Posts Tagged ‘National Gallery’

Resto 66 Tasting Sicily – Enzo’s Kitchen, Piccadilly

November 19, 2017

The TV looks small from here but wait till you’re eyeball to eyeball with it.

We’d been to the excellent little free exhibition on Axeli Gallen-Kallela at the National (as well as the also excellent Monochrome in the Sainsbury Wing). Wishing to avoid the crowds, and not finding the new incarnation of the NG’s café-restaurant on the Charing Cross side to my liking, we headed back to Panton Street to give Enzo’s a go. We got the last table for two.

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Gallen-Kallela at the NG, celebrating Finland’s 100th year of independence. Not to be taken for granted in these times.

My wife was fortunate in having her back to the giant screen at the end of the room, whereas I was forced to be mesmerised by this monster throughout the evening. Interspersed with mile high technicolour shots of the Sicilian landscape and yummy looking ingredients were slightly disconcerting screenshots from The Godfather, that charming tale of murderous drug dealers. I was hoping that they’d mitigate these with some Montalbano but the management don’t seem to have caught up with his show. At least, in the week of his death, they hadn’t gone the whole hog and included Salvatore ‘Toto’ Riina among their rogues gallery.

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Toto Riina. Not as charming as his photograph would have you believe.

Anyway, that was the downside. If we’d booked I’m sure I could have got a seat where I wasn’t blasted with cliché the whole evening and I would have been perfectly happy as the food and wine was very good. The room itself is bright, with cheerful paintings dotted around the walls that would provide more than enough visual splendour without any electronic input. I liked the table too – plenty of room with a pleasant pattern on the tiled surface. Just the thing to make you feel warm on a grey November evening.

I believe this restaurant is part of a group specialising in products from Sicily and so the mixed antipasto seemed a good way to start. At £9 a head this was a generous size (especially compared to Dalla Terra) and really was a meal in itself. There was a good variety of meat, cheese and veg – with the veg being the star. Juicy olives and smoky aubergines went alongside a sweet pickled pumpkin that was something I’d not had before and would definitely get on board with again. And slithery mushrooms were also something I wanted more of.

For main a handmade pasta with pig’s cheek was too salty for my liking, but it was a hearty portion of food and I was to play football the following day so I stuffed it down. The wine list highlights Sicilian products and we went for a mid-range number made from Carricante grapes which went down a treat. The service was excellent and at around forty quid a head, inclusive of a more expensive bottle than usual this is a good option in this area if you want something more interesting and authentic than Bella Italia or similar. If it wasn’t for the tv this would have been an 8.

7/10

#food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

More good things at the National

May 21, 2017

In the last post I intended to talk about some more highlights beyond Gallery A but having gone off on one about Arthur Ransome’s oeuvre I thought it best to split my ramblings into two more digestible helpings. There are two temporary offerings at the National that any self-respecting art lover finding themselves with an afternoon in London should get to.

Firstly, Chris Ofili’s wonderful Weaving Magic. A collaboration with the Dovecot Tapestry Studio the work is the brightest jewel in London right now. Ofili’s preparatory drawings in the ante room give you the context of the tapestry’s design, including the information that the cocktail waiter is based on Mario Balotelli.

The tapestry itself is in a grand, subtly lit room where it glows with pure sensual pleasure. If the Trinidad Tourist Board had any sense they’d snap it up immediately for their publicity because it’s the best argument for visiting the Caribbean that I’ve seen since the retirement of Brian Lara.

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But Ofili’s isn’t the only gem. Tucked away by the front door of the NG is a grand baroque canvas by an artist I’d never come across before, a glimpse of which can be seen in the image above. Cagnacci’s Repentant Magdalene is another work of sensual delight on a par with Ofili’s, even if it comes in the guise of a work of religious devotion. The Magdelene is repentant but in the depiction of her transition from sin to contrition she seems to have her carnality multiplied by Cagnacci’s brush. Not even the devil, in the allegorical figure of Vice, has the best tunes in this piece. For once they belong to the godly; Vice barely merits a glance.

Individual sections of the painting are worth studying closely. The Magdalene’s blue robe a gorgeous slather of colour on the floor, a sunlit balcony straight from a perfect holiday on the Med and Cagnacci’s own signature (Guido Cagnacci, Inventor) deserve patient attention before your gaze is inevitably pulled back to the central, intense relationship between Mary and Martha. Catch it while you can, it closes today!

