Ylva111's Blog

Fast track mail, power of opera and a discovery at the RA

October 13, 2017
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The Postal Museum opened in London in June and is on track to become a top attraction. Not so much for its exhibitions but for the Mail Rail experience – a trip in the miniature mail trains which ran under London’s streets for 75 years.  The tunnels were built in the 1930s to avoid traffic congestion.  That’s hardly improved but the level of mail, which once stood at 3.6 billion items per year, has declined considerably.

The new museum is located on two sites in Farringdon, with the Museum and Café in a new building, and across the road, backing onto the old Mount Pleasant sorting office, the Mail Rail experience. We started with a coffee in the already popular museum café and then moved on to the exhibition.  The first part covers the history of postal services as they developed during the reign of Henry VIII from ad hoc royal deliveries to regular mail coaches across the country.  This section was rather noisy with audio commentaries and interactives aimed, it seemed, mainly at children.  But as we progressed into a mail service for all, through the invention of the Penny Black stamp in 1840 by Rowland Hill, there was more information, a section on the two world wars, and excellent interactives and films which explored individual subjects in depth, for example, the introduction of postcodes.

Towards the end there is a temporary exhibition focusing on what an individual letter might mean with examples from across the world. Here I expected more information on the organisation’s past as well as looking to the future – the separation of the Post Office into Royal Mail and British Telecommunications, privatisation, what’s happening to post offices and the impact of the digital explosion.  Maybe that will come later.

Across the road the Mail Rail exhibition is located in the original basement premises of the network with more history displays on the development of the underground train service for mail bags and also the real trains with Royal Mail carriages where post was sorted overnight as they sped north. You can try this for yourself in a “moving” carriage! Some people will remember the Great Train Robbery of 1963 which has its own display.  Book early if you wish to experience the ride down the dark tunnel!  Well worth it, apparently, although your blogger did not try it this time. http://www.postalmuseum.org

 

Power of opera

Opera: Power, Passion and Politics, the latest exhibition at the V&A, is a wonderful visual and audio experience. The designers have taken full advantage of the new underground space unveiled last month – a huge plain box –  and created seven distinct areas exploring the magic of opera.

Your headphones vibrate with music as you walk through the exhibition and wall posters provide information. Monteverdi’s Venice starts the show, which then moves to Handel’s London, stopping later in Vienna.  Here a scene from the Marriage of Figaro is played out on the screen with the wonderful music on your headphones.  Then it’s on to Milan and Verdi’s Nabucco – revealing the power of the collective voice for Italian unification.  Paintings, costumes and other objects in each city area illustrate the theme of passion and politics.

As we reach the 20th century a chaise long is the centre piece, while the gruesome but wonderful Salome is shown on the screen, followed in the next section by equally brutal scenes from Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk – a murderous story in Stalin’s Russia.  Plenty of passion here!

There is so much more to experience, so allow plenty of time for this exhibition, linger and enjoy the music. It continues until 25 February 2018.  www.vam.ac.uk

Footnote from the Royal Academy

On a re-visit to Matisse’s Studio – my favourite exhibition this year (closing on 12 November), your blogger discovered the new Ladies toilets – top-marks to the RA for space and comfort…..the big redevelopment rolls on.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk

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Cool down in Greenwich

July 30, 2017
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What happened to the Franklin expedition and the search for the North West passage in 1845?  Death in the Ice – a new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum is history in the making, as discoveries are still being made.  The two ships which sailed from Britain with some 130 men under the command of Sir John Franklin were well equipped for a two year journey.  The wrecks have only recently been discovered, so new information and exhibits have been added to the previous collection and a fascinating, if gruesome, story is emerging.  This is not an exhibition for all the family!

Who were the Inuit?

The story starts with an introduction to the Inuit and their way of life in northern Canada, augmented with their recorded voices. It explains how all those years ago the Inuit were mere spectators to the tragedy, unable to do anything to change the fate of the men as they abandoned the frozen ships and made their way across the arctic landscape.

