Tuesday, March 21, 2023

The Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea

My last art post was about the simply awful Hogarth exhibition at the Tate, which was just terrible, having no interest in art or Hogarth or historical accuracy. So it was some trepidation that I went over to the Queen's House in Greenwich to see the new National Maritime Museum exhibition on the Van de Veldes: Greenwich, Art and the Sea.

I need not have worried as the NMM have aced it with a fascinating exhibition that shows real knowledge and interest in art, history, the sea and sailing, with an amazing set of exhibits in a stunning building.

The Queen's House is an excellent location because that was where the Van de Veldes actually worked, with a studio in the basement. It is also a gorgeous building:

The Van de Veldes were the great Dutch artists that were lured to London with promises of £ 100 per year and went on to document some of the great naval battles between the English and the, er, Dutch, which is some what ironic really.

Indeed, one of the most amazing exhibits was a small drawing of the battle of Solebay in which King James II and Van de Veldes the elder draw their recollections of the positions at 2 pm - as both were present, but on different sides!

The star of the exhibition is the magnificent giant tapestry (top image) which shows the battle in amazing detail. You can see a video of it being hung here after its recent restoration - which is well worth a view, if only to get a sense of scale. It's huge - completely filling one wall all the way to the ceiling.

Van de Veldes the elder often worked in graphite which resists water, and so can be used, as he was wont to do, on the deck of a boat at sea, sometimes in the middle of the battle. The NMM has some of his sketches in its archive - the largest collection of Van de Veldes in the world.

The other benefit of using graphite was it could be used to make a mirror image copy, so template ships could be pasted into larger scenes, and then adjusted accordingly.

There was amazing attention to detail: all the rigging looked right. Ships, wind, sails, anchors, light - all were as they should be. Look at this one, and notice the ship heading into wind having transported the king to his flagship:

Each painting or drawing was just exquisite:

It reminded me a bit of the Turner and the Masters exhibition, back in the day when the Tate was actually interested in art. That looked at how Turner was inspired by greats such as Van de Veldes and had some examples where very similar scenes were painted, deliberately. For Turner said that seeing Van de Veldes the younger had "made me a painter".

A fantastic exhibition in a beautiful building, and what's more its free!

If you're in London and interested in art and the sea, its well worth a trip down to Greenwich.

More information on the NMM web site here.

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Canal walks: the frozen Slough Arm

 I haven't posted for a bit, but recently did another canal walk so thought it would be useful to add to the list, namely the Slough Arm. This is a bit of the Grand Union Canal that heads off to Slough, hence the name.

I wasn't sure if it counts as a London canal, but I spotted it on a map at the London Canal Museum, so I guess it does. The nearest station is West Drayton, though I actually started walking from Hayes and Harlington, as that's where I started/ended upon on my last surveys of the canals of London.

At first you walk along the Grand Union, and all is rather familiar:

You pass people walking their dogs, heading off to the shops etc. until you reach the point where the Slough Arm begins (or ends, depending upon your perspective), ahead on the left of this photo:

After crossing the bridge it was off along the Slough Arm, and it felt strangely dream-like. For the first 45 minutes I saw just the one other person (more on this later) and there were no boats moving. That could have been because the canal was frozen:

That's not a reflection in water, but in ice.

It felt weird, remote and unexpected, made more dream-like by the only person I saw was a young man with a large falcon on his wrist.

It would have been like something out of a post-apocalypse movie, apart from the clearly audible roar of the M25 motorway. This sign felt appropriate:

I saw a heron, standing on the ice, a fox and a couple of deer.

Ultimately the canal went by Langley and got a bit busier, with stacks of moored canal boats and more people. One sign of the people were the number of things thrown on the ice to see if they'd sink through:

That's a brick, stuck in the ice, middle channel, but I also saw many branches, a trainer and someone's bag:

The ice was a bit too thin for me to venture out and rescue it.

I was wondering how the canal would end: would there be a wharf with warehouses converted into bars and restaurants? The answer was no, it just stopped:

Then it was time to get to Slough station and the new Elizabeth line back to London. 

An interesting walk, not what I expected, and definitely memorable.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Remembering the Olympics 2012

10 years ago today was the Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremony - before Brexit, Covid and all the rest.


What an amazing summer...


Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Platinum Jubilee Photos

How was your Platinum Jubilee? I managed to see the flypast and part of the (totally bonkers) pageant. 


Friday, April 22, 2022

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Traditional Rowers and the PLA

Back on the 28th March I spotted the PLA launch and this rather elegant traditional rowing craft heading down river.

Any ideas what this was about?

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Fast cars! Drones! Astrophotography! The Thames!

One evening the skies miraculously cleared, so I took the camera with the biggest lens I've got and star tracker down to the local park. After the usual faff of aligning with Polaris, it was rotated to a suitable target and the camera set taking a couple hundred of shots.

That left a long time hanging around, looking at the stars, listening to traffic and dog walkers fail to control their pets.

Then there was this light, out on the Thames, slowly gliding up-river. It was followed by the familiar whine of a drone. So I left my camera doing its thing and rushed to the bank to see what was going on. 

