Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Noble Art of the Sword - Study Day, Wallace Collection

On the 16th of June I attended a study day at the Wallace Collection. (http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/event/4311 )  I arrived in good time to have my 3rd “view” of The Noble Art of the Sword exhibition.  ( http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/93 ) (Notes on my previous two visits can be found on: http://profwhitestick.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/noble-art-of-sword-exhibition-at.html )

Prof Whitestick at the entrance to
The Noble Art of the Sword exhibition
Wallace Collection
28 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

One of the staff read out details of a Saxon silver sword with fine silversmith workings and I re-familiarised myself with a few more of the exhibits.  Sarah from the Wallace had sent me the information in text format used for the large print information booklet.  This was ideal and neatly complemented my first tour when my friend Jackie read out the captions on what I could make out or “see”.

There are a few specialist terms and foreign words and authors of fencing manuals which the exhibition explains.  Some of the terms can be checked for the correct spelling which makes further research easier.  I was able to work through items in advance of the study day so that I could follow the speakers.

Through my screenreader I had a virtual audio guide which provided a lot of information on the items in the exhibition.  My screenreader is set to American male voice (Jaws and you do get used to it) and when the cursor came across items in Italian, German and French the screenreader switched to the appropriate language though rather than revert back to my usual American chum it went to a rather plummy and sinister British English!

The programme was as follows and was linked in with the themes explored in the exhibition itself.  There were about 60 people in attendance.

“In the 16th-century it [the sword] became an essential part of civilian dress as well. This study day will examine the complex story of the sword in everyday life during the Renaissance, their role as weapons but also as status symbols, jewellery objects, and works of art. Topics will include the evolution of the rapier, its development, construction and decoration, and its use, which was illustrated in lavish fencing books published throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”

1.  Exhibition themes of The Noble Art of the Sword by Tobias Capwell

One of the most interesting aspects about coming to a subject about which one has had little knowledge is the enthusiasm and experience of listening to a curator of an exhibition or organiser of a conference.  Toby had been involved with the concept and preparation for this exhibition for several years (from 2006) so the insight into the subject and the fluency in the talk was stimulating.

The illustrations of the development of the rapier were suitable for my peripheral vision and the outline of a sword’s hilt and blade in a series of 8 was clear in my mind especially when combined with the descriptions and having just refreshed my memory of some of the swords.  Anecdotes are always worth hearing and I liked the story of when Toby was in Dresden and having picked his swords (he could pick 2), the Dresden authorities asked him if he would like the costume of Christian II, Elector of Saxony. It had been put away in 1942 and had rarely been uncovered since. This is one of the show stoppers for me.

Toby went through the design manuals by Orsoni (borrowed from V&A) which were followed by craftsmen.  The fencing manuals arose when an architect Camillo Agrippa wrote down some geometry with fencing.  Fight and Fencing Masters wrote, developed and rewrote manuals from mid 16th Century and characters such as Achille Marozzo, Camillo Palladini and Girard Thibault emerge.

Fencing according to Thibault
Wallace Collection
28 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

The wider access of books on sword fighting allowed some type of Renaissance crowd sourcing to suggest that many masters were influenced by other fencing schools. Toby suggested some work on Camillo Palladini could be done.  For the exhibition the Wallace had gone through Milan archives tracking down the craftsmen involved in all aspects of swordsmithing, jewellery and trade.  Outside of the exhibition is a real-sized fight diagram from Girard Thibault and I positioned my cane on it during a break.

The issue of civilian sword and fashion accessory was raised.  Toby disliked the term accessory, as the rapier was an integral part of a gentleman or nobleman’s dress - as essential as underpants and shoes.  The hilt, dagger, belt, scabbard, doublet buttons and even shoe buckles were made to match.  Being fashionable items they had to match.  With unlimited budgets, the rapier set with costume said a lot.  The rapier then became a ceremonial or non fighting sword though there is much to be debated here.

The fencing manuals in the exhibition were difficult for me to discern and the large enlargements on the screen made the positions and the history of the collections of fencing manuals come alive.