A well organised expedition

In a large space about the size of the lower deck of one of the ships the story about the expedition, the ships and the men unfolds. Some 70 men would have slept, ate and worked in this area and you get a good idea of how claustrophobic it must have been, particularly when it was too cold to venture out.  All the evidence is here to show that discipline was good, the men had many tasks to perform during those winter months, logs were kept and there was enough food.  When the second spring came and the ships were still trapped in the ice, it’s not clear exactly what happened but food must have been running out.  Some men died there and others set off across the ice to save themselves.

The ships in the ice and death…..

Inuit do not have a written language but hand down their history through story-telling. The sightings of these unkempt, starving men have been told and retold through generations.  The Inuit could not help them, as they had hardly enough food for themselves.  The final section describes how the officers and men suffered and died.  There is even evidence of some cannibalism, probably of already dead men.  Most died of starvation, diseases such as TB and the cold.

Seven expeditions to save the captain and the two crews were initiated in the following years by John Franklin’s wife, Jane Franklin. And objects, even bodies, were discovered, but it is only in the last two years that the ships have been found by the agency Park Canada and the search is continuing.

http://www.rmg.co.uk/national-maritime-museum

On a more cheerful note…..

Don’t miss the wonderful Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery, see May blog. And for a good laugh, and some thoughtful insights, explore Grayson Perry’s “most popular art exhibition ever” at the Serpentine Gallery.

More from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk


Winner takes nearly all

July 10, 2017
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While The Hepworth Wakefield took the Museum of the Year Prize of £100,000, it was not quite all.  This year the Art Fund introduced a new gift for the finalists – £10,000 each.  It may not make a lot of difference to Tate Modern but for the other runners up, the Sir John Soane Museum, the Lapworth Museum of Geology and the National Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art, it could fill a useful hole. Your blogger did not make it to Newmarket before the Prizegiving event at the British Museum at the beginning of July but having met the team at the grand event will surely make it there in the near future.

Away to Newmarket! ….was a popular invitation from both King James I and later, his son Charles I. James I had a royal palace built here and by 1610 the Court would spend several weeks a year enjoying hunting, horseracing, riding in the countryside, masques and other entertainment. It’s ironic that poor Charles I should have been arrested by Cromwell’s troops in 1647 as the Civil War came to an end and brought to Newmarket, before his execution in London.  Charles II, when restored to the throne, wasted no time in returning Newmarket’s role as the rest and recreation place for the royals (and mistresses)!  Today it is of course the centre of an important global industry, horse race breeding and training.

Back to the Hepworth

The Hepworth Gallery at Wakefield – in a most attractive building by David Chipperfield – was first shortlisted for the Museum Prize, when it opened in 2013 but missed out on the big money.  I enjoyed my visit there just over a year ago, best described as stimulating but also peaceful, inviting you to contemplate each object in the different settings created by the daring architecture. The sculptor Barbara Hepworth grew up in Wakefield, where she met her contemporary, Henry Moore, before moving to London and later St Ives.  The changing displays illustrate her life through her works.  Your blogger has mentioned before, the sculpture by Hepworth, overlooking the lake at Battersea Park, created as a model for the much larger memorial in New York to Dag Hammarskjold, the Swedish UN Secretary, who died in 1961.

More royal history in Edinburgh

On a weekend visit to Edinburgh, your blogger enjoyed the extensive exhibition “On the trail of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites”. In fact it was well into the second half before the Bonnie Prince himself arrived but the ground had been thoroughly prepared. There were no less than five challenges to the united English/Scottish throne first occupied by the Stuarts through James I from 1603.  And it was the last of these (apart from more recent, less violent events) when the Young Pretender, born in exile, made the final Jacobite bid.  After various battles he marched South in 1746 with his troops, heading for London but halting fatally at Derby.  Lacking the expected support from French and English volunteers, Prince Charlie then turned and headed north, with the Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II and his troops hot on his heels.  The Duke became known as “the Butcher” after the terrible battle at Culloden, when the Jacobites where not just defeated but slaughtered. The Young Pretender survived, fled and hid in various places, including dressing up as a woman, before returning to France, where he declined into drunkenness and ignominy.  A sad story, well told.

On a more cheerful note…..

