October 4, 2016
A giant hand giving a thumbs-up, the latest commission to grace Trafalgar Square’s famous Fourth Plinth, was unveiled late last month. Really Good, by UK artist David Shrigley stands seven metres high and features a disproportionately long thumb arising from a closed fist. The sculpture is the latest in a string of artworks to have graced the plinth which was built in 1841 and originally designed to hold a statue of King William IV but, thanks to a lack of money, remained empty until recent times. Speaking at the launch of the new work last month, the artist said the work was about “making the world a better place or it purports to actually make the world a better place”. “Obviously, this is a ridiculous proposition, but I think it’s a good proposition,” The Independent reports him saying. “Artworks on their own are inanimate objects so they can’t make the world a better place. It is us, so I guess we have to ask ourselves how we can do this.” For more on the Fourth Plinth program, see www.london.gov.uk/what-we-do/arts-and-culture/art-and-design/fourth-plinth-2016
PICTURE: © Gautier Deblonde
This Week in London – War fashions; the “inventor” of Impressionism; looking a Gift Horse in the mouth; and, having a look at the Queen’s House…
March 5, 2015
• A new exhibition exploring how fashion survived and even flourished during World War II has opened at the Imperial War Museum in Lambeth to mark the 70th anniversary of the war’s end. Fashion on the Ration brings together more than 300 exhibits including clothes and accessories like the ‘respirator carrier handbag’, photographs and films as well as official documents from the period, letters and interviews. The exhibition is divided into six parts which examine in detail everything from the uniforms worn during the period to clothes rationing (introduced in 1941) and how the end of the war impacted fashion. Runs until 31st August. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.
• The UK’s first major exhibition devoted to Paul Durand-Ruel, the man who “invented Impressionism”, has opened at the National Gallery off Trafalgar Square this week. Inventing Impressionism features around 85 works including some of Impressionism’s greatest masterpieces, a number of which have never been seen in the UK before. The majority of the works were traded by Durand-Ruel (1831-1922) who is noted for having discovered and supported Impressionist painters like Monet, Pisarro, Degas and Renoir. Durand-Ruel purchased an astonishing 12,000 pictures between 1891 and 1922, including more than 1,000 Monets, about 1,500 Renoirs, more than 400 Degas’, some 800 Pissarros and close to 200 Manets. The images on display include a series of rarely-seen portraits of the dealer and his family by Renoir which are being exhibited in the UK for the first time as well as five paintings from Manet’s ‘Poplars’ series and all three of Renoir’s famous ‘Dances’, not seen in the country together since 1985. The exhibition finishes with a reference to an exhibition Durand-Ruel organised in London in 1905. Held at the Grafton Galleries, it presented 315 paintings. Admission charge applies. Runs until 31st May. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
• Gift Horse, New York-based German artist Hans Haacke’s sculpture of a skeletal riderless horse, will be unveiled on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square today. The horse, derived from an etching by English painter George Stubbs – whose works are in the nearby National Gallery, features an electronic ribbon tied to the horse’s front leg showing a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. The statue, described as a ‘wry comment’ on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was originally to occupy the plinth, is the 10th to occupy the plinth since the first commission – Marc Quinn’s sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant – was unveiled in 2005.
