Baby Driver

Dir: Edgar Wright, with Ansel Elgort

Well, that was an exhilarating film until it got bogged down in how to end. A young getaway driver, lots of music and some brilliantly choreographed car chases at the start, until they turned jumpier and less fluid. I think my favourite scene was when Baby danced his way to buy four coffees –  it was done seamlessly with great charm.

And I enjoyed this on the same day that I read an article by George Monbiot on the iniquities of the private motor car, nodding in agreement the whole way through!

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Scottish National Gallery

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Edinburgh Castle

IMG_0671IMG_0670Another enjoyable morning amongst paintings (and masses of tourists). I started with E A Wilson again (A Daydream, oil on canvas, 1885), and then came across the (to me) bizarre St Bride by John Duncan (1913, tempura on canvas, which gave the painting a sherbetty glow), part of the Celtic revival movement. Of other paintings I retain only a hazy impression – Van Goghs and Cézannes and Gaugins, although the John Singer Sargent made an impression on me.

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IMG_1282I also enjoyed peering at the brushwork of various artists. I compared the loose strokes of Frans Hals to Gerard ter Borch: one was smooth, shimmering silk and the other was freestyle lace. Looking at a late 15th century Flemish Madonna, I recalled learning in Antwerp that painting on wooden panel allows for greater detail than canvas. The perspective of that painting recalled some of the British painting I’d seen yesterday.

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Edinburgh: “True to Life” exhibition

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Scottish National Gallery of (ahem) Modern Art, Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a handsomer city than Glasgow I suppose, but the centre lacks the latter’s eclecticism. I like mercantile cities that experienced a burst of dynamism in the 19th/early 20th centuries, even if it means that they also suffered a corresponding decline once their industries faded away. (I’ll add the caveat that I might not hold this opinion if cities like Glasgow and Leeds hadn’t tarted themselves up since then to attract the affluent weekend visitor.)

But I’m now in Edinburgh with its fine vistas and magnificent architecture, and this afternoon I went to the exhibition “True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 30s”. I thought it was brilliant. So brilliant that I broke my rule and bought the catalogue. Not necessarily because the paintings were all that great (some of them could have come out of Ladybird books or a frontispiece for an adventure story) but they spoke directly to that British core in me: the core that dredged up the word “frontispiece” from somewhere and is flashing coloured illustrations from Malcolm Saville’s Lone Pine series before my mind’s eye as I type.

IMG_0668The exhibition also filled in a few gaps and made connections with other paintings I have seen. The curators had borrowed Gerald Brockhurst’s “Dorette” from the Harris, and once again that juxtaposition of the Mona Lisa hills with a modern woman struck me as unusual. Or perhaps not: there was another, very similar Brockhurst, “By the Hills”, which had (obviously) the hills, Dorette’s torso and another woman’s head, which was painted so realistically that it was uncanny. James Dunn and Pauline were there too; this time “Pauline Waiting” in black with a dead animal over her wrist. Also Algernon Newton, the Canaletto of Regent’s Canal Basin, whose two paintings here were just as melancholic and irresistible.

It was interesting to think what “realist” meant. Noah ushering the animals into the ark? Some paintings had a photographic quality but with odd perspective. Alternatively, Meredith Frampton’s portraits were flawless, but somehow bloodless and dead: one of his female sitters seemed to be carved out of alabaster. I preferred Hilda Caroline’s more painterly “Elsie” (although Elsie herself might have preferred to be painted by Frampton!). Stanley Spencer was plainly an idiosyncratic genius.

IMG_0669Also interesting was the information that before WWI many art students were encouraged to study early Italian Renaissance painting, and there was a room that looked like Giotto and Raphael had been in it*. Given what the Glasgow Boys and Scottish Colourists had already produced, this does seem very conservative. However, I guess it was linked to what people wanted to buy, and I have to admit that technically “Pauline Waiting” is a delight – albeit in a very different way to Fergusson and Cadell’s women with hats this morning.

Yes, “conservative” seemed to be the mot juste for much of the exhibition, despite the portrayal of modern activities like hiking, picnics and swimming. Thinking about the Otto Dix exhibition I visited recently, these paintings seemed oddly unmoved by troubled times, unless you see a retreat to nature painting as the result of trauma. And then I came across Glyn Philpot and his Resting Acrobats (c. 1924) . . .

IMG_0676* In  fact, “Hiking” (c. 1936) by James Walker Tucker was tempera on panel. It gave the painting a lovely brightness, but it was amusing to wonder if these outdoorsy women were to be viewed as modern Madonnas.

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The Glasgow Colourists

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, by Simpson and Allen, opened for the 1901 Glasgow International Exhibition

Before checking out of the hotel, I returned to Kelvingrove to have a look at the Scottish Colourists’ gallery. After studying a few paintings, I got my eye in and entertained myself by going round the walls and guessing: Fergusson, Cadell, er . . . Taploe? Hunter was trickier. There were elements of Matisse in the emphasis on pattern over reproduction, but the colours were more vivid than his. (There was a Matisse in the next gallery that looked faded in comparison to Fergusson.) Fergusson gave his women defined facial features, whereas Cadell just left them hazy/unknowable. (Fergusson’s other painting suggested that he looked very closely indeed at women.) They looked so modern for their time. Not surprisingly they had spent a lot of time in France and, like the Glasgow Boys earlier, also had their favourite Scottish retreats for plein air painting.

It was worth getting wet to see them. Walking through Glasgow University grounds was also a pleasure; they have some interesting 1930s brick buildings there.

Another sensation was how wonderful it was to be striding out again after spending the weekend on and off coaches and ambling in a group.