2.  The De Walden Collection of Fight Manuals by Joshua Pendragon, Guest Assistant Curator, The Noble Art of the Sword

Toby and Joshua mentioned the difficulty in showing books in an exhibition as only 2 pages can be shown at once.

Joshua had old black and white film clips of fencing bouts and though far removed from Hollywood, there is still a mystique of the rituals employed.  Descriptions of the fight sketches can make these appear much as in a sketch by Picasso, a set with actors by Zoffany or the Furusiyya horse manuals as shown and described in the current British Museum exhibition.

Serendipity plays an important part in collections and the uncovering of the Howard de Walden Library was explained by Joshua.  George Silver was a writer in England in the 16th Century and had been critical of the craze for Italian fencing masters and some of their habits.  Joshua and Toby had worked on a collection of fencing manuals held in Glasgow forming part of a collection of the RL Scott Bequest.  Tracking down books and documents is part of an historian’s stock in trade and I found it interesting how this Howard de Walden Library is gradually being opened up.

3.  The Rapier and its Relation to Military Swords of the Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries by Keith Dowen, The Wallace Collection

Nomenclature is an area ripe for pedants and the distinction between a military sword and a fashion accessory was explained by Keith.  The definition of sword and rapier has been a cause of much discussion and Keith offered examples of rapiers which had been used in the field; but as battles had ceased being decided by the knights, the role of the sword/rapier gradually changed.  During questions, some members of the audience told of examples of their own.  One cited a Scottish clan chief taking his rapier to defend himself but as it was mainly a fashion item, it had little functionality!

James IV of Scotland has a mention of rapier in an inventory including Wallace swords.  The function of the sword was also discussed, whether to cut and slash or thrust.  The arms and armour go together and the protection afforded by the hilt, guards and gauntlets can give a clue to the precise use of the sword.  The theme of form, function and evolution during the Renaissance echoed the presentations.

4.  The Construction and Conservation of Renaissance Swords by David Edge, Head of Conservation, The Wallace Collection

Conservation topics were discussed by David who liaised with his opposite numbers in Vienna for the sword of the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian II- a stand had to be made for the showing of this very richly decorated object.  With so much gold content and being purely for show, it was interesting when David put on enlargements of parts of the hilt decorations and they were held together much in the way of a Meccano set, with iron nuts and bolts.  The enlargements coupled with my being in the front allowed me to appreciate the fine filigree work on the gold pieces.

Issues of polishing and burnishing of Renaissance objects were discussed.  There were a lot of “Caveat Emptors” for any collector and the subject of forgery and the sword equivalent of Grangerism was not lost.  It is not uncommon for pieces of a rapier to be reassembled with newly fashioned pieces.

It was interesting to hear curators and the audience mentioning X-Ray Fluorescence as if it was routine, which it is.  David pointed out that XRF would just confirm that the sword blade was 99% iron (Fe).  Traces of mercury (Hg) and gold (Au) could be detected, proving that the hilt had some gilding in the past, though this had been lost through time, fashion and misuse.

Mercury had been used in the process, so other techniques had to be explored.  The Wallace has a microscopy section which can scan surfaces but the construction and internal sword details can only be used with fragments.  Many collectors in Victorian times had added brass embellishments and with a specified copper-zinc ratio investigation these could usually be detected.

Polishing and burnishing techniques were also discussed though these are no longer in use as nowadays a lacquer is applied rather than a continued removal of the surface.  David had investigated sword manufacture processes in Jodhpur, India and had visited a cache of unused blades which had been uncovered in Graz.  Many swords had steel plate applied to an iron core and these were prone to breaking as the welding gave way.  I could not believe it when David mentioned that they had access to neutron diffraction facilities!