I had time to snap the above, which didn't tell me much, apart from the need to go Google "Eletre", which I did. And up popped this video, which did indeed show a glowing box with Eletre on the side gliding up and down the Thames. It was the latest electric vehicle from Lotus:

Very cool!

It and the drone was last seen heading under Putney Bridge so I returned to my camera, and this was the resulting image:

An interesting evening

Sunday, April 03, 2022

The Boat Race is Back

 As we all know, the last two years have been weird in many ways. Life changed, plans were cancelled and a new normal became normal. 

So it was good to see the University Boat Race back on the Thames were it belongs. I missed the Woman's race (which Cambridge won) but got to see the Men's race (which alas Oxford won, above leading comfortably by Hammersmith Bridge). But I guess a draw is fair.

There were the usual crowds, TV crews and Clare Balding presenting for the BBC:

There were some changes. The sponsor is now some sort of crypto exchange, but I'm yet to be convinced that crypto has any benefits so I won't mention their name.

I also spotted this innovation: a drone launching boat speeding down the Thames:

Very cool!

The PLA were a lot more sedate:

You will spot that Hammersmith Bridge is free from spectators. This relates to the ongoing renovation work which remains stalled.

But that is another, long story....

Friday, April 01, 2022

Titty's tooth and London's beaver

As with many sailors, I have fond memories of the Swallows and Amazons book series and the 1973 film of the first book. I've posted before about the behind the scenes eBook of the filming by she who was Titty, namely the multi-talented Sophia Neville who reminisced that:

“The film ends with Ronald Fraser playing 'What shall we do with the drunken sailor?' on his accordion. As a twelve-year-old I noted in my diary that he was completely sloshed at the time.”

During the filming, the 13 year old Sophie apparently lost a tooth and recently wondered what happened to it, mentioning the incident on BBC Cumbria.

And listening in was the film's make-up designer, Peter Robb-King, who kept it in a film canister labelled "Important: Titty's tooth". 

As a heart warming end to this story, he was able to return it to Sophie after almost 50 years.

Another heart warming story was the return of beavers back to London. A male and female beaver have recently been released into an enclosure in Forty Hall Farm in Endfield. Apparently they're not just amazing animals, they also help the ecosystem because the dams they make ponds and dams.


And the April Fool is - these are not April Fools, but real stories!

Friday, February 18, 2022

Choppy Thames

Been a bit breezy in London as storm Eunice plus some wind against tide made the Thames a bit choppy (above). 

I've seen some damaged roofs, fences and these canoes tumbled over Putney Embankment:

Keep safe out there!

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Remembering Bonnie

This week we lost a blogging friend when Bonnie, behind the Frogma blog, passed on. I never met her in person, but through blogging I felt I knew her and the gap she leaves behind.

Her blog was always interesting, full of her character, kayaking the waters around NY, reporting on that great city, posting pictures of snow, flowers and paddles.

Last night I went out into a local park to do a bit of astro photography, capturing the Orion nebula (above). As the skies slowly turned above me I thought about life, and how quickly it passes. 

People come and people go: appreciate them while you can.

So hello my fellow bloggers. 

I'm glad to be part of your community.

Saturday, January 01, 2022

Happy New Year 2022

Happy New Year!

Hope you all had a great New Year's eve, celebrating we'd made it through another Covid dominated year. Fingers crossed that in 2022 life does begin to return to normal, in particular with travel opening up again.

There wasn't any foreign travel for me last year and only a few trips out on the water. A look through the blog statistics identified the following posts were the most read:

  1. The America's Cup is boring brilliant!
  2. Paddle Boarding on the Regent's Canal
  3. America's Cup and New Zealand
  4. Buff Solves Hammersmith Bridge Problem
  5. Book Review: The Secret World of Weather by Tristan Gooley

In terms of comments, the following were the top 5:
  1. Fulham Cottage Riverstand Update
  2. What are your 2021 Sailing Fantasies?
  3. Supermoon brings super tides
  4. The America's Cup is boring brilliant!
  5. Buff Solves Hammersmith Bridge Problem
Sounds like I need to post about ol' Buff and the America's Cup in 2022 sometime. 

A lot of the posts were London related, but that was to be expected given the lockdown we had to go through.

There were a total of 45 blog postings, an average of one every 8 days or so. Not quite once a week which was the target. Oh well, was very busy for a lot of the time.

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

PSA: Hogarth and Europe at the Tate Britain

I've just been to the Tate Britain to see the Hogarth and Europe exhibition, and rather than reviewing it thought it might be better to give a Public Service Announcement (PSA) for anyone wondering if they should visit.

1. Ignore the "and Europe" 

I really couldn't see the benefit of connecting Hogarth to what was happening in Europe at the time. It wasn't like the Turner and the Masters exhibition where you could put paintings side by side and show how Turner (or in this case Hogarth) developed his ideas. The connections were vaguer, more on the lines of similar genres, such as social commentary and urban life. 

It was more like the curators were still smarting from Brexit and wanted to show that Hogarth was part of a wider Europe (geddit?) even though Hogarth was as rude about the French as he was about, well, the British. As was to be apparent (see next point), the Tate seems obsessed with politics and issues over art.