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Glasgow day 3

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Hill House, Helensburgh, built by Mackintosh 1902-04 for publisher Walter Blackie

IMG_1212Hill House had only two private owners (both Mackintosh fans) before it passed into the embalmer’s hands, so it’s as authentic as you can get. It’s positioned on a hill overlooking the River Clyde and is the kind of harmonious, balanced Gesamtkunstwerk that Mackintosh insisted on. What I particularly noted were the way that room shapes and furniture encouraged sub-division: here is the nook by the fire for winter days, here is the large bay for fine days, and here is a little alcove on the landing for the children to play. Again, there was the interplay between light and dark, and small pieces of coloured glass set into doors, lights and frames. Another “barred” staircase (like Derngate). Lines (or germinating plant shoots) springing up and bisecting glass squares. The window stays in the outside which resembled swans (symbol of undying union):

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It was also very clear that Mackintosh’s designs must have cost a fortune to his patrons!

The return to Glasgow took in a view of Loch Lomond:

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Then a visit to Scotland Street School (1903-06) in the south of the city. The neighbourhood it once served has long been demolished and it’s a rather forlorn sight now. Mackintosh was on a tight budget here: the Glasgow School Board reined him in as far as they could, but Mackintosh still smuggled in his geometric patterns and symbols.

The day ended with a visit to the church in Queen’s Cross designed by Mackintosh in 1897-99. Even in this building, Mackintosh incorporated his stylised plant-like designs.

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Glasgow day 2

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Day 2 started with a visit to the House for an Art Lover, built in the 1990s to Mackintosh’s sketchy designs (e.g. the front elevation plans didn’t accord with the back elevation) for a Darmstadt competition in 1901. It is an impressive and unusual building, with a strong contrast between dark “masculine” rooms and white “feminine” ones, but the airy Empfangsraum was crowded with tables for the afternoon’s wedding reception and I was cognitively wrong-footed by the knowledge that this was “artificial” rather than “original”. (And then my brain hurt, because little of the historic stuff I go to see is really “original”.) It was interesting to see how much of a collaboration this was between Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald, his wife. (Low-brow alert: the recollection of Jackie illustrations would intrude.)

Next was the Kelvingrove Gallery, which really requires several visits to get to grips with it. It has everything, from Spitfires to Salvador Dali. Also gesso panels made by Mackintosh and Macdonald for Miss Cranston’s tea rooms:

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and it was mildly interesting to look at the differences in his and her designs. (Strong verticals vs endlessly flowing lines.) Pretty but not inspiring.

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The Amber Pool, E A Walton, 1904-10, oil on canvas

At Kelvingrove I also came across the plein-air Glasgow Boys from the 1880s and 90s (e.g. James Guthrie, E A Walton, E A Hornel and George Henry). I particularly liked Walton’s landscapes. I was also introduced to the Scottish Colourists (J D Fergusson, Francis Cadell, Leslie Hunter and Samuel Peploe). Looking at them, I realised that I really don’t care for Magritte: his colours lack the vibrancy that I found in the Colourists. Finally, I also encountered Joan Eardley (shades of Shirley Baker’s photographs, only with thick paint and collage) and Avril Paton (whose “Windows in the West” was like a Ladybird illustration after Eardley).

And then the Mackintosh House, which gave me another tussle with the idea of authenticity. It houses original furniture from Mackintosh and Macdonald’s Glasgow house; the house itself was demolished many years ago and a facsimile built in the Hunterian. It’s therefore original and artificial at the same time. But it is beautiful and balanced without being rigidly symmetrical. Here the furniture and furnishings are both decorative and plain, light and dark, flowing and geometric, frivolous and practical. Photographs were not allowed, but it will be a while before I forget the delight I felt in looking at the spaces they had created.

The Hunterian also has a large collection of Whistlers, but it was the three Chardins that pleased me the most: The Cellar Boy, The Scullery Maid, and A Lady Taking Tea.

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Glasgow

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Kibble Palace in the Botanic Gardens, Glasgow. Designed by Boucher and Cousland and erected (elsewhere) in 1863-66.

To Glasgow this morning for a weekend binge on Charles Rennie Mackintosh. But there were other pleasures first: the train journey (which I rarely do) with its views of the Lake District, River Lune, red sandstone castle ruins at Penrith and crossing the Clyde into Glasgow Central. And an at-seat vegetarian sausage bun.

The tour proper starts later this evening, so I had the afternoon to myself. As I walked out of the station, I remembered how pink Glasgow is. (Buildings also come in grey or beige, but red sandstone is ubiquitous.) Armed with the brilliant and rather opinionated walking tour guide published by the Charles Rennie Mackintosh Society, I explored the West End.

It’s a handsome city, with fine terraces everywhere. I confess that I prefer the “less is more” approach:

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Great Western Terrace, Alexander Thomson, 1867-77. There are some triglyphs on the taller blocks . . .

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. . . whereas this has had the whole patternbook thrown at it. Kirklee Terrace, Charles Wilson, 1845-64

IMG_1149There are so many fine buildings (albeit all front and some of that crumbling) that you start to take them for granted. In Kensington Gate there were a few houses with attractive decorated windows; I have no idea if they were original but they were worn enough to suggest so.

IMG_1148I walked through the Botanic Gardens to Kibble Palace, where I saw carnivorous pitcher plants for the first time. Even before I read about them, I found their appearance sinister as well as beautiful. They look as if Mackintosh himself might have designed them for single roses.

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Then on to the Kelvingrove Gallery, which I visit tomorrow. I’ve seen lots of buildings that have caught my eye – including some Brutalist stuff, which – after a surfeit of storybook/patternbook/corbels – does cleanse the palate.

(I particularly like the aristocratic fleur de lys motifs for the dispensary: nothing’s too good for the people.)

And this is what’s in store for me tomorrow:

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