I met some of my old fund management colleagues for lunch today. It will be seventeen years come this summer since we all stopped working together, and there were moments when it felt as though it was going to take almost that long to find a lunchtime when we were all free. In the event we liked it so much that we agreed a date for the next lunch before leaving, so much easier than endless rounds of texts. We went to the branch of the Cote chain in St Christopher's Place, which has changed a great deal since my City days. Then it was a sleepy backwater with a useful boutique where I used to buy suits, and a shop selling nothing but amber jewellery. Now it is bustling with people and stuffed wall to wall with restaurants. I couldn't believe there could be enough demand to fill them all, but it seemed there was. Cote didn't even exist in those days, or if it did it was as two branches somewhere like Clapham, while now it has been rolled out all over London, but chains are about the only way to get a sit down meal in central London nowadays unless you are in serious expense account territory. Cote does quite decent food, my only problem is that my stomach is no longer up to whitebait and steak and chips plus a quarter of a bottle of red at lunchtime.
Afterwards I went to see Revolution: Russian Art 1917 to 1932 at the Royal Academy. Originally I was planning on going to the RHS spring show at Vincent Square, but then I realised that as the Russian show ends on 17 April then if I didn't catch it today I almost certainly wasn't going to. It is a good exhibition, and quite large, and by the time we got to the end of it my old colleague who had volunteered to come too was gasping for a cup of tea. There are paintings, posters, photographs, clips of film, textiles, and some pottery, and between them they give the impression of a time of great upheaval and intellectual fervour that didn't necessarily result in the production of world class art before Stalin's mad censorship really clamped down. But as the Systems Administrator says, some artists and their work didn't survive and others fled, so it's very hard to tell exactly what was going on at the time.
There are some standout paintings, a couple of Kandinskys, a wonderful cubist inflected landscape by a painter whose name I've already forgotten, and a haunting portrait of a couple standing either side of a samovar. He looks wistful, she looks away from him with arms crossed over the body and an enigmatic expression, the samovar is a wonder of impressionism. There are some very good silver gelatin prints of industrial and domestic scenes. There is some frankly incongruous porcelain, images of factories and workers painted on fine china much as Catherine the Great had scenes of English country houses. I was particularly taken by the china figurine of a bourgeois selling her possessions, since what is more bourgeois than a china figurine? Some of the portraits are haunting, with poet Anna Akhmatova, who lost two husbands and a son to the purges, theatre director Vsevolod Mayerhold, imprisoned and executed, and pioneering film maker Eisenstein looking exceptionally fluffy and unfit to be let out to face Stalin's Russia.
It's worth catching. And no, it does not glorify Stalin, contrary to one newspaper review the Systems Administrator read.