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10950697_10153076729134664_1858964010029395326_oFor once I actually got to an exhibition close to its opening date rather than turning up just as it’s about to shut down, but John Singer Sargent has always been one of my favourite painters and I wanted to get there as soon as I could. So yesterday, on a sunny Sunday afternoon and undaunted by no trains running on our line due to planned engineering works we braved alternative means of transport (OK, the bus and tube) to get to the NPG.

I was particularly interested in this selection of Sargent’s work because of its focus – Portraits of Artists and Friends – so we weren’t looking at the society portraits for which he became renowned but works, commissioned and otherwise, of other artists in a variety of fields from painting to theatre to music to literature. It was a wonderful chance to see paintings I’d seen rarely or on through reproductions, and it was a real delight. I would have lingered s bit longer but the exhibition was packed and it was also *whispers* a bit warm in the galleries but I may very well go back again to savour my favourites, especially the magnificent Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth.

I don’t have much in print form about Sargent (though quite a good  selection of postcards), apart from the following:

  • Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends which we bought in the gallery shop and which does not break the book buying embargo as (a) it was a joint purchase with the Book God and (b) I consider it to be a catalogue, albeit an enormous hardback one (I know that’s a rationalisation but as Jeff Goldblum says in The Big Chill “I don’t know anyone who could get through the day without two or three juicy rationalisations”);
  • Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X by Deborah Davies which tells the story of the scandal around one of his most famous portraits and which sadly I read before I started this blog and don’t really remember what I thought of it;
  • John Singer Sargent: His Portrait by Stanley Olson which is unread in the stacks somewhere but about to be rediscovered (though sadly doesn’t seem to be available any longer);
  • Sargent: Portrait Drawings showing drawings in pencil, charcoal and pastels and just beautiful.

Oh and before we went to the exhibition we had a peep at The Real Tudors, a fine collection of portraits in a free display, brought together in advance of an extended exhibition in Paris. The fact that Wolf Hall has been on stage recently and currently on TV made this very popular as well. Much to enjoy.

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IMG_0259On Saturday the Book God and I made a second attempt to visit the British Library to view their Gothic exhibition (we failed earlier in the month as I had been unwell). I was very keen to see this because (of course) I love all things Gothic but also because we’d seen a number of the supporting TV programmes on BBC4 and our interest had been piqued. (I love that word and should definitely try to use it more!)

Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination covers the period from the 1790s (lots of Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill which, despite it only being about five stops along the railway from us I have yet to visit) to the present day through a wonderful range of books, manuscripts, illustrations and other artefacts. There are also some fabulous film clips playing in the background – Boris as Frankenstein’s Creature, Lady Dedlock from Bleak House, The Wicker Man, The Innocents – and interviews with modern figures such as Neil Gaiman (talking about Coraline).

Much to look at and enjoy. Wonderful selection of related material in the exhibition shop; I can’t decide whether I am appalled or pleased that I already had so many of the books on sale on my shelves at home, but I did nobble the exhibition catalogue and some lovely postcards.

IMG_0258Earlier this week I took a day off to do some pre-Christmas stuff, meeting a friend for lunch in Covent Garden and then meeting another friend (MargaRita, Queen of Speed, a friend of the Bride’s blog, previously mentioned here) for drinks at the splendid St Pancras Hotel. In between I spent a few hours around Piccadilly, mostly shopping but also finally getting round to doing something I’ve talked about in previous years – visiting the Chris Beetles Gallery to view their annual exhibition of illustration.

The Illustrators: The British Art of Illustration 1800-2014 is a feast for the eyes, exhibiting original works by many of the greats – Edmund Dulac, Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson, Ronald Searle (those are just some of my favourites) – as well as artists less well known (at least to me). The walls are crammed with these wonderful pieces of art, all for sale. Sadly, much as I would have loved to I couldn’t quite put my hands on the £17,500 for Dulac’s Asenath from 1907, let alone the £250,000 for Rackham’s The Fairies Are Exquisite Dancers from Peter Pan (1906). A girl can dream though.

So I made do with a copy of the exhibition catalogue which is a beautiful thing in itself.

There was also a fantastic exhibition of Quentin Blake illustrations and some original drawings for Paddington, any of which would have looked very nice framed on my study wall.

A lovely way to spend a winter’s afternoon.

So the reading slump that I have been in for as long as I can remember is still with me and sees no signs of abating. I’m working on the basis that it’s best not to force the issue which is why my lovely brand new copy of Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch is sitting untouched on my desk. I’ve been looking forward to this coming out ever since I read Rivers of London when I was ill earlier this year and got a copy as soon as I could largely to make Silvery Dude speechless with envy (and I succeeded in that at least). But now I’m actually scared to pick it up in case it’s not powerful enough to overcome The Slump. Quite sad really.

Anyway, Moon over Soho isn’t the only book I’m managing not to read at the moment, there are several others:

  • Berlin Noir by Philip Kerr – this is a re-read of the first three Nazi-era crime novels, designed to prepare me for picking up the sequels which the Book God now has and thoroughly recommends. Progress so far: 8.5%
  • The Thirties: An Intimate History by Juliet Gardiner – continuing my mild obsession with the period between the two World Wars. Progress so far: 13%
  • The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones – reading this as a memorial to DWJ but also as part of the Once Upon a Time challenge. Progress so far: 34%
  • Snow White and the Seven Samurai by Tom Holt – funny, fantasy stuff so ideal for OUAT but stalled. Progress so far: 16%
  • How Not to Grow Up by Richard Herring – memoir by one of my favourite funny people. Progress so far: 36%

A bit depressing really but not insurmountable and you never know, although I didn’t read much over Easter weekend we have another Bank Holiday next weekend, and once I’ve feasted upon the delights of the Royal Wedding on Friday morning I may just curl up in a chair with something good to read and The Slump may be defeated.

