THERE IS A ROOM in Knole House (near Sevenoaks in Kent), which contains several portraits painted by Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). One of them is a self-portrait. Near to this, there is a portrait of a man with a red cap, seated cross-legged. His youthful face has Chinese features. The sitter is Wang-y-tong (‘Huang Ya Dong’: born c 1753). Reynolds painted him in about 1776.
Wang was one of the earliest known Chinese people to have visited England. He came over following in the footsteps of an earlier Chinese visitor, the artist Tan-Che-Qua (c1728-1796), who arrived in London in 1769. Tan met King George III, and his work was shown at the Royal Academy in 1770. In about 1770, Wang was brought from Canton to England by John Bradby Blake (1745-1773), an employee of the East India Company. Blake was a naturalist and was interested in Wang’s knowledge of cultivating Chinese plants, and their uses. Wikipedia noted:
“Wang visited the Royal Society on 12 January 1775. In a letter of 1775, he is said to be about 22 years old. He was visited at Blake’s house, where he discussed the manufacture of Chinese ceramics with Josiah Wedgwood, and acupuncture with physician Andrew Duncan.”
It also describes how Wang became a page to Giovanna Bacelli (1753-1801), who was a mistress of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, who owned Knole House. Wang lived at Knole, and was educated at the nearby Sevenoaks School. He returned to China by 1784, at which date he was working as a trader in Canton.
Wang’s portrait hangs amongst those of many famous men painted by Reynolds, including Samuel Johnson and David Garrick, as well as the 3rd Duke. The latter is said to have paid Joshua Reynolds 70 guineas (almost £76) to paint Wang’s excellent portrait. Wang was well-received in England. It would be interesting to learn what he thought about life as he found it at Knole and other places he visited in England.
AT THE TATE Britain, I visited the exhibition of paintings and drawings by the artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942). Amongst these, I was interested to see one which depicts a stretch of the platform at what is now Bayswater Underground station. In Sickert’s time, this station was called ‘Queens Road (Bayswater)’. Painted in 1914-15, this station was the closest one to his then home in Kildare Gardens (off Westbourne Grove). In the painting there is a man seated on a bench beneath an advertisement for Whiteleys. This was a department store, whose history I have described in my book “Beyond Marylebone and Mayfair: Exploring West London”*. Here is a shortened extract:
“Queensway was the home of a large department store called Whiteleys. Created in nearby Westbourne Grove by William Whiteley (1831-1907) in 1863, it moved into its large home on Queensway in 1911. After going through various transformations over the years, eventually becoming a shopping mall with restaurants and a cinema, it closed in 2018 … Since 2018, developers have removed the building’s innards whilst preserving its outer walls. The aim is to create a new shopping area along with a hotel and residential units. The final product might be interesting as its architects are from the team led by Norman Foster.”
Between 1968 and 1970, I was at north London’s Highgate School studying in preparation for my A-Levels (examinations to gain admission to university). One of my subjects was biology. I decided to enter the school’s Bodkin Prize biology essay competition. For some long-forgotten reason, I chose as my essay topic the life of woodlice. Seeing the above-mentioned painting by Sickert, reminded me of this essay. Being a keen researcher, even in my late teens, I discovered that there was a detailed book on my chosen subject, and this was available for perusal in a science library (the National Reference Library for Science and Invention), which was part of what has now become known as The British Library. In the late 1960s, when I required the book, the library’s collection was housed in a part of what had been the former Whiteleys department store on Queensway. It was a peculiar place: the bookshelves and readers’ desks were arranged on several layers of curved galleries surrounding a circular open space on the ground floor. Above the circular space, there was a spectacular, circular, large diameter, glazed skylight. The book I consulted was in French, and I spent a whole day laboriously translating it and making notes for use later. ‘cloporte’ is the French for ‘woodlouse’, just in case you are wondering. I believe that one visit was sufficient for me to collect what information I needed.
