I took a day off and spent the late morning at the Royal Academy of Art’s Charles I: King and Collector exhibition.
You can read the reviews for yourself and I’m no art historian, but suffice to say that it’s an incredible collection. And, whatever the political and historical narrative of the fall of Charles I, there’s something incredible poignant about seeing him with his family in Van Dyke’s paintings. Indeed, the most striking thing is the initial confrontation with the king in his Charles I in Three Positions, which is the portrait that greets you as you enter.
It’s hung so that he’s slightly above eye-level and has the effect of making you feel as if he’s looking at you accusingly. You are after all about to walk around with the rest of the common folk and peer at his beloved art collection.
The guilt is only fleeting though. The anticipation of so many Holbeins, Titians, Rembrandts, Reubens and Gentileschis (to name but a few) in such close proximity for the first time in over 300 years is inclined to make you forget your manners and traipse on through…
“I’ve done the portrait of Mr Gachet with an expression of melancholy which might often appear to be a grimace to those looking at the canvas. And yet that’s what should be painted, because then one can realize, compared to the calm ancient portraits, how much expression there is in our present-day heads, and passion and something like waiting and a shout. Sad but gentle but clear and intelligent, that’s how many portraits should be done, that would still have a certain effect on people at times.”
…and so I’m trying to find out more about Jose Gabriel Alegria Sabogal.
Albrecht Durer meets William Blake?
I went with a friend to see the comedian Stewart Lee the other night at Leicester Square Theatre. This was perhaps the fourth time we’d been to see him at that venue, and was the best experience yet.
He doesn’t do jokes as such; he sets up a series of scenarios upon which to rant and rave against modern life. It’s almost performance art rather than comedy, but it leaves you in stitches. It’s fast, it’s clever and he takes aim at the most deserving targets, from the Daily Mail and Brexiteers to Donald Trump and obsession with social media.
I was a victim of unintended audience participation on two occasions. The first was when I couldn’t hold on to a bladder full of beer and had to dash to the loo (I was in the second row and couldn’t sneak out). He pointed me out and then accused me of taking people with me when someone followed me out. The second time was when I caught his eye when he recited part of the oath of the Night’s Watch from Game of Thrones – this time he had a dig at me watching the show and looking like I was over 40!
All good fun stuff, in which I didn’t mind taking bit of comedy flak.
I saw the man himself at the merch window after. I walked over and shook hands and told him how brilliant I thought the whole thing had been. Surprisingly, he recognised me and offered me a free poster as a ‘thanks for taking part’, which he then signed.
I don’t really have heroes, and I don’t gush at celebrity, but I have to admit to being chuffed when meeting a real artist for a very brief chat after seeing him perform at the height of his powers.
The most famous work of art in the history of the world resides in the Louvre. I got within 20 feet of her famously enigmatic smile, for perhaps 30 seconds of contemplation, before someone with an iPad above his head stepped in front of me to take a photo.
So, I retreated disdainfully to observe the scrum from a distance.
The Mona Lisa must also be the most photographed and reproduced artwork in the world, yet people had travelled hundreds – possibly thousands – of miles just to turn their back on her and to take a selfie.
I can’t believe that I was the only one who wanted to just stand there and take in her beauty for a few minutes. That’s all I wanted – not just to prove that I had been there, but to introduce myself to the old girl, to tell her how much I’d read about her and how much I admired her.
I left with Nat King Cole’s classic playing softly in my head:
“Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there…”
“An ad that pretends to be art is — at absolute best — like somebody who smiles warmly at you only because he wants something from you. This is dishonest, but what’s sinister is the cumulative effect that such dishonesty has on us: since it offers a perfect facsimile or simulacrum of goodwill without goodwill’s real spirit, it messes with our heads and eventually starts upping our defenses even in cases of genuine smiles and real art and true goodwill. It makes us feel confused and lonely and impotent and angry and scared. It causes despair.”
David Foster Wallace