5.  The Rapier – product of an advanced metallurgy by Alan Williams, Metallurgist, The Wallace Collection

Alan continued with some technical aspects from metallurgy.  Although I could talk a lot about some of the chemistry of iron, the properties of steel are quite vague in my mind.  Alan carefully went through measurable properties such as hardness and qualities such as being ductile.  Steel making in the 16th Century was a bit hit or miss as far as tempering and quenching steel with varying slag content. While it was possible to do some “destructive” testing on a few broken pieces of rapiers, for other pieces a non destructive method has to be found.  Step forward Neutron Diffraction!  The facilities at Didcot are being used and in discussion I found out that about 3 days is allocated to some Arts projects in a Charisma programme.  However, funding for large science facilities might also be at risk in government cutbacks.  Some twitter exchanges resulted and I was sent a link about this.

Prof Whitestick's cane meets ancestor at the Wallace Collection
28 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

This Study Day was a wonderful experience.  At the Wallace Collection Anne and Sarah had made every facility accessible to me.  I had a front row seat and a recording of the lectures was made for me using my own recorder.  This shows that many subjects, even the more esoteric ones, can be made both interesting and accessible to visually impaired people.  I am lucky to have so many wonderful facilities within a short bus ride or train ride away.  Accessible education, leisure and transport give us all a chance to explore.

PS Within a few days I was talking to a silversmith, having a “copper” coin converted to silver, my cane was too big for the XRF facility, a photogram using silver technology was taken of my cane and I handled a solid belled saxophone.  Another collection at the Wellcome this time!   For more on gold, silver and bronze see my post:

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Camden Arts Centre: Finchley Road Stations

Camden Arts Centre is always worth a visit.  The staff are very friendly and approachable.  I had not been for a few months since my hip problems and at the desk I was filled in about some developments concerning accessibility.

Near the café there is a flat screen and audio system and as the Zoe Leonard photo and Observation Point was in its last days,it was interesting to listen to the artist.  The other exhibition featured the Artist in Residence, Rachel Champion from New York, with whom we later had a chance to chat.

Jackie and I went upstairs and into a newly constructed darker corridor to a room above Finchley Road.  After our eyes had adjusted it became apparent to Jackie that there was a Camera Obscura installation in the room and the other side of Finchley Road was screened on the opposite wall and ceiling upside down.

I mentioned to Jackie about the special upside down glasses one can wear and eventually the brain inverts the image the right way round (it does this to start with) Experiments had been done in the 1960s and I remember people on a BBC TV programme wearing these glasses for some time.  At some point the glasses were removed and some people had difficulty getting back to normal.  I started on Diana Ross-Upside Down and Jackie countered with Lionel Richie-Dancing on the Ceiling!

We then went to a large room with perhaps 10 photographs mounted with a black border on a white wall. I am afraid I did not get this. I commented that photographs of the sun were an area of special interest and mentioned the Transit of Venus. I felt rather as if I were in a snow blizzard and look lost in this photograph which Jackie took.

Lost for words
Zoe Leonard exhibition
Camden Arts Centre, London
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

Not impressed, we moved to the 3rd room which had piles of postcards of Niagara Falls arranged in what appeared in an obsessive manner.  I could make out 2 cards on a wall with Observation Point.  Was this a hint of a telescope for which you drop a quarter/coin and you get a stereoscope image?  Were the pile of postcards real or a ruse?  We were both underwhelmed and moved on.

Niagara Falls postcards

At this point, Jo from the Camden Arts Centre joined us and filled me in on an exhibition I had missed.  We also chatted about recent exhibitions at the centre.  Jackie and I had both visited the Claymation exhibition by Swedish artist and had not liked it.  Jackie thought the violence was contrived and I thought a dark side of Scandinavian post-feminism seemed to be popular with crime fiction (detective stories) Jo, however, had enjoyed this exhibition and having enjoyed our comments found me the file notes of the exhibition that I had missed – Launching Rockets Never Gets Old by Raphael Hefti.