In December 1967, there was a debate about the state of the British Museum Library (now British Library) in the House of Lords. During a long speech, Viscount Eccles (1904-1999) mentioned the library where I had read about woodlice:
“Learned societies and famous men in the arts and the sciences have been shocked by the substance and the manner of the Government’s decision concerning the Library … An example of how the Act works can be seen in what has happened to the National Reference Library for Science and Invention. For years the former Trustees were frustrated by the delays and niggardliness of previous Governments in finding accommodation for this growing section of scientific material, not to mention the disgraceful shilly-shallying over the Patent Office Library. The position grew so desperate that the Trustees decided to gather together part of the material in temporary premises in Bayswater—admittedly very unsatisfactory…” (https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1967/dec/13/british-museum-library)
I visited the library a year or so after that speech. As for my essay, I won 2nd prize: 15 shillings (75pence) to spend on books, which was reasonably generous at that time. 2nd prize might impress you for a moment until I reveal that I was one of only two entrants. The 1st prize was won by my classmate Timothy Clarke. His older brother, Charles Clarke, not only became Head of School but later served as British Home Secretary between 2004 and 2006.
Returning to Whiteleys, I began visiting it regularly after 1993, when I began living nearby. Then, as described already, it had become a shopping mall. The galleries, which had once served as a library, were lined with shops and eateries, as well as a cinema. But that is all in the past, and what was once Whiteleys is now a building site. I doubt that Sickert would have been pleased if he were able to see it today.
HOUSED IN AN OLD palace, the Quinta das Cruzes museum (‘Quinta’ for short) contains a collection of exhibits of various kinds and its beautiful garden has a small collection of archaeological architectural fragments. In a way, the Quinta is Funchal’s version of London’s V & A, but much smaller.
The much remodelled building housing the museum was initially built for João Gonçalves Zarco (c 1390 – 1471), who was the ‘discoverer’ and first Captain (i.e., governor) of Madeira. I am not sure how much of what Zarco would have seen in his time can be seen today. Nevertheless, it is an attractive edifice.
Several exhibits particularly interested me in the museum. One was a retable, a triptych, carved intricately in ivory. To our surprise, we discovered that this was an English production, created in the 19th century.
There were several fine paintings of Madeirans and their island painted by English artists including Eliza Eleanor Murray, Charles Scott-Murray, and Thomas Butterworth. The paintings by Murray and Scott-Murray were late 18th century. These pictures hung in rooms alongside English furniture including pieces by Chippendale and Sheraton.
Another exhibit that attracted me was a fine embroidery on which wild animals are depicted. This was produced in Portuguese Macau for a Christian religious order: the Carmelites.
Another former Portuguese colony, Goa on the west coast of India, is represented in the museum by three attractive paintings showing people and scenery in Goa in the 18th or 19th century.
These exhibits from what is now China and India remind us of Portugal’s pioneering and extensive colonisation of the world beyond Europe. The artefacts from the UK and by British artists recollect the importance of Madeira in the history of British trade and tourism.
I have outlined a few of the exhibits that are on view in the museum, but there is plenty more to enjoy including a grest collection of fine silverware (including models of serving women with black faces) and a very elegant modern refreshment area. It overlooks a fine panorama of part of Funchal.
Along with the Museum of Sacred Art, the Quinta is one of the cultural highlights of Funchal.
THE PAINTER MAHESH BALIGA was born in the south Indian state of Karnataka in 1982. He studied painting at The Chamarajendra Academy of Visual Arts (CAVA) in Mysore, and then received a postgraduate qualification at the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts, MSU, in Baroda (Vadodara in Gujarat). He has taught at various art schools in India and exhibited in several countries including India. Currently, he lives and works in Baroda. Between the 12th of April 2022 and the 28th of May 2022, some of his works are being exhibited in a solo exhibition, “Drawn to Remember”, at the David Zwirner Gallery in Grafton Street (in London’s West End).
The paintings on display were created using casein tempera. This kind of paint has a glue-like consistency, but it can be thinned with water. According to Wikipedia, artists like this kind of paint because:
“… unlike gouache, it dries to an even consistency, making it ideal for murals. Also, it can visually resemble oil painting more than most other water-based paints …”
At first glance, it is difficult to discern whether the Baliga’s paintings on display at Zwirner’s resemble water colours or oil paintings; some of them seem to look halfway between the two mediums. All of them, except one, are quite small canvases and without exception they are all attractive. The subject matter depicted in the works is varied, from studies of plants and animals to everyday scenes (often with depictions of Indian life) to the slightly unusual. An example of the latter is in the only large canvas of the show in which there is an image of a man with sticky plasters over his left eye. Another odd subject shows a man with flowers growing out of his shirt. This is appropriately named “Flowering Self”.