#art #London #NationalGallery

The National Gallery basement and Arthur Ransome

May 15, 2017

The National, besides its usual haul of treasure, now has two must-see freebies to lure in the art hound (of which more in another post). And this in addition to the fact that the whole of the basement is now fully opened up to the public for the first time, or at least in this correspondent’s memory.

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The Fall, 458489 BSIDES. Better than the A-sides for some aficionados.

The basement, as well as housing the displaced works owing to the Michelangelo/Sebastiano exhibition taking place in some of the permanent galleries, now has a smattering of the NG’s artistic B-sides in ‘Room A’. Which makes it sound like it’s not worth the trouble to go down there. But that’s wrong. These are for the most part high quality B-sides, reminiscent of The Fall’s classic compilation, 458489, in that some of this stuff is better than what’s upstairs/on the flip side. Especially in the way that the work is curated – a broad sweep of art from the Renaissance to the late 19th Century in one room, allowing the eye to juxtapose subject, style and composition to delightful effect.

The central space is dominated by four grand canvases of battles from the French Revolutionary wars (Jemappes, Valmy, Montmirail and Hanau) by Vernet that are splendid in their drama and attention to detail, even if the carnage wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste. Those of a more peaceful bent might want to stroll around to Gentile Bellini’s Madonna and child, which for me is as handy a bit of god-stuff as any you’d fine in the Sainsbury Wing.

In between you’ll find a broad range of things to enjoy – the Impressionist Jongkind’s view of the Boulevard Port-Royal, Puvis de Chevanne’s Summer and a heap of Golden Age Dutch stuff were my own particular favourites until I came across a wall of Dutch seascapes from the nineteenth century. These were less familiar to me than the Van de Veldes (of which there are a couple here) from the seventeenth century, which is probably why they attracted my attention.

They are both by Paul Jean Clays, an artist of whom I knew nothing, and on seeing the first I noted in my book, ‘Ships Lying Off Dordrecht reminds me of Flushing in Ransome. Round boats coming up to meet us. Dutch flags, blue sky flash though grey cloud, can hear the seagulls and smell the rain approaching in the air.’

What I meant by ‘Flushing in Ransome’ is one of the greatest children’s books ever written (sadly overshadowed by its more famous predecessor) We Didn’t Mean to go to Sea by Arthur Ransome. In this story the Walker children (made famous by Swallows and Amazons) in a series of slightly improbable conjunctions of circumstance are swept out to the North Sea on a small yacht, the Goblin, where they are forced to cross to Holland, driven by the weather and their own determination not to fuck things up (ok, that isn’t exactly how it’s phrased in the book). If you don’t want to know how things work out for then skip the next paragraph or two!

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Ransome is also an underestimated illustrator.

After a perilous crossing in hideous weather and with a cute cat picked up along the way they are guided into Flushing by a peaceable Dutch pilot, who is flabbergasted to find that they’d made the trip all by themselves and not as they pretended to him under the guidance of a master who is too tired to emerge to talk to the pilot in person. But the real joy comes when they realise that their father by coincidence is on his way back to Blighty via Holland on leave from the Navy and he leaps ashore from his ferry to complete a happy family reunion.

I once heard someone on Radio 4 say that there was no politics in Ransome’s children’s fiction. Let’s  leave aside the fact that the whole adventure is predicated on the disruptive shock of modernity in the form of a symbol of modernity (a motor bus) knocking over a representative of tradition (Jim Brading, the Goblin’s skipper, who is no fan of motors on the road or in boats and romanticises the pre-modern technology of sail).

Putting aside the symbolism involved in the story in the struggle of tradition v modernity the contemporary political context for this novel, while never stated, is ever present. The book was published in 1937, a time when anxiety about British dominance of the sea was not just focussed on the North Sea, where the story takes place, but also in the Pacific, where Walker père has been stationed and the Japanese threat is just as obvious as the Nazi one closer to home (to readers in the 30s at least, nowadays it seems that the British prefer to forget that WW2 was a war of imperialism as much as national survival). Ransome’s story then can be read as an exhortation to the young to be stoic in the face of adversity, and a reassurance of the reserves of British resources far flung around the globe to come to the rescue of those struggling in the motherland.

Looking around for academic analysis of the Swallows & Amazons series I’ve yet to find much. It would seem an admirable project for a PhD to me, especially as as far as I can see most writing about Ransome has concentrated on his role as a sometime spy during the Russian Revolution and beyond.

Anyway, with all this going through my head it was with great delight that I saw that the pendant piece to Ships Lying Off Dordrecht was entitled Ships Lying Off Flushing.

