Tuesday, 28 November 2017

a day in town

I took the day off from gardening to meet up with an old friend in London, and visit the current exhibition at the Courtauld.  My friend is working out of an office in Farringdon, so the geography of the whole trip tied together rather nicely.

I love walking through Clerkenwell at the moment, because you have never seen so many office furniture shops.  Clerkenwell is vying with Shoreditch as the hipster capital of London, and I suppose you can't have a tech startup without getting a couple of trendy chairs for your workspace.  Some of them were really very nice, and I felt quite regretful that I was not in the market for any office chairs.

You could tell that the restaurant we were meeting in had strong hipster leanings from the complete absence of ceilings.  Instead there was a clear view of all the service ducts, bolted to the underside of the concrete floor of the next storey, which must make maintenance easy.  Also there were a lot of Anglepoises.  The Systems Administrator and I have had a pair of Anglepoise lamps in the study since before the hipster movement gained traction, and they are not actually all that well made, since all the bits that are supposed to make them adjustable became loose or lost their spring quite quickly, and the lamps became fixed in a single downward facing posture of submission.  Various attempts to botch a repair with slivers of cardboard and sellotape have never proved effective.  I digress.

My friend was in a sombre mood, having just learned that a business pitch she was involved in had been unsuccessful.  She is in the business of advising small tech companies on their applications for EU grants.  The applications are graded by moderators, and those with the highest score win the pot.  There is no feedback on how the scores are derived, so my friend is left not knowing if the assessors didn't believe in the technology, did believe in the technology but didn't like the business plan, couldn't understand the application (which would be her fault), or simply chose half a dozen winners at random and then went out for a good lunch.

I love the Courtauld Gallery even more than I enjoy walking through Clerkenwell and observing the hipsters.  The current temporary exhibition, on until 21 January, is of portraits by a mid twentieth century artist I'd never heard of until it came along, Chaim Soutine.  Jewish, born in Russia but working in Paris, this show concentrates on paintings he made of hotel staff and pastry cooks.  They are remarkable, vivid and touching in a sort of Grand Budapest Hotel way, and I can quite see why the Evening Standard gave it five stars.  Soutine found commercial success and critical recognition in his lifetime, but died in 1943 aged only fifty.  The biographical details given in the exhibition were sparse and I wondered if he had been a casualty of Nazi anti-Semitism, given the date and place.  According to Wikipedia he was , but in an indirect fashion, dying of a perforated stomach ulcer for which he could not seek proper treatment because by then he was in hiding and on the run.

The Courtauld's temporary exhibitions are never big, and I always look at some of the permanent collection as well since one ticket covers both.  It keeps being rehung, with the less famous pictures rotating on and off display and occasional conspicuous absences when paintings go on loan to other galleries, and I am still mourning the disappearance of Braque's The White Ship which they had for several years on loan from a private collection and have no longer, but I have been visiting some of the pictures for over forty years.

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