Sketching in the Ashmolean Museum

What is the purpose of a museum? The previous evening, I’d been to a lecture by Tim Reeve, Deputy Director of the V&A. He had described, with great conviction, a new building they plan for East London, in “Here East” on the former Olympic Park. It will open up the V&A storage and logistics centre to public view. People will be able to work there, and be inspired by the objects. The idea is to generate “creative career opportunities in East London”. I could see how the proposed building, its architecture and the way it will be used are oriented firmly towards that clear aim. Well done V&A.

So, sitting in the Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archeology in Oxford, I wondered what was the purpose of this museum. I was in the Randolph Sculpture Gallery, which contains a collection of Greek and Roman marble statues, collected in the 17th century.

The main use of the gallery, at that point in the day, was for people to sit on the upholstered seats, and chat, and use their mobile phones. In my sketch, I drew the three benches I could see, each of which is occupied by someone staring at their mobile phone. In the background, a monumental head of Apollo looks on.

This part of the gallery seemed to be serving as a public living room, which is perhaps as fine a purpose for a museum as any.

On the lower level there is a large Egyptian statue on a tall plinth.

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An elderly gentleman chose this place to read his paper. Through the plinth, I could just see a woman chatting to someone via her screen.

There are many ways to enjoy a museum.

I walked about sketching things.

Here is an object from one of my favourite parts of the museum. It is a Yue ware pot, about a thousand years old. It’s small, only about 5 inches tall, and a gleaming green colour. It’s lovely to draw these things, as it in only by looking for a long time that I gradually become aware of the marks of the fingers of the maker, and of the slight irregularities in the shape.

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Cathedrals in the Shires: Hereford and Worcester, with Kilpeck and Tewksbury

Here is Worcester Cathedral.

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I sketched this view from the cloisters, which were glazed and enclosed. I did, however, find a chair, and a convenient inverted dustbin on which to place my tools.

The other Cathedral we visited this trip was Hereford:

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Here I had an unrestricted view from the Chapter House garden, which was very peaceful and lovely.

We also visited a small church, Kilpeck, which is very ancient:

In this church there were viking carvings.

If you are in the area I recommend also Tewkesbury Abbey, which though not a cathedral is an inspiring and welcoming place. I had a terrible cold, and lacked the energy to make anything except a small indoor picture.

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I must mention the excellent deli in Tewksbury High Street, Miss Muffet. We just had a sandwich, but suddenly I remembered what sandwiches are supposed to taste like. And for all its quality control and high-class ingredients, Pret in London cannot hope to match the Tewksbury offer: fresh home-made bread, pastrami just cut, and cracking piccalilli. Here’s the view from the window. Good food takes time.

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Gaslights on 1 & 2 Mitre Buildings, Temple

Here is a back alley off Fleet Street, London EC4.

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It is Old Mitre Court. The buildings on the right are 1 & 2 Mitre Court Buildings. They are listed Grade 2. Here’s what Historic England says in the listing:

Early/mid C19. 4 storeys plus basement. Plain classical, south elevation of Portland stone with channelled ground storey and cornice below top floor. Arched passage through centre. Plain, rear elevation of yellow brick with railings and gates.

It’s the “rear elevation of yellow brick” that you see in the picture. There are three gas lamps, at least one of which works. The other two look very rickety.

The buildings, 1 & 2 Mitre Court Buildings, are legal practices, housing Barristers and their associates. A list of the barristers is by the doors. The notice on the pavement says “Inner Temple Treasury Office, Open 10am – 4pm”. This is the office underneath the furthest gas light, the one with the right-angled support above it.

The paving slabs at the bottom of the picture were in fact green, as I have drawn them. It was damp, and there was a coating of moss-type algae on the paving slabs. A saying of my late father was, “The plants will win in the end”. When I see such a green coating on stone, in the middle of the City, I am reminded of his words, and I think he is right.

Eventually I had to stop drawing as the rain came down. The drawing got a bit wet.