Basic rule of thumb: if it's not by Hogarth it's ok to ignore it.

Anyhow, as with all art galleries, less is more. Too many rooms with acres of canvases leads to burn-out. What is best is a couple of well curated rooms with a highly focussed message. 

So that's a double fail for the Tate (see below).

2. Ignore the puerile wall text

The accompanying text seems to have been written by the Woke Committee for Political Correctness and is an example of toxic negativity. One panel was written by this group:

The themes are pretty basic:
  1. Britain in the 18th century was bad, sexist racist colonial etc etc etc
  2. Hogarth was a white male living in Britain in the 18th century and hence suspect, bad etc etc
The consequences are by implication the following:
  1. The Tate is bad for showing the work of Hogarth
  2. You, the viewer of this art, are bad for attending this exhibition
It didn't actually tell you anything you wanted to know. It was so ghastly that even woke-friendly The Guardian called it "a massive own goal for the gallery". The Sunday Times hit the nail on the head when it described it as:

"the collapse here of useful scholarship and its replacement by wokeish drivel. Caption after caption wastes precious explanatory space on à la mode speculations about Hogarth’s intentions that are thunderously unreliable."

For a more general review of what the newspapers thought, check out this article for The Art Newspaper.

3. Fire up Wikipedia

I got to the end and realised I knew almost nothing about Hogarth and each of the art works on display and so opened up Wikipedia and it's entry on Hogarth. It changed the exhibition for me, massively for the better. Having done that, I went back to some the big sequences such as:

  1. The Harlot's Progress
  2. The Rake's Progress
  3. Marriage a-la-mode
  4. Before and After (well, at least, one of those pairs)

On Wikipedia there are good, informative, illuminating descriptions of each of the works and their context. 

Thank you Wikipedia! (and take note the Tate)

4. Enjoy the amazing map of London

At the start of the exhibition there is an amazing, huge map of London of the time and I spent a long time pouring over its details. 

I (and others) spent ages comparing it to modern London, checking out the lack of bridges, the non-existent Regent Street and Buckingham Palace, where London was expanding, the Fleet ditch (still there), the docks, the ships etc etc.

Loved it!

If the curators had any imagination (and not the toxic negativity of a woke committee) they could have marked out where some of Hogarth's pictures had been located so we could have put it in context.

But alas...

5. Go First Thing Midweek

It might be Covid restrictions, but booking the first slot on a midweek morning meant the gallery was amazingly quiet. You really could get up close to each picture and have time to explore the details - once, of course, you'd loaded Wikipedia on your phone.

Friday, October 29, 2021

The Wandle from Carshalton to Croydon

Carshalton Pond is one of the heads of the Wandle, and this walk, the last on my Wandle Trail, was to find the other, somewhere in the urban jungle that is Croydon.

Heading initially north-eastish, the first bit of green was The Grove where I spotted what looked like a group meeting for a picnic. Alas it turned out to be an anti-vaxer demonstration, so I quickly turned away, shaking my head.

There was a hike down a road to get to Elms Pond which was a luminous greeny-blue colour. Pretty sure that wasn't natural.

The Wandle was picked up again at the entrance to Beddington Park, which was surprisingly large and pleasant, about 58 hectares. It was a deer park in the 14th century for the Carew family and has a lake (with weeping willows, above) and several rather pretty bridges including this one that is clearly old:

At times it did feel a bit transported back to the 14th century, though this one did look quite a bit more modern:

As noted, it was a large park, and it would be easy to find a space clear of everyone. Indeed this corner had zero people in it on a sunny Saturday in September:

Yes, London is a city of nine million people, but we are blessed with so many parks and so much green space you can always find a space for yourself.

It felt like the end of summer:

Here's one of those classic traffic cone in the river shots:

Towards Croydon the route became more built up and sometimes the river was lost, identifiable only by street names:

The final appearance of the Wandle (or the first, depending on viewpoint) was appropriately in Wandle Park (the Croydon one, not the other one at Colliers Wood). 

Here a trench had been dug to expose it's waters to the sky and the tower blocks of Croydon:

The head of the Wandle was to be no romantic spring, of bubbling clear waters, but alas this rubbish encrusted gratting:

It was a bit disappointing.

You can trace the Wandle further south, from hereon as one of London's lost rivers, buried underground, by checking road names and the lowest points of valleys. The original source is much debated, but I'm guessing its somewhere up Southbridge Road, where I was once charged by a rat.

Croydon is having a tough time at the moment, with bankrupt council and Westfields pulling out of a big development. But the Box Park is still there, full of lunch opportunities:

As I munched on my Thai Green Curry (very good) I thought about the walk, all the way from the far-off Thames. It had been a good walk or three, despite the disappointing ending: surprisingly green, with waters full of fish and a history packed of mills and industry.

I compared it to the Lea Valley walk. That had felt tougher, more grown up. The Lea had rockets and battles over water, but the Wandle had water mills, parks, lost dogs, grand houses and William Morris. It had a quieter, gentler feel to it, a chalk stream where fish swum in clear waters.