• Contemporary artist Dryden Goodwin’s first feature-length film is on show as part of a new exhibition, Unseen: The Lives of Looking, at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. Continuing Goodwin’s investigations into portraiture, the newly commissioned film focuses on three individuals who have a “compelling” relationship to looking – eye surgeon Sir Peng Tee Khaw, planetary explorer Professor Sanjeev Gupta and human rights lawyer Rosa Curling. Alongside the screening is a series of drawings made by Goodwin after observing the three individuals as well as tools and papers related to each of their trades and a series of objects connected three leading observers related to the history of the Royal Museums Greenwich sites – John Flamsteed, first Astronomer Royal, Edward Maunder, who observed Mars from the Royal Observatory Greenwich, and the artist Willem van de Velde the Elder who made detailed drawings of naval battles in preparation for producing paintings in his studio at the Queen’s House. Runs until 26th July. Admission is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
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This Week in London – William Shakespeare’s influence; new Fourth Plinth commissions; the car and landscape; and London Stories…
February 13, 2014
First up, apologies that we were unable to launch our new Wednesday series yesterday due to some technical difficulties (stayed tuned for next week). And now, on with the news…
• William Shakespeare’s influence on successive generations of theatrical performance is the subject of a new exhibition at the V&A to mark the 450th anniversary of his birth on 23rd April. Shakespeare: Greatest Living Playwright centres on the Bard’s First Folio which, published in 1623, contains 36 plays including 18 works – Macbeth, The Tempest and Twelfth Night among them – which would be unknown without it. The display includes interviews, archive footage and photography and objects from the V&A collections as well as an audio-visual presentation by Fifty Nine Productions featuring interviews with contemporary theatre practitioners such as actors, directors and designers. Objects on display include a skull used by Sarah Bernhardt when playing Hamlet in 1899, an embroidered handkerchief used by Ellen Terry when playing Desdemona in 1881 at the Lyceum Theatre, and a pair of red boots worn by actor-manager Henry Irving in an 1887 production of Richard III. Runs in the V&A’s Theatre and Performance Galleries until 21st September. Admission is free. For more, see www.vam.ac.uk. PICTURE: Sarah Bernhardt as Hamlet, 1899, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
• A skeletal horse and a giant hand giving a thumbs up will adorn the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square during 2015-16. Hans Haacke’s Gift Horse is derived from an etching by painter George Stubbs and, while being a comment on the equestrian statue of King William IV which was intended for the plinth, also features an electronic ribbon displaying a live ticker of the London Stock Exchange on its front leg. Meanwhile David Shrigley’s Really Good is a 10 metre high hand giving a thumbs up – sending a positive message to those who see it. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/priorities/arts-culture/fourth-plinth.
• The impact of the car on England’s landscape and the listed buildings of motoring history are the focus of a new exhibition in Wellington Arch. Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England features archive photographs, historic advertising, cartoons and motoring magazines as well as a 1930s traffic light, a petrol pump and other accessories and memorabilia. Wellington Arch, which is managed by English Heritage, is a fitting location for the exhibition – it was moved to its current position due to increasing traffic back in 1883. Admission charge apply. For more, see www.english-heritage.co.uk.
• A new exhibition exploring some of the true and not-so-true stories inspired by and produced in London opens at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden tomorrow. London Stories features the best entries from The Serco Prize for Illustration 2014 with more than 50 works of art on display depicting a well-known or obscure London narrative. The short-listed illustrations tackle everything from ghost buses to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show of 1887, a Pearly King and Queen, Lenin’s ‘Love letter to London’ and an escaped monkey jazz band. There’s also a host of musical and literary references – everything from Mary Poppins to Sweeney Todd and Oranges and Lemons. Tomorrow there will be a late opening of the exhibition complete with cash bar, DJ and story-telling for adults as well as the chance to create your own London story with illustration workshops and a photo-booth. Organised by London Transport Museum in partnership with the Association of Illustrators, it runs until 6th April. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk.
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Commonly thought to be older than it actually is due to its Gothic stylings (although, to be fair, parts of it do date from medieval times), the Palace of Westminster – or, as it’s more commonly known, the Houses of Parliament – didn’t actually take on much of its current appearance until the latter half of the 19th century.
The need for a new building for parliament arose after 1834 when a fire, caused by the overheating of two underfloor stoves used to incinerate the Exchequer’s obsolete tally sticks, tore through the former complex, leaving only some structures from the old palace intact. They included the 11th century Westminster Hall (the largest in Europe when it was built), 14th century Jewel Tower and a chapterhouse, crypt and cloisters, all of which was once attached to the now gone St Stephen’s Chapel.
While King William IV offered the use of Buckingham Palace for Parliament, the idea – along with a host of other options – was rejected as unsuitable. Instead, a competition was held for a new design and after almost 100 entries were considered, architect Charles Barry and his design for a new palace in the perpendicular Gothic style was chosen. Interestingly, while Barry was a classical architect, under the terms of the competition, designs were required to be in a Gothic style, thought to embody conservative values .
Incorporating some of the remains of the old palace – including Westminster Hall but not the Jewel Tower which to this day stands alone – the design was based around a series of internal courtyards with the House of Commons and House of Lords located on either side of a central lobby (first known as Octagonal Hall). The design involved reclaiming some land from the Thames so the building’s main river-facing facade could be completed.
