Long May We Be Brave, Spontaneous and Motivated By Art
How many of us, if we are being honest, visit other countries and think, wow, I so wish we had a place like this back home.
Many, I am guessing. I know I do.
And does anyone recognise the moment that I am about to share, when I realised that I had said similar and then discovered that actually, we really do have something like this back home.
And to make it worse, it's been there all along and I never really noticed.
I had my moment last weekend. The weather was lousy, grey and raining and definitely not a day for being outside through choice. For no particular reason, other than seeing the weather through the window and wanting to make sure we didn't waste a day, we made one of those spur of the moment, spontaneous decisions which are so easy to do if you can just be brave enough. We decided to get out of the house and go somewhere that we had never been before.
So we did.
And the moment itself? It was when I understood that we had a wonderful art gallery not very far away that I had written off and never visited.
I love visiting galleries, especially when travelling, and only a few months ago spent time in the Museo Reina-Sofia in Madrid. I have visited many in London over the years but had always avoided Tate Britain, mainly because I assumed it was old and stuffy.
How wrong could I be.
If by old, I had meant it was full of a wonderful. eclectic collection of art dating from the 1500's to recent times, then I would have been correct after all. But stuffy? Not in a million years. Whilst it didn't seem to be all that big (although having checked it since, it is supposedly the largest gallery in the UK, so bang goes my credibility for accuracy), it definitely punched above its weight. In particular, I was delighted to see a number of works by one of my favourite artists, Walter Sickert, on display. Not quite as impressive as the works on show at the Courtauld Gallery, which I visited last year before it closed, which also featured some of his Camden Town murder works, which I find particularly fascinating. However Tate Britain had the majestic “Minnie Cunningham, Girl in a Red Dress” painting which is incredible, in addition to a number I had never seen before. There was an extensive display of works by J.M. Turner, gifted to the museum by the artist when it was founded, in addition to a few by Constable. The most memorable were views of Richmond and Salisbury Cathedral, both the subject of thousands of daily postcard purchases in the gallery shop.
I suspect though that my strongest memories of this visit will be the Pre-Raphaelite works by two artists I have really developed in interest in over the last few years. William Holman Hunt and Sir John Millais were founder members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and to see some of their works “in the flesh” so to speak was fantastic. Orphelia by Millais was simply stunning. Photographic reproductions do not do it justice and the detail I was able to see by standing up close and simply looking was incredible. The two main paintings that Holman Hunt is recognised for, The Light of The World and The Hireling Shepherd, are both famous pieces in their own right. But the one that stood out for me was a tiny, exquisite painting called Cornfield at Ewell. Stunning in every way and not one I had heard of previously.
One of the reasons for my fascination with these two is really simple and very local. They jointly visited and stayed in the place where I now live, almost 170 years ago, and used the local scenery to paint all of the works I have mentioned above. Art history literally on my doorstep.
There were also beautiful works by John Singer Sargent, including The Lady of Shalott, and George Clausen, Edward Middleditch and Winnifred Knights, who were new discoveries for me.
In addition to the artwork, I do have to recommend the restaurant located down in the basement of the building. Whilst not quite as beautiful as the one we visited in Madrid back in the summer, the food was wonderful and this, just about, made up for the initial shock of the typical London prices. Such is the cost of culture in our country these days, although bearing in mind the museum is free to enter and home-made sandwiches are optional, it’s not really much of an issue.
The building itself is impressive. Located in the relatively quiet Millbank area, on the site of the old Millbank prison and just along from the Houses of Parliament, it opened in 1897 and was specifically designed to house and display art. It has an imposing classical portico at the front and if you ever visit, do remember to look at up at the glass covered dome once inside. Stunning.
Even that old bastion of English grumpiness, the security guards on the main entrance, were engaging and funny on our visit. Never has it been more pleasant to open our bags and show our uneaten sandwiches and all of those “just in case” things that we always seem to bring with us on a day out.
All told, a really enjoyable day that started grey and wet and ended up, well, also grey and wet, but left us with a warm feeling inside that came from getting up close and personal with some rather well known and inspiring paintings.
Long may we be brave, spontaneous and motivated by art!