I’m having a homebody moment. After all of the travel the last month, it’s nice just to be here in London. Coming into this weekend I had no plans, and when I sat down to make some I discovered that these two days seem to sit weirdly within a gap in the performing arts season — all the good stuff kicks off tomorrow. There’s plenty of fun to come but not much that tempts at the moment. So what to do?
Well, it’s autumn, raining non-stop, and after last weekend’s extravagance gave me a sweet tooth for Real Art, not a good time for me to be visiting art galleries where things are on sale. I considered curling up at home with a book, and may still come back to that, but decided instead to wrap up in all the cozy fall clothes I have (think wool jumpers, corduroy trousers, and fluffy woolen socks inside clogs) and venture out to the town.
I ended up down by the British Museum, where I totteredd down this lovely lane toward a cafe where I could eat a mid-afternoon English breakfast . . .
. . . and then, funnily enough, found myself inside the Contemporary Ceramics Centre, enjoying the final day of an exhibition of Peter Beard’s work. I loved his textures. Some quite knobbly . . .
. . . but most more refined, with the knobs having been sanded down to reveal the layers of colored clay beneath.
I liked this exhibition much better than the slipware exhibition Amanda and I saw over the summer. And I exercised tremendous control as I exited through the shop, purchasing no more than two small pieces (by other craftspersons).
When I emerged into the street, I found not the expected hordes of tourists queuing to get into the British Museum on a rainy day, but rather a somewhat macabre procession of environmental protesters led by a group of red women whose costumes evoked geisha, nuns, and a little bit of Margaret Atwood’s handmaids.
The red ladies were followed by a decent marching band of middle-aged folk wearing black, who in turn were succeeded by an assortment of animal skeletons and coffins for extinct or nearly extinct animals.
I watched for a while longer and realised these were the Extinction Rebellion protesters who had been camping out in central London during the past week and getting themselves arrested by the hundreds (current tally is over 1,000 and counting).
I left them to their performance and walked down to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery.
It had been a while since my previous visit, and I thought that after last weekend’s fling with contemporary art, it was time to commune with the masters.
I visited some of my favourites (the Arnolfini portrait!) and settled into the Dutch galleries. The portraits are my favourites. They’re so beautiful and lifelike and the feeling that I’m seeing real people who led real lives is palpable. They’ve been dead for 450 years, but this afternoon they lived again for me, at least a little.
Then I came upon a “new” painting that was on loan for the first time to the gallery.
It’s all in pastels and shows a mother and daughter at breakfast — and it captivated me. First because of the lovely informality — the little girl still has her hair wrapped in rags to create ringlets! But then because I realised I had never really paid attention to pastels before. I had never thought of pastels as something for real art, only the types of childish drawings I had done as a child — more akin to sidewalk chalk than something you’d see in a museum. But this material was luminous and soft, and also so clear and sharp and intelligently drawn, and so durable after hundreds of years. It was almost as if the material was enacting a commentary on the women it depicted — they may appear delicate and soft, but they’re just as real and sharp and lasting as the many men (painted in oils) who populated the walls around them.