On a more cheerful note, don’t miss the wonderful Canaletto exhibition at the Queens Gallery, see May blog. And for a good laugh, and some thoughtful insights, explore Grayson Perry’s “most popular art exhibition ever” at the Serpentine Gallery.

More about the Museums of the Year Prize at http://www.artfund.org and more from me at my website to ylvafrench.co.uk


Second visits make all the difference

June 15, 2017
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On my second visit to the new Design Museum in the former Commonwealth Institute I started to like it…..And perhaps when I re-visit the transformed Garden Museum at Lambeth the same will happen. Any visit to the Royal College of Surgeons’ museum at Lincoln’s Inn will have to wait a few years!

The Design Museum warmed up by Californian Dreams

On my first visit shortly after it opened, I found the new Design Museum cold and unfriendly and the permanent exhibition on the second floor crammed and uninspiring. Memories of the old Commonwealth Institute kept crowding in and I looked for some recognition of the battle that had gone on in the ‘90s to keep it going, something which I had played a small part in.

This time we visited the California: Designing Freedom exhibition, spaciously displayed in the ground floor temporary exhibition gallery.  This took us on a time trail from the ‘60s – the summer of love – to geeky blokes in garages launching the tech revolution.  Here was the design palette for the LA Olympics in 1984 with its colourful branding in contrast to the strict guidelines to laid down today by the Olympics Association. And we remembered some of those first cumbersome computers, mobile phones, printers and fax-machines, and compared them with today’s replacement.  It’s clear for all the efforts of Apple and others that they, too, will soon be museum objects.  The exhibition continues until October.

The café on the ground floor still needs some murals or posters, but has good coffee and a great selection of filled rolls and sandwiches. And friendly guides meet visitors as they arrive. The only thing missing is a bit of history!

https://designmuseum.org/

Mystery burials at the Garden Museum, Lambeth

The Garden Museum, newly reopened, in St Mary’s Church on the edge of the Lambeth bridge roundabout also evokes memories. In the ‘70s and ‘80s,  the intrepid Rosemary Nicholson made it her life work to save the church and the churchyard where the gardeners, father and son, Tradescant are buried.  At the London Tourist Board we did our bit by staging the annual London In Bloom Prizegiving in what was then a rather chilly church with one toilet and not much comfort.  Rosemary would be pleased to see what the dynamic director, Christopher Woodward, has achieved.  A hard-won extension at the back provides more space not just for the café but also for a learning centre. The exhibition galleries are linked by a new high level walkway and tell the story of gardening in short sharp bursts.

During the redevelopment work the builders lifted a few flagstones in the floor and revealed a secret burial chamber with up to 30 lead coffins.  Five of these were identified as those of Archbishops, former occupants of nearby Lambeth Palace. The crypt can now be glimpsed through a glass panel in the floor and perhaps more information on this discovery will follow.

We missed the opportunity to try the new café which was not quite ready, and will return. Hopefully the second visit will not just provide a good lunch but also a slightly more welcoming feeling in the church itself.  A few plants perhaps, not just in the beautiful churchyard garden but here as well? And a little bit more about the history of the church?

http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/

Royal College of Surgeons

If you were planning a revisit to the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, Lincoln’s Inn, you’ll have to wait. The building is now closed and all the museum objects are being packed up and will in due course (2020?) be displayed in a new museum, on the ground floor of the building.  Something to look forward to – in the meantime, why not take a trip to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow!

More from me at my website ylvafrench.co.uk


Discover Venice in London

May 25, 2017
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Can’t face the thought of the summer crowds in Venice? Why not head to the Queen’s Gallery in London where Canaletto and the Art of Venice has just opened?  Mind you, there may be a few obstacles as you make your way along Buckingham Palace Road with other tourists in search of the Palace.  Passing the porticoed entrance to the Queen’s Gallery, some are tempted inside to explore the shop; others join the queue for the Gallery, sometimes in the mistaken belief that they are entering the Palace itself.

All this, as well as the entrance charge, will be worth it, however, for all lovers of Venetian art. So take your time to explore this beautifully presented exhibition which includes not just the Queen’s works by Canaletto but many works of art by his contemporaries, such as Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Zuccarelli and Battista.

