Visiting The Berlin Wall, a retrospective

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the opening up of the Berlin wall. In the days that followed, euphoric, defiant Berliners – some with their bare hands – tore down sections of the ominous structure which had dissected their city for 28 years. Constructed almost overnight in 1961, the wall had split Berlin in two, dividing families and friends, not just into two halves of the city but into two countries, and two very different worlds.

I remember watching the scenes on the news back in November 1989, witnessing the droves of East Berliners heading through the city check points into West Berlin and out of the Soviet Union.

The world of political intrigue, spies and conspiracy theories has always captured my imagination, inside the pages of novels and on the screen. One of my favourite authors is John Le Carre, and the brilliant ‘The Spy who Came in from the cold’ is one of his best. Set in Berlin in the 1960s, the story of espionage has at its centre the sinister and ever-looming presence of the wall.

In October 2015 I visited Berlin to finally see the wall for myself.  From the U-bahn station right outside our hotel in the vibrant and Bohemian Friedrichshain area it was just a 10 minute ride to  AlexanderPlatz in the centre of the city.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Berlin Radio Tower dominated from above, another dark reminder of Soviet control.  From there we walked to the East Side Gallery as the last remnant of the wall is now known.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Gallery is 1,316-long and a heritage-protected landmark which attracts millions of visitors each year. It consists of over 100 paintings by internationally renowned artists. Most of the works are poignant, some hard-hitting, on themes of freedom and oppression. Below are just a few.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Over the years, ordinary Berliners have made their own marks through the addition of graffiti. Some of the damaged art was been restored, but not all. It was easy to lose perspective as we admired and took photographs of why this structure was erected and what it represented for so many people for so many years.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

There is graffiti all over Berlin

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

and some interesting street art too

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Brandenburg Gate was built in the 18th century on the land of the Electors of Brandenburg, near to their traditional hunting ground, the Tiergarten. When the wall fell in November 1989, Berliners from east and west of the city converged on both sides of the wall at the site of Brandenburg Tor (gate), united in their determination to break down the barrier that separated them. It was spine-tingling to be standing there myself. Of course, the area looked so very different in 2015.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Checkpoint Charlie, the American Army border crossing, is now iconic, and a museum piece. The place where many lost their lives, shot down as they attempted to defect to the west, looked slightly surreal in the middle of what had become a thriving shopping street.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Throughout the 1990s and the beginning of 21C, Berlin has reinvented itself as a beacon for culture, freedom and liberty whilst cherishing and rebuilding its great heritage. I have read that there are mutterings about finally removing that last section of what many in Germany feel should now be assigned to history. I completely understand that. I’m just glad I had the chance to see it.

 

 

Tulip Fields: An Impression

Dutch bulb fields have, since the time of ‘tulip mania’ in the 17th century, attracted painters from Europe and beyond, mesmerised by vistas of flowers, row after row, vibrant and tantalising, extending like floral carpets to meet the horizon.

One of my favourite examples is Tulips in Holland by French Impressionist, Claude Monet, painted in 1886.

Claude_Monet_-_Tulip_fields_in_Holland_(Musée_d'Orsay)

I am fascinated by the light and the vivid hues, and had pondered the reality and how it compared with Monet’s impressions as he set them to canvas in real time.

The Dutch tulip season is short, beginning in March and ending in May. A short visit to Holland’s southern bulb region last week presented the opportunity to feast my eyes on multitudes of magnificent blooms as Monet did on another spring day over 130 years ago.

The flat land and waterways reminded me of happy childhood holidays cruising on the Norfolk Broads with my family. They are early memories, set in time in a technicolour palette; our sensory perceptions of colour, smell, pain and sounds gradually fade as we grow older. I still remember the boldness of scarlet poppies against the parched East-Anglia fen land and vast sky. Of course, the two regions of England and Holland were once joined, back in the mists of time, so perhaps the connection is understandable.

The landscape changes from week to week as fields are harvested and return to barren soil, their glory days ended for another year.  Elsewhere, new flowers open to the sun as their moment arrives. 

DSCF8207

I ambled alongside one narrow canal which skirted several smaller fields. Views from the water’s edge offered a chance to see further and to form my solitary impressions.

DSCF8176

DSCF8201

DSCF8210

DSCF8230

My impression is of a grand artistic collaboration between nature and nurture at its triumphant moment of fruition, and that I was lucky to be in the gallery to see it for myself.

