Mr Davies’ Overcoat

October 24, 2011 § 5 Comments

Last week, I was feeling better, so went to see the Degas exhibition at the Royal Academy, followed by the Museum of Everything in the basement at Selfridges, sort of extremes in the exhibition world. I liked them both. For those not familiar with the Museum of Everything, the exhibition is “an initiative to highlight the role of progressive art workshops for artists with developmental disabilities.”   There were loads and loads of good things to see, all for a suggested donation of £2.00. I particularly liked the portraits of US presidents (didn’t take down the artist’s name – apologies) and the grappling wrestlers of Tomoyuki Shinki. Unfortunately, this exhibition has now finished but well worth watching out for next year.

Degas and the Ballet was a bit of a surprise to me. I’m not a big fan of dance but went along because a good friend asked me and she has access to the members’ tea room. Came away with a couple of thoughts.

1. The exhibition is pretty interesting. Lots about how Degas’ ballet paintings coincided with the birth of photography and film, both of which he used to examine movement and thus prefect his own work. I didn’t know anything about Étienne-Jules Marey, a Parisian doctor who studied movement both in animals and humans. The exhibition includes some of his great models of birds in flight, like this one.

Marey also made films using first his rather spendid photographic gun.

Then, in 1882, he developed a chronophotographic fixed plate camera, equipped with a timed shutter, and finally a camera which used a film strip to record the progress of movement. His films included the falling cat and repeated shots of movement such as this one of a man flexing his arm. All quite lovely and good to see bodies working well.

2. As anticipated, the tea room was nice, although somewhat drew attention to my age – full of ladies of a certain age, generally post retirement, either with husbands or meeting other ladies of a similar certain age. There was general feeling of people having a day out – an exhibition and a bit of lunch, followed by a little light shopping in Fortnum and Mason and a book from Hatchards. And why the heck not? Getting old, going out and about, doing things you enjoy, this is something I want. Being sick doesn’t make me fear old age and its inevitable limitations, but rather fear that I won’t get to be old and experience all that. Perhaps, having had a taste of it, I should worry about being infirm and not as I once was, but in lots of ways I’m already there, certainly the “not as I once was” bit.  Surviving enough years to be old, well, that will be living the dream. If I can get through all this rubbish now, I look forward to pointing at pictures with my walking stick and helping an elderly Mr Davies back into his overcoat after a post-exhibition cream tea.


October 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

One thing I think I have talked about before is how much support I am getting from friends during all this rubbish. You have been outstanding, (as have family, before they start). I’ve been amazed at how considerate people are, and the time they are prepared to give to helping me through all this. All to be hurrahed about.  Made me like this picture.

The Two Friends

This is The Two Friends, by Toulouse-Lautrec, painted in 1874 and it’s kind of how I feel.  Hugged and and loved. Hoping that in due course that I can be the hugger instead of the huggie for all you lovely folk – although hopefully not in the same circs. You can find this picture in the National Gallery. (And just to say, while it may be a picture of two prostitutes, that doesn’t reflect on any of my friends.)

However, all that is a bit mushy, so here are odder pictures of women together.

Not hugging

According to an inscription on the painting, it shows, ‘Two Ladies of the Cholmondeley Family, Who were born the same day, Married the same day, And brought to Bed the same day’. According to the Tate’s website, “the format echoes tomb sculpture of the period.” All a bit odd, and again with the nightmare, uncomfortable clothes. We don’t know who the artist is but he was probably from Chester, close to where I was brought up. It was painted about 1600. You can see this at Tate Britain.

Even stranger is Gabrielle d’Estrées et une de ses soeurs, again by an unknown artist and from around 1594.


The picture shows Gabrielle d’Estrées, mistress of King Henry IV of France, sitting up in a bath, while her sister sits beside her and pinches her right nipple. Apparently, this pinching symbolizes Gabrielle’s pregnancy, and is about the milk the breast will produce. I’m quite glad we ladies are no longer celebrating news of a pregnancy in this manner.

I haven’t actually seen this picture – it’s in The Louvre – but it was suggested to me by Liz, one of the friends so praised above.







October 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Some famous people have been choosing paintings which they suggest answer the question, what makes a masterpiece? You can see what David Hockney, Phillip Pullman and some art people I don’t know about have selected on the Guardian’s site.

I particularly like what David Hockney says about his choice, Mother and Child, First Steps (1943) by Pablo Picasso and similarly how architect, Amanda Levete, describes her selection, Still Life with Lemons and Oranges (1633) by Francisco de Zurbarán. They both make me go, “Oh yes, now you tell me, I get that too.”

Two things I would note.

1. I am doing my best to ignore art historian, Tim Marlow’s, selection, Hans Holbein’s Dead Christ (1521). I mean, amazing, obviously, but not something I want to contemplate right now.

2. Culture minister, Ed Vaizey, chose The Arnolfini Portrait, which I have previously mentioned on this site – the one where the lady isn’t pregnant, just showing off with lots of cloth. He does point out (in the newspaper, he did anyway) that the faces of the Arnolfinis are almost alien. Rather true, I think. Apparently, he often pops into the National Gallery to see this paintings, so look out for him.