Next, we entered a room where Rachel Champion was working as Artist in Residence.  This was a pleasant surprise.  The work is called Ornithopter Garden.  It had lots of colours and smells from the vegetation (mainly grasses) and an interesting corner piece which to my eyes looked like the Island of Staffa (Fingal's Cave) decorated with turf on the horizontal sections.

with Rachel Champion
Ornithopter Garden
Camden Arts Centre, London
23 June 2012
©Prof Whitestick

Asking for permission to take photographs, Jo said that we could take some of Zoe Leonard work and she would check with Rachel Champion for her consent. We all chatted about the installation and I asked about the rigidity of the corner installation.   Rachel described how she had climbed up the installation to fit in the top section.  It reminded me of the Boetti use of building trade pieces of pipes, tiles, lights which I described in my post Boetti and Kusama at Tate Modern.  However, Rachel had not seen that exhibition.

We also spoke with Jo about touching policy in some exhibitions.  Sometimes friends of mine have been ticked off by guards at exhibitions when they exaggeratingly point out items in the show.    Often the public are discouraged from making contact with some artworks though exceptions are made for visually impaired people.  Jo spoke about access to installations for some people.  I had enjoyed playing the drums and percussion at the Haroon Mirza exhibition ( http://profwhitestick.blogspot.co.uk/2011/10/culture-on-london-overground.html) but Jo said that some had gone too far with their “interactions”.

To round off our visit, we had coffee and cake in the café.  I have always enjoyed visiting the centre whether for talks by artists, book launches or just to drop in for a coffee.  There are lifts, accessible toilets and a bookshop which has a wide selection of material.  The centre also runs courses, though I have not tried any of them so cannot vouch for their suitability.  A series of file notes on individual exhibitions are for sale at £1, which I usually buy and have read to me.

Train Connections to Underground and Overground

In this area there are two railway stations.  Finchley Road is on the Jubilee Line and Metropolitan Line and has convenient changes.  However, mind the gap, especially on the new Metropolitan Line carriages.  While some stations such as Euston Square have flush and step free access to the train from platform, others, like Finchley Road, which bend, can have a surprisingly wide gap.  You need to check the gap with a cane.

Once outside, turn left and staying on the left side of Finchley Road you may find a bus stop and take any double-decker red bus for 2 stops or walk. After the other station (Finchley Road and Frognal) cross a side road with a light-controlled crossing and then facing right there is another crossing across a very busy Finchley Road (there is an island in the middle). Camden Arts Centre is at the corner.

London Overground at Finchley Road & Frognal
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

Finchley Road and Frognal is a London Overground station which is useful for the Arts Centre and also for getting to Hampstead Heath, as the tunnel starts here and finishes at the next station. Mobile phones conk out here and there is some peace and quiet.

Getting off at Finchley Road there are 3 sets of 11 steps up to the Finchley Road exit.  There is a touch pad for access with a pass or Oyster card. Make sure your companion touches the yellow pad or they may be overcharged at another ticket gate.  

Jackie and I used the London Overground to get to Hampstead Heath station for Keats House and we went back to West Hampstead and on our separate ways.  I am continuing useful hubs and stations for meeting points where one can meet friends half way and go on from there.  Finchley Road on the London Underground is useful as is West Hampstead.  Both have useful bus connections though as unmoveable as train stations are, bus stops are sadly subject to suspension, roadworks and diversions.

Buses for Camden Arts Centre: 13, 82 and 113.
Zoe Leonard exhibition
Camden Arts Centre, London
23 June 2012
©Prof Whitestick

Blind Chemist: diffractions and distractions at Wellcome "Elements" event

The Wellcome Collection had a late night event on 22nd June in their elements series.  (http://www.wellcomecollection.org/whats-on/events/elements-1.aspx ).  Visitors were free to roam the many floors, from the lower ground levels up to the library.

The evening started at 7pm and the theme was Elements and Gold, Silver and Bronze.  This gave a handle for looking at the chemistry, myth, coinage, alchemy and metal crafts in a very relaxed atmosphere.  There were 3 events in the auditorium and I booked a seat for one of them.  Otherwise it was possible to drift around and take part in a fascinating evening with a lot of chemistry involved as well as a bit of socialising.

