Wednesday, January 23, 2008

London Galleries

While N attended business meetings, I braved the National Rail system, the London underground, and pouring rain on successive days to make my way to the National Gallery, the Portrait Gallery, and the Tate Britain. I love the luxury of going to public galleries alone and lingering wherever I want. The Portrait Gallery in particular has been a destination I’ve dreamed about. (One day, if I settle down enough to be articulate, I may write a letter explaining why the site of the Canadian Portrait Gallery should be Ottawa, our nation's capital, and not any one of the competing regional sites). No photography was allowed, even without flash, but the gallery has an amazing feature: if any painting catches your eye, you can make note of its catalogue number or subject or artist and have a copy of it printed from the digital catalogue in the gift shop when you leave. I was struck once again by the marked difference between the idea of a painting I have from print images and experience of standing in front of the real thing. There is a kind of vibration that happens between colours—strange tensions produced by pigments of similar intensity but subtly different hues—that print reproductions never seem to catch. Some paintings just pulse. The Hockney on Turner exhibition at the Tate was my favourite of the specially curated big shows. Turner has never meant much to me, but I was completely won over.

Just a word about the gallery cafes--the British are seriously addicted to tea and cakes. At the National Gallery cafeteria, just to get to the main course food, you must bypass a marble topped multi-tiered island crowded with cake stands and shiny silver lifters and laden with gorgeous iced cakes and slices of pound and nut cakes and fruit loaves and tarts. It was all outrageously decadent. Suddenly the food obsessions of all those British children in the Enid Blyton books made perfect sense. I thoroughly enjoyed the domestic hedonism. I may have to take up the habit of afternoon tea.

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