(There may be too many links in this post. This is to show off to my friend, Pamela, that I can do this.)

The Wisdom of Alan Measles

October 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

I popped into the Grayson Perry exhibition at the British Museum this morning and really liked it. In the artist’s words, The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman, “is a memorial to all the anonymous craftsmen that over the centuries have fashioned the manmade wonders of the world.” As you may know, the British Museum let Grayson Perry pick items from its collection and match them with works created by the artist himself. It’s funny, Grayson’s stuff is amazing, and it’s a great way to see a manageable amount and range of things from the British Museum’s huge empire. You can see more about this here. They should do this with other artists.

Nice pot from Mr Grayson

I particularly enjoyed the participation of Alan Measles, the 50-year-old teddy bear, dictator and God of the imaginary world of Grayson Perry. Alan and Grayson went on a motorbike tour of Germany, Alan enclosed in a Pope-mobile type chest.

Mr Measles

I was struggling to relate any of this to why anneiskeepinbusy, but then I turned to Alan Measles’ blog: “we are all a bit mad, we need to tolerate a measure of un-certainty. What helps is becoming interested in something, it does not matter what, collecting crisp packets, country dancing, Christianity, kinky sex, whatever snags your enthusiasm. Those marvelous, enthralling, difficult to grasp peak experiences in life happen while you are wrapped up in something else, hunting out the last in a set, losing yourself in the rhythm, joining a congregation or spending the weekend mummified in duct tape. Sorry to go on so but I want you to be happy.”

So there we are. Read more of Alan Measles’ wisdom here.

To answer the critic (you know who you are)

October 10, 2011 § 4 Comments

I have received a complaint that I am making cancer sound too pleasant. This comes from a source close to home, who specifically asked me to discuss my recent constipation. A challenge. To be honest, the best I can do is this:

The Adoration of Captain Shit and the Legend of the Black Stars (Part 2) 1998S

This is a painting by Chris Ofili, who won the Turner Prize in 1998. Apparently, it’s a picture about lots of things – art history, the Bible, hip hop, black sexuality. and superheroes. What it’s not about is constipation brought on by anti-sickness drugs. However, like other of his works, it does feature poo, albeit elephant dung. According to the website,, Ofili has said that the important thing is to know whether art is good art or bad art, not whether it contains elephant poo. As is being made clear by these entries, I don’t have much idea of the former but I am a bit interested in the latter (sorry, Mr Ofili). So, for those of you with me, at first the poo was said to have been smuggled in from Africa, but latterly came from London Zoo and was dried in an airing cupboard.

This picture:

Holy Virgin Mary

painted in 1996, caused a huge bruhaha in New York when displayed as part of the 1999 Sensation Show. The painting depicts Mary as a black woman with an exposed breast made from elephant dung and surrounded by butterfly cutouts of female genitalia from pornographic magazines. The then mayor, Rudolf Giuliana, said, “The idea of having so-called works of art in which people are throwing elephant dung at a picture of the Virgin Mary is sick.” I quite like the idea of being able to throw elephant dung at paintings but even here I don’t think that’s what was on offer. Indeed, someone else who I’ve just found on the internet, Michael Davis, an Art Historian at Mt Holyoke College, argued that, “Ofili depicts her features and uses elephant dung to connect her in a basic way to the African earth and its people. After all, Mary is as much theirs (Africans’) and his (Ofili’s) as she is Giuliani’s…. one must move beyond the collage’s materiality… to wrestle with the concept, imagination, or spiritual expression that have brought it into being.”

Wanting to bring this back to my own pooing issues, I can only suggest that I am doing my own wrestling, albeit rather less spiritual.

(I get the feeling Mr Ofili is a bit over the whole elephant poo thing. Fair enough. He would probably prefer you to read this:

Hair Envy

October 10, 2011 § 1 Comment

As you can imagine, I’m a little hair obsessed these days. I am almost to the point where I can count individual hairs still courageously clinging on to my head. Brave little souls. The new cry in this house is, “People, I’m taking my hair off – get ready.” Yesterday was first wig washing day. Went well – in some ways, a lot less trouble than washing my real hair – but still, all a bit unusual and, if I can suggest, not ideal.

All of which makes it not that surprising that I was drawn to this picture during my last National Gallery pop-in.

Showing off re hair

This is Combing the Hair (La Coiffure) painted in 1896 by Degas. Obviously, this lady has way too much hair for my taste (at the moment) but I take some comfort in the pain the maid seems to be inflicting on the lady during this brushing process. The notes suggest that “the relationship between the women is ambiguous: in some ways, the maid is the more  powerful at this moment,” and the mistress does seem to be holding onto the top of her hair, the way little girls do when a parent is trying to drag a comb through their hair.  In terms of art (rather than hair), the National Gallery like this painting because Degas does a great deal with tone and shade, just basically using red and grey.

As I’m sure you all know, Degas painted lots of pictures of women brushing their hair. I could show you one of those but prefer to reproduce the above painting in the form of a French Impressioniste tie design.

Art for the people

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