I had told a friend about it and he was interested in hearing some of the events.  We went to some together otherwise I could drift and go with the flow.  I find I can relate spaces to objects which I had found before and this is commented in brackets. 

Sitting in the café enjoying a coffee a familiar music theme sounded at 7 on the dot –Goldfinger.  It was “Operatic tenor” Stephen Miles, serenading us “with songs of gold and silver.”  Catherine Walker from the Wellcome Collection came up and said hello and we chatted.  Pauline from the Royal Society of Chemistry was also in the café and I was chuffed to introduce the pair of them. (Note: both of them had come up to me knowing that from more than a yard or so I could not recognize them)

A little later, my friend and I went downstairs and met the silversmith, David Clarke.  He buys scrap silver and melts and reworks it.  I asked him about the silver bullion price but he said there was a separate market for his sources.

It was soon time for the first lecture titled “Adventures in Greek and Roman metallurgy with Edith Hall”  Edith Hall is a frequent broadcaster on the classical Greek cultures and often appears on In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg Radio4 programme.  She wrote quite a lot for Open University courses, too.

This was the first lecture and Edith started with the Funeral Games mentioned in Homer’s Iliad following the death of Petrocolus and the lists of gold, cauldrons, animals, women and objects for prizes.  Though light hearted the question and answers were interesting.

A discussion on ethics soon got underway and though Edith wobbled at some poor translations such as alloy composition and what happened to Antimony, I found it interesting that while Hall will talk for free to a comprehensive school she charges a fee for private schools.  Some got into ethics of barter and trade and I suspect she may have been surprised at the level of philosophical discussion from a bunch of scientists.  We skipped through Ontology, Epistemology and talked about concepts of money.  An interesting exchange!

Next, we joined Vayu Naidu, a storyteller who was unfazed by two mobile phone interruptions.  A steward found me a seat and I settled down to listen to an Indian tale of love and betrayal superbly told in relaxed surroundings.  Marina Warner was on the schedule and I had heard her speak on myth and had bought a copy of her book (It has not all been read to me yet: a candidate for an audiobook?) 

I then went to the Wellcome Library (I have been shown this area before by Catherine Walker.) where a steward found me a seat at the front for a fabulous set of music. The saxophone collection of some very expensive instruments was introduced with the names of the parts of the instrument which can be exchanged. A change of mouthpiece, crook and even bell can involve a retuning of the group. There were 3 saxophone players with a variety of instruments.  One had a solid silver bell, one had a pink gold finish.

Charlie introduced her band from Howarths.  They had been called after a group I remember from first around late 1960s.  They started with Goldfinger, some Bach, some Duke Ellington-Caravan and a new piece written by Charlie for a tin whistle (Copper and Tin make bronze).  The saxophones had to be retuned a quartertone.

I chatted afterwards and Charlie let me handle the silver belled instrument. A fascinating 25 minutes and a real treat.

It was now time to wander through the various floors and activities on offer.  I have used headings from the Wellcome’s programme of events as a guide:

1.  “Learn the intricacies of making silver wire with Jamie Hall.”
      (This was located near Henry Wellcome’s life mask with large moustache)

2.  "Watch out for our gold assayer who will be ready to tell you if that precious ring is made of the real thing using X-ray flourescence.”
This was a chance for the cane to be assayed but, even folded it was too large.  Instead, I was shown the old ways of assaying precious metal.  At the mention of Vogel Inorganic Analysis, we soon went up a notch in chemistry.  I was talking with a PhD student about some non precious metals, as we would define them.  Many elements are quite scarce but are not attractive to the jeweler’s trade.  On leaving, I noticed a painting of Galileo’s illegitimate daughter (dressed as a nun)
Meet Marcos Martinón-Torres, a modern-day alchemist"
3.  "
By this point I wanted to have my cane seriously transmuted to gold and went to the stand in the DNA section where a 2p coin was converted to silver.  A lot of showmanship and a real bonus when I discussed real chemistry with Fred who was standing by and must have picked up that I had a chemical background.  We were soon chatting about fluorine NMR which is quite a big thing.  Fred said that boron NMR was making a comeback and I was able to chat about borone hydrides (B2H6 and B2D6), how BH3 adducts were interesting and I had to use heavy hydrogen (deuterium) to work out the mechanism. 