Who was Joseph Smith?

The common factor apart from Venice itself is Joseph Smith, who as British Consul in Venice, put together an extraordinary collection not just of paintings but also of books and prints, which was sold to King George III in 1765. As a result the Royal Collection has one of the world’s most outstanding works from this golden age of Venetian art.

The exhibition starts with two familiar views of the annual Regatta on the Grand Canal, and then explores Canalettos works from his early drawings. At the Queen’s Gallery, when it is not too busy, it’s possible to get a very close look at his skilful technique displayed from an early age.  It was this which attracted Joseph Smith to the young Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768) later known as Canaletto.  Works by other Venetians follow – don’t miss Rosalba Carriera’s wonderful pastels of the four seasons. In the largest gallery, you can inspect the sequence of 12 paintings commissioned by Smith which takes you along the Grand Canal stage by stage.  And that’s not all, less well-known views of Roman ruins are also included in this comprehensive exhibition.

Canaletto became a favourite with the British on the Grand Tour and there are many works in collections around the country – many more than in Italy. Canaletto also spent ten years in England working for a variety of stately home owners.

The exhibition continues until November. More on http://www.royalcollection.org.uk

And more in my book….

The exhibition displays Canaletto’s work in the context of other artists in Venice at the time, many of whom were supported by Joseph Smith. In my book Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, I follow one of these works, a copy of a Veronese altarpiece probably by Sebastiano Ricci, and its journey across Europe from Venice to London, to Scotland and finally to Sweden.

Go to ylvafrench.co.uk to read more about Finding Veronese – Memoir of a painting, available as an E-book on Amazon.


Five in the running for the Art Fund Prize

May 1, 2017
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It was good news for the five finalists of this year’s Art Fund Museum of the Year Prize; they will all get £10,000 each. And of course one of them will get the full £100,000.  Which one you may ask yourself, looking down the list.  Here is your blogger’s summing up.  (The prize winner will be announced on 5 July.)

Chance for two smaller museums

There was complete silence when the first finalist was announced – the Lapworth Museum of Geology – noone in that audience except possibly the curator had heard of it. But now they will, after a £2.7m refit this treasure trove of gemstones and other minerals at Birmingham University will be in the national spotlight for the first time.

It was different for the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art at Newmarket – the audience at the British Museum certainly knew this one (whether for the right reasons is another matter). The museum re-opened last year with new galleries and a centre for retraining racehorses.

And then the big runners

The Sir John Soane Museum, now in two buildings in London’s Lincoln Fields, is loved by many.  It has extended its displays by recreating some of Soane’s original rooms as they were in 1837 when he died. The only problem here is that there is not a lot of space for increasing the visitor flow.

At the Hepworth in Wakefield which your blogger visited just a year and a half ago, it’s all go with their own new Sculpture prize and new exhibitions. It was on the Museum Prize Shortlist when it first opened in 2012, and was pipped to the post by the Royal Albert Museum in Exeter.  Will they be lucky this time and bag the big prize?

And then Tate Modern – it couldn’t very well be left out after the opening of the magnificent Switch House. It blends perfectly with the old power station and adds space for new works as well as for those previously in storage.

The debate on Front Row

The shortlist was announced at a special event (live on BBC’s Front Row) at the British Museum with Hartwig Fisher, Director of BM and also on the judging panel for the Prize, joined by Tristram Hunt, former MP and recently appointed Director of the V&A and Sarah Munro of the Baltic. Stephen Deuchar, Director of the Art Fund also got a few words in.  Some old chestnuts, such as the Elgin Marbles, free versus charging museums and more children in museums were quickly dispatched.  The focus was on the dramatic impact of local authority cuts on museums around the country.  The two national museums on the panel were doing their bit to ease the pain with a new V&A  scheme establishing design hubs around the UK and at the BM lending objects and touring exhibitions.

Your blogger had a quick chat with another Scandinavian afterwards – former Museum Prize judge and Antiques Roadshow expert, Lars Tharp – who revealed that he descended from King Christian IV of Denmark. “But so does half of Denmark”, he added.  (According to Wikipedia Christian IV had a total of 24 known children with his two wives and several mistresses.)

