Friday 23 March 2012

From the Wolseley to Picasso

In the midst of a few weeks of doing little else but buckling down to work (no dallying in blogland), an outing to the Wolseley was a perfect treat. I met Paris Breakfasts blogger Carol there ... for breakfast, what else?

In a swish location on Piccadilly, across from the Ritz, the Wolseley was originally a car showroom (for Wolseley Motors) and later a bank - hence the cavernous interior, marble floors and walls, brass railings and vaulted windows and arches ...

It's a place to spot famous faces if you're inclined, though Carol and I were too busy yakking over coffee and hot chocolate to take much notice. 

After breakfast we took a walk down to the river, past Big Ben ...

and a grumpy-looking Churchill scowling at the world ...

(few signs of spring yet on these trees in front of the Houses of Parliament)

to the Tate Britain, to take in their exhibition of Picasso and Modern British Art

Picasso spent only one short period of his life in Britain, in the summer of 1919 when he came to London with Diaghilev to design sets and costumes for the Russian Ballet. He bought a suit and bowler hat in Savile Row, but seems otherwise to have been not particularly taken with Britain or British artists. On the other hand, he was a huge influence on many British twentieth century artists, which is what this exhibition sets out to explore ...

Seated woman in a chemise, 1923. Own photograph.

For the Picassos alone, it was a treat. 

Reading at a table, 1934. Own photograph.
Nude woman in a red armchair, 1932. Own photograph.

There were paintings from the full range of his different periods, seemingly to show not only his prolific output ...

Head of a woman, 1924. Own photograph.

... but also making the point that by the time his imitators had caught on to a particular style or new idea of his, he had already moved on to the next.

Woman dressing her hair, 1940. Own photograph.

And this is the trouble, because the exhibition becomes a bit of a cruel contrast for the British artists concerned, who, when you see their work juxtaposed with selections of Picasso's, begin to look like massively unoriginal copycats.

Picasso: La Source, 1921. Image source:

So Henry Moore's Reclining Figure (below) is seen as a straight copy in a different medium of Picasso's La source (above) ...

Henry Moore: Reclining Figure, 1936. Image source:

... and Francis Bacon's grossly distorted mouths and figures ...
Francis Bacon's Head 1, 1948 (left) and one of Three studies for figures at the base of a crucifixion, 1944 (right). Own photographs.

... are so obviously derived from Guernica, below. And so on and on. 

(Guernica is shown only in reproduction at the exhibition, but see this interesting story here about the only time the original Guernica was brought to Britain under quite amazing circumstances) ...

Picasso: Guernica, 1937. Image source:

In the words of one critic, the exhibition is "a huge own goal for 20th century British art, allowing everyone to see just exactly how dull and minor Moore, Graham Sutherland and others actually look beside Picasso." Ouch!  

David Hockney: Harlequin, 1980. Own photograph.

The British artist who seems to suffer least by comparison is David Hockney. Interestingly, he is the one who acknowledges most openly the huge debt he owes to Picasso, as shown in these etchings/homages ...

David Hockney's The Student: Homage to Picasso, 1973, and Artist and Model, 1973. Own photographs.

... yet seems to have gone on to do so much more in a unique style. Next up in my diary is a trip to the Hockney show at the Royal Academy.

Saturday 10 March 2012

What (who) I'm reading now

Antonio Tabucchi is an Italian writer who describes himself as 'in love with Lisbon'. An expert on Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa, Tabucchi spends half of each year in Lisbon and the other half in Tuscany (hmmI want his life) where he teaches Portuguese language and literature at the university of Siena. 

Photo credit:

Appropriately enough, then, Pereira Maintains (in the English translation from the Italian original Sostiene Pereira) is set in Lisbon, though it is Lisbon in the late 1930s, under an oppressive, fascist regime. 

Pereira is editor of the cultural pages of a daily newspaper, at a time when cultural and intellectual life is stifled, government informers are everywhere, and resistance brutally quelled. He's an entirely unlikely hero, which is part of the great appeal of his character ... an overweight widower who talks aloud to a photograph of his dead wife, harbours stoically his private losses and regrets of the past, and generally keeps his head down in the political climate, dutifully translating 'safe' French novels and writing tame obituaries of famous writers. 

