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A Memorable Day in London - Good Things In, Bad Things Out, and Greatness in Art!

This week I went on a rare train trip to London, naturally I took my sketchbook...

All the windows are open for Summer and getting out and about is on my mind. But hold on there - the pandemic is not over! Cases are soaring in the UK, as I don't drive, any travel outside my local area requires public transport, and that makes me worried. Use of masks seems to have been largely abandoned by the UK populace, even in built up areas, which makes me ever more reluctant to visit busy major conurbations.

However this week I did risk a trip to London, for a double book launch at Waterstones in Clapham Junction, held by my associates Bridget Marzo and Jane Porter. It was a fabulous event, for two excellent new picture books, You, Me and our Whole Wide World by Bridget, and The Girl Who Noticed Everything by Jane, illustrated by Maisie Paradise Shearing. Both of these beautiful books are published by Walker Books.

The book launch was the cream on the top of an excellent day, for it happened to be the very same day that Boris Johnson announced his resignation. Unfortunately my train arrived in town after his (apparently woeful) speech, crowds had perhaps diminished outside Downing Street by the time I got there, but I did nosy on down to Westminster to see what might be happening, and met a campaigning celebrity.

Outside parliament with anti-Brexit SODEM activist Steve Bray.

Then on, to two glorious hours in Tate Britain, seeing the amazing 'The Procession' by Hugh Locke, a captivating, and somewhat chilling mix of celebration, history and human experience, well worth a look if you get the chance.

It's been a few years since I visited Tate Britain, but it was the perfect way to end the afternoon before the evening book launch. I especially wanted to see the earlier works in the museum, and wasn't disappointed - here are some personal highlights....

Hans Eworth
Detail of 'Portrait of an Unknown Woman' by Hans Eworth (circa 1565-8). Oh the precision - and that jewelry! Is it me, or does the good lady have a broken nose?

The Cholmondeley Ladies
'The Cholmondeley Ladies'' (unknown artist, circa 1600-1610). I've loved this painting for many years, but have only now got to see it up close. It is, famously a strikingly odd double portrait, yet, an intensely personal rendering, that reminds me of the work of Frida Kahlo. The stiff pose seems to intensify the intimate, slightly off-gaze of the sitters, and such delicacy, with the limited colour palette, and the beautifully rendered lace. Ah!!!

Lady Anne Pope, by Robert Peake
'Lady Anne Pope', by Robert Peake (1615). What secrets are shared here? There's something mysterious about Lady Ann, with her palid complexion, the symbolism of the pearls, the surrounding lush leaves, we're being led down the garden path to hear something beguiling. It's a bridal sales promotion, so sad to learn the sitter apparently died unmarried at the age of 30.

William Hogarth - The Distressed Poet
William Hogarth - 'The Distressed Poet' (c.1736). The poet, oblivious to the real physical problems around him, lost in his own world - Ouch, yes, I've been there! .... so many wonderful details that underline the narrative, a masterclass in visual storytelling from Hogarth.

William Hogarth - O The Roast Beef of Old England
William Hogarth - 'O The Roast Beef of Old England' (1748). I love this especially for the characters, beautifully rendered poses by a master caricaturist.

George Stubbs - Haymakers
George Stubbs - 'Haymakers' (1785). Criticised in it's day for sentimentalising agricultural workers, I love this though for the composition, the crisp contrast between colour and shadow, the lilac, beige and pink of the farm worker's dresses against the deep brown shadows - wonderful.

Samuel Palmer - The Gleaning Field
Samuel Palmer - 'The Gleaning Field' (c.1833). There was this, and another Palmer painting 'Coming from Evening Church' (1830). What is it about his pastural work that caresses the viewer in such a warm embrace? Thick, heavy paint but rendered with such delicate sensitivity, his work has a passion that reaches the viewer on an almost spiritual level.

William Dyce - Pegwell Bay, Kent
William Dyce - 'Pegwell Bay', Kent - A Recollection of October 5th 1858. I don't know a great deal about Dyce, but the exquisite detail of this graphic, almost monochrome scene, really appeals to me. It's tight, it's dark for such an outdoor scene, but there's a pensive, lingering beauty in this.

Richard Dadd - Puck, 1841.
Richard Dadd - 'Puck', 1841. 'The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke' is a more famous work, which was also on display, but I'm especially pulled towards this, it has everything of the supernatural about it, coaxing the viewer into a world you may not be able to escape, and most definitely do not belong.

For me all these have an intimacy and storytelling I find especially compelling, worlds I feel I could step into and explore - they are an illustrator's choice after all! Perhaps this choice crystalises some of the things I find inspiring, maybe I should more fully explore such paths myself.... I don't see a great deal of these kind of worlds in published children's books at the moment though!! There were other wonderful paintings of course (how can I forget Sargent?) ... but time was running out and I had an event to go to... another day perhaps.

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