Sunday, 21 June 2009

Father's Day

Father's Day today and my son brought me a cup of tea in bed, followed by The Observer and even went a long way towards making me blueberry pancakes with maple syrup (and helped me do quite a lot of the eating).

Then I was taken to Audley End. I had never been there before. What an amazing house. It is Jacobean with corner turrets and gold weather vanes, and is stuffed full of the usual expensive but tasteless clash of styles and ornament that is the mark of the English stately home. It has some nice paintings, but they are hung so bizarrely - often twenty feet up in the air - that it is impossible to appreciate them as art. The grounds were amazing though, with gigantic trees (possibly planted by Capability Brown when he landscaped the place) and there were terrific clipped yews that bubbled up like a great green amoeba.

We had a picnic on the field overlooking the pond in the vast grounds, while every now and then a First or Second World War aircraft would growl past, very low, on its way to Duxford. There was something vaguely disturbing about being buzzed by a Messerschmidt.

Parts of Audley End was so very like the image I had in my mind's eye for Hawton Mere, the house in The Dead of Winter, that I would have taken lots of photos had I been allowed. The only place I could manage this was the working area of the house - the kitchen, dairy and so on. These rooms were fascinating and peopled by actors in costume, flitting among the visitors like ghosts.

After Audley End we went to Saffron Walden to visit the Fry Gallery. The Fry Gallery contains an archive of work connected with the brilliant artist, illustrator and designer, Edward Bawden and his circle. The catalogue is edited by Martin Salisbury from Anglia Ruskin here in Cambridge. Martin is a big fan of that period of English illustration (as am I) and very knowledgeable.

The gallery is very small and so some of the work is hung just as bizarrely as the paintings in Audley End; some of them so high that stepladders would be needed to see them properly. They have some nice things though. There was a particularly good Bawden painting done in Sicily (that I think I have in a book somewhere) and a big linocut of Liverpool Street Station.

Sadly, there is a room given over to exhibitions and the exhibition at the moment is John Bellany and contains some of the worst paintings I have seen in a long time. I have never been a fan of Bellany, but even by his standards these are eye-wateringly garish. What they are doing here, sitting like an old drunk in a clown's outfit, next to the tasteful restraint of Bawden and Ravilious, heaven only knows.

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