This Week in London – Walter Sickert at the Tate; Philips Wouwerman revisited; and, Victorian physicist commemorated…

Walter Sickert, ‘Little Dot Hetherington at the Bedford Music Hall’ (1888) Private collection. Photo: James Mann

Britain’s biggest retrospective on the work of artist Walter Sickert (1860-1942) in almost 30 years opens at the Tate Britain in Millbank today. The exhibition features more than 150 of his works spanning the six decades of his career. They include paintings and drawings of music halls in London and Paris such as The Old Bedford (1894-5) and Théâtre de Montmartre (c1906) and an examination of key influencers upon his work such as American artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler whose A Shop (1884-90) is being shown with Sickert’s A Shop in Dieppe (1886-8) as well as Whistler’s 1895 portrait of Sickert. Other works on show include The Camden Town Murder (1908), Ennui (1914) and Off To the Pub (1911). Admission charge applies. Runs until 18th September. For more, see www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-britain/walter-sickert.

A new exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery explores the truth behind 18th century gossip suggesting 17th century Dutch artist Philips Wouwerman was a plagiarist. True Crime: The Case of Philips Wouwerman looks at claims the painter, who created more than 600 paintings over his career, stole the drawings of the dead artist Pieter van Laer and subsequently used them for his own works. The display features works by Wouwerman and Van Laer as well as expert testimony from the past and present. It’s the first in a series of displays – Unlocking Paintings – which have been devised by the recently appointed curator Helen Hillyard to present new perspectives on the Gallery’s collection. Can be seen until 21st August. For more, follow this link.

A self-taught Victorian physicist, Oliver Heaviside, has been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque at his former home in Camden Street. The property is where the young Victorian scientist, who had been left almost entirely deaf after suffering scarlet fever in childhood, continued with his self-education after leaving school at 16 and where he later worked on his ground-breaking interpretation of James Clerk Maxwell’s Treatise on Electricity and Magnetism. Heaviside played a key role in the development and advancement of electrical communications and was even name-checked in Cats where a line referring to “the Heaviside layer” is a reference to his discovery of a reflective layer in the upper atmosphere which allowed radio waves to be ‘bent’ around the earth. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/blue-plaques/.

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What’s in a name?…Fitzrovia…

BT_Tower-1This West End district, located between Bloomsbury, Marylebone and Soho, probably owes its name to the Fitzroy Tavern, a public house which in turn is believed to owe its name to the Dukes of Grafton, whose family name was Fitzroy.

The Fitzroys (the name derives from  a Norman-French phrase and was typically associated with base-born royal sons), owned land in the area until the end of the 1800s.

The family first become associated with the area after the Manor of Tottenham (more on that name in an upcoming post) came into the possession of Henry Fitzroy, an illegitimate son of King Charles II who became the Earl of Euston and later Duke of Grafton.

Incidentally, the grand Fitzroy Square, developed by the duke’s great-grandson, and Fitzroy Street are both also named after the family as are numerous other locations in the area including Grafton Street.

Fashionable as a residential area in the 1700s, the houses were gradually transformed into workshops – the area was noted for furniture-makers in particular – or cheap tenements and it’s during this period in the early 1800s that artists like John Constable were living in the area.

The name Fitzrovia apparently became popularised for the district which in the inter-war years, due to the community of artists and writers that met at the pub; it is said to have first appeared in print in the 1940s. Among those who were associated with the area during this period were the likes of writers Dylan Thomas and George Orwell and artists like Roger Fry and Augustus John.

More recently the area has become home to numerous media companies, particularly TV-related companies, and still hosts ample pubs, restaurants and cafes.

Notable buildings in the area include the BT Tower, a communications tower completed in 1964 which was until 1980, the tallest building not only in London but in the UK (and from where panoramic views could once be had – sadly it’s been long closed to the public).

Fitzrovia is also home to the quirky Pollock’s Toy Museum.

PICTURE: David Castor (caster)/Wikipedia

Correction: Fitzroy Square was developed by the great grandson of the 1st Duke of Grafton, not grandson as was originally stated.

What’s in a name?…Camden Town…

Camden-Lock

As with so many London locations, the name Camden Town comes from a previous landowner – but more indirectly it originates with the great 16th and 17th century antiquarian and topographer William Camden.

