Thursday, 31 May 2012

Turner inspired - in the light of Claude: National Gallery, London

I had promised myself a visit to this exhibition and had worked out that if that all went to schedule, I would be able to manage it after my hip operation and without using a crutch.  Concessions are available for visually impaired visitors and the National Gallery, in common with other organisations, allows a companion or even more than one, free entry.   Being a companion to a visually impaired visitor can be hard work, but there is an audio system which I used when there was an audio post, so my friend was also able to enjoy the paintings! 

This exhibition uses a series of paintings by Claude and sets them up with those of Turner.  Claude Lorraine is rated to be the foremost landscape painter in the 17th Century.  In my Dutch pictures of the same period I have noted the Italian influence of Claude on Dutch painters who went to Italy and then influenced Dutch painters who stayed at home.  About 100 years later Turner was fascinated by Claude and in making his own landscapes used some of the techniques in faithfully copying topography while making a composition. 

Turner had used Claude originals as models for his own landscapes and there are paintings by Turner with the Thames remodelled as a French River.  I found that Turner’s picture of Linlithgow Palace resembled the Enchanted Castle of Claude more than his Solitude. 

The arrangement of the exhibition is such as that many of the Claude paintings have a Turner “version”. These are by no means pastiches; rather, Turner has used Claude’s lighting and conventions and recast them as time moved on. By the time he tried to ingratiate himself with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, his style was too far removed from others at the time.

A few years ago I went to Tate Modern for an exhibition of Turner.  I have also seen some of the Turner collection at the Tate.  I have always enjoyed his paintings but during this exhibition I found I could make out so much more detail in the Claude “original”.  After the Solitude picture by Turner I stopped comparing and contrasting the two painters and enjoyed the Turner’s for what they have always meant to me, even when I was fully sighted.  Sometimes the imagination has to be used and as with some of the David Hockney paintings, the visually impaired can make their own impression.

This exhibition closes soon and I can highly recommend it. When we went there were no queues and no advance booking seemed to be necessary.  I was glad that I had checked out the exhibition times with the National Gallery staff beforehand.  While exhibitions such as this one are large and can be crowded this was not the case.

The audio guide was prompted by my friend and each audio prompt allows options for more details.  My friend read out the captions and though we inspected some of Turner’s sketches and notebooks I was more interested in some of the objects in the last room.  In some exhibitions the last room can be an anticlimax or a real thrill.  (I found the last few rooms of the Kusama exhibition a real surprise after a rather slow beginning)  In the Turner exhibition there are some enlarged drawings and photographs of old National Gallery shows.  There is a painting by Frederick Mackenzie illustrating a collection of paintings (shades of Zoffany and Lawrence Dundas).

This exhibition shows that some visually impaired visitors can feel included in a social setting.  In the special gift shop I bought the hardback catalogue of the show with some postcards:   

Catalogue: Turner Inspired: in the light of Claude


Seaport with the Embarkation of the Queen of Sheba, 1648
Seacoast with Perseus and the Origin of Coral, 1674

Joseph Mallord William Turner:
Sunrise, a Castle on a Bay: Solitude, 1845-5
Tivoli: Tobias and the Angel, c1835
Modern Italy – the Pifferari, c1838

Piero di Cosimo : Satyr mourning death of a nymph - Art through Words at the National Gallery

Art Through Words is the National Gallery discussion for visually impaired people and is held on the last Saturday of the month.  I had missed the April talk as I was still in hospital and this was my first visit without a crutch in sight. A friend took me on the bus and we arranged to meet up after the talk and take in the Turner Inspired exhibition which closes next week.

The time before the meeting allows some chat between other visitors about other events. One had been to an event at Tate Britain and another to an early access to the Royal Academy.  We were welcomed by Linda Bolton who was assisting and Caroline Smith who had prepared the discussion.  Linda has written a piece for the blog and this post gets regular hits when searches are made for art and visually impaired subjects.  ( ) We were about 16 people and though the majority come from Greater London a couple had made the journey from Kettering.