Here is work in progress and a map:

 

Drawing took 1hour 15 mins. Colours used mostly Perinone orange, and Prussian blue, with a bit of burnt umber. Indian yellow for the gas lights. All Daniel Smith colours. Pen is Lamy Safari EF nib, with De Atramentis document (waterproof) black ink.

 

St Peter upon Cornhill

I went out to look for more gas lights in the City. There was rain, and the back alleys were wet. I couldn’t find any more gaslights.

At the South East extreme of my peregrination I looked up and saw St Peter upon Cornhill. It is wedged in between other buildings.

The adjacent building is labelled “54 & 55” Cornhill, in lovely art-deco writing. There is a branch of “EAT” on the ground floor. High up, there are three strange devils (ringed in red on the annotated picture above). The two larger and higher ones are definitely female devils, with big breasts and strong muscles. The smaller devil is yelling from his position above a window.

I drew this picture from the shelter of White Lion Court, which is on the North side of Cornhill. This is one of those City of London back-alleys. It doesn’t go anywhere, just to the door of what looks like an insurance company, and off to the side is a doorway with ecclesiastical carving above. It looks like the entrance to a monastery. But that can’t be right. The modern iron gate is adorned with modern litter.

As I was drawing a man came round from the nearby branch of Sainsbury’s to eat his sandwich and smoke.

Then later another man came by and asked me if I had seen the fire brigade. I said no, because I hadn’t. He said the fire alarm in one of the offices had gone off. He said he’d be wandering about for a bit, while he contacted the key holder. I could hear him calmly making phone calls. He was still there when I finished my drawing and packed up. I waved goodbye to him, and he nodded and half waved back, constrained in his movements as he was holding his phone to his ear and consulting a notebook.

It is astonishing how many tourist groups go down Cornhill. If I have done nothing else today, I have at least inspired a few tourists and other passers-by to look upwards to the onion spire of St Peter upon Cornhill. People pause, see that I am drawing, wonder what I can possibly be drawing in that dingy back-alley, and then look in the direction I’m looking and see the spire.

The tourist groups pause in the shelter of nearby Sun Court. I guess they are being told anecdotes about why there are she-devils on 54 and 55 Cornhill. I looked online. I can only find anecdotes, no facts. The building is by Runtz, 1853.

There has been a church at St Peter upon Cornhill since the 2nd Century AD, according to a tablet whose inscription was recorded and copied on various printed media, and now on Wikipedia. The tablet doesn’t exist any more as it was destroyed in the fire of London. The current building is by Christopher Wren, and was constructed between 1677 and 1684. There is also an entrance on Gracechurch St, which I must go and have a look at.

Here is work in progress.

The drawing took 1½ hours.

 

 

 

 

 

Marlow House, Hallfield Estate

The Hallfield Estate is a modernist estate in Bayswater, W2 6EH. It’s a short walk south from Royal Oak Station on the Hammersmith and City Line.

It was constructed in the 1950s, to a design of Berthhold Lubetkin. The construction was supervised by Lindsey Drake and Denys Lasdun. Now it’s Grade 2 listed. Here’s what the listing says:

Reasons for Designation

The fourteen blocks and laundry at Hallfield Estate are listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons:

  • Architectural interest: a sophisticated and distinctive aesthetic approach to social housing, whereby the facades are treated like works of abstract art;

  • Planning: the estate fulfilled its brief to provide mass housing and open space in a crowded urban borough, in a plan inspired by Le Corbusier’s ‘Radiant City’

  • Authorship: designed by Berthold Lubetkin and Tecton, and constructed under the supervision of Lindsay Drake and Denys Lasdun, the estate is the work of some of the C20’s most significant architects;

  • Historic interest: a seminal post-war housing estate that was widely exhibited and published, and provoked divergent contemporary responses which illuminate post-war architectural theory.

Here is a sketch of Marlow House. I drew it standing on a strange hummock, a small hill, inside the estate near the Battle Bridge Road.