DSCF8256

.

 

Narcissus

e53dfebd-9a68-4278-be45-23a36afd323a.jpeg

On a recent visit to Liverpool’s  Walker Art Gallery my eye was drawn to John William Waterhouse’s painting of Echo and Narcissus. The painting shows the mountain nymph, Echo, gazing longingly at Narcissus as he gazes even more longingly at his own reflection in the water. Echo’s love is unrequited by the object of her affections and, feeling rejected and invisible, she fades away until all that remains is her voice. Desperately thirsty, but unwilling to disturb his image on the water’s surface, Narcissus eventually dies from dehydration (though in another version of the myth he drowns). A clump of Narcissi, pale yellow heads leaning forward to peer into the water, springs up on the spot.

E2F5D9B0-02C8-4157-A116-BEDDF82C5C63

Despite the recent return of early morning ground frost to some of our gardens, spring is established. Things are happening in my little patch.

One of the earliest blooms each year is the dwarf rhododendron which I have kept in the same pot since I rescued it from a skip about five years ago. I was told that it wouldn’t grow much bigger even if planted in the ground so I decided not to disturb it. It flowers only once, and only for a short time, but I look forward every March to that exquisite show that tells me spring has arrived in earnest.

61a4f20a-2226-48d9-b23c-c5e8d1900901.jpeg

The early flowering clematis which I planted quite recently seems to have taken root. Although it looks so delicate and fragile right now I hope it will provide a stunning backdrop as it climbs the fence and heralds the arrival of spring at the end of March for many years to come.

87A0A634-F2CF-4D44-9028-27510705934F

3080AF15-20EF-418C-8071-6CE983CFABBD

The little old spiraea which every summer I suspect has had its last day in the sun never ceases to amaze and delight me with its spring revival.

24780F18-0F9F-46D8-9123-D63750AA8B6F

Even those plants which won’t flower until June or July are showing new green shoots on last year’s woody stems.    The potted herbs are flourishing, quickly returning in colour and scent.

EF055C8E-C959-4056-8E23-7F7E7729DF20

At the beginning of December I planted some daffodil bulbs which I’d bought in the autumn and forgotten about . I thought it was probably too late but hope, as they say, springs eternal. Well, spring they did! Some of them, anyway.

579E648A-F3A9-4682-9C5E-63F55A33820A

4FCDDBAD-0883-4A80-8639-7D7AC3CFC04E

AC0D4EC8-24DD-4B91-8CB8-06963F2A3187

I’ve noticed that many of those swathes of early daffodils which graced roadside verges and parks have now faded, like the lovely Echo, leaving only lowered browning heads  or leaves which will also die back over the next month or so, though below the ground the bulbs will sleep until their time comes again. I’m happy that my late blooming golden narcissi, a few still unfurling, will still be around a while longer yet to make me smile when I look outside every morning. Like their mythical namesake they have every reason to stand proud and show their faces to the sun.

Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery

F2D959EB-2973-4769-9F2C-3E08BB231444

For many of us, Sunday can too easily turn into the day before we go back to work rather than part of our well-deserved weekend. Thoughts can turn to preparing for the week ahead and the list of tasks that await us on Monday and the days that follow. Even if we like our jobs, we can do without the tendrils of toil creeping into our free time. Does this scenario sound familiar to you too? I decided that in 2019 I will reclaim Sundays – grab them back from the looming presence of the working week.

I use public transport which is significantly reduced on Sundays so travel can be difficult, wasteful of time and sometimes more trouble than it’s worth. I’ve set myself a few Sunday Rules to make sure I don’t end up wishing I’d stayed at home instead.

1. Sunday is about relaxation and indulgence rather than adventure

2. Easy one-stage journeys. No connections.

3. No early starts to cram in as much as I can.

Today I took the train to Liverpool to look at some art. The Walker Gallery is in the city’s cultural quarter, a very short walk from Lime Street station. I like to wander round and look at my favourite paintings, sometimes sitting for ages and noticing details which I hadn’t spotted before. Today I went to see a new exhibition.

BD585134-13CA-48BC-8277-8ADABE6EAB2C

I love the art of Glasgow Style, in particular the designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Having visited the Kelvingrove Art Gallery a few months ago I was thrilled to  read that some of those exhibits and others on loan from some private collectors would be shown at the Walker. Admission to the exhibition