The small size of most of the paintings, which the artist described as ‘lap-sized’, has a reason. Many of them were executed on the journeys the artist made when commuting to and from Surat (in the south of Gujarat), where he held a teaching position for a while. Though they are not large paintings, each one of them provides a window on the artist’s experiences and and his take on them. Although the paintings are far from mundane, they are not over-dramatic or excessively visually challenging. The exhibition is well worth seeing. I would be happy to hang any one of the works I saw at his exhibition on my walls at home.
THE TATE BRITAIN pleases me far more that its younger relative, The Tate Modern, and its cousins in Liverpool and St Ives. I do not know why, but I feel far more comfortable in the old institution on London’s Millbank. Today (31st of March 2022), I took a leisurely wander through some of the Tate Britain’s galleries. I was on the lookout for works by artists, who have been associated with Hampstead in north London. My only disappointment was that there were no works by John Constable (1776-1837) on display. Buried next to Hampstead’s parish church, he worked and lived (for several years) in Hampstead. I had better luck with one of his contemporaries, George Romney (1734-1802). His “A Lady in a brown Dress: The Parson’s Daughter” hangs in the Tate. “Roadside Inn” was painted in about 1790 by George Morland (1763-1804), who used to visit Hampstead to teach. The gallery also contains a picture, “Punch or May Day”, by the painter Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846), who is known to have visited Hampstead, where he met the essayist and critic Leigh Hunt and walked with the poet Wordsworth.
It was the painter William Rothenstein (1872-1945), who found accommodation for, and looked after the great Indian literary genius Rabindranath Tagore, when he stayed in Hampstead briefly in 1912. The artist, who also lived in Hampstead for a while, is represented by at least two of his paintings in the Tate Britain: one was painted in 1891 and the other in 1899-1900.
It was during the first five decades of the 20th century that Hampstead became a mecca for artists, who are remembered today and whose works are displayed in Tate Britain. “The Merry-Go-Round”, a colourful painting created by Mark Gertler (1891-1939), who had a studio in Hampstead, depicts a fairground attraction on Hampstead Heath. It was painted in 1916. Gertler studied at the Slade School of Art at the same time as the painter Stanley Spencer (1891-1959), who had a studio in Hampstead’s Vale of Health for a while. It is therefore apt that Gertler’s painting hangs next to one by Spencer: “The Resurrection, Cookham”.
Another juxtaposition is a wooden sculpture by John Skeaping (1901-1980) and a painting by Ben Nicholson (1894-1982). Both worked in Hampstead in the 1930s and both were married to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975). She divorced Skeaping to marry Nicholson. One of her sculptures is on display close to another artwork by her second husband. I spotted one more work by Hepworth. That was a painting, a sketch for a sculpture she was planning in 1957. The three artists all worked at various times in the Mall Studios near Parkhill Road.
David Bomberg (1890-1957), who, like Gertler and Spencer, studied at the Slade, lived in West Hampstead between 1928 and 1934. There are several of his dazzling, colourful paintings hanging in the Tate Britain.
Henry Moore (1898-1986), who lived for a while in Hampstead, is the best represented of all the artists who lived or visited that locality. Tate Britain has many of his sculptures on display and some of the sketches he made during WW2. These images depict people sheltering in deep Underground stations to be safe from the bombs being dropped by the Luftwaffe. Moore lived for a while in the modernist and relatively bomb-resistant Lawn Road Flats (‘The Isokon’) near South End Green (and, incidentally, near the Mall Studios). I have read that it is likely that Moore made some of his dramatic wartime sketches in the nearby Belsize Park and Hampstead Underground stations.
It was fun visiting the Tate and seeing pictures by some of the artists, whom I have written about in my new book about Hampstead: “Beneath a Wide Sky: Hampstead and its Environs”. This work contains two chapters detailing Hampstead’s myriad artistic connections. If you wish to learn more about this and about other aspects of Hampstead and its surroundings, my book (and Kindle edition) can be obtained from Amazon (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09R2WRK92).