The subject for the day was a painting on poplar wood by Piero di Cosimo which was made in 1495.  Caroline had prepared a reproduction of the work and the dimensions seemed strange on first viewing; our print is sized 63 cm by 21 cm.    The painting can be found on

Caroline went through the layout and geometry of the painting with key landmarks. A recently killed nymph is lying along the bulk of the bottom half.  She is flanked by a satyr (top half man, lower half goat) on the left and a dog on the right. Both satyr and dog take up most of the height of the painting and in turn they are framed by foliage almost in the manner of a book end. In the remaining top space there is a landscape of a meadow reaching down to an estuary with some blue mountains in the distance.

We discussed the mythology of the painting and how some Roman and Classical myths had been reworked into plays and also into art work for the popular private market (i.e. non-religious or state).  This piece was privately commissioned and would likely have been found in a private room, probably a bedroom from the subject matter  My impression of the dog reminded me of Egyptian tomb paintings where the god Anubis ( a jackal) guards many of the funerary monuments. Virgil’s tale of the Aeneid was continually being reworked and even some families claimed to be descended to Aeneas in much the same way as Julius Caesar had done.  Kings of England and France had sought to proclaim their status and descent in works they commissioned and I was reminded of a Bettany Hughes radio programme about the Medicis and some Florentine art being used in quite a utilitarian way. 

In the gallery the piece is placed above a “Cassone” or marriage chest (The Scots word kist) and this painting could well have been placed in a panel of such an object.   I was telling a friend about such chests and he said it was common to have a painting on the inside of the lid.  Alternatively, the piece could have been  used in part of the bed furniture. (IKEA, flat packs come to mind)

Caroline then produced enlargements of the sections of the painting to allow some with vision to see a bit more and expand the discussion.

The first expanded section showed the upper part of the dead nymph and the satyr is holding her left shoulder with his left hand while his right hand is touching her head.  Her left arm makes a V shape as it is bent at the elbow. The wound on her neck could be made out and the flow of blood has been commented on by surgeons who suggest that, by the blood flow, the subject must have been standing. Some suggestion of a tracheotomy was made and one of us mentioned diphtheria and a cure. I mentioned that one of my uncles had contracted croup as a 2 year old and had silver tubes inserted into his throat to improve breathing.  Piero is said to have known Leonardo and an exhibition of some of the Leonardo drawings on medical subjects is now on show at Buckingham Palace.  Was the nymph really dead and who killed her?  It was established that her clothing was dry and quickly we resembled a Crime Scene Investigation.   The enlargement also allowed more viewing of the plants in the meadow.

The second enlargement featured the landscape from the top segment of the painting.  This section is a beautiful composition in its own right.   Having been interested in Dutch paintings from the 17th Century, I find this section from the 15th century to be fascinating.  This shows a beautiful sky and distant mountains behind an estuary with boats and cranes in flight and on ground. More dogs can be found and I thought they were horses at first. These add-on dogs are not as well painted as the main dog guarding the satyr. Caroline explained that the workings of the chief dog had been exposed and that Piero had changed the profile of the head.  The jaw bone structure and facial features had been altered. 

I learned a lot from this talk. Some of the other participants are well versed in Vasari and the popular dramas at the end of the 15th Century.  On inspection of the painting in the gallery we were able to view a Cassone placed in front and discuss the craftsmanship at the time. 

Again many thanks to Caroline and Linda for bringing some art to us. 

More information about Piero di Cosimo can be found on the National Gallery website on:

The June 2012 Art through Words painting is Turner's  Ulysses deriding Polyphemus -

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Audio Book Review: Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson

Geek Manifesto – Why Science matters
Author: Mark Henderson
Read by Tom Lawrence

Published by Random House Audiobooks
ASIN: B0082100GK
(ISBN : 0593068238)

This book was published in May 2012 and was available in audio format within days.  I had been in twitter contact with Mark Henderson and as is the way with twitter and serendipity, came across a twitter feed on the subject.  These chance encounters usually depend on who is following the topic and so timing is crucial.