The story goes like this: late in his life William Camden – author of Britannia, a comprehensive description of Great Britain and Ireland – settled near Chislehurst in Kent on a property which became known as Camden Place.

In the 18th century, the property came into the possession of Sir Charles Pratt, a lawyer and politician (among other things, he was Lord Chancellor in the reign of King George III), who was eventually named 1st Earl of Camden.

It was Pratt who, having come into the possession of the property by marriage, in about 1791 divided up land he owned just to the north of London (which has apparently once been the property of St Paul’s Cathedral) and leased it, resulting in the development of what became Camden Town (Pratt, himself, meanwhile, is memorialised in the name of Pratt Street which runs between Camden High Street and Camden Street).

In 1816, the area received a boost when Regent’s Canal was built through it – the manually operated, twin Camden Lock is located in the heart of Camden Town.

Although it has long carried a reputation of one of the less salubrious of London’s residential neighbourhoods (a reputation which is changing), Camden Town is today a vibrant melting pot of cultures, thanks, in no small part, to the series of markets, including the Camden Lock Market, located there as well as its live music venues.

Past residents have included author Charles Dickens, artist (and Jack the Ripper candidate) Walter Sickert, a member of the so-called ‘Camden Town Group’ of artists, and, in more recent times, the late singer Amy Winehouse.

Of course, the name Camden – since 1965 – has also been that of the surrounding borough.

Around London – John Snow’s legacy; a spotlight on the music hall; Alice Kettle at the Queen’s House; and, Sydney Lee at the RA…

A new exhibition on the work and legacy of John Snow – who traced the source of a deadly cholera outbreak in the 1850s to a Soho water pump – opened at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine this week. Cartographies of Life & Death – John Snow and Disease Mapping – part of a series of events planned for the bicentenary of Snow’s birth – features both historical treasures, such as disease maps from the school’s archives, and new artworks inspired by science with the entire display presented as a disease mapping ‘detective trail’. There will be a pop-up water bar and street lectures and performances. Snow (1813-1858) is considered the founder of modern epidemiology, the study of patterns and causes of health and disease in populations. His work remain influential even today. Admission is free. The exhibition runs until 17th April at the school in Keppel Street. For more, see www.johnsnow.org.uk.

A new installation at the V&A opening on Saturday will explore the rise – and fall – of the music hall. Music Hall: Sickert and the Three Graces picks up on artist Walter Sickert’s obsession with the New Bedford Music Hall in Camden Town and features film, music and objects presented in a ‘theatrical narrative’ which focuses on the world of the Edwardian Music Hall. Highlights include filmed extracts of Tanika Gupta’s specially produced play The Boy I Love (directed by Katie Mitchell) which takes its name from George Ware’s celebrated music hall song The Boy I Love is Up in the Gallery. Admission is free. The exhibition, which is in the Theatre and Performance Galleries of the V&A, runs until 5th January next year. For more see www.vam.ac.uk.

Three specially commissioned artworks by British textile artist Alice Kettle will be unveiled today at the Queen’s House in Greenwich. The Garden of England – Royal Museums Greenwich’s first contemporary arts program – features Flower Helix (hanging in the Tulip Stairs), Flower Bed (a “textile garden” found in the North West Parlour), and Queen Henrietta Maria (a stitched portrait of the wife of King Charles I also found in the North West Parlour). The display is accompanied by a program of events – for more on them, see www.rmg.co.uk. Entry is free – the exhibition is on show until 18th August.

On Now – From the Shadows: The Prints of Sydney Lee RA. This exhibition at the Royal Academy represents a reappraisal of the work of painter-printmaker Sydney Lee (1866-1949) and features more than 50 prints and two major paintings. Lee studied in Manchester and Paris before coming to London where he lived in a house and studio in Holland Park Road in Kensington. He was elected a Royal Academician in 1930 and served as Treasurer from 1932-1940. The first exhibition devoted to his art since 1945, the event coincides with the publication of the first book on Lee written by its curator Professor Robert Meyrick, head of the School of Art at Aberystwyth University. Runs until 26th May. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.royalacademy.org.uk.