What joy. What simple joy.

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#NationalGallery #Ransome

Review #109 National Gallery Café, Trafalgar Square

December 21, 2016

An air of melancholy hangs over the National Café. The room is too big, with a ceiling a mile from the floor and windows thus too high to see out of. Rarely full, this Thursday evening we had the pick of the room and chose a corner table (standard agent choice – back to the wall and a view to both exits). The décor, even ten years or so after opening, is hi spec with lovely red leather furnishings, woody warm walls and antiqued mirrors. It’s the melancholic air that draws me back. That and the macaroni cheese, which is perfect post-guiding fare.

The melancholy was added to by the state of Trafalgar Square. Why Shrigley, why? All those stick balancing Yoda scroungers, now transformed by the Magic of Christmas into rapacious aerial Santas, make a mockery of the imperial pomposity of the Square’s original plan far more effectively than Shrigley’s tragic waste of bronze could ever do. The big thumb is a piece of egocentric art so facile it makes a Banksy graffito of a transvestite copper look like a piece of allegory on a par with Poussin’s Dance to the Music of Time.

 

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Poussin, A Dance to the Music of Time. Not to be confused with Shrigley, Thumbs Up!


But I digress.

We chose from the Italian set menu, drawn up in honour of the Caravaggio exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing. Bean soup to start was a winner as I was exceedingly hungry. Plenty of satisfyingly thick soup and some good bread to go with it. Bruschetta next to me looked a bit meagre but was made up for by a generous helping of pasta with shin bone beef as a main course. My roast cod was delicious enough with  enough cherry tomatoes alongside to see off a whole platoon of prostate problems but the side order of chips was a curiously bloodless affair and appeared to have been assembled at very short notice.

A small tragedy around the wine.The list had the same Oregonian red that I’d enjoyed at the Opera but at twenty quid less. I put in an immediate order. And rhapsodised on its qualities. But what’s this? None left! A stab to the alcoholic vitals that was only slightly mitigated by its Pinot Noir replacement being a tenner cheaper.

Though the room was sparsely occupied a certain charm was added by the friendliness of the staff, who chatted to us about the film that we’d been to see (Son of Joseph at the ICA – highly recommended). Unfortunately this was to a backdrop of music sorely lacking in taste in a venue such as this. A cover version of Eddie Reader’s Perfect? U2’s A Beautiful Day?! And they were the least rancorous of the selections.

After coffee (good coffee) and dealing with some comic business around the bill we slipped across to the Opera Room of the Chandos to rediscover a jolly festive tone and leave the melancholia behind.

7/10

#Food #London #Art

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016 check out my GoogleMap

Delacroix Days

April 28, 2016


The picture at the head of this piece is of a postcard I brought back from Paris, it must be ten years ago. A self-portrait by Eugène Delacroix, a man well aware of his own dudosity. So what joy it is that there should be such a fantastic show at the National Gallery not only celebrating the man’s work but also his role as the inspiration to the next generation of painters. Men (for the most part alas) whose celebrity outstrips his own in contemporary times. It’s good to have him placed front and centre, for another month at least, in what is a wonderful show.

What perplexed me was that although Delacroix’s diaries are referred to in both the catalogue and the labels there isn’t a copy on sale in the NG shop – surely an opportunity has been missed! The reason I was looking for a new copy was that I had mislaid my pocket-sized edition published by Phaidon, one of a series of written classic works by artists and writers of which I have tried to obtain a full set.* Well, they had plenty of stuff by other people but nothing by the lad himself. A shame.

I won’t describe at length the wonders within the exhibition as there’s still plenty of time for people to go and look for themselves. But I will pick out a plum that explains why it is a must-see thing. One of my favourite pieces of Delacroix’s is that of Christ Sleeping During the Storm. To my mind it works as a metaphor for stoicism – the apostles fret, the storm rages, land is in sight, Christ takes a nap. Patience and faith (which work for both the secular and religious among us I think) are the keys to wending a way through the storms of life.

It’s a painting I’ve seen in the NG before but the difference as it is hung now is that it’s shown beside a Redon of a similar subject. Redon is an artist with whom I’m relatively unfamiliar and what I’ve seen of his hasn’t particularly appealed – that hot, over hot, splurge of sexual-psychological anxiety associated with the fin de siècle is not to my taste. But with his response to Delacroix he kind of clicked for me.

