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.