Thursday, July 23, 2009
London 2009 - Part 1
I cannot tell you how surprised I was that my plane not only took off early from JFK last night, but it also was only half-full and we got into Heathrow early this morning. When I got to my hotel at the Ridgemount Hotel, my room wasn't ready yet, so I went out for coffee and decided to head to the National Gallery, which I had not been to since 2005. It's always great to see some of their incredible masterworks of art. Some that remain memorable with each visit are Titian's Bacchus and Ariadne (c.1525), Holbein's The Spanish Ambassadors (c.1535), Gainsborough's A Morning Walk (c.1785), Constable's The Hay Wain (1821), and Delaroche's Execution of Jane Grey (1833). There was also a special exhibition on 19th-century French landscape painting from Corot to Monet, all works from their permanent collection. I'm not typically a big fan of landscape painting, but the sketches by Corot, not to mention his Times of Day series, are beautiful, and the Barbizon landscape paintings by Diaz de la Peña are luminescent and simply gorgeous. The exhibition closes in September.
I also went to St. Paul's Cathedral today, which Christopher Wren designed after the 1666 Great Fire. It's a spectacular Baroque cathedral, but my purpose was to see all the 18th-century and 19th-century sepulchral monuments to soldiers from the Napoleonic Wars. I have to confess some of them are a bit over the top, but others are quite lovely in their Neoclassicism. Shockingly, though, the cathedral has an active gift shop that sells everything imaginable, but not a book about the sculpture. There aren't even postcards of the monuments. And of course you can't take pictures inside. Most frustrating, I can tell you!
I also went to the National Portrait Gallery this evening. I cannot even remember the last time I was there, but it was definitely worth visiting again. Seeing all the portraits of monarchs like Elizabeth I and her father Henry VIII was worth it. They have the entire museum arranged so that if you follow it room-by-room numerically, you see all the faces of British history, including monarchs, members of Parliament, artists, writers, you name it. I also went there today, though, because I wanted to see a special exhibition there that just opened a few weeks ago: Gay Icons. I think I may write a separate post about the exhibition specifically because there is quite a bit to talk about, but it was an interesting visual assessment that considers who is a gay icon and why people perceive others may or may not be a gay icon (even if they're not gay). That exhibition closes in October.