Peter Paul Rubens, The Garden of Love, c. 1633, Oil on canvas, 199 x 286 cm, Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid, Photo © Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado Exhibition organized by the Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Royal Academy of Arts, London, and Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels.
LONDON'S CULTURAL SEASON
By Irvina Lew
The cultural scene thrives in London from autumn through winter, when a variety of museums in this historic world capital offer a fascinating array of exhibitions. This fall, fine art from Constable to Rembrandt and Rubens vies with famous icons in the literary (Sherlock Holmes), photography (Horst P. Horst) and design (William Morris) worlds. During a busy week in early September, I returned to London to experience current shows and attend press previews for those that are soon to open.
My first visit to the National Gallery introduced me to paintings by some of my favorite artists--Renoir, Matisse and Van Gogh--that I had never seen, including one of his Sunflowers. What is making its debut is Rembrandt: The Late Works (15 October to 18 January, 2015). This collection of oeuvres was done after the artist suffered the loss of his wife and three of their children and endured personal financial and legal hardships. These works, from the 1650s until his death in 1669, were organized in collaboration with Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum and illustrate the reason for a reputation as the greatest master of the Dutch Golden Age.
John Constable, c. 1799-1804, the most English of British landscape painters, is the subject of Constable: The Making of a Master (20 September 2014 - 11 January 2015) at the Victoria & Albert Museum. Artist/collector Sir George Beaumont gave Constable access to his collection of major works by the Old Masters, such as Raphael, Rubens and Claude Lorrain. They set the bar that the artist tried to surpass, primarily with intense plein air studies painted decades before the impressionists took their easels outside. Because Constable’s daughter, Isabel, gave about 100 paintings and 300 drawings to the V&A, the museum holds the largest collection of his works, This exhibit showcases them alongside classical landscapes by old masters including a celebrated Rubens once owned by Joshua Reynolds and Constable’s own Rembrandt etching: Three Trees.
The V&A also features Horst: Photographer of Style, (6 September to 4 to January, 2015). Horst P. Horst (1906–1999) was one of the leading photographers of the 20th-century and Vogue’s “photographer-in-chief” in Paris during the 30s. Samples of his work--at the center of the worlds of art, fashion, theater and high society—are displayed: elegant costumes, portraits of recognizable faces and dozens of his stunning Vogue covers. Beginning December 13, an exhibit “Small Stories: At Home in a Dolls’ House” opens.
One of the season’s most awaited shows, Rubens and his Legacy, will appear at the Royal Academy of Arts (24 January -10 to April, 2015). Masterpieces produced during Peter Paul Rubens’ lifetime (1577 – 1640) hang next to great works by artists whom he influenced. There are prints by Rembrandt, portraits by Van Dyke, devotional paintings by Delacroix, landscapes by Constable and Gainsborough as well as artwork by Picasso and Cezanne. The exhibit is organized into six dominant themes: power, lust, compassion, elegance, poetry and violence.
Until mid-October, Dennis Hopper: The Lost Album is featured. About 400 photographs by American film actor and director taken between 1961 – 1967 are on view; they document America’s cultural and social life during the 60s with portraits of artists and actors--including Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol and Paul Newman—and historic social and political events, such as Martin Luther King’s march from Selma to Montgomery in 1965.
En route from the subway to the Tate Modern, where I attended the last day of Henri Matisse The Cut-Outs—a life-enhancing exhibit that moves to New York’s MOMA, in October, I lunched at Union Street Café. It was my first experience at a Gordon Ramsey restaurant and I found authentic Italian fare and caring service, the best and most creative Mediterranean gazpacho and an art gallery. The Tate offers a long list of upcoming shows; the one I’d like to see opens next spring (15 April – 9 August 2015). It features colorful abstracts by Sonia Delaunay (1885–1979), who, with her husband Robert, celebrated color in the modern world of movement, technology and urban life. She created textiles and clothing and collaborated with choreographers (Diaghilev) and manufacturers (Liberty).
The Museum of London presents Sherlock Holmes: The Man Who Never Lived and Will Never Die (17 October -12 to April, 2015). Fans will see early editions of rare Arthur Conan Doyle manuscripts--even early detective manuscripts from Edgar Allen Poe from the archives of the free library in Philadelphia--and objets as well as period clothing that his characters might have worn. Museum collectibles illustrate that a shoe print, hat style, dog hair, sweat mark or typewriter stain can enhance characters, provide clues and find the criminal.