Read more about my Swedish family history (no royal links I am afraid) and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


War and peace at the National Army Museum

April 13, 2017
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Tucked away in Chelsea just beyond the Royal Hospital (where they hold the Chelsea Flower Show each May) lies London’s latest revamped museum, the National Army Museum.  It’s been three years in the re-make at a cost of some £24 million and no doubt time was spent considering the branding.  Could there be a more “catchy” name, after all other military museums have tried to raise their profile with some smart new brand? Fortunately this is not the case here.  It is still a national museum about the British army through war and peace, light and dark, and it is very good.

I can’t promise that everyone will enjoy themselves among the guns and the tanks but in fact there is not a lot of hardware on view.  This is more about the soldiers.  I remember the old museum but this time I looked with fresh eyes having recently found out that I come from several generations of soldiers going back to the 17th century and the Swedish King Karl XII, who fought bitter wars across northern Europe.  Many of the visitors to this museum will be former and current soldiers bringing friends and families.  And they will not be disappointed.

From the vast lobby

As you enter the new, vast lobby, your bags will be searched – a reminder of the uncertain times we live in.  To the right up a few steps is a large and welcoming café with ample room for children as well as adults.  And, of course, there is a shop with a range of specially commissioned souvenirs all themed to the museum and its content – look out for the gin and tonic kits!

From the lobby you get a good view of what else is on offer – four permanent galleries featuring “Battle”, “Army”, “Soldier” and “Society”, as well as a temporary exhibition space – at the moment housing “War Paint” – pictures by amateur and professional artist reflecting battles and conflicts. The displays are well thought-out, dense and multi-layered with objects, facts and figures as well as questions. Most of us will respond to something here and try out some of the excellent interactives. And there are some iconic exhibits including Lawrence of Arabia’s desert robes, the skeleton of Napoleon’s horse and a 1918 original trench coat – a Burberry – designed for officers only.  The Museum now has an accessible resource centre and a lecture theatre, as well as a full complement of lifts and lavatories.

www.nam.ac.uk

Don’t miss these treats

There is so much more to enjoy this spring in London. Until 14 May you can find out more about the multi-talented Eduardo Paolozzi at the Whitechapel Gallery, David Hockney of course at Tate Britain – until 29 May, while Michelangelo and Sebastiano continues at the National Gallery and nearby at the National Portrait Gallery don’t miss the stunning portraits by Howard Hodgkin, until 18 June.

www.npg.org.uk  www.whitechapelgallery.org  www.tate.org.uk http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk

Read more about my Swedish family history and my other books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk


Great art at National Gallery and hidden gems at Longford Castle

March 24, 2017
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Great art at the National Gallery

Michelangelo and Sebastiano, the new exhibition at the National Gallery, can be enjoyed on several levels. The art historian will relish the opportunity to discover the way the two artists worked together and the influence of Michelangelo on the Venetian artist Sebastiano de Pombo.  He had arrived in Rome as Michelangelo was busy on the Sistine Chapel in 1511.  Soon they became friends and there are letters between the two of them translated into English for visitors to study.  Michelangelo provided the younger Sebastiano with drawings and on display are some of their collaborative works.

Those who just come to see some stunning artworks will not be disappointed either, although many are familiar from the National Gallery collection. The Royal Academy’s Taddei Tondo had moved here for the exhibition which continues until 25 June.  Using the Gallery’s North galleries rather than the exhibition space in the Sainsbury Wing, provides headroom for the larger than life-size marble statue of the Risen Christ by Michelangelo and the three dimensional recreation of the Borgherini Chapel from S Pietro in Montorio, Rome.

This is mostly religious art, with the occasional portrait, created for worship and as tribute to the Creator to be displayed in chapels and churches. Every effort has been made here to give the artworks space, effective lighting and useful information, and to create in these galleries some of the atmosphere in which they were originally shown.

https://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/

Longford Castle – a hidden gem

Most people have never heard of Longford Castle but there it is hidden away just a few miles outside Salisbury. It started life as an Elizabethan Manor house on the river Avon but thanks to the treasures in a Spanish galleon wrecked in 1588 and a beautiful and enterprising Swedish noblewoman, Helena Snakenborg it became much more.  The new home she planned with her second husband Thomas Gorges, took on the appearance of a moated, almost romantic Swedish castle with three substantial towers at each of the three corners.  The triangular courtyard was later glazed over by one of the successive owners – since 1717 the Bouveries, a wealthy Huguenot family, ennobled as the Earls of Radnor.