With Twitter it is possible to get suggestions on who to follow and occasionally a retweet from someone else can appear in the feed.  However, I find I have probably maxed out on the number of twitter sources I can follow (Visually impaired have to listen on a screenreader with limits of a narrow band) and as I do not restrict myself to any particular subject find that if a person replies then it is usually a good sign. 

My profile probably has me down as being interested in audio books, hardly surprising as I cannot read print.  Some people think an e-book would be suitable in a larger font or with a text to speech facility but having to listen to a screen reader for most of the time it is a treat to have an audio book playing with a human voice.  Some well written books can be ruined by a poor audio version and I have given up on some, on account of poor diction and poor pronunciation of proper names.  I have also come across a book which has been so badly written that even a good reader fails to transform it into an enjoyable book.

My career path is the reverse of Henderson’s.  I did my PhD in inorganic chemistry at the University of Edinburgh in the 1970s and worked within the industry or business until I lost my sight. I then did an Arts and Humanities course for 5 years at the Open University - a temple for geeks in 1970s.  Mark Henderson notified me by twitter that the audio version of his book Geek Manifesto was being finalised and as I had encouraged him to make an audio recording in the first place, naturally bought the audio version when I had the link.  I asked a friend to download the audio book on to my lap top as my Talking Book machine was temporarily unavailable due to my hip replacement; it was “out of reach”.   

The book is available via , a part of  When buying the audio book, you are given the option of either downloading the book as a one-off or joining for a monthly subscription and getting this book for free.  I opted to buy the book as a one-off.  When downloading, you are asked to select the machine format you will use to listen to the book.  I opted for my computer, but if selecting a different medium, you will need to connect it to the computer via the USB port for the book to download.

The book is over 10 hours long and there is no publisher’s blurb on the recording.  Many visually impaired “readers” have got used to the DAISY format of the RNIB Talking Books.  Navigation is key to this feature, though in wanting to read the Geek Manifesto, I had to get used to the format and would suggest downloading the book to a player. 

I gave myself about 15 hours to cover the book. Sometimes I wanted to go back to a specific example Henderson had cited.  Often I would “rewind” the book on starting another session.  One skill I have not got is to tweet while listening to a talking book or even the radio.  I finished the book on Monday evening.

As an audio book this book is very well read and the switching of accents by Tom Lawrence is to be admired. During the book launch I heard Mark Henderson on BBCRadio3 Nightwaves (One of my favourite radio programmes) discussing science policy with (Lord) Robert May.  Samira Ahmed was in the chair and as is usual with this programme there are often pleasant arguments conducted in a very civilised manner (unlike Westminster) Mark Henderson was suffering from a sore throat but managed to speak. Robert May had to fall on the House of Lords as being a source of science based legislative capacity. (Hmm)

I found myself nodding in agreement with much of the contents of chapters 1-8 and found myself having to go over chapter 9 a few times. In this chapter Henderson starts to wind up the manifesto and there are many themes concerning climate change, Greenpeace, nuclear energy and politics in the UK and USA that I wanted to go over it again. This was doubtless fuelled by the UK Government Energy Policy being awaited and the Secretary of State, Ed Davey making  appearances on the airwaves including the Flagship BBC Radio 4 Today programme. 

The science research budget is very well discussed and Henderson has analysed how politicians minds work. He has some good things to say about William Waldegrave and Alistair Darling in past HM Treasury decisions.   However, the book also gives many examples of UK and USA legislators having little knowledge of scientific methods.  Some examples in terms of evidence abuse are made. Henderson rightly, in my opinion, condemns some UK politicians for their  twisting of evidence. US readers will be able to make up their own minds.

The acceptance of geeks and scientists having more accountable roles in society is an idea whose time has come. A proposal to have an Office of Scientific Responsibility is essential. In Prime Ministers Questions on May 23, answer to Dr Julian Huppert, David Cameron committed a science policy for the benefit of long term economic development. Cameron also admitted that politically it would hardly be noticed were the budget to have been cut.  This shows that much of the political education programme as outlined by Mark Henderson needs to be monitored and prodded/shamed when required.

