I had an ambitious plan today, and got whooped by the National Gallery. That’s one tough museum to get through, even on roller skates.
I started out early enough, but made my first error when I headed out the door and down the street, having forgotten to brush my teeth.
I hate it when I do that. I doubled back, lost 15 minutes, and restarted.
On to Charing Cross, and Trafalgar Square. I took about 40 minutes to take a bunch of photos of Nelson’s Column and the other various Things to See there.
None of the photos are unique in any way, shape or form, but it’s the sort of thing I felt compelled to do anyway. After 9/11, and more recently the disasters of 3/11, I have learned to take lots of pictures of every place I visit, because you just never know.
Saying “It will always be there” is foolish. It’s obviously not true.
It’s really difficult to get a decent shot off in Trafalgar Square, because to get a decent angle, you have to move across the street, and that means waiting for the pink plumbing van to move from the stopped traffic in front of that nice looking church, or the giant double-decker bus with an ad that says “GET STUFFED!” to unblock your view (and to classy-up the photo a bit with its removal.)
I suppose if I had a tripod and a stack of neutral density filters, I could do a 10-20 minute long exposure, and make it look like everyone had disappeared, or something similarly creepy.
Then there were the times when I was trying to take a picture of something like the Olympic countdown clock, and I was patiently waiting my turn, and people just kept rudely jumping in front of me to photograph each other standing in front of it.
Honestly, I have no idea why they’d want to pose in front of it, but nevertheless it was still annoying that they kept jumping in front of me.
Photography is sometimes fraught with peril, and sometimes it’s just flat out irritating.
Art, Inconveniently Housed.
On to the National Gallery, which is full of family pictures of Jesus.
It’s a pretty building, but the layout of the place is kind of annoying. I lost 20 minutes just trying to put my bag away.
I went up the giant steps on the Trafalgar Square side, then went down 2 flights of steps to one cloakroom, only to be told there was no more room. So I had to go back up 2 flights, across the whole building, then down 2 more flights to another cloakroom to drop off my bags. Then back up 2 flights, halfway across the museum again to the Central Hall, just so I could start the tour I wanted to do in the proper order.
I picked up one of those audio guides again… am I the only person who gets grossed out when he thinks about using the same headphones that thousands of other people have used? It makes me shudder to even consider it.
So I yanked them out and put my own ear buds in, listened to a few descriptions, then promptly stopped using it. It just bogged me down. I really need to stop using those things.
Paintings by the Numbers
The collection at the National Gallery is really good. It’s not top three, but it’s definitely top ten. Only one Hieronymus Bosch, though. (“Christ Mocked,” if you want to know which painting.)
One of these days, I want to see a bunch of Bosch’s paintings. For someone who painted in the 15th century, his work has a great surrealistic feel to it. It reminds me of Dali’s work. Or maybe Dali reminds me of Bosch?
Note to self: Go to Madrid one of these days to see “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in the Prado.
Van Eyck’s “The Arnolfini Portrait” is a classic medieval painting at the National Gallery. It was great to see a major painting like that up close.
I also got to see Botticelli’s “Venus and Mars,” which I think is an excellent painting. I love the pensive (or maybe bemused?) look on Venus’ face.
I enjoyed the El Grecos that they had there as well. I think he could have painted a children’s birthday party and it would still have had a haunting quality to it.
That Ain’t Lemonade.
About halfway through my gallery run, I decided to have lunch. Once again, I was at the mercy of the floor plan of this building. I was in the Sainsbury Wing, which is where all of the 13th-15th century paintings are. On the 1st floor, there’s a dining hall, so I went down there to eat. I looked at the menu, and it was a sit-down, fancy food kind of place. (Oysters, meat dishes and pies sort of thing.) Definitely something that would consume many pounds and much more time than I could afford.
My only other choice was to go up a flight of stairs, go all the way across the museum, then go back down two flights of stairs to the Getty Entrance and eat at the cafe there. It was a sandwich shop kind of place. The drinks were a miss, though. The “Victorian Lemonade” was gross.
