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Wish you were here

August 21, 2013

I think I left you half-way through our staycation, when TL and I spent a whole week moseying around London as though we owned it, seeing stuff we hadn’t visited before, with not a single child in tow. So here’s the next slice of our cultural crash course.

One of our treats was to have lunch in the National Portrait Gallery restaurant, which must have one of the best views in the city. I’ve tried twice to have dinner here, without booking naturally, and been told there’ll be a long, loooong wait. The second time, a large Italian family was just leaving after having a big celebratory get-together and everyone was kissing everyone else goodbye. We stood looking on, hoping this mass exodus meant there would soon be a table for us, until an adorable little Italian girl rushed up and kissed me on both cheeks. I was charmed, though I had to point out we weren’t actually related.

This time, there was no queue – a bit suspicious, in London, even at lunchtime. Unfortunately, it soon turned out the food wasn’t nearly as good as the view – TL had a mighty peculiar rhubarb and mackerel thing, and I had a vegetarian mille feuille that was very solid indeed. We decided either all the chefs had gone on holiday together or it was under new management.

Lord Nelson looking moodily magnificent, taken from the NPG restaurant

 

The Laura Knight exhibition downstairs made up for it – what a fantastic artist she was. I had been a bit concerned about seeing it, as the waspish Brian Sewell had given the show a totally crushing review in the Evening Standard the day before, but he was mostly criticising the NPG rather than Knight herself. I loved her style, or I should probably say styles. She changed enormously over a long and madly successful career. She was the first woman Royal Academician since 1769, she was made a Dame, she was the official artist at the Nuremberg trials – and then, after her death, she slipped almost completely into obscurity. It seems very unfair, as she was so talented. There are some oddities in the show – her portrait of a man and his two lovely children, in the first room, shows the children beautifully painted, but the man himself is wearing the largest pair of trousers I’ve ever seen. They are truly monstrous. Either she was making a point about the chap – and who knows, she might easily have been – or something went a bit wrong somewhere. She wasn’t politically correct, either, to say the very least – but I suppose you would have to say she was a product of her time.

The pictures I liked best were of people working at fairs and racecourses, painted very quickly on location, in Laura Knight’s own home-made travelling studio. This studio was basically a clapped-out Rolls Royce which she had customised herself and drove around the country in. Now that’s the way to do it. More staycation soon.

Laura Knight and the Mighty Trews

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