Thursday, 30 June 2016

music and art

Today I went to my aunt's cello recital at St Pancras New Church.  It is a handsome, grade I listed Greek revival structure, built two hundred years ago to accommodate London's growing population north of Oxford Street.  I toyed with the idea of visiting St Pancras Old Church while I was in the area, since learning recently that Mary Wollstoncraft was buried there, before discovering that the two were a kilometre apart and that the old church had been substantially altered by the Victorians.  Now I see on Wikipedia that I failed to look at the new church's most original features, the two tribunes and supporting caryatids at the west end.  But I admired the interior, which retains its galleries supported on cast iron pillars, and correctly worked out that the gigantic columns behind the altar were painted to imitate marble and not solid stone.

The recital consisted of Vaughan Williams' six studies in English folk song, three romances by Robert Schumann and Gabriel Faure's sonata number two.  I wasn't at all familiar with the Schumann or the Faure, but did know sung versions of most of the folk songs, which gave them a quite different complexion to the one they might assume to anybody not brought up on folk music, since while the tunes are pretty the words mostly deal with death and betrayal.  I like Vaughan Williams, and my uncle reassured me that while it might have been considered cowpat music thirty years ago, nobody dared call it that now.

Thence to the National Gallery, where Painter's Paintings has just opened.  This is an exhibition of paintings once owned by other painters, which sounded an interesting idea.  Who admires who else enough to want to possess their work, or feels they are worth supporting financially, and can we see any influence in their own output?  The National Gallery explored a similar idea in its recent exhibition on Delacroix, which I enjoyed, though it didn't achieve blockbuster exhibition status.  It turns out that some artists were madly keen collectors, to the point of bartering their own work for other paintings or buying pictures at the expense of food, but that's not really surprising.  Art, after all, is the thing that mainly obsesses most artists.

You could have considered the current show a bit of a cheat in that many of the paintings were from the National Gallery's permanent collection, so you could have visited them for free any time, but I didn't mind.  I would never have guessed that Degas was an admirer and keen collector of the smooth and minutely finished Ingres, and the parallel between Van Dyck's self portrait, glancing confidently out of the canvas over his shoulder, and a Titian in his collection were striking.  And there were enough loans from foreign galleries to send me away thinking I'd seen some pictures I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

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