Henderson also chronicles the interaction with the media and science, with the Today programme and Justin Webb coming in for attack as well as the otherwise revered Evan Davis.  

I took a pot shot about BBCRadio5live and an irritating  mid afternoon slot called Help. One expert had suggested using caustic soda (baking soda was intended) the BBC did correct this but that “expert” should never have been on the airwaves. Another gem from this show was the use of a “Pro Biotic Cleaner” in removing stains, it is also pet friendly Ugh!

He has certainly mobilised me to be a bit more active in countering any stupid off the cuff remark by some of the media and politics finest.   In common with some visually impaired people, I shout at the radio when something daft has been said.  In the past I have ‘phoned the duty controller, sent an email to the programme though with twitter there is instant access to making your voice heard on matters of concern.   Shoddy journalism can be addressed as can ridiculous and fatuous presenters and programmes claiming to have “scientific content”.

Not having a television means I can miss out on the science celebrities including the comics.  Science comedy has been lucrative for many stand up comedians and the popularisation of science through festivals and shows in museums can only be praised.  I can remember the School Christmas Lecture which the University of Edinburgh laid on for pupils and I heard my future supervisor when going to my first one in late 1960s.  During open days as postgraduates we would show off liquid oxygen and show reactions with a fruit shortcake biscuit and steel wool. Explaining why liquid oxygen is blue and paramagnetic involves some appreciation but this shows the importance of doing science as opposed to reading about it.

Henderson makes a point about ignorance levels of science being treated almost as a badge of honour. In polite society knowledge of the arts is deemed essential for some social status.  As a trained scientist, I have never come across antipathy to science among my friends, few of whom are scientists, but Henderson may be going over board in claiming that we should know about the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. In my mind it is not knowing what the 2nd law says, it is more understanding the concepts of heat and entropy and using the formulae associated with them.  (In the same way one may know all the 10 commandments without knowing the order in which they come – much less about their relevance or applicability in daily life !)

I can probably be described as a scientist who can be a bit sniffy about some science trivialisation. It may be that sciences are no longer taught in schools with so much “health and safety” issues in mind. As a schoolboy my father and I managed to burn a hole in the Formica kitchen table with some magnesium metal which we had set on fire and which had slipped out of my tongs. Of course I had a chemistry set and though never a ‘real’ train spotter or bus spotter, was a geek with maps, routes and timetables of any transport. I would thus qualify as a real geek though few of my friends would consider me as such. 

The Geek Manifesto has encouraged me to fight on and join in with other like minded souls. Henderson also has some practical tips in promoting real science and countering pseudosciences, especially in the Health Service. Much of Henderson’s sharp observations are aimed at such pillars of our society as the Prince of Wales, many MPs and government ministers. 

Henderson has practical advice which can be used for visually impaired geeks. Virtual communities can be joined and I have found few problems in saying that something is inaccessible when it ought to have been.  I am encouraged to form a VIG group of VI Geeks and not make it the preserve of the techy geeks. Pure scientists are said to be seldom practical in the flesh. Creative-yes

In conclusion I would recommend this book as an ideas source rather than a reference book or even a chronicle though there are good accounts in the book which have been well written.  The strength of the book is in making connections with many like minded people both in science and having an interest in science.  Not all of us are versed in the machinations of either the Westminster Bubble or the Beltway.

Professor Whitestick blogs on science related posts on a regular basis.  Here are some links to recent blogposts in terms of science policy, nuclear energy, renewable energy, science and health:

 Blind Chemist: Future Cities Royal Society of Chemistry Road Map

Blind Chemist: Resonance, Renaissance and Reminisces

A touch tour of a touch piece at the Wellcome Collection: scrofula and tuberculosis

Clean Water - chemistry at work

Blind chemist - Marie Curie - Light Fantastic

Blind Chemist out and about with the Royal Society of Chemistry

The Professor, with some sighted help, has also left comments on The Guardian's ( and Athene Donald's blogs (

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

The Noble Art of the Sword: exhibition at Wallace Collection

***Update 7/10/2012

Noble art of the sword – conclusion

The Wallace Collection held an event called Swordplay Saturday on 15th September 2012.  This concluded the Noble Art of the Sword exhibition and continued Renaissance themes with talks on items from the Wallace Collection featuring Titian’s Perseus and Andromeda, Italian Renaissance Painting, The Renaissance in France and Colourful crockery and Glorious glasses: high end entertaining in the Renaissance. 