Redon removes the tempestuous drama that Delacroix the romantic puts into his composition and makes the scene more transcendental. Nature for Redon is not threatening the sailors. Neither is God. It’s the bare unforgiving sun in the sky and the isolation of the boat, the loneliness of the scene that come across. No land in sight, a ship cast adrift under a godless sky. It shows the shift from a Romantic to a modern sensibility.  From an appreciation of the beauty and danger of nature, and of human nature, to a turning inward of the mind. And each of the works is beautiful. It’s not the only time this kind of juxtaposition works in the show, it happens time and time again.

But there are two things that I would say that you don’t get from the show but that do become apparent from a trip to Paris.

The Delaxroix Museum comes as part of a ticket for the Louvre and is well worth visiting as a warm up act for the main event.


The house is where Delacroix lived and worked in Paris with a beautiful little garden laid out as he would have had it. 


Perfect for a pause in a busy day. I was interested by a display about Delacroix’s time in London. I hadn’t realised that he’d been to England (to my embarrassment, what kind of a London guide am I?). It had always puzzled me as to why his house was decorated with a replica of a Lapith v Centaur duel from the Parthenon Sculptures at the BM. Now I knew. Delacroix visited the British Museum in the company of his English friend, Thales Fielding.** The NG exhibition goes to town (rightly) on how significant Delacroix’s visit to Morocco was for his art but curiously for a British institution omits any lengthy reference to the impact of London on his art. Which is a shame.


In the Musée D they have a couple of beautiful watercolours done by the artist of tombs in Westminster Abbey. In the picture above you can see the replica of the BM panel and to the left the portraits of one another that Fielding and Delacroix made during his stay in London. It’s a joy to visit the studio as it shows you the intimate side of Delacroix that comes across in prose in his diary but which is missing both from the NG show and from the place that we went to next, the Louvre.

In the Louvre you have the big beasts. Sardanapalus, The Massacre at Chios, Les Femmes d’Alger. At the NG they have sketches and versions of these canvases but it’s not quite like seeing the real thing. Especially Sardanapalus which is a twisted mash up of sex, violence and soft furnishings. And of course then there’s Liberty Leading the People.*** Not even a sketch of this in London. And you do have to see it because in the flesh it is breathtaking and Important with a capital ‘I’ like no other painting of the nineteenth century. Politically revolutionary from an artist who otherwise I don’t see as overtly political. 

And this is missing from the NG’s thesis in London. Yes, Delacroix hands on a new sense of nature to Monet and Renoir, orientalism to Bazille and the rest but I wanted the politics that Manet picks up and makes such a big part of his work. Doesn’t Liberty have as a descendant the National’s own Emperor Maximilian? 

So go to the National for flowers, North Africa, nature and God. But then, if you’re lucky enough to have the time and the means, go to the Louvre for the politics.


And Murat. I don’t normally take photographs of paintings but I just couldn’t resist Joachim Murat in peach jodhpurs atop a tiger-skin saddle. 

* Yes, I know that’s what the internet is for! But if I’m buying for pleasure and not for work I prefer to go book-hunting myself and use serendipity as my guide. So after leaving the NG the first time I went to see Delacroix I first ransacked all the bookshops in Piccaddilly – ooh, isn’t there a Phaidon shop ON Piccadilly? No, of course not, that shut years ago. Then up Charing Cross Road, no luck. Up to Bloomsbury for a last chuck of the dice in Skoob and Judd Street. But then I thought of the second hand section in Waterstone’s Gower Street and (marvels!) not only did they have the book they had it in a fat French edition (£15) by Plon that is just a thing of wonder (‘un monument unique’ it says on the back and they’re not wrong). I plan to progress in a stately fashion through its pages but also ransack it at random for quotes about various shit that I’m interested in, and paintings/artists too.

** I read a column in The Spectator last week bemoaning outlandish modern names. As if this shit hasn’t been going on for years. I mean, Thales?!

*** There’s a really good In Our Time podcast on it on the BBC, well worth tracking down.

On snoooker

April 22, 2015

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Update 28th April 2016

Apparently someone else has found the fat flavour of snooker too strong to resist at Time Out! About time too … the club goes from strength to strength with fresh baize on the tables and the fairground punchbag only intermittently slapped to disconcerting effect.

I noticed rather late that the snooker is upon us. In fact it was hearing Barry Hearn on Fighting Talk that first brought my attention to it. And while Barry tried his best to draw attention to the characters in the modern game the vibe was most definitely that Fings Ain’t What They Used To Be. Take out Ronnie and what have you got? Actually, some spectacularly skilled snooker players who, given the nature of their trade, are ever unlikely to have the physique or skin tone of Christian Ronaldo. And now that most of them are off the sauce they’re a lot less ‘colourful’ than the cue-men of yore.

