sambourne worked as a cartoonist for Punch magazine until he died in 1910.  His wife died in 1914. 

The Sambourne's were middle or upper middle class and like many upper middle class people then and today, they lived a little beyond their means.  The had champagne tastes and a house wine budget.  They decorated the house with the best quality wall paper, furniture, china, French prints, and Victorian knick knacks.  And, then they left it alone.  They didn't do any remodeling or updating ever again!

When Linley and his wife died, the house passed to their son, Roy.  Roy was a bit of a disappointment to his parents.  They sent him to Cambridge, but he was quickly "sent down," expelled, because he like show girls much more than studying.  He continued his rakish ways once he returned to Kensington.  Despite his family's best efforts to marry Roy to a "good" woman, all he wanted were the leading ladies on the London stage.  His poor mother!  Roy never did marry, and Roy never redecorated.  He never even cleaned out the junk drawers!  The only change he made was to put framed photos of his romantic conquests next to his bed.

This is the parlour where the family spent most of their time.  Can you imagine trying to walk through this room in the huge skirts the Victorian women wore?!?  I asked our docent about children and breaking things in a cluttered room like this one.  She told me that the children were kept upstairs in the nursery most of the day and were only brought into the parlour to kiss their parents good night.  Wow!  It was truly another time.

After Roy's death the house stayed in the family, and the next two generations continued to leave the house almost untouched.  Then in 1980 Lady Rosse, the relative who then owned the house, donated the house to the Victorian Society for use as a museum.  It is literally a time capsule.  One other interesting tidbit.  It was used as the setting for Mrs. Vyse's house in A Room With A View.  She was the woman who would have been Lucy Honeychurch's mother-in-law if Lucy had married the odious Mr. Vyse.  It's also the house where Lucy broke up with Mr. Vyse, who looked so pitiful when she broke his heart.  Such a good movie!

This the hallway in the Sambourne House where
Cecil Vyse gave Lucy Honeychurch that very
awkward kiss and where latter she broke
off their engagement.
The woman who took us on the tour of the house must have been pushing 90.  But she was very spry and a wealth of knowledge.  She would lead us into a room, wait patiently for the group to snake themselves up the narrow stairs of the five floor townhouse and into the next room, then her assistant would close the door behind us, and finally she would start to talk.  She had a very soft voice, and she had mastered the trick of keeping her voice low thus forcing her audience to listen more attentively to  hear her.  I wish I could learn to do that! 

The procedure never changed even when she took us into the one bathroom in the townhouse.  Now it was a large bathroom, but it was still a bathroom and by definition a small room.  But somehow she managed to get the entire tour group of about twenty people into the small room and then her assistant closed the door.  It was a tight fit!  Once we were all safely in and she checked to see that we didn't have any children in the room, she lowered some panels on the walls of the bathroom to show us Mr. Sambourne's photograph collection.  He had been very interested in photography in the 1800's and used it to help him with his political cartoons.  But he also took "artistic" photos of partially clad young women, some more clad than others.  For some reason he thought the bathroom would be a good place to display his collection.  The bathroom walls were filled to capacity with hundreds of 4 by 6 photos all framed in identical black frames.  Astonishing!  His wife must have been quite a woman.  By all accounts, they had a very happy marriage and no one cheated.  Maybe she was a very accommodating wife who was willing to indulge his artistic eccentricities.  But what about guests?  What did they think?  I can tell you that I was in this naughty bathroom there were a lot of nervous giggles!

 In the next post I'' tell you about Spencer House and Benjamin Franklin's townhouse.

The dramatic Entry Hall at Leighton House

A satin covered reading nook in the library made to look like a harem.  Oh those Victorians - always flirting with the dark side!

The Linley Sambourne family.  That's Edward standing behind Marion.  The future playboy, Roy,
is cut off on the right.  I don't know the daughters' names, but one of them made a very good marriage.  Her grandson was Lord Snowden who married Princess Margaret. 
Today Viscount Linley is one of Will and Harry's favorite cousins. 

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

If It's Tuesday, It Must Be Museum Day!

Portrait of Hendrick III, Count of Nassau-Breda
Jan Gossaert

One of the things I really wanted to do while in London over Spring Break was to go to the Jan Gossaert exhibit at the National Gallery.  I read on the web site that Gossaert was a Renaissance painter from the Netherlands who was active in the early 1500's.  Since I've always like the Northern European painters, I made a point of making room in my week for this exhibit. 

Jan Gossaert's "Adam and Eve"
Those apple boughs are very strategically placed!