Oh and the picture at the top of the post is “Pavonia” by Frederic Leighton which is being used as the poster image for an exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum which the Book God and I went to on Saturday afternoon – The Cult of Beauty: The Aesthetic Movement 1860-1900. Well worth a visit if you are in London and enjoy beautiful things.

So, today was the last proper day of our holiday and we decided to visit a place we have been to several times before, but which is one of our absolute favourites.

Dryburgh Abbey is the prettiest of the four border abbeys (the others being Kelso, Melrose and Jedburgh); it’s an incredibly peaceful setting and if you have to be stuck in the ground somewhere I can’t think of anywhere more beautiful.

Sir Walter Scott certainly thought so as this is where his tomb is, and I paid him a visit as I always do when we are here.

Tomorrow we start our tw0-stage drive home and I probably won’t have internet access so no posts until I’m back in London. By then I may even have finished reading the book I’ve slowly been working my way through all the time we have been in Scotland…..

So today was our first real day of what could loosely be called bad weather, in that it rained a bit (not bad for Scotland where it can tend to rain a lot – and I mean a lot).

But that didn’t stop us from tanking up the coast to revisit Tantallon Castle, an imposing and remarkable structure with a long and fascinating history only finally put to an end by Oliver Cromwell.

I glared at the Book God as a representative of the English, though of course my lot were often no better.

It was bracing so we didn’t stay long, and after a pleasant drive back to where we are staying and a few restorative cups of Earl Grey we were ready for anything. Anything, in this case, was me catching up with blogs and e-mails and the Book God having his afternoon nap.

It’s tough, but someone has to do it……

On Sunday we had a lovely drive through (once again) glorious autumnal sunshine, which involved driving up and down the Electric Brae in Ayrshire which is an optical illusion which makes you think you are going uphill when in fact you are going downhill. Despite my childhood memories, and understanding of how it’s all supposed to work and a willing driver in the shape of the Book God, we failed miserably in trying to achieve the correct effect. Pathetic really.

Then on Monday, again in wonderful weather, we drove to Wigtown (which I visited last year) and then on to Whithorn, where we visited the Priory and learned all about St Ninian and the oldest Christian settlement in Scotland.

And today, we tootled up the coast in the fog and mist to the part of Ayrshire where my ancestors came from, and visited Dundonald Castle, which is imposing and impressive.

And this evening it’s packing before we drive over to the Tweed Valley tomorrow for the last part of our holiday….

So, this time last year I was at the Mull of Galloway trying and failing to make my way to the lighthouse through rain and howling winds.

Today, in glorious autumn sunshine, not only did we make it but we climbed all 115 steps to the very top. I managed to go into the lantern part but decided against walking out onto the balcony (which I’m sure has a proper name that makes it sound more like a working bit of the lighthouse but am too lazy to look it up). Bottled it in true afraid-of-heights fashion. It was very windy again, I might have been blown all the way to Northern Ireland. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

But I don’t care because I made it to the top without succumbing to a heart attack and have a certificate to prove it!

So on our last few days in Derbyshire we decided to do that which had to be done; visiting Chatsworth (seen here from the side)

It’s a fabulous building in a wonderful setting, awash with great art and full of stuff of great interest, whether it’s a throwback to the Great Bess of Hardwick (who has featured here a lot over the past few days) or Mitford-related stuff (another area of great interest to me and a reminder of another pile of books yet to be read waiting for me at home)

I probably now deserve an award for the most use of the word “great” in a paragraph but I’m too tired and lazy to think of alternatives; it takes a lot out of an old girl to walk around a stately pile like this one.

Another lovely sunny day to wander around the grounds. Resisted the temptation to pop over to the last day of the Attic Sale; a set of Victorian pokers and fire tongs would have looked lovely chez Bride, but alas, almost certainly out of my price range…..

Or Hardwick Halls I should say, there being the Old Hall (a ruin) and the New Hall (famous Elizabethan pile with its own rhyme – “Hardwick Hall, more glass than wall”). The picture shows the latter as seen from the top of the former.

Now, I have to declare that when it comes to the English part of our holiday this was the trip I was most looking forward to, because of my deep love of all things 16th century, which if you’ve been reading this blog over the years you will know all too well. Plus it was the home of Bess of Hardwick, a formidable woman who after marrying and surviving four husbands, being custodian of Mary Queen of Scots for part of her English imprisonment, and living to a ripe old age, tried to set up her grand-daughter Arabella Stuart as a potential heir for Elizabeth I. Didn’t work but darned good try. I have a couple of books about her which I meant to read before I came away but I ran out of time; I will be tucking into them when I get back because if I was interested before I am absolutely fascinated now.

The New Hall is magnificent, full of wonderful portraits including two of Arabella (about whom I also have a book, must find that as well).

General consensus is that Arabella had a sad life, a phrase repeated by several of the very nice National Trust people willing to chat about the various rooms we wandered through.

So, very pleased with what has been a beautifully sunny day, ideal for this sort of visit.

Bride of the Book God

Follow brideofthebook on Twitter

Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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