Your blogger arrived on a tour of the castle organised by the National Gallery which has a close connection with the family. The famous painting The Ambassadors by Holbein is just one of works now at the National Gallery which was once owned by the family.  But there is plenty left to see in this beautifully furnished and lived-in castle with a view of the garden and grounds from every window.

Our excellent guides led us on a tour not just to see the Gainsboroughs – one in every room – but many portraits by Reynolds and Van Dyck.  Among the more unexpected works, I spotted a portrait by Elisabeth Louise Vigee-Lebrun of the third Earl as a young man, another portrait by Angelica Kauffman, a skating scene by Hendrick Avercamp, another full length portrait by Rubens, and one by Geerharts of Queen Elizabeth. The Picture Gallery on the first floor has a Claude Lorrain landscape at either end and is filled with treasures.  These include a work partly by Rubens of the Monastery of the Escorial which had belonged to Charles I, and a stunning Correggio (now reattributed to Cambiaso) of Venus and Cupid.  And there is more….I haven’t even mentioned the furniture or the porcelain.

To visit Longford Castle, go to the National Gallery website, although many of the limited tour dates are now fully booked.

Read more about Helena Snakenborg and her arrival in England on my website and find out more about my books including Finding Veronese and the newly launched The Go Around both available as E-books on Amazon and the Family Gronstedt’s history in Swedish at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk

 


Goat with a tyre and other London treats

March 6, 2017
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Spring is definitely in the air with daffodils in full bloom in London’s parks, and also at the rather grey and stony Paternoster Square in the City, as I discovered on a wander. In fact it was a promotion for Marie Curie – a most worthy cause – but they weren’t all real!

At Tate Modern the Rauschenberg exhibition is still attracting visitors as it draws to a close in early April. This is a mega selection from his long career and includes many of his well-known works such as the Goat with a tyre which has been lent by the Moderna Museeet in Stockholm.  It was developed in the 1950s from a stuffed goat the artist found in a second-hand shop in New York.

Tate Britain, as predicted, is bursting at the seams with Hockney fans – well worth the effort to get a ticket.  Some people love the portraits, others prefer the Yorkshire landscapes.  So there will be something there for everyone.

Looking back to the 1930s

More challenging are the two exhibitions at the Royal Academy and they make a good match – maybe not on the same day. There is a lot to digest, particularly in the Russian exhibition in the main galleries. In the Sackler Wing the small but exquisite exhibition covers the impact of the depression on American art in the inter-war years.

Revolution: Russian Art 1917-1932 took me back to my visit to St Petersburg in September last year when with our Russian Martin Randall guide we spent several hours at the Russian Art Museum.  The RA has brought together iconic artworks from there and also from private collectors to illustrate the post-revolutionary period by Chagall, Kandinsky and Malevich including posters, porcelain and photographs.  Short film snippets show life in collective housing and on the land.  There’s even a mock-up of what a small flat might have looked like.  In a country where many still could not read, the propaganda value of revolutionary art was soon realised and used on the sides of trains travelling through the vast countryside.

America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s while much smaller also pulls a punch with its evocative paintings of despair as Western economies plunged into depression after the Wall Street crash in 1929. Grant Wood’s picture of the cheerless American couple in “American Gothic” is the highlight of the exhibition. But every painting in this show really does tell a story….so linger and explore.  You may even spot Lenin’s face in one of the paintings.

Family memories of the depression

In my Swedish book about Family Gronstedt, the depression played its part. My maternal grand-father was not just a doctor but also an investor in property and shares. A few years after the Wall Street crash which reverberated round European capitals, the Swedish “match king”, Ivar Kreuger, took his own life in Paris causing further havoc.  He had created his financial empire not just from matches but also from financial loan instruments to countries around the world – something of a Ponzi scheme – which collapsed with him taking down banks, and large and small investors.  My grand-father’s finances survived the blast through Sweden’s economy but he died in 1937 with his resources severely depleted.  It was a tough time for many families as the RA exhibitions show.