I liked this exhibition very much and had attended a curator talk earlier in the week as I expected the exhibition to be busy by the weekend.  The day had many events running in parallel and with a little planning it was possible to join the programme and follow the various themes. 

 Historical Fencing Demonstration by The Sussex Sword Academy
at Wallace Collection
15th September 2012

There were two demonstrations of fencing which were provided by The Sussex Sword Academy in the morning and by The School of the Sword in the afternoon.  I found these demonstrations fascinating as the actions of the fencers mimicked many of the diagrams in the fencing manuals which I had heard been discussed during the sword study day which I attended, and the collection from the De Walden Library, now under the care of the Wallace Collection. 

It was also a chance to have a last look round the sword exhibition and it was possible to take a few good photographs of some of the items including: the sword of the future Maximillian II;

Rapier of the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II

the rapier and parade costume of Christian II, Elector of Saxony;

Rapier and Parade costume of Christian II, Elector of Saxony

and a beautiful sword and dagger example of silver craftsmanship, where the silver has been cut as if it had been made from wax or even cheese – according to Tobias Capwell, the curator.

Rapier (detail) , Saxon, Dresden c1608

In the Great Hall upstairs there were performances of Work for Cutlers, or a Merry Dialogue between Sword, Rapier and Dagger.  This was performed by three actors taking the part dressed in costume of the time.   There was a lot of word play and even examples of wordsmithing at its finest.  In England, George Silver has spoken disparagingly of the rapier as a bird spit.  In the play, much was made of the reference to capons being roasted, presumably on a spit.  
I had noted in the demonstrations outside how much sword and duelling language is used, especially in debates.  For example, parry and riposte.  I had even heard the term contretemps, which is probably derived from the Italian.  In the fencing demonstrations, much was made of the assessment of time and distance regarding fencing, but also taking the measure.  I hadn’t realised that this was a fencing term.

Regarding the other items it was fascinating to hear how the Wallace conserved a fresco by Foppa, and a panel of a triptych by Cimma.  In the Renaissance crockery talk, Suzanne Higgot discussed the colour and glazes used in maiolica.  The Wallace has a large collection of interesting pieces and I was intrigued by the colours and the use of tin and some lead glazes.  I had bought a piece of Wemyss ware in Ceres in Scotland.  This was noted for its bright colours, though the original pieces had crazed.  Suzanne Higgot also showed us examples of Venetian glass and again I was intrigued when she mentioned the discolouration of some glassware due to a process known as solarisation.  Manganese dioxide had been used to remove other colours but through time a pink colour usually shows on exposure to sunlight. 

On a previous trip to the Wallace Collection, I had bought up old copies of the catalogues which, with black and white photographs, allow my peripheral vision to detect some of the patterns and engravings combined with the full description of the item in question.   This allows me to ask a sighted person to look up such items in the catalogues and together we found the ceramic and glassware from my description of the items I had heard. 

These themed days allow access to curators on the spot and an increased access to what may be a closed book to visually impaired people.

*** end of update

Update: 10/6/2012

For exhibitions, the Wallace Collection has large print guides for those with some vision for reading purposes.  If you would like an electronic version of this, you should contact the Education Department (020 7563 9549 or 020 7563 9527), who may be able to assist in advance of your visit.  The staff in attendance will happily read out a caption, if there is anything particular in the exhibition or in the permanent collection you want read.

*** end of update

Update: 7/6/2012

On 7th June, 2012 the Wallace Collection had a lunchtime talk about Elizabethan armour by Dr Tobias Capwell who curates the Noble Art of the Sword exhibition currently on.  These talks are on a first come first served basis and having arrived early I had time to go round the exhibition myself before being taken to the armour gallery. 