His perspective begins to shift uncomfortably when he meets a young writer and his girlfriend who are involved in subversive activities, and a doctor who stimulates his political conscience through a series of conversations. Ultimately Pereira is moved to commit himself to a single act of great bravery.

It's a short but entirely memorable book, written with understatement and humanity. Even the minor characters have stayed with me. 

I'm now struggling to get hold of the film version, in Italian, with Marcello Mastroianni as Pereira and the wonderful Daniel Auteuil and Marthe Keller as co-stars. Amazon appears to be out of stock, and the best I've managed is to get onto a waiting list for it at LoveFilm ... if anyone out there knows of an alternative source to try, I'd love to hear it. 

(Photos above, except where credited otherwise, were taken by me in Lisbon last summer)

Another good recent discovery for me was Siri Hustvedt (below) - a writer (most well-known, I think for What I Loved) who I've been meaning to read for ages. My introduction came through her latest novel, The Summer Without Men, another short book with a big impact.

Photo credit:

Poet Mia Frederiksen's equilibrium is sent into turmoil when her solid scientist husband Boris, requests a "pause" in their 30-year marriage ... the Pause turns out to be "French with limp but shiny brown hair ... significant breasts that were real, not manufactured ... and an excellent mind."  

Mia goes briefly to pieces, then retreats to the small hometown of her childhood for the summer to lick her wounds and reflect on her past and future. There she makes unexpected connections with, amongst others, a lively group of octogenarian women (in a home for the elderly) with varied and surprising pasts, and teaches poetry to a group of pre-adolescent girls with whose personal dramas she becomes involved. The summer becomes a reflection on the stages of being a woman and a gradual reconstitution of her self. What strikes you most is the intelligence of her writing - reflecting an extraordinary breadth of knowledge and interest (this is also evident from the range of articles on her interesting website here) - and secondly, her empathy and humour. I am definitely going to read some earlier Hustvedt now.

And finally, here is her writer's room from the Guardian series, and you can read her description of her writing space by following the link below ...

Photo credit:

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Where the heart lies ... by invitation

I've been an infrequent participant in the monthly international blog party that I was kindly invited to join last year. Work and other stuff tends to get in the way of blogging, zut alors.  But this month's theme was not only a breeze but a pleasure to contribute to: "Your home town ... whether it be where you live now and consider home or where you grew up". 

For some of us, defining 'home town' is tricky. Cape Town is neither where I was born/grew up, nor where I live now. But I tend to agree with Karin at La Pouyette (whose post on the Périgord which she now considers home you should see here) that 'in the end I'm at home wherever my heart is'. And a large tract of my heart is here, for reasons which, since it's late in the day, I will express with few words and probably far too many images ...

Cape Town is where two oceans meet (the Atlantic and the Indian), at the tip of Africa ...

on either side of a series of breathtaking mountain ranges ...

and lush valleys with vineyards ...

Boschendal (top) and Groot Constantia (bottom) wine estates

It's a place where eating out becomes a feast for all the senses ...

Babylonstoren farm & Babel restaurant, above

on a vineyard terrace 

Uitsig wine estate (top), Delaire estate & restaurant (4 bottom pics)

in a forest under the mountain

Gardener's Cottage restaurant, Montebello, Newlands

or a cobbled patio in the old quarter of town 

All above pics in & around Cape Quarter, Waterkant, and La Petite Tarte coffee shop

A place of enterprise, creative spirit and hope

Greenmarket Square, Cape Town city centre, weekend market (above & below)

a landscape of colour

 landscape of contrasts 

Imizamo Yethu township, Hout Bay 

wild nature and nature's art of wild imaginings

Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with Zimbabwean Mambo stone sculptures (top collage); wood-carvings by Right Mukare at Montebello Design Studios, Newlands (bottom collage)

gardens that flower and flourish year-round

Montebello, Newlands

vibrant sounds and celebrations

Cape Town's V&A Waterfront (above collages)

All photos taken May 2011 on my last trip to Cape Town. Happy to say that I will be there next month to enjoy all these places and more.

And as a footnote, I've been fascinated to discover, from scanning the other contributors to this international post, that not only has the town I currently live in been featured here, but also Cape Town by another blogger here (who has similar difficulties restraining her enthusiasm for this amazing city!)

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