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“The estate presents a convincing riposte to criticism that postwar council housing is grey, drab and utilitarian. At Hallfield, the exteriors of each block are treated like works of abstract art – some are patterned with a chequerboard of blue and red brickwork; others have a zigzagging screen of white concrete panels. The estate now exists amongst an elite group of 16 listed post warhousing estates estate in London – estates that are successful as places to live and are cared for by their residents.” Hannah Parham, the English Heritage Designation Advisor (2011).

Shown in my picture is the “zigzagging screen of white concrete panels”.

The gardens were beautiful, and well maintained. The buildings themselves are showing signs of wear. Tiles are chipped and cracked at the edges, and staircases look covered in soot from a previous era. But it’s still a stately collection of buildings. The white tiling is a work of art. On Marlowe House, the frame of the building is covered in ivory tiles, in squares of 25 tiles arranged in 5×5 grids, which are themselves arranged in a grid. So the effect is that of graph paper. I was impressed that these tiles are carefully made, and the edge ones are shaped, with rounded edges.

I also enjoyed the pillar, in the lower left of my drawing. It is fluted.

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Fluted pillar. The lighting conductor rather mars the effect.

The stairwells are completely open. I could have gone up, but I didn’t. The postman did, however. While I was drawing I saw him doing his rounds, his black woollen hat moving along the balconies, passing behind the facade and down the stairs.

Here is a map and work in progress. Click to expand the picture.


Drawing took 1½ hours, drawn and coloured on location.

Gaslight in Guildhall Yard

There are quite a few gas lights in London. I aim to draw as many as possible before they are taken out of service. It’s quite remarkable that there are so many still in operation. This one is in Guildhall Yard, in the City of London. St Lawrence Jewry is in the background.

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Gaslight, and St Lawrence Jewry, from Guildhall Buildings

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Here is the gas light close up, drawn from Guildhall Yard, looking south.

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Written on the little blue canister are the words:

NEWBRIDGE
HORSTMANN
GEAR Co
LTD
BATH ENG

It is a timing device. According to the marvellous website “Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History”,  in 1904 the Horstmann Gear Company patented….

“…the Solar Dial which automatically adjusted lighting times at dusk and dawn throughout the year. It was the start of nearly eighty years of Horstmann’s manufacturing involvement in the street lighting controls market.”

However before this innovation, the gas might have been lit by a person, because there is the arm for the ladder, as shown in my drawing. Perhaps that arm was always there, though, even after automation, in case someone needed to inspect the light. The North face of the light, the one shown in my picture, includes hinges on the left, and evidently could be opened.

I do not know if this light still functions. I shall take a diversion that way in the night, and let you know.*

I have drawn another local gas light, which does still function, off King Edward Street.

 

All pictures drawn and coloured on location. Pen and wash.

*Update: It works!

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06:45 15th October 2019, Guildhall Buildings

 

Garden Museum in Lambeth

I drew a picture waiting outside the Garden Museum in Lambeth.

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The Garden Museum is inside St Mary’s Church. The upmarket restaurant attached to the garden museum is the bronze-coloured cuboid on the right. The slab of stone which the tourist is sitting on is a tomb.

Prompted by an article in a newspaper, we were at the “Garden Museum” in Lambeth to see an exhibition of the art in Ladybird Books. I learned to read with Ladybird Books, as did so many others of my age. Here are pages from “Shopping With Mother”, one I remember with particular clarity. These are photos of the copy I still have, published 1958.

Note that Mother is wearing a hat and white gloves.

Since the exhibition was at the Garden Museum, they showed the art in the Ladybird Books of Trees, of Garden Flowers, and so on.

We also went up the tower of St Mary’s Church. It is 131 narrow steps. At the top it was very windy and we had a superb view. Here is what Lambeth Palace looks like from the tower.

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In Victoria Tower Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, there was a huge demonstration to draw attention to Climate Change. The loudspeakers from speeches at the demonstration were accompanied by car horns and swearing of angry drivers, caught in traffic jams in the surrounding roads, and the wails of sirens as ambulances tried to reach St Thomas’ Hospital which is nearby. It was a soundscape of competing interests.