I got to the museum just after opening and began slowly strolling through the first room of the exhibit, which was devoted to 
Gossaert's drawings and paintings of Adam and Eve.  His Eves were the only chubby Eves I've ever seen.  I always forget that until the 1920's plump women were considered much more desirable then skinny minnies.  Anybody could be skinny in those days.  It was much harder to obtain a little padding on the hips and thighs.  Oh for the good ol' days.  Look at that Adam.  He looks a little like Art Garfunkel!

 Next, I walked into a room of portraiture. Suddenly a very familiar painting popped up before me, a painting from our Kimbell Museum. It was a portrait Hendrick III, the count of Nassau-Breda a Dutch dignitary.  In the portrait he wore a deep blue velvet hat, a fur shawl, and a richly textured herringbone, gold and black tunic. The materials were so well painted that it seems that if the guards weren't watching, we could reach out and touch not paint, but fur and velvet.  The picture was highlighted in the room and given pride of place!   I was busting my buttons to see one of "our" paintings here in London.

Later, in the museum, I ran across a George Bellows exhibit called "the American Experience."  It was interesting to hear American art explained from a European perspective. Here's a bit of the introduction.  "This exhibit is a new National Gallery initiative ...
which aims to introduce visitors to aspects of American painting little known in this country.

Huh? Little known? Why? 

Don't the British show American art very often?  Why not? 

As the British say, I was gobsmacked!
"Lord Grovsnor Italian Stallion With a Groom"
George Stubbs
But the shock that our art wasn't very well know made me redouble my focus on the paintings and begin to look for the differences between European and American painters.  Light immediately jumped out at me.  In European paintings the light was usually soft, kind, almost an after thought.  I guess the sun in the US is brighter than in Northern Europe. I know the sun in England felt much kinder than in Texas.  Here, in the summer at least, it feels like the sun is out to get us!  It is not our friend.  Light was a major component of American paintings in the exhibit.  Sharp almost harsh light, not a soft diffused brush with sunshine.

The next noticeable difference was the energy. Color and movement vibrated off the canvas in the American paintings.  Now, I was looking at works by George Bellows after all, and he was known for the energy of his paintings, but I don't think these could be mistaken for European works.  Water shimmered with waves of emotion; it didn't lay there placid and passive.

"Trout Stream"
George Bellows
Also, in the American works there was a vast sense of space.   Space is not  unusual in British art, but it's different. The space in American works seems matter-of-fact, casual, just the way things are. In British paintings space was a statement of wealth and privilege. It was a bragging right, an oddity.   

"Wave" by George Bellows 
 I don't think I would go out in a boat in these waters!
Although I was gobsmacked at first, I enjoyed the exhibit.  It gave me plenty to think about.  I sat on a bench for quite a long time studying the paintings.  I'm sure the guards at the National Gallery started to get a little worried about this strange woman who kept frowning at the paintings and then furiously typing mysterious comments onto her I-pod.  Oh well!

After a delicious but expensive lunch at the museum, I took a stroll down to Buckingham Palace.  The afternoon was beautiful.  There was a light fog but the sun was out and shining through.  The temperature must have warmed into the 60's because my jacket felt too warm and I had to take it off and carry it.  I got some good pictures of St. James Park and Buck House.  Enjoy them!
This is the walk through St. James Park that approaches Buckingham Palace.  The daffodils were putting on quite a show!

This is a park area just to the left of Buckingham Palace.  See all the people on the walkway to the right.  They are walking to and from the light to cross over to the palace.  Off to the left, behind those very, very expensive townhouses is the hotel where Kate Middleton and her family spent the night before THE wedding. 

I don't know what these pink flowering trees are, but they smelled heavenly and were all over
St. James.

 Buckingham Palace.  Although its only open to the public during August and September when the Windsors all go to Balmoral in Scotland, there were still lots of tourists!  I didn't know what it was in March, but I found out later that that white boxy thing in the left hand corner was the beginnings of the stands they built for the press corp that covered THE wedding in April.

 The front gates to the palace.  Very impressive!

In the winter the Royal Horse Guards wear gray coats instead of their iconic red coats.  I wonder if they ever get to use their little guardhouses?

After I took these London Met. officers' picture I thanked them and said, "My student really wanted me to bring back a picture of some bobbies."  The officer on the right looked at his friend, sort of chuckled, and said, "Only the Yanks call us bobbies."  "Really!"  I said.  "What do the British people call you?"  "They call us all sorts of things, madame."  he replied.