Towers stand at either end of the complex – the Victoria Tower over the Sovereign’s Entrance at the southern end of the complex (for many years the tallest square stone tower in the world) and the narrower tower formerly known as the Clock Tower which houses the bell Big Ben, at the northern end – and there is a central Octagonal Tower which stands directly over the Central Lobby. The Clock Tower, incidentally, was renamed the Elizabeth Tower last year in honour of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (for more on it and Big Ben, see our earlier entries here and here).
Other towers include the Speaker’s Tower (located at the northern end of the building on the waterfront, this contains a residence for the Speaker), the Chancellor’s Tower (located at the southern end, it too contained a residence originally used by the Lord Chancellor) and St Stephen’s Tower – located in the middle of the building’s west front, it contains the public entrance to the building. Significant other rooms in the palace complex include the Robing Room – where the Queen puts on her ceremonial robes and crown before the State Opening of Parliament – and the Royal Gallery, used for state occasions.
The foundation stone (the building was constructed out of sand-coloured limestone from Yorkshire) was laid in 1840 and construction of the monumental building – which features more than 1,100 rooms and two miles of passageways – wasn’t completely finished until the 1870s although most of the work had been completed by 1860 (the year Barry died). The House of Lords first sat in their new chamber in 1847 and the House of Commons in 1852 (it was at this point that Barry was knighted for his work).
The cost, meanwhile, originally estimated at less than £750,000, ended up coming in at more than £2 million.
Much of the interior decoration owes its appearance to the Gothic revivalist Augustus Pugin who designed everything from wallpapers, to floor tiles and furnishings. Pugin also helped Barry with the external appearance but like Barry died before the project was completely finished (in 1852).
The palace was bombed numerous times in World War II – in one raid, the Commons Chamber was destroyed as firefighters opted to save the much older Westminster Hall instead. It was later rebuilt under the direction of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed by 1950. Other aspects of the building have also been restored.
A Grade I-listed building classified as a World Heritage Site, Barry’s Houses of Parliament remain one of London’s most iconic structures. We’ll be looking in more detail at some of the building’s features in future posts.
WHERE: Houses of Parliament (nearest Tube stations are Westminster, St James’s Park and Embankment); WHEN: Tours (75 minutes) are run from 9.15am to 4.30pm on Saturdays (also six days a week during summer opening); COST: £15 adults/£10 concessions/£6 children five to 15 years (children under five are free). Prices go up after 1st April – check website for details and to purchase tickets (tours for UK residents, including climbing the Elizabeth Tower, can also be arranged through your MP); WEBSITE: www.parliament.uk.
For more, see Robert Wilson’s guide to the The Houses of Parliament or David Cannadine’s indepth, The Houses of Parliament: History, Art, Architecture. For more on the story of the fire in 1834, see head parliamentary archivist Caroline Shenton’s recent book The Day Parliament Burned Down.
August 20, 2012
It wasn’t until some time after Admiral Lord Nelson’s victory over the French fleet in the Battle of Trafalgar off the coast of Spain on 21st October, 1805, that the large public space in Westminster we now know as Trafalgar Square took its name.
Prior to the development of the square, much of the area it covers was occupied the King’s Mews – stables linked to the Palace of Whitehall – and was simply seen as part of the district known as Charing Cross (named for the memorial cross which stood close to where the equestrian statue of King Charles I now stands – for more on this, see our earlier post and follow the links).
Following the relocation of the Mews in the early 19th century, plans were drawn up by architect-of-the-age John Nash to redevelop the area while the square itself, completed in 1845, was designed by Sir Charles Barry (best known for his work on the Houses of Parliament).
The final design incorporated a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson atop a column, known as ‘Nelson’s Column’, in the centre – apparently against Barry’s wishes (see our earlier post for more on Nelson’s Column).
Originally designed with an upper terrace and a lower piazza linked by stairs at the eastern and western end of the terrace, the square contains two fountains on either side of the column – the current fountains were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in 1937-9 and replaced earlier ones.
It was originally suggested that the square be named King William IV Square but it was apparently architect George Ledwell Taylor who provided the alternative of Trafalgar Square in honor of Nelson’s great battle.
Bordered by significant landmarks including the National Gallery to the north, the church of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields to the north-east, South Africa House to the east and Canada House to the west, the square stands at the confluence of a number of major roadways including Whitehall, Strand, Charing Cross Road and The Mall.