IT IS TEMPTING to concentrate on the wonderful collection of exhibits in Cambridge’s Fitzwilliam Museum, but you should spare some of your attention for the magnificent decoration of some of its galleries. Look up from the paintings and display cases to see superb ceiling decorations above you, and also around you when using the grand staircase. You are sure to be amazed.
The museum is housed in a neo-classical edifice initially designed by George Basevi (1794-1845), architect of London’s Grosvenor Square. After Basevi’s death, the planning of the structure was completed by Charles Robert Cockerell (1788–1863). Built to house the collection bequeathed to the University of Cambridge by Richard FitzWilliam, 7th Viscount FitzWilliam (1745-1816), the present museum was opened to the public in 1848. Over the years since then, the museum has been enlarged by adding newer buildings and now it is home to about 500,000 artefacts.
Years ago, I remember reading (I cannot remember where) a comparison of a museum in the USA designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) with another one, the Guggenheim in Manhattan, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959). Both buildings are elegant but that by Mies Van der Rohe modestly allows the exhibits to grab the viewer’s attention more than the architecture, whereas the unusual design of Wright’s building competes with the artworks for the viewer’s attention. The internal decoration of the older galleries of the Fitzwilliam are sufficiently eye-catching to be able to compete with the exhibits housed in them, but somehow, they hardly do this. That is why I am asking you to take your eyes off the exhibits if only to glance briefly at the décor of the galleries,
MANY MARKET PLACES in English and Scottish towns have what is called a ‘market cross’. These are often elaborate and ornate structures. One definition of such a building is (according to Wikipedia): “… a structure used to mark a market square in market towns”. Some of them include crosses (of the Christian variety), others do not. A market cross can range in design from a simple cross or obelisk to a significant structure, sometimes serving as a covered shelter.
The market cross in Swaffham, Norfolk, is in the form of a circular shelter topped with a lead covered dome supported by eight plain columns with Doric capitals. The dome is surmounted by a statue of the Roman goddess of corn and agriculture, Ceres. She is depicted holding in her left hand a cornucopia filled with vegetables, and in her right a bundle of heads of corn. This market cross with its statue that harks back to pre-Christian religion does not contain or otherwise display the cross associated with Christianity.
The market cross is a distinctive and attractive feature in the centre of Swaffham’s large, triangular marketplace. Also known as the Butter Cross, it was designed by a Mr Wyatt, who might possibly have been the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813), who specialised in both neo-classical and gothic revival styles. It was completed in 1783 for the politician George Walpole, 3rd Earl of Orford (1730-1791), grandson of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (1676-1745), who became Britain’s first prime minister. George Walpole, founder of The Swaffham Coursing Club (i.e., hare coursing) in 1776, the first such club in England, was extremely extravagant. To raise money, this decadent and bankrupt fellow sold his grandfather’s collection of 204 old master paintings, which used to hang in Houghton Hall (Norfolk), to Catherine the Great of Russia in 1778. The sale was arranged by James Christie, founder of Christie’s auction house and raised £40,555. Seventy of these paintings were returned briefly to Houghton Hall for a temporary exhibition held there in 2013 (www.tretyakovgallerymagazine.com/articles/%E2%84%964-2013-41/walpole-paintings-houghton-hall-brief-homecoming).
According to a brief history of Swaffham by David C Butler, the market cross in Swaffham was known as the Butter Cross because trading in butter was carried out beneath its dome. In the 18th century, large amounts of locally produced butter were sent to London, where it and other butter from the district was known as ‘Cambridge Butter’.
Restored in 1984, the eye-catching domed structure is, according to David Butler, now a designated scheduled ancient monument. However, it appears to have been ‘de-scheduled’ and re-designated as a ‘listed building’ (https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1269570). I am unsure what to make of this, but that need not bother you should you happen to pass through Swaffham, the childhood home of Howard Carter, the discoverer of the grave of Tutankhamun, and the birthplace of Admiral Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson (1842-1921), a hero of the Anglo-Egyptian War of 1882. Should you wish to sit and contemplate the decadent earl’s contribution to Swaffham, I suggest you have a refreshment at an outside table next to a café named after the Ancient Egyptian king discovered by Carter.
