Music in the piazza

MUSIC IS A PART of what I associate with St Marks Square in Venice (Italy). Whether it be the occasional outdoor orchestral concerts that used to be held in on summer evenings in the 1960s, when we made annual family visits to the watery city, or the small bands that play on stages next to some of the square’s costly cafés. One of these ‘cafs’ is Florian’s, where a 6 Euro charge is added to your bill for the music.

Florian with its beautiful neo-baroque rooms that are entered beneath the arcade surrounding the Square was founded in 1720 as ‘Alla Venezia Trionfante’ but soon became known by its present name.

We looked at the menu at Florian, but although it is an extremely romantic place, there is a substantial price to pay to be an active part of it!

To Venice by crossing the water

THE LAST TIME I flew into Venice’s Marco Polo airport was in the late 1960s with my parents. In those days, the airport was tiny in comparison with what it is now. Back then, there were two ways of reaching the city of Venice from Marco Polo: by bus to Piazzale Roma, or far more expensively, in a private water taxi, in effect a speed boat. Despite my mother’s tendency to become seasick easily, we always took the speedy water taxi from the airport to our pensione on the Fondamente Zattere. In those now distant times, the airport arrival hall was much closer to the shore of the lagoon than it is today.

Water bus

Times have changed. The airport has grown and is far from the waterfront. Although there are still plenty of speedy water taxis carrying passengers, there is now a regular, moderately priced water bus service, which links Marco Polo to many points in Venice. We used this service.

As we crossed the lagoon, many water taxis sped past us. We passed Murano and the cemetery island of St Michele. Then, as we approached the Fondamente Nuova on Venice proper, I spotted the curious domed Bell Tower of the church of Madonna dell’Orto. I looked at it and felt a lump in my throat as I remembered the numerous times I visited that church with my parents to see the frescos within it. It was one of my favourite Venetian excursions, being taken to see that edifice.

After getting off at the wrong stop (mea culpa) and boarding another vessel, we reached our destination near the Gardens where much of the Venice Biennale happens. There is no doubt that arriving in Venice by traversing the water in a boat is far more dramatic and pleasant than arriving across the bridge by train or bus.

A rustic ‘utopia’ in London’s suburbia

MY CHILDHOOD HOME was in the heart of north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb (‘HGS’). For those of you who are unfamiliar with garden suburbs, here is a definition (from Collins online dictionary) that might begin to help:

“…a suburb of a large established town or city, planned along the lines of a garden city”

And a garden city is (from Collins) is:

“…a planned town of limited size with broad streets and spacious layout, containing trees and open spaces and surrounded by a rural belt”

In Brentham garden suburv

The garden suburb differs from the garden city in two main ways. (1) The former is part of a city, whereas the latter is separated from other cities by countryside (e.g., Welwyn Garden City). (2) The garden city is exclusively or mainly residential, but the garden city can include all that other cities contain.

The first houses in HGS, which was founded by Dame Henrietta Barnett, were completed in 1907. Our house in HGS bore the date 1908.

Brentham Garden Suburb (‘BGS’) was founded earlier than HGS: in 1901. One of its founders was Ebenezer Howard, the who founded The Garden City Movement in 1899. BGS is located close to the River Brent, where it flows through the Borough of Ealing. Its architecture was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, which was inspired by the philosophy of the social reformer and designer William Morris.

On a recent visit to BGS, the first for me, I was impressed by the similarity of many of its houses to those which I had grown up amongst in the HGS. The similarities are not surprising when you learn that from 1907 onwards for a few years, BGS’s planning was under the supervision of Raymond Unwin, the architect who planned the layout of HGS. Most of the buildings built after 1907 in BGS were designed by Frederic Cavendish Pearson and George Lister Sutcliffe, who were both in sympathy with Unwin’s ideas.

Most of the houses in BGS were built before the 1920s. This was not the case in the larger HGS, where building on a substantial scale continued into the 1930s. So, whereas Art Deco buildings and some other modern designs can be spotted in the HGS, this is not the case in the more architecturally homogenous BGS. A visit to BGS is worthwhile, especially if you are familiar with other garden suburbs and garden cities.

From Piccadilly to New Delhi

APPLE TREE YARD is a cul-de-sac near London’s Piccadilly. It runs east from Duke of York Street and parallel to Jermyn Street. On its south corner where the Yard meets Duke of York Street, there is an interesting monument consisting of three slightly separated carved basalt slabs with letters inscribed in them. The letters make up the following words, all in capital letters:

“SIR EDWIN LUTYENS ARCHITECT

DESIGNER OF NEW DELHI

LAID OUT HIS PLANS HERE IN APPLE TREE YARD”

Although I have never been to Delhi, I am familiar with the work of Edwin Lutyens (1869-1944). I was brought up in north London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb not far from its Central Square, which is surrounded by buildings that Lutyens designed before embarking on his projects in New Delhi. Although the above-mentioned basalt blocks were completed in 2015, I had not been past Apple Tree Yard  until yesterday (13th September 2022). Next to the inscribed blocks there is an attractive figurative bas-relief carving, also in basalt, mounted on a wall.