Aside from the aforementioned statue of King Charles I, monuments within the square include Nelson’s Column along with plinths set in the four corners of the square. These bear statues of King George IV, Victorian military figures General Sir Charles James Napier and Major-General Sir Henry Havelock while the fourth plinth, located in the north-west corner, was originally intended to bear an equestrian statue of King William IV.
Instead, it was left empty for many years before the advent of the Fourth Plinth project under which a variety of contemporary artworks – most recently a massive sculpture of a boy astride a rocking horse – have occupied the space (you can see a picture of the current work in our earlier post here).
The square, once known as the home of thousands of pigeons before these were banished midway through last decade to allow greater public use of the space, also features the busts of three admirals – John Jellicoe, David Beatty and Andrew Cunningham, located against the north wall under the terrace.
There are also two statues on a lawn in front of the National Gallery – these are of US President George Washington and King James II. Curiously, the square also features a small pillar box in the south-east corner, referred to by some as the smallest police station in London.
A renovation project in 2003 pedestrianised the roadway along the north side of the square and installed a central stairway between the the upper and lower levels along with lifts, public toilets and a cafe.
For some more on the history of Trafalgar Square, see Jean Hood’s Trafalgar Square: A Visual History of London’s Landmark Through Time.
April 27, 2011
Word is that Prince William and his soon-to-be wife, Catherine Middleton, have yet to formally decide where they will live when in London (they are expected to spend much of their first two-and-a-half years of marriage in North Wales).
Their initial London base, however, will reportedly be Clarence House. Located in The Mall, just down the road from Buckingham Palace and beside St James’s Palace, the grand building is currently the home of William’s father Charles, the Prince of Wales, his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and, William’s brother, Prince Harry (it is also the home of William himself).
In years gone past, Clarence House served as the home of the newly married Queen Elizabeth II (then Princess Elizabeth) and her husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh. Prince Charles, who lived there with his parents until the age of three, returned to the property in August 2003 after the death of his grandmother Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, who had lived in the building from 1953.
Clarence House was built between 1825 and 1827 to the designs of architect John Nash on the orders of Prince William Henry, the Duke of Clarence and later King William IV.
It was converted from a Jacobean mansion for King William III and Queen Mary II and has since been the home of many royals including, most famously, Diana, Princess of Wales. She and her then husband, Prince Charles, moved in following their wedding in 1981, and Princess Diana continued to live there after her divorce in 1996.
Other notable royal residents have included Queen Anne and Princess Margaret, sister of Queen Elizabeth II.
Another option – St James’s Palace – was built in 1531 on the site of a medieval leper hospital by King Henry VIII. Used initially for state occasions and to house royal relatives (Tudor monarchs actually lived at Whitehall Palace), it became the official royal residence in 1702, when Whitehall Palace burnt down, and remained so until the 1830s when King George III moved to Buckingham Palace.
April 26, 2011
Following the wedding ceremony at Westminster Abbey on Friday, the now married happy couple will head in a carriage via a processional route down The Mall to Buckingham Palace.
There, they will enjoy a champagne reception with 600 guests hosted by the Queen before, at 1.30pm, appearing on the balcony of the palace to wave to the crowds and watch an aircraft flypast expected to include a Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane, two Typhoons and two Tornados.
Buckingham Palace, which has served as the official London residence of the reigning monarch since 1837, has a long tradition of hosting royal events. Then much smaller and known as Buckingham House, the property was built for the Duke of Buckingham in 1705.
It passed into royal hands when it was bought by King George III in 1761 for his wife, Queen Charlotte, to use as a family home located conveniently close to St James’s Palace where many court functions were held.
The house was extensively remodelled in 1762 and again, this time on the orders of King George IV, in the 1820s (after initially wanting to use it, like his father, as a family home, the king decided after the works had started to instead transform it into a palace, created to the designs of architect John Nash).
When King George IV died in 1830, his brother King William IV ordered the works to be continued albeit with a new architect, Edward Blore (the spiralling costs of Nash’s work are said to have cost him the contract). The king himself never lived in the house – even offering at at one stage as a seat for Parliament after the Houses of Parliament were destroyed by fire in 1834 – and it wasn’t until the accession of Queen Victoria in 1837 that the palace became the sovereign’s official residence.
Further works were subsequently needed to ensure there was adequate accommodations for the Queen’s family and it was during these works that the monumental Marble Arch – designed as the centrepiece of the palace’s courtyard – was moved away to its present location on the north-eastern corner of Hyde Park.
