Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Prospect Cottage, Dungeness

To complete all matters Jarman this month, we chose a hot Indian summer's day for a trip to Dungeness to visit his fabulous gravel garden (see earlier Garden Museum post). Whilst not exactly the best season as summer slips into autumn, there was enough in flower or just finished to have a good impression of how beautifully the shingle has been used to create shape and colour. 

I've wanted to visit the garden for years, and more so now that this year the cottage has been saved for the nation, so this was a special treat on a perfect day.

No entry to the cottage itself as the resident gardener makes their home there, but there is plenty to contemplate on a stroll around, in and amongst the plantings, found beach objects turned to sculpture and the like. I would have welcomed a convenient bench to sit and contemplate the scene for longer, but it was roped off. No matter. The eponymous view of the nuclear power station as not awful as people make out. 

A place of austere beauty in the shadow of concrete brutalism, and you have to be able to see loveliness without much greenery in order to enjoy it. John Donne's poem (Busy old fool...) in large letters on the side of the cottage helps.

The beach extends some minutes' walk to a sharply shelving sea with views on this clearest of days of white cliffs near Folkestone and France in the far distance with cargo ships in between. 

It was quiet: just a few garden and Jarman buffs and hardly a soul by the water. Not a place to swim, for that you need to head to the sandy and more traditional seaside delights of Camber Sands some two miles distant. 

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Gauguin and the Impressionists - Royal Academy

Probably the most over-promised and under-delivered exhibition I have been to in an eon. Masterworks from the Ordrupgaard collection in Denmark, were rarely masterful. It is almost as if the Danish industrialist ran around desperately buying up pictures without bothering to check whether Monet, Sisley, Pissarro and others had actually painted well. 

I was sorely disappointed by the whole, and by the fact that eight paintings by Gauguin do not an exhibition title make, nor does a room of pre-Impressionist works by Corot, Ingres etc. exactly endear me to the as advertised title. 

Be warned this is a three room show of, OK, work, but it was hard to find any truly stand out pieces to wow me. I'm a jaded viewer of this period in art. It no longer holds much of a thrill. And I hate Renoir. I should know better.

Return to the British Museum - sort of

The BM has reopened. So much, so good, hurrah! 

But it's not the BM as we know it, where you can pick a few galleries on a topic of your choice and wander at your leisure. Nope. You have to follow the one way system round only the ground floor galleries. To be honest, there is only so much Egyptian statuary and so many Greek vases that one wants to look at in one lifetime. Also, the Elgin marbles, well, yes, but seen them too often, especially when the kids were little. 

So, unless you have a burning desire to do all these things again, then best wait till one of the forthcoming exhibitions - on the Arctic, and Tantra -  open later in the autumn. The Benin bronzes aside, I wish I had. One bonus was Grayson Perry's Memorial to the Unknown Craftsman. That was worth seeing.

Hidden London - Derek Jarman at the Garden Museum

In lieu of a trip to Dungeness to see the real thing, check out the recreation of Jarman's beach cottage at the hidden way Garden Museum, which is tucked under the shadow of Lambeth Palace in a deconsecrated church, and easily missed. 

Paintings, small sculptures and his garden notebooks are on display along with films from the shingle garden and a series of haunting photographs, including one of him towards to end of his life showing the ravages AIDS related complications had taken on his body. Awful to see and remember the scourge AIDS was before effective drugs for HIV management. 

An interesting, but tiny exhibition in which I learned that Beth Chatto and Christopher Lloyd seemed to have met Jarman on a random trip to the seaside at Dungeness, culminating in Jarman sharing his plant list with Chatto. It is this encounter and list that was the genesis of her famous gravel garden. Who knew that little nugget of garden history? 

I rather liked reading in Jarman's notebook that he bought a dozen wallflowers at a boot fair for £1. So it's not just me then. More than admiring his beautiful handwriting, inked over initial pencil marks, one journal page includes a moving poem about AIDS victims with the refrain 'Cold, cold. cold they died so silently'. 

Other reason to visit the museum, which to be honest is rather dull even to me a garden nut, are the semi-tropical courtyard garden in the former graveyard packed with the kind of lush planting that might survive the average British winter, and two of its tombs. 

William Bligh, Captain of the Bounty, is memorialised for this and as the man who took breadfruit from the South Pacific to the West Indies, but not for any of his other expeditions, or acting as governor of New South Wales. Breadfruit was meant to be a food crop for the enslaved Africans on its plantations, but the small matter of a Mutiny put pay to plants being sourced in Tahiti as the Bounty did not make it there, hence a later and more successful expedition. 

A grand limestone tomb cornered by four carved trees and with scenes of exotic species and plants is that of John Tradescant, the elder who died in 1638. Plantsman and gardener, it is somewhat fitting that he ended up being part of a museum dedicated to his expert subject.