At the National Portrait Gallery, Anarchy & Beauty, the Legacy of William Morris (16 October to 11 January, 2015), explores the life, ideas and achievements of the great Victorian artist, writer and visionary thinker whose wallpaper and fabric designs are still widely sold. Morris (1834-1896) remains one of the most influential of the Arts & Crafts designers and this exhibit shows why with portraits, personal items and fascinating objects. The Portrait Restaurant, atop the gallery, offers stunning views of historic domes, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament to the London Eye from its rooftop windows. It’s a stylish dining spot where high-quality, well-executed fixed-price meals feature local ingredients and it’s just a five-minute walk to theaters.
An Age, An Instant” by Rona Smith
Art flourishes well beyond the museums. On Regent Street, the “Mile of Style” established 250 years ago for the express purpose of shopping, The Crown Estate has commissioned new artists to create public art for the past ten years. Today, there are 14 works on view amidst the listed heritage shops, galleries, hotels and restaurants. One of the newest, “An Age, An Instant” by Rona Smith are bronze gates at New Burlington Mews reminiscent of engravings on pocket watches which were once made nearby. The buildings along Regent Street must all be maintained to strict historical standards; even the signage must use the same bronze color. (A new Gordon Ramsey venue, Heddon Street Kitchen, is opening on the adjacent pedestrian street in mid- November.)
Nearby, I enjoyed afternoon tea at Sketch-- created by the French master chef, Pierre Gagnaire and restaurateur Mourad Mazoouz. The converted 18th century building is devoted to music, food, drink and art. On the walls, the largest group of original drawings that David Shrigley, a visual artist with a comic voice, has ever exhibited.
London is probably best known for another art form: theater. I was delighted to experience Shakespeare in Love and King Charles III, though I missed seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which is, happily, headed for Broadway. New December productions bring The Wind in the Willows, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Little Match Girl and the Young Vic’s production of Golem to the stage.
During the week I was there, I stayed at two of London’s lovely, lesser-known lodgings and dined at a third. The Chesterfield Mayfair, with its warm woods, tufted leather and plaid fabrics, feels like an English country manor. Bedrooms are uniquely-sized and decorated, afternoon tea is served in the Conservatory and caring concierges function in lieu of private butlers. The charming Red Carnation hotel is located in a posh residential neighborhood within a short walk of Green Park and the shops along Piccadilly, Bond Street and Oxford Street.
Cheval Three Quays, named for the site that three former quays occupied since the 17th century, is a new residential complex located on the River Thames adjacent to The London Tower. About 150 studio to three bedroom apartments are reserved in a wing dedicated to short or long-term hotel stays. With contemporary furnishings and fully equipped kitchens, they are family friendly; mine had a spacious terrace overlooking Tower Bridge, the Shard and the HMS Belfast, a former Royal Navy cruiser that is now the Imperial War Museum. The location offers easy access across the river to the Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe, galleries, Borough Market and Hixter Bankside. This art-filled restaurant, in a floor to ceiling space with metal and brick-work, serves spicy appetizers and perfect Chateaubriand.
At The Stafford London, on St. James Place, I toured some of the 105-rooms in the Main House, Mews and Carriage House and the 380-year old wine cellar before experiencing the warmth of the American Bar and an elegant dinner at Lyttelton Restaurant. The historic hotel is located footsteps from Green Park, St. James Park and Buckingham Palace and chic shops, including Fortnum & Mason.
Whatever the season, London lures visitors for its art and its civility and sophistication and its vibrant attractions, hotels, restaurants and theaters.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Visit London: www.Visitlondon.com
The Chesterfield Mayfair: www.chesterfieldmayfair.com
Cheval Three Quays: www.chevalresidences.com
The Stafford London: www.thestaffordlondon.com
Victoria and Albert Museum, www.vam.ac.uk
Horst: Photographer of Style, 6 September to 4 to January, 2015
V&A, Constable: The Making of a Master 20 September -11 to January, 2015
The National Gallery,
Royal Academy or Arts,
Museum of London,
National Portrait Gallery
Great Britain is: historic monarchs like Henry VIII
The heart of London: Trafalgar Square