The palace, which now boasts 775 rooms including 19 staterooms, has since been the site of numerous royal wedding receptions – it was on the balcony where Queen Elizabeth II and Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, greeted crowds on 20th November, 1947, after their wedding in Westminster Abbey and, similarly, where Prince William’s parents, Prince Charles and Princess Diana, held a reception before greeting crowds on 29th July, 1981, after their ceremony at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Buckingham Palace was also the location for Queen Victoria’s wedding breakfast following the ceremony in the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace on 10th February, 1840.
March 22, 2011
Credited as the creator of the Metropolitan Police Force, Sir Robert Peel was a two-time Prime Minister who oversaw landmark social reforms in arenas ranging from the workplace and prisons to trade.
Born on 5th February, 1788, into a wealthy Lancashire family (his father, also Robert Peel, was a cotton mill owner), Sir Robert was educated at Harrow and Oxford before entering parliament as part of the Duke of Wellington’s Tory government in 1809.
He married in 1820 and he and his wife Julia Floyd, the youngest daughter of General Sir John Floyd, had five sons and two daughters.
Having served in roles including under-secretary for wars and colonies and chief secretary for Ireland during his early political life, Sir Robert was appointed Home Secretary in 1822. It was during his subsequent time in the office that he introduced many reforms related to prisons and law and order – including reducing the number of crimes punishable by death by about 100 – and at the same time ordered the foundation of the Metropolitan Police Force (the terms ‘Bobby’ and ‘Peeler’ are both references to his name).
Having later spent time on the Opposition benches, he became Prime Minister in 1834 after Earl Grey’s Whig Government was dismissed by King William IV. It was during this time that he issued the famous Tamworth Manifesto, seen as a defining moment in the creation of the Conservative Party. But frustrated at the minority government, he resigned a year later.
It wasn’t until 1841 that Sir Robert returned to government, again becoming Prime Minister. Subsequent years saw him overseeing the introduction of laws forbidding the employment of women and children underground, limiting working hours for women and children in factories, and, after a long fight, repealing the trade-restricting Corn Laws – a party-splitting act which was apparently a bid to free up more food for the Irish population then in the midst of a devastating famine.
Sir Robert resigned from politics in 1846 and died four years later on 2nd July, 1850, after he was injured falling from a horse in Constitution Hill, London. He was buried at his home, Drayton Manor, near Tamworth in Staffordshire.
The city’s most famous statue of Sir Robert stands in Parliament Square, outside the Palace of Westminster.
November 10, 2010
We’re nearing the end of our series on Wren’s London (next week we’ll take a final look at some of the Wren designs we’ve not yet mentioned), so this week we look at one of his lesser known (and less accessible) designs – Marlborough House.
Tucked away behind high brick walls next to St James’ Palace just off Pall Mall, Marlborough House was built for Sarah Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough – a confidant of Queen Anne – and completed in 1711.
The duchess, who secured a lease of the site from Queen Anne, selected Sir Christopher as the architect in preference to Sir John Vanbrugh, but she later fell out with Wren and, after dismissing him, oversaw the completion of the building herself. It is believed that the design of the house was actually the work of Wren’s son, also named Christopher, although the plans were undoubtedly drawn up under Wren senior’s watchful eye.
The house, built of red Dutch bricks brought to England as ballast in troop transports, was noted for its plain design. But the walls of the central salon and staircases were decorated with scenes of battles the Duke had fought in.
The property remained in the hands of the Dukes of Marlborough until it was acquired by the Crown in 1817. The building – which was substantially extended in the mid 1800s to the designs of Sir James Pennethorne – was subsequently used by members of the royal family including Princess Charlotte (only daughter of the future King George IV) and her husband Prince Leopold (later the King of the Belgians), Queen Adelaide, widow of William IV, Edward, Prince of Wales (later Edward VII), George, Prince of Wales (later George V), King Edward VII’s widow, Queen Alexandra, and, lastly, Queen Mary, widow of George V.
Following the death of the Queen Dowager in 1953, Queen Elizabeth II donated it for use by the Commonwealth Secretariat who still occupy the building today.
WHERE: Pall Mall (nearest Tube stations are Green Park and Piccadilly); WHEN: Two hour tours are usually held every Tuesday morning (check first); WEBSITE: www.thecommonwealth.org/Internal/191086/34467/marlborough_house/