Find out more about my books including – newly launched The Go Around and the Family Gronstedt’s history – at http://www.ylvafrench.co.uk


All change please

January 23, 2017
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Welcome to my blog for 2017. The focus will as before be on culture and other leisure pursuits with a tourism twist.  I’ll start with a late January round up.

The top seats of culture have been up for grabs and the outcomes are more than interesting. As Sir Nicholas Serota left the top job at the Tate for chairmanship of the Arts Council, numerous contenders threw their hats in the ring for his former post.  We now know that Maria Balshaw will take up the appointment in June, leaving an interesting vacancy at the superb Whitworth Gallery.  I wrote about it just 18 months ago when it won the Art Fund Museum Prize.   Will she become a regular commuter or a permanent Londoner?  Her husband, Nick Merriman in charge of the University Museum in Manchester may not be so keen to move.

And then politician turned museum director

A big surprise at the V&A where outsider Tristram Hunt MP won the Director prize – something of a change for this academic politician as he takes on approximately 800 staff, 2.3million objects, 4 million annual visitors, and a grant in aid of £37m, which now represents less than half of the total annual budget. Well, he’ll have a lot of help……. http://www.vam.ac.uk

Look out for the Hockney effect

Tate Britain is my local museum just 15 minutes’ walk from home. (Yes, I know how lucky I am.)  There was a time when on a Sunday morning a stream of people would head for the Tate from Pimlico tube station.  Then it went rather quiet.  Alex Farquharson from Nottingham Contemporary took over as director in 2015 but it must be like turning round an oil-tanker in mid-Atlantic, considering the timescale for implementing exhibitions. And it is only now that good times are back with a David Hockney celebratory exhibition starting on 9 February.  I shall be joining the returning throngs……. http://www.tate.org.uk

Heath Robinson in Pinner

At the other end of the scale and of London, a new museum opened last autumn, celebrating the work of William Heath Robinson. This was something of a dream come true for the Trust which was first established in 1992.  It’s not hard to find it from Pinner station; it’s just a short walk through a small park to the spanking new museum building.  On show are some of the famous Heath Robinson models but mainly drawings and cartoons from the collection which represents over 40 years of his work as a cartoonist and illustrator.  Well worth a visit – good shop and a café nearby. Check opening hours at www.heathrobinson.org

Catch Emma while you can

There’s still time to see the Emma Hamilton exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich which closes on 17 April. The subtitle is “seduction and celebrity” and this imaginative exhibition includes numerous portraits of her by George Romney and others which charmed the cognoscenti of London in 1780s and 90s.  And she became well-known as a pretty face to a much larger audience through the prints which were widely available.

Her story is well-known to me as I researched it in detail while writing the book “Finding Veronese: Memoir of a Painting”. The enthralling “Three Graces” portrait of Emma which I saw at the Duke of Hamilton’s home at Lennoxlove in Scotland has also been lent to the exhibition.  She was married to Sir William Hamilton, British ambassador in Naples and a cousin to the Dukes of Hamilton. You cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Nelson had lived for just another ten years.  Their unusual liaison seems to have been accepted by society during the short time they lived together at Merton Hall, thanks to Nelson’s heroic status.  But that was not enough when he died in 1805.  She was excluded from the funeral and future income.  As a result she fell into debt (and drinking) and died in poverty in Calais, with their daughter Horatia at her side.  A sad story told in an excellent exhibition.  www.rmc.co.uk

And then my new book……My new book, “The Go Around”, is now on Amazon as an E-book.  Set in London it’s a fictional account of what could happen one day when the elaborate systems we create to avoid air accidents break down. This is a tragic drama of course but the focus is on those on the ground – how do Londoners cope as parts of the suburbs are engulfed by the catastrophe. Go to www.amazon.co.uk to download, or discover more on  www.ylvafrench.co.uk


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