Toby explained that Elizabeth of England had not gone to war and had created an image of herself as both Gloriana and the Virgin Queen. Her father Henry VIII was a competent knight as had been his father. It was expected that an English King would lead an army into battle. As a woman Queen Elizabeth had to transmit her power through her courtiers and they were expected to fight. 

The suit of Sir Thomas Sackville is unique in being complete.  Suits of armour could be made on a bespoke basis by first getting a royal licence and then commissioning the Royal Workshops at Greenwich to make up a set. ( At today’s prices, this could be £500,000 – a status symbol. Though much of the courtly love and medieval trappings had gone from the practical side of armour, the suit of armour nevertheless represented the status of the wearer. Metallurgical discoveries were still being made and the craftsmanship in a suit of armour was highly skilled even if the steel was of low quality when compared with today’s alloys.  Using microscopy it is possible to identify the workshop of a maker.  Tempering of steel can give a blue colour and some suits could be described as resembling peacocks. 

Questions from the audience were answered. One had asked if armour could protect from firearms at the time. Another asked about the imagery of Queen Elizabeth as a Joan of Arc character. Toby mentioned that the armour could offer protection against some of the firearms of the time but that mobility and protection had to be balanced in those times (1588) in the same way as modern tanks now have to consider. There was no evidence that Elizabeth ever wore any armour or that she was near an actual battle. The danger always lay at the hands of an assassin.

I mentioned to Toby that I had heard him on BBC Radio3 In Tune.  There was some renaissance battle music.  Toby also mentioned that he was doing a Midweek show on BBC Radio4. I was encouraged to attend a Study Day at the Wallace Collection and on checking in at the front desk with Michael I went back to the Dutch Galleries (It was raining cats and dogs!)  One of the staff described one of her favourite paintings to me and I could make out my Albert Cuyp painting.  Outside it was still raining so having been given more details about the Study Day by Michael I went to the gift shop and bought a few cards.  The rain had stopped and I decided to make for the bus stop in Portman Square. 

A very pleasant afternoon taking in a talk, the exhibition again and a viewing of the 17th Century Dutch Pictures. Many thanks to all and also to Sonia who recognised me from last summer!

Reports of the study day can be found on: 

*** end of update

I have just started walking again without a crutch, albeit only for a short time, but I felt it was appropriate to visit a museum or gallery.  My friend Jackie had thought the new exhibition at the Wallace Collection was suitable. It was a short bus run away and my cane and crutch would complement the ornate swords and accessories on show. 

Having viewed a display of weaponry in Edinburgh Castle, I was prepared for seeing how much my peripheral vision could make out of the Noble Art of the Sword.  For this exhibition the Wallace’s own collection of renaissance swords was supplemented by exhibits on loan from collections in the Staatliche Kunstsammlunger in Dresden ( and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Hofjagd und Rustkammer) in Vienna ( . 

I had been round the Dresden Albertinum and Grunes Gewolbe in the past and had seen many of the glories of Saxony in the 1980s. I had also been to the Hofburg in Vienna and seen many of the Holy Roman Emperor accessories on visits. There is a fascinating exhibit of the sword  of Christian II Elector of Saxony (c1605-7).  The costume of the Elector (c1601-9) is also on display and though I could not make out the colours, Jackie read out the captions. Both exhibits are on loan from the in Dresden ()

Fine silks coloured in Lapis Lazuli were used in doublet and breeches.  I could make out the silhouette of said monarch and commented that he was a bit well padded in the hip department!  The Wallace Collection and guest exhibits have objects with swords, accessories, fencing manuals and illustrations of fencing in the form of drawings and there is a portrait of Robert Dudley with rapier attached. 

There is a rapier of the future Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian II when the empire was in control of the Hapsburg dynasty. The Holy Roman Empire has cropped up before in this blog when the Elector Palatine was mentioned.  Indeed the costume of Elizabeeth Stuart is described with her portrait in the National Portrait Gallery, London.  One can imagine the artistry in making such objects. Gold and silver were used in clothing as well as in the intricate ornamentation of the rapiers themselves. 