Some youngsters, or people who only remember the good stuff, might think watching the baize on the box was great in the old days? Really?!? Imagine watching Steve Davies playing Cliff Thorburn. On a Sunday. In the 80s. For four hours. In a small northern (ex-)mining town. When the pubs were shut all afternoon. And there was only Bonanza and Songs of Praise on the other side. Because there were only two other sides.

Who’s hot for the time machine now?

Of course then and now the alternative to bemoaning the state of pro snooker is to go out there and do it yourself. There’s a table near you – you just have to find it. And the barriers to entry are so low! £6 an hour in our local hall (for a twelve foot table – how many games of pool could you get through in an hour for a pound a pop in your local pub?) and the cues they provide, while not perfect, are free. Chalk too. Clean bogs, smoking ban in force nowadays – that was lightly unnerving at first. You can get a drink if you want (bottle of Stella £2.50) and they make a cheese toastie straight out of Ali’s Caff in Albert Square.

So why is it that only me and Travis Jr were in there last week with a smattering of Polish guys? When Wimbledon starts you can’t move for the inept middle classes showing off their latest tennis gear. The Crucible revs up and it’s the skunk eye from sporting north Londoners. Perhaps it’s too sunny outside to enter the dark womb of Ridleys? Perhaps you’re deterred by the shabby exterior? Fear not, inside you have the anonymity of one of the last bastions of working class masculine hegemony. Like the bookie, like the strip club, like the shabby municipal golf course, the snooker hall is the place where nobody wants to know your name. Because they’re escaping too.

And if I haven’t given you reason enough yet, imagine stumbling across this portrait of Jimmy White.

Jimmy White. Geezer.

Jimmy White. Geezer.

He has the wistful, haunted look of Goya’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington (currently displayed in a fine exhibition at the NPG). Only Jimmy never saw a Waterloo. I think the photographer (uncredited) anticipates the tragedy of that.

And by popular demand (well, one person asked if I had another – I can bring you Doug Mountjoy next time around if you like) here’s Ray Reardon. Well, what the low-lit/spotlighted atmosphere of the Green Lanes Snooker Club would allow me to capture of him.

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On Blockbuster vs Bijou Exhibitions

April 20, 2015

On Friday I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to the National’s latest blockbuster, Less of an Exhibition, More of a Thesis (or Inventing Impressionism: The Man Who Sold a Thousand Monets). I won’t expand too much on the drawback of such exhibitions to the average punter – too crowded, bed blockers parking themselves with their audio guides in front of the good stuff, the sharp elbows of the English Middle Classes, the inexplicable amount of babies and toddlers, the all-too-BIGNESS of the show. We all have our personal grievances on emerging from these things.

Across the road is another show, a teeny tiny one, of work by Jeff Wall, put on by White Cube in the Canada House Gallery. I’d been to visit it a few weeks ago in altogether different circumstances to those in the NG. Apart from having to go through an airport-style security check (it is part of the embassy after all and you can forgive them for being rigorous after the events in Ottawa last year) I didn’t see another person in the place. I had the room to myself to contemplate a handful of pictures, among which was at least one masterpiece, in absolute peace.

So, to an extent this is a piece about the value of seeking out the free treasures that are to be found in London’s art world. The various charitable spaces, private art dealers, cultural centres and auction houses that bespeckle the London map are full of things that the big institutions, even the free ones like the National, would make you pay to view as part of their monster spectacles.

From memory over the last few months I’ve seen a Breughel exhibition at Bonham’s as high quality as any you’d find in Brussels or Vienna (also with a lot of modern toss larded between), a collection of masterpieces at Christie’s that ranged from Chinese art to Rembrandt and Monet, and a little exhibition of Martin Parr photographs at some private dealer off Bond Street. As far as I remember I’d only gone to them because I’d passed them in strolling around and thought to pop in or go back when I had the spare time. Each time I had the Exhibition largely to myself.

What luxury. What pleasure for the cost of slithering under the gaze of the laser-eyed harpies that often act as the gardiennes of these places. So yes, do visit these things.

But do more than that. Think too. For what is the curse of the blockbuster exhibition? It is the audio guide. The mental crutch of the intellectually crippled. Fully formed opinion at the cost of a fiver and a surrender of self-respect.