Important lesson learned: ALWAYS read labels before you buy things here. Just because it says “Lemonade” doesn’t mean it’s going to TASTE like lemonade. It was some sort of lemons mixed with ginger and sugar and “aromatic herbs,” all carbonated, served lukewarm.
The BLT was okay, although it was a bit weird, and the chocolate chip/hazelnut cookie wasn’t bad. The important thing was that I had calories to keep going.
Art, Part Two
Back to the art grind. My feet were killing me towards the end. It’s probably time to get new shoes.
I really liked Boilly’s “A Girl at a Window.” I think it’s a print of a lost original, but I love the expression on her face and the composition. I also liked the “Portrait of Susanna Lunden” by Rubens. And of course the “Self Portrait at the Age of 64” by Rembrandt was great. I love his expression in that painting.
I loved Renoir’s “The Umbrellas,” and saw a bunch of Van Goghs, including “Sunflowers,” which is fine, but I’m not too keen on the dark yellows. I like Van Gogh’s other stuff just fine, though. Of all on display, I like his “Wheatfield with Cypress” the most.
I was really more into the 19th and 20th century paintings, but alas, that was when I had realized that I had already spent FOUR HOURS there. All of the medieval and renaissance stuff just bogged me down.
The Monets, Manets, and Seurats were all good. It’s easy to remember that Seurat was into pointilism– “Seurat knew a lot about dots.”
There was a special exhibit on Italian altarpieces, which was interesting, but looking at religious artwork is like visiting shrines in Japan. I can only see so much of it before my eyes glaze over. Since I had already seen all of the 13th-15th century paintings, the altarpieces just kind of blended into the rest of them.
Sadly, I am that shallow at times.
You can get a “60 minute tour” list of what the museum considers to be the most important pieces if you just want to hit the highlights. You can use the audio guide with it… but I wonder if you can actually do it all in 60 minutes.
Anyway, it’s useful as a reference for what the curators think is important, because there are a lot of pieces by artists most people have never heard of that clutter up the place. Not that their work isn’t important, or isn’t worth preserving, it’s just that there’s an awful lot of it, and while it’s good art, it’s not great art.
There are a few pieces on the “greats” list that I didn’t agree with. I didn’t particularly care for Constable’s, “The Hay Wain,” to be honest. It’s a pretty piece, but it didn’t particularly move me. I’ve already mentioned a few others above, like “Sunflowers.”
At 4 p.m., it was time for a mad dash to the gift shop, where I bought a bunch of very tasteful blank cards and postcards. Now I can send people cards and impose my aesthetic sense on them at the same time.
Back to SoHo
Then it was time to leave the National Gallery and head to SoHo to pick up my zoom lens, which was almost destroyed at Westminster the other day. I can still see the bits of glass dust trapped in there, so it’s going to have to be stripped down when I get home, but it’s good enough for now.
Tottenham Court Road station is a royal pain to get to these days, because it’s not served by the Northern Line. You can only get to it via the Central line, and that means lots of transfers. Ugh.
Anyway, after I got the lens back, I stopped by a crepe shop called Crepeaffaire and had a delicious dark Belgian chocolate crepe with whipped cream on the side. But it wasn’t cheap– that plus a cup of milk was almost £7.
Yikes. In dollars, that’s a whole meal plus dessert.
He Never Used a Meerschaum Pipe!
Then it was off to Baker Street, to see a certain Consulting Detective, or rather a certain Consulting Detective’s Gift Shop. There was no way I was going to see the Sherlock Holmes Museum, because every tour guide says that it’s a ripoff, and I refuse to pay for another ripoff museum.
But I wanted to get some Sherlockiana, because it makes for great souvenirs.
The annoying bit? Even I, who is just a casual Holmes fan, got annoyed by the constant use of a Meerschaum pipe in all of the Holmes shadow portraits. He never used a Meerschaum pipe… yet there he is in every trinket, Meerschaum in hand, or hanging out of his mouth.
I bought some less-annoying trinkets for the people back home, and then I finally staggered back to Earls Court. That was it for me today.