We found many examples of swords, daggers and even a scimitar. I could recognise this by its crescent shape.  Some of the displays show a selection of rapiers with intricate blade shapes and one even seemed to resemble a saw with teeth.  Much of the vocabulary was new and though I knew the word hilt, I had never heard the word pommel used in relation to swords.  Pommel and cantle had been known from my pony trekking days. 

The swords are exhibited in glass cases and though the room is quite darkly lit I could make out the swords and the designs of the pommels and hilts.  Duelling, though forbidden, was not uncommon and fencing lessons and rules of engagement were made.  Gauntlets and bucklers are also on display.

On exiting the exhibition area which is in the basement there is also an interpretation centre with lots of imaginative objects to handle and even wear. There is a tunic and collar of chain mail. This is very heavy and I resisted putting on this for now but I did put on a breastplate and a helmet with 2 slits acting as a visor. 

Knight in shining armour!
Wallace Collection

Having the helmet on produced a strange effect on my ears.  Though the origin of the sound is of the sea shell variety, it was very tinny and I felt as if I were wearing a dustbin and probably resembled a Dalek more than ever.  I could not see anything through the visor and this probably illustrates my lack of central vision. 
Assuming the rapier was used in right hand the free hand had to be protected in a different way from the sword hand.  There is also a mystery object which can be felt and I won’t disclose what it is.

There are exhibits of the craftsmanship involved in sword making.  The same skills in handling gold and silver would have been employed in those artisan workshops in the manufacture of illuminated manuscripts and reliquaries. Milan seems to have been a centre of excellence for sword making and Bruges is also mentioned.

The Wallace Collection has another interesting exhibition which brings some life to Shakespeares dramas such as Romeo and Juliet.  Christopher Marlow came up in discussion - he was killed in a brawl in Deptford. During the summer the Wallace Museum is organising events and more details can be found on :

BBC Radio3 In Tune (Tuesday 22nd May 2012) featured the Wallace Collection and music by Monteverdi ‘Tancredi and Clarinda’.  Monteverdi had set a battle scene to music and the exhibition came up in the discussion about the piece.


For the time being, many buses have returned to familiar routes in the Portman Square area, though there is still some construction work in Baker Street.  Diversions along Wigmore Street seem to have stopped.

Thursday, 17 May 2012

Dutch Paintings Part 2: Torrie Collection, Talbot Rice Gallery, Edinburgh

Dutch Paintings from the 17th Century have proved to be interesting.  The pictures are not large but are still attractive to collectors.  Many museums, national art galleries and institutions have collections of Dutch Paintings.  One such collection is the Torrie Collection which is held by the University of Edinburgh. 

I was at the Talbot Rice Gallery several times last summer and went round the Torrie Collection, once on my own and once with a friend, who read out the captions from a catalogue.  My first visit to the Torrie collection was around the time of my visit to Surgeons’ Hall in Edinburgh and it was Jan Steen’s “Doctor Visit” which made me recall it.  Harbour scenes with ships and boats seemed familiar as did the painter William van de Veld. 

Landscapes with trees and perspective lines seemed to be 200 years in advance of the Corot paintings I had liked in 1975 and had viewed again recently at the National Gallery in London.  Some Dutch painters had gone to Italy and had developed in ways similar to Claude Lorraine. A few had returned to the Netherlands and influenced local painters while others continued in their own styles.

Following the topic of Dutch Pictures has led me to many other collections and The Zoffany’s picture of Lawrence Dundas around his pictures allowed a little detective work on the internet in matching some of the painter names (difficult) with recurring themes in landscape and genre painting.   I ordered some books on the internet and during my stay in hospital a friend read out extracts from two: a catalogue of Albert Cuyp pictures and drawings; and an introduction to Dutch Landscapes in the Royal Collection by Desmond Shawe-Taylor (with contributions by Jennifer Scott). 