Thanks to Fred and his colleagues. My coin is silver but the cane is still base metal.

4.  Find out how batteries work.

I drifted into electrochemistry and some chat about Faraday, salt bridges and good old Delta G.

5.  Make your own silver photogram.

Many thanks to Jane Yates, who led me into the dark room and laid out my folded cane on some Photogram paper.  At this point, the cane took over and had several baths in chemicals and a silver image formed.  I held a torch above it and for 6 seconds it was exposed by light.  The paper was turned over to protect the image until treatment and fixing.  With amazement I could make out my folded cane, ball and cord almost as it were a silver sword.  (My knowledge gained from the Wallace Collection study day had stood me in good standing)

Many thanks to Jane for a stunning image!

© Prof Whitestick

There was still some time to try out more stalls, so I did!

6.  “Find out how to cast tin with the Institute of Making.”

The cane was too large for a pewter model from a cuttlefish mould but I was told about the process.

7.  "Discover the role that colloids have in making stained glass."

Colloids and nanoparticles have cropped up at some time or another and I was able to try some painting of a stained glass window .  I was helped by Andres and kitted out with rubber gloves, was able to start.  I picked colloidal silver and copper while being guided with a dropper in applying the colloids.

Afterwards I had a chat with Nathan Hollingsworth who is doing postdoctoral research at UCL. We were soon discussing electron diffraction and when I converted nanometers into Angstrom units. My synthesis of novel small molecules involved a lot of bond length and angle property analysis. In the 1970s we saved up our novel compounds and took them to UMIST (Manchester), which at the time had the only electron diffraction facility in the UK.

Thanks Nathan for a great chat about electron and neutron diffraction which I had mentioned as cropping up in the Wallace Collection.

An assortment of photographs were taken. From description and enlargement I have been able to sort them out. Apologies if I have got some names wrong.

Many thanks for a wonderful evening at the Wellcome.  All the students and researchers were polite, interesting and soon engaged with me. UCL has certainly trained them well as rounded characters.  (My own chum at UCL has just got a first, well done…)

PS: This was in my Twitter feed sent by Sylvia McLain @girlinterruptin

PPS: The following exchange concerning boron NMR ontology and part of Edith Hall's Karl Marx's quotation "Gold sein oder Gold Schein" may also be of interest!

'Boron NMR is making a comeback.' Plse explain wider societal ramifications @profwhitestick. http://profwhitestick.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/blind-chemist-diffractions-and.html
@ruthiegledhill It was really Edith Hall and her theory that gold coinage being the start of the change in society.
@ProfWhitestick I will respond further after seeking counsel from our science editor tmrw. Or one of my brainy biochem sisters.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

John Keats, Visit to Keats House Hampstead - Hampstead Heath Station & Environs

*** update 23 June 2012

I returned to Keats House with my friend Jackie and we went around the house visiting kitchen and going over some of the items on display.  Jackie set up a digital camera for me and my first posted photograph is now on this post!

Keats House
(first photograph taken personally by Prof Whitestick)
Hampstead, London
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

*** end of update 

19th June 2012

Something had inspired me to visit Keats House, in Hampstead.  (http://www.keatshouse.cityoflondon.gov.uk/)

The nearest station is Hampstead Heath on London Overground.   Buses C11, 46 and 168 stop for Royal Free Hospital and a walk along South End Green past a parade of shops, cafes and restaurants will lead you to the road for Keats House and Hampstead Heath itself.