BRAVING THE INCLEMENT weather, we walked from Kensington to the Wallace Collection in London’s West End. After walking along the north side of Hyde Park, we crossed Bayswater Road (actually ‘Hyde Park Place’) and walked along the short Albion Street. The novelist William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), who was born in India (Calcutta) and the author of “Vanity Fair” lived at number 18. His home was close to the still extant Tyburn Convent (located near the famous spot where criminals were hanged). He wrote of the area where he lived (‘Tyburnia’):
From Albion Street, we turned right to walk east along Connaught Street, named after George III’s nephew and son-in-law Prince William Frederick, Earl of Connaught (d. 1834), and laid out in the King’s reign (1760-1820). Archery Close leads off the street to a cobbled mews. It is so named because it was next to the former cemetery (now a housing estate called ‘St George’s Fields’) of St George’s Church in Hannover Square, which used to be used as a practice ground for archers. A few yards east of the close, we reach Connaught Square.
The square, whose brick-built elegant terraced houses surround a private garden, began to be developed in 1821. Near to the north east corner of the square, number 14 was home to the Italian ballet dancer Marie Taglioni, Comtesse de Voisins (1804 –1884), who was born the daughter of an Italian choreographer, Filippo Taglioni and his Swedish wife the ballerina Sophie Karsten, in Stockholm. In England, Marie taught social dancing to society ladies and children. The former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, has also owned a house in this pleasant square.
Number 1 Connaught Street, which is on the corner of Edgware Road is now a branch of the Maroush Lebanese Restaurant chain. It is housed in an attractive building whose facades are topped with balustrades. On a map surveyed in the 1930s, which also shows St Georges Fields still as a disused cemetery, marks this building as a bank (Westminster Bank). After traversing the busy Edgware Road, formerly the Roman Watling Street, the continuation of Connaught Street becomes Upper Berkeley Street, named after Henry William Berkeley (1709-1761), who was part of the Portman family who developed the area.
Number 33 Upper Berkeley Street has a distinctive neo-Byzantine frontage and looks like the entrance to a religious building. It is an entrance to the West London Synagogue whose main entrance is nearby on Seymour Street. This synagogue was established on its present site in 1870. Its congregation is allied to Reform Judaism. Its architects were Messrs Davis and Emmanuel (https://archiseek.com/2013/the-new-west-london-synagogue/). Rabbis, who have served at this synagogue have included a Holocaust survivor, Hugo Gryn, and Julia Neuburger.
Number 20 Upper Berkely Street was home to the first British woman to qualify as a medical practitioner, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson (1836-1917). She lived (and practised briefly) at number 20 from 1860 to 1874. She established her practice around the corner at 69 Seymour Place, which opened as the ‘St Mary’s Dispensary for Women and Children’. Nearby at number 24 (‘Henry’s Townhouse’), we reach the house where the banker and clergyman, Henry Thomas Austen (1771-1850), brother of the novelist Jane Austen, lived between 1800 and 1804 (http://jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number20/caplan.pdf).
After passing Great Cumberland Place and Wallenberg Place (created in the 1780s and badly damaged during WW2), an elegant crescent on the east side of the road, we pass Montagu Street that leads north to Montagu Square where my father’s colleague and co-author, the Hungarian born Peter Bauer (1915-2002), used to live. Further east, Upper Berkeley reaches the northwest corner of Portman Square.
Opposite this corner is Home House, once the home of the Courtauld Institute (for history of art), now the home of a private club. It was built in 1773-76 for Elizabeth, Countess of Home (c1703-1784), a Jamaican born English slave-owner, and designed mainly by Robert Adam, who also created its beautifully decorated interiors and a fantastic helical staircase. A block of flats called ‘Fifteen’ with art deco front doors is next door to Home House and opposite an entrance to the square’s private gardens. This gate, normally locked, happened to be open. So, we snuck into the garden to take a brief look. As we emerged, and slammed shut the gate, a man emerging from Fifteen, noticed us and told us that it was good that we had closed the gate, because he said:
“It’s good to keep the riff-raff out of our square.”