The carvings were made by Stephen Cox and he describes them in detail on a web page (www.lutyenstrust.org.uk/portfolio-item/apple-tree-yard-sculpture-honours-spirit-lutyens/). Here is a brief summary of what he wrote. The bas-relief sculpture is called “Relief; Figure emerging”. It was inspired by sculptures in Hindu cave temples, especially those around a town near Chennai (Madras): Mahabalipuram. The basalt that can be seen in Apple Tree Yard was quarried near the south Indian temple town of Kanchipuram. Cox, who has a studio in Mahabalipuram, was assisted by local carvers, when he created the bas-relief.  In summary, the monumental slabs and the nearby sculpture have their roots in India, which is highly appropriate as they commemorate an architect, who worked in India.

I must admit that amongst all the foreign architects, who have made significant buildings in India, Lutyens is not my favourite. Those, whose works I have seen in India and liked, include William Emerson (1843-1924), Frederick W Stevens (1847-1900), Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and Louis Kahn (1901-1974).

Lutyens, who was a former Viceroy of India’s son-in-law, drew up the plans for New Delhi in an office at number 7 Apple Tree Yard. Hence, the location of the monumental stones. Number 7 was for a long time the home of the Royal Fine Art Commission, but it exists no longer. It is now covered by a new building. However, his work in both India and the Hampstead Garden Suburb can still be admired by those who like Lutyens’s work. I feel that Cox’s memorial to him is much more elegant than much that I have seen of his buildings.

Art appealing to eye and brain: two exhibitions near Piccadilly

THADDEUS ROPAC GALLERY, in a most elegant building on central London’s Dover Street is four minutes’ walk from Waddington Custot Gallery on Cork Street. We visited both today (the 13th of September 2022). At Thaddeus Ropac, we saw an exhibition, “City of Silence” by Wolfgang Laib (born in Germany in 1950), and at Waddington Custot, we saw “In the Studio”, a collection of works by March Avery (born 1932 in New York City).

Works in beeswax by Wolfgang Laib

Laib’s works, the best of which is a collection of objects made in beeswax that resemble towers and ziggurats, were not particularly visually appealing at first sight. Neither were his numerous minimalistic works on paper or even a set of identical model boats made in brass. It was only after reading some of the explanatory material provided by the gallery that these artworks began to become interesting. They did not become more appealing to the eye, but they began to make some kind of sense to me. For example, the beeswax towers and other objects alongside them are supposed to evoke thoughts of dwellings in the Middle East and the Towers of Silence where Zoroastrians leave corpses to be devoured by vultures. To some extent, these objects achieve the artist’s mental vision of the structures, which inspired them. However, without the explanations, Laib’s exhibition would have ‘left me cold’.

Immediately on entering Waddington Custot, Avery’s colourful, mostly figurative paintings appealed to my eyes and provided feelings of visceral satisfaction. Although it is highly likely that the paintings are manifestations of the artist’s thoughts and ideas, the viewer can get enjoyment from the artworks without knowing anything about what was going through Avery’s mind while she was creating them.   

We left Avery’s exhibition both visually and intellectually satisfied. In contrast, we felt that Laib’s works on their own without explanation were far less fulfilling than Avery’s.

Some Islamic figurative art in the Victoria and Albert Museum

THE VICTORIA AND Albert Museum (‘V&A’) in London’s South Kensington is one of my favourite museums. It contains a huge variety of exquisite artefacts. Some of them were obtained by fair means, and others, such as Tipu’s Tiger (an 18th century mechanical toy), by means that some might consider foul. I do not propose to write about the current discussions on the ethics of museum collections, but instead I will concentrate on some interesting tiles that arrived in the museum from Persia, where they were made during the Safavid Dynasty that was established in 1501 AD, and lasted until 1722.

The 36 tiles, arranged in 4 rows of 9, together depict a garden in which a lady is reclining with her 5 attractively dressed attendants around her, all wearing headgear: their uncovered faces are portrayed fully. This tiled panelling might have been originally made as part of an extensive architectural project in early 17th century Isfahan, the capital of the Safavid Dynasty. Other similar tiled panelling can be found in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, so wrote Farshid Emami in his paper “All the City’s Courtesans: A Now-Lost Safavid Pavilion and Its Figural Tile Panels” (published in the Metropolitan Museum Journal in 2019). The panel is shaped so that it could be fitted beneath a window.

The Safavid Dynasty was Islamic. Unlike many other groups in the Islamic world, which discourage or forbid figurative representation, the Safavid rulers, who were great patrons of the arts, developed a dynastic artistic style in which the depiction of human figures played an important role. The tiles that are on display are a fine example of this. According to the V&A’s website (https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O93167/tile-panel/) these tiles were:

“Bought from L.S. Myers, 6 Savile Row, for £275…”

Myers & Co, which flourished at the above-mentioned address in the 19th century, usually dealt with prints. “A Biographical Dictionary of Nineteenth Century Antique and Curiosity Dealers” by MW Westgarth (publ. 2009) revealed:

“Abraham Myers (born c1815/16) traded as a curiosity dealer in Old Bond Street and at New Bond Street, London, from the 1850s. Myers is listed as ‘antiquary dealer’ at 179 New Bond Street in Kelly’s Directory, 1878 and 1886 and at 6 Savile Row in 1886–91.”