And here the experience of gallery-going ties in with academia. By all means seek opinion, an academic lecture is after all just opinion (if you’re lucky, expert opinion) that should inform your own writing or lecturing but not dictate it. Students should be encouraged to question the view of their teacher but all too often they listen (well, it depends what time of day it is) and repeat without a digesting process in between. Which is what the audio guide does, it gives you opinion (of excellent quality no doubt) at second hand. It interrupts thinking. Put it away and think.

In an exhibition of the most tremendous quality (I urge you if you can to get to the NG before it shuts) one picture, for me, stood out in particular. Manet’s The Battle of ‘Kearsarge’ and the ‘Alabama’ (1864, Philadelphia Museum of Art). This is an extraordinary painting of an incident I knew nothing about. Now I know a little more. During the American Civil War the Confederacy operated a guerilla war at sea against the navy of the Union. The Kearsarge was a Union warship keeping watch off the French coast for three Confederate Navy commerce raiders: Georgia, Florida, and Alabama. The Alabama was lying off the coast near Cherbourg, waiting for a response from the French authorities to a request to land civilians captured in the course of capturing and burning two United States merchant ships, the Rockingham and Tycoon. After some to-ing and fro-ing, during which the anticipated battle between the two ships had attracted the attention of the world’s media and brought a number of visitors to Brittany to witness the event for themselves. The battle finally took place on 19th June 1864 and the Alabama was sunk in short order. Such is what I have learned this morning but intend to find out more, especially what Manet was up to.*

But that was afterwards. I don’t know what the commentary said about the painting, although judging by the catalogue it almost certainly told of when Durand-Ruel bought it and how much he sold it for. My immediate thoughts on looking at it were of what an extraordinary thing it is – big, contemporary, striking. A colossal study in grey-blue. With echoes of the Raft of the Medusa and parallels in Manet’s own work (so much more politically engaged, it seems to me, than a lot of the other impressionists and hence why he’s of more interest to historians) The Execution of Emperor Maximilian and its concern with the modern world.

Apparently contemporary critics decried the amount of space that Manet gave to the sea, seeing it as overwhelming the more important matter of the battle. Yet to me this is what thrilled because the sea he makes a turbulent danger. The sea is the subject in any maritime painting for anyone concerned about the individual. This occurred to me as I watched coverage of the ongoing losses of life in the Mediterranean as people try to escape conflict in Africa to make a better life in Europe, at enormous risk. A fisherman turned coastguard showed the humanity that Manet shares in his canvas when he pointed out that fishermen-coastguards and the refugees they pluck from the water both share an awareness of the brutality of the sea. Its indifference to what is tossed into it and what is pulled out.

Such a sentiment was also in my mind at the Jeff Wall exhibition. At the two previous shows of his that I’ve seen, at Whitechapel years ago (when I worked in the City and snuck off for intellectual nourishment (being a Guardian reader on the IPE I naturally earned the nickname Trotsky (when the traders were in a benevolent mood – usually I was called far worse))) and Tate Modern more recently, I perceived in Wall’s work this theme of the indifference of nature. I saw it in his A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) and also in his faintly menacing landscapes.

At Canada House there’s a picture I realised I’d seen before but probably through gallery fatigue hadn’t really looked at, Boy Falling From A Tree. It could be comic, most boys have fallen from trees haven’t they? It viscerally reminded me of the sensation of falling off a thing, or not so much the falling off as the landing – landing on the ground after falling off a shed when playing at a friend’s house and laughing at my dizziness after banging my head, or landing on a big bush after falling out of a window at university and impaling my leg on a branch.

Then there is the metaphorical implications of falling from the Icarus story to Lucifer, which put me in mind of Breughel (another favourite artist). But these stories involve human agency and what I get from the dispassionate view of Wall, and to an extent Manet, is that it’s not the person but the thing that is the agent. The sea swallows errant sailors. The earth crushes those who fall onto it. They are moral tales that warn us to be cautious, to be respectful of natural phenomena for our own good. And in this election time, after listening to the leader of the Green Party go on about what we are doing to the earth through our misguided actions I was struck by how wrong-headed this approach is. Nature is indifferent to us, both globally and individually. If we should persuade people to respect nature the more we should thus appeal to self-interest. Nature is capable of a far more brutal retribution on us for the wrongs we heap upon it. Manet and Wall show us that.

* My source is J. Wilson-Bareau & D. C. Degener, Manet and the American Civil War: The Battle of U.S.S. Kearsarge and C.S.S. Alabama (Yale University Press, 2003)


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