“We are the riff-raff.”
He laughed and we began conversing. He lives in Fifteen, which was built in the 1930s, and told us that its interior is decorated like the original ‘Queen Mary’ liner, in art deco style. He confirmed my memory that the store front that houses Air Algerie and the National Bank of Kuwait on the east side of the square used to be part of the shop front of the Daniel Neal children’s clothing store, which closed in 1977. My late mother always pointed it out when we drove past it in the 1960s, but I cannot recall ever having entered it.
Continuing east from the square along Fitzhardinge Street, we pass Seymour Mews. A plaque on the corner of these two roads commemorates the site of the birthplace of Captain Thomas Riversdale Cloyes-Fergusson who was awarded a Victoria Cross medal posthumously after dying, aged 21, at the Battle of Paschendaele on the 31st of July 1917 during WW1. His medal is currently on display at Ightham Mote in Kent, the former home of his parents. Incidentally, the well-preserved Tudor Ightham Mote house is a lovely place to visit.
Walking another 200 feet eastwards brings us to our destination Manchester Square. Before describing its main attraction, let us look at number 14, now called ‘Milner House’. This was the home of Alfred Milner (1854-1925), who was an important colonial official in southern Africa. He was Governor of the Cape Colony from 1897 to 1901, a period that included the 2nd Anglo-Boer War. Then, he was successively Administrator of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony (1901-1902), Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony (1902-1905), and then Secretary of State for the Colonies (1919-1921). Milner was in no little way responsible for the outbreak of the conflict between the British and the Boers that began in 1899, one of whose aims was to establish an unbroken British corridor that ran from Cairo to The Cape. Another of its aims was to have the gold mines of the Rand and other parts of the Transvaal under British rule.
One of Milner’s neighbours on the square was Sir Richard Wallace (1818-1890), who, unlike his neighbour Milner, did much good for mankind. He was the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquess of Hertford and educated in Paris, where he also worked. In 1870, when his father died, Richard inherited his collection of European art. Wallace added greatly to the collection, often purchasing fine works of art. During the Siege of Paris (September 1870-January 1871), Wallace, who was living in the city, performed many acts of charity including contributing much money to the needy of Paris and organising two ambulances. In 1872, he paid for the erection of fifty public drinking fountains, which are now known as ‘Wallace Fountains’ and can be found all over Paris. One of these distinctive fountains stands outside the entrance to Hertford House, his London home on Manchester Square where his art collection is now housed in what is called ‘The Wallace Collection’.
From the outside, Hertford House is imposing rather than attractive. It was built between 1776 and 1778 for the 4th Duke of Manchester. In 1797, the 2nd Marquess of Hertford acquired the building and modified it considerably. Richard Wallace and his wife, Julie Amélie Charlotte (daughter of Bernard Castelnau, a French officer), lived there whenever they were in London from 1870 onwards. The Wallace Collection contains over 5500 works of art collected by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Richard Wallace. These include more than 6 paintings by Rembrandt, and others by great names including Vermeer, Bols, Poussin, Frans Hals, Canaletto, Velasquez, Boucher, Watteau, Fragonard, Lawrence, Hobbema, Cuyp, Maes, and many others equally well-known. Richard’s widow bequeathed it to the nation in 1897.
I first visited the Wallace Collection with my father when I was less than ten years old. I remember being extremely bored by the huge numbers of Paintings on display but fascinated by the large collection of weapons and armour that occupies several rooms. Now, many years later, I am thrilled by the wealth of paintings that can be enjoyed in the beautifully decorated rooms of the house. The splendour of the interior décor of the rooms contrasts greatly with the exterior of the building that gives no hint of the treasures within. Along with the collection of artworks at Kenwood House in Highgate, the Wallace Collection is one of the finest (formerly) private art collections open to the public in London.
After seeing the collection and having coffee in Hertford House’s vast covered internal courtyard, we retraced our steps by walking back to Kensington. We felt satisfied that we had had a good walk along streets and through parkland after having enjoyed an enriching artistic experience at the Wallace Collection.