John Keats lived in this house for less than 2 years though wrote his major works of poetry here.  Although he lived in part of the house, the whole house has many Keats connections.  Hampstead was a village in those days and had alleged health giving attributes.  Tuberculosis was rife and consumption or “decline” was a common cause of death.  It seemed to run in Keats family.  He had been trained as an apothecary surgeon and when he identified drops of blood which he had coughed up as “arterial blood” he knew he was not long for the world.  It was common for sufferers to move to warmer climes and Keats moved to Italy.  He died aged 25 in Rome, where he is buried.

On arriving at the house, I asked if there were any facilities or special arrangements for visually impaired people and Holly was called and showed me round the house.  Holly had a cardboard model of the house which I could handle to give me an idea of the external arrangement of floors, windows and a canopy at the main door which is at the rear. 

The house was built in 1815 though an extension had been added later in the 19th Century.  Many changes had altered the house and though many of the original objects referred to by Keats and his friends are on show, some period pieces have been added to fill out the house as a whole. 

Keats was slight of stature and a bust of him is fitted at his correct height.  His fiancée Fanny Brawne was said to be the same height and there are references to the pair in the house with friends such as Joseph Severn the painter, Leigh Hunt and Charles Wentworth Dilke. 

There are many pieces in the showcases and Holly described a Shakespeare Folio Edition which had been owned by Keats.  In a sitting room with portraits there is both a life mask of Keats and a death mask.  I was telling Holly about the life masks of Henry Wellcome (I hit his moustache), Van Gogh’s doctor (I hit his forehead) and the bust of Sir Edward Elgar produced at the National Portrait Gallery (I hit his nose).  At this point Holly said that they had a copy of the life mask of John Keats and would I like to try it.  Placing the life mask horizontally in one hand I touched Keats on the nose!

There are many portraits of Keats using the life mask.  Joseph Severn painted one with a nightingale silhouetted on a branch in front of a moon in Hampstead Heath. 

Detail from "Keats Listening to the Nightingale on Hampstead Heath"
by Jospeh Severn
© Prof Whitestick

Some letters say that Keats was inspired to write his Ode to a Nightingale in the garden.  There are also many profiles and silhouettes of Keats, who became famous after his death.  His poetry became part of the Byron, Keats and Shelley list of romantic poets which has stayed in fashion. 

We went upstairs into some of the bedrooms and other rooms associated with Keats.  Downstairs it is possible to visit the kitchens.  The house is entered from the rear though in Keats’s time it comprised 2 houses.  The connecting doors were often open and there are reports of cats being able to wander from one house to the other and often the inhabitants would take tea in the other house.  Keats would have entered from the side where the extension was built. 

Main entrance, Keats House
Hampstead, London
23 June 2012
© Prof Whitestick

There is a wide selection of postcards on sale and a very attractive illustrated guide book to both the house and on Keats himself.  Books of Keats's poetry are also available.  I bougtht two: Keats at Wentworth Place - poems written December 1818 to September 1820, published by London Borough of Camden Libraries and Arts Department; and a Dover Thrift Edition of Lyric Poems.

There is a concession admission for £3 and the ticket is valid for a year.  The house sits back from the road in an attractive garden with a path encircling the house. 

On leaving, I realised that what had inspired me was A BBC Radio4 “Pick of the Week” featuring a series by Richard Holloway on ‘Honest Doubt’ and on which some Keats had been read out.

Many thanks to Holly for a very pleasant visit, and for finding interesting objects for me to handle as well as describing the contents and pictures. 

London Overground Orientation for Hampstead Heath

The station is announced with “Alight here for Royal Free Hospital” and, with 28 steps to climb from platform plus another 3 for access to the gates, it is quite a climb.    After the ticket barrier, an exit straight ahead provides a ramp (turn left) and this will allow you to align the fruit stall with the tactile paving to a zebra crossing. Once over, turn right for Keats House. For the Royal Free Hospital turn left.  After crossing a side street and keeping a parade of shops (WH Smith) turn left at corner. Keats House is a few hundred yards along the road on the left hand side.

If going to the Royal Free Hospital continue with the parade of shops on your right hand side.  You will eventually reach Pond Street.  There is a zebra crossing (badly in need of a coat of titanium dioxide paint) and turn right on the other side.  The Royal Free is on the left hand side.  A gathering of smokers will alert you to the trail for the Lower Ground floor entry!