So, assuming that LS Myers was associated with this firm, the tiling might well have been bought between 1886 and 1891.

Every visit to the V&A, which might take much of a lifetime to explore fully, is exciting because each time I visit the place, I discover something fascinating, which I had not noticed before. These tiles are no exception to this.

I have been gongoozling at London’s Little Venice today

I HAVE LEARNED a new word today. It can be used as both a noun and as a verb. The noun is ‘gongoozler’ and the verb is ‘to gongoozle’. I came across it used as a verb on an information panel by the south side of the water basin at Paddington’s Little Venice, where the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal enlarges to become a pond, from which the Regents Canal commences.

The word gongoozle might possibly derive from two words of Lincolnshire dialect: ‘gawn’ and ‘gooze’. Both these words mean to stare or gape. A ‘gawn’ can also mean a small freight-carrying boat such as a canal narrowboat.

Gongoozling usually refers to watching boats. And this is what we did today as we ambled lazily along the Paddington Arm and the shore of Little Venice. With the sun shining and a pleasant air temperature (about 21 degrees Celsius), this was an enjoyable way of passing time on a Sunday morning.

A Persian carpet and a Socialist

The Victoria and Albert Museum houses a huge, antique carpet from Ardibil (in Persia).It was made in about AD 1539, and is one of the oldest accurately dated carpets.

You will need to read my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London” to discover the link between this carpet and a Socialist activist, who lived in Hammersmith.

Buy your copy of my book at Lutyens & Rubinstein (Kensington Park Road) OR from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/BEYOND-MARYLEBONE…/dp/B0B7CR679W/)

Remembering an old friend in London’s Marylebone

MY FRIEND MICHAEL Jacobs (1952-2014) studied history of art at A Level (university entrance examinations) and then later at university. Later, he became a prolific author. When we were in our late teens, we used to visit Hampstead’s second-hand bookshops together. A few days ago (early September 2022), I was walking along Marylebone’s New Cavendish Street when I spotted something that reminded me of one of our bookshop visits in the late 1960s.

There is a building on the northeast corner of New Cavendish Street and Wimpole Street, which caught my eye. As I passed it, I spotted a small plaque giving the architect’s details. It reads: “BANISTER FLETCHER & SONS ARCHITECTS AD 1912” Sir Banister Flight Fletcher (1866-1953) trained at London’s Kings College, University College, the Royal College of Art, the Architectural Association, and Paris’s École des Beaux-Arts. In 1889, he became a partner in the architectural firm founded by his father: Banister Fletcher & Sons. In addition to designing buildings, Banister Fletcher (and his father) wrote a book of great importance.

The book, “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method”, which was first published in 1896, was republished several times during the 20th century. It was the standard reference work in English on the history of architecture.

Seeing the name Banister Fletcher on the building in Marylebone reminded me of an afternoon in Hampstead during the late 1960s. We were rummaging around the somewhat disorderly collection of books in Francis Norman’s bookshop in Perrins Lane when Michael discovered a copy of Banister Fletcher’s history of architecture, a book that was well-suited for the bookshelf of a student of the history of art. Michael bought it at an extremely reasonable price.

Until I spotted the building on New Cavendish, I had always associated the name Banister Fletcher with that afternoon with Michael in Hampstead. The building I saw is the first example of a structure that I have been able to associate with the author of the history purchased by my late friend.

Greek in north London’s Golders Green

IN THE EARLY 1960s, the first proper self-service supermarket opened on the corner of Golders Green Road and a small service road called Broadwalk Lane. I cannot recall the name of this store, but it was soon taken over by the Macfisheries company. Later, it became a supermarket where many imported foods, especially products from Israel, were sold. Now, it has become a Tesco Express.

Facing the supermarket (across Golders Green Road) is a gothic revival style church. It has been used by a Greek Orthodox (Christian) congregation since 1968. Now, the The Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Cross & St. Michael, it was constructed as the Church of England’s ‘St Michael’s Church’ in 1914 to the design of JT Lee. A clock tower, surmounted by a delicate cupola supported by thin columns, was added to the church in 1960. On one of its walls, there is a bas-relief of St Michael with one foot on a serpent. On the northeast corner of the church, there is a plaque listing people who died in WW1. Near this, there is a crucifix standing in the garden next to the church. Its design, typical of C of E crucifixes, predates the arrival of the Greek congregation.

Although the interior of the church maintains some of its original Cof E fittings, such as stained-glass windows, the font designed in a mock mediaeval style, and some wall mounted memorials in English, a great deal of effort has been made to create the atmosphere of a Greek Orthodox place of worship. The walls of the side aisles have been painted with religious scenes. There is a decorated iconostasis and several framed icons. Elaborate chandeliers hang above the nave. Despite the additions to convert the church for Greek Orthodox worship, the original gothic revival features of the building’s interior are evident, but harmonise well with the later additions.