The following quote from the latter is particularly noteworthy.  Shawe-Taylor talks about the process of cleaning and restoring a painting and in doing so draws parallels with the intellectual process of appreciating these paintings.  Thus:

“The understanding of painting can require a similar process.  Over the years the habitual way of thinking about the art of a particular period can start to obscure and discolour the works themselves; sometimes sincerely held ideas can overlay the truth with plausible anachronisms.  The process of intellectual restoration is as fraught with difficulties as that of real restoration; the ‘original experience of a work’ can seem as elusive a concept as the ‘original appearance of a work’.”

It has also been fun searching discussions of Dutch Paintings on You Tube and I have learned at least how the You Tube system works.  I could not resist tweeting out a link to a video of a restoration completed in the Mauritshuis in the Hague in Netherlands of a Jan Steen painting titled The Doctor’s Visit. (see below)

Having been in contact with Talbot Rice Gallery since last year I asked them about the Torrie Collection and while I was in hospital they very kindly sent me images of the paintings which I liked. I would have visited the gallery during the Easter period though my impending hip operation put all travel from London on hold. 

716 Jan van der Heyden - Wooded Park Landscape With Deer
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

Jan van der Heyden was born in 1637 and died in 1712.  He was particularly noted for town scenes, but also painted landscapes such as this one. 

738 Jan Steen - The Doctor's Visit
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

Jan Steen was born in Leiden around 1626 and died in 1679.  Steen painted many comic subjects, though there is frequently a moral content to the scene.  The Doctor’s Visit was painted several times and the restoration of the painting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague can be found on YouTube:

Although the video is in Dutch, it is sub-titled (but I can’t read them, of course) and there are quite a lot of scientific terms which are recognisable, such as infrared and ultraviolet.  The video, however, does show the process of restoring a painting and illustrates the important part which chemistry and spectroscopy plays in picture restoration.  I can’t detect any difference between the restored and unrestored images from the Torrie collection and on You Tube, the trained eye may well discover the benefits of the removal of previous restorations and newer ways of interpreting the artist’s original work - although, bearing Desmond Shawe-Taylor's statement quoted above, some care has to be taken in the interpretation of the thoughts of the artist when the work or works were commissioned.

739 David Teniers the Younger - Peasants Playing Bowls
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

David Teniers the Younger was born 1610 and died 1690.  Sports and pastimes often feature in Dutch paintings and I was attracted to this painting of people bowling in the street as it reminded me of a craze in the 1960s for 10-pin bowling!  For some reason Edinburgh did not indulge in 10-pin bowling, though both Kirkcaldy (birthplace of Adam Smith) and Glenrothes (then a new town) had 10-pin bowling. 

744 William van de Velde - Fishing Boats in a Calm
By kind permission of "The University of Edinburgh
Fine Art Collection".

William van de Velde the younger was born 1633 and died in 1707.  He followed in his father’s footsteps in having an interest in painting marine scenes.  There are many paintings with ships in full sail, in various weather conditions.  Both father and son worked in London in Greenwich and are buried in St James’s, Piccadilly.  My father’s family had a couple of paintings of sailing ships which were probably done in the 19th century based on the harbour at Charlestown, near Dunfermline.  An ancestor of mine had been the harbour master there.

Also of interest is another You Tube video in which Desmond Shawe-Taylor discusses Aelbert Cuyp’s The Passage Boat:

In preparing this post, I’d like to thank Shawn Coulman, Marketing and Education Assistant and Jill Forrest, Museums Support Officer both at the Talbot Rice Gallery. 

Details for the Gallery are:
Talbot Rice Gallery
The University of Edinburgh
Old College, South Bridge

+44 (0)131 651 4784

The Talbot Rice Gallery is situated in the Old College of the University of Edinburgh and as well as housing the Torrie Collection there are frequent exhibitions and events.  The gallery is very welcoming and it was a member of the staff and a volunteer who alerted me to the Artlink project which I discussed last year.  I look forward to meeting up with both Talbot Rice and Art Link during the ‘summer’.  If you are visiting the Edinburgh Festival, it’s well-worth visiting the Talbot Rice Gallery.