Hampstead Heath station - views of east bound platform and steps to ground level
© Prof Whitestick

Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art: Canonbury Square London N1

This gallery had been suggested to me and my friend Stephen offered to take me. The gallery is a short walk from Highbury Corner.  The nearest station is Highbury and Islington which is served by London Overground and London Underground/National Rail at a low level.  Refer to Highbury and Islington Post (work in progress)

The collection is located in a Georgian House built on the corner of Canonbury Road and Canonbury Lane/Square in London N1.  The gallery premises are entered through “Sunburst” gates which lead into a garden and one can enter the gallery at house, basement or lower ground floor level. 

The collection is not open on Mondays and Tuesdays and opens at 11 am.  Admission is £5 with a concession for visually impaired people and free admission for a companion. 

The gallery has frequent exhibitions and an installation of modern abstract art was being prepared so not all the rooms were open.  Stephen and I were free to explore the gallery and Stephen described many of the paintings which I could make out. 

I could detect some of the geometrical features, a still life was clearly drawn and discernible and one of the pieces of sculptures was intriguing as it had very sharp angles.    Stephen took photographs of this piece which is fairly small and is in a case. 

Rider falling of a horse
Estorick Collection, Highbury, London
20 June 2012

This shows that sculpture offers many views of the same piece and with permission to photograph without flash Stephen also took some pictures of the other art in the gallery. 

I particularly liked the works of Giacomo Balla and was photographed beside his portrait of Dr Fontana. 

 By portrait of Carlo Fontana by Giacomo Balla
Estorick Collection, Highbury, London
20 June 2012

The Gino Severini still life “Quaker Oats” is recognisable. 

 Quaker Oats - Cubist Still Life
Estorick Collection, Highbury, London
20 June 2012

Each room has a caption describing the artists and the collection development.  These boards take about 5 minutes to read out.  There is no audio so, if you are going on your own, it is probably a good idea to find out as much as possible about the artists before a first visit.  (The gallery’s website offers useful biographies of individual artists: http://www.estorickcollection.com/permanent/ )

There are several stunning pieces of Modern Italian Art from the first three decades of the 20th Century.  The collection had been enlarged over the years and there are many paintings in abstract, cubist and contemporary portraiture.  There is also some furniture such as benches, tables and stands, which is conveniently placed and all designed for use. 

 Detail of a bench
Estorick Collection, Highbury, London
20 June 2012

I was particularly struck by the benches, which one is at liberty to sit on or touch.  They have tactile surfaces and seem to be carved from a single block of wood, with patterns of hatching and slightly raised levels which can be felt.  The staining effect also allows an appreciation of the art.  Sitting on one of the benches, I soon found myself chatting to one of the staff who shared some of her favourite pieces.  

 Exchanging opinions
Estorick Collection, Highbury, London
20 June 2012

The gallery has a café and the gift shop has a fine collection of postcards and art books. 

Postcards of pictures I liked include: 

Music (1911) by Luigi Russolo (1185-1947)
Doctor Francois Brabander (1918) by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920)
The Hand of the Violinist (1912) by Giacomo Balla (1871-1958)
Horses and Landscape (1951) by Zoran Music (1909-2005)
Quaker Oats – Cubist Still Life (1917) by Gino Severini (1883-1966)

There is also some steel sculpture outside which moves in the wind. It was a sunny and calm day, so Stephen moved the parts of the sculpture for me in order to get an appreciation of a windy day in Islington. (unheard of - moving sculptures, that is!)

I wrote about Boetti in the recent show at Tate Modern where he introduced a new school; and having done Picasso last week at both Tate Britain and British Museum, one could make out that he was not alone in finding a new way to draw and paint. 

This is a very pleasant gallery with some very interesting pieces.  There are many fine pictures, collages and sculptures and there is much to enjoy in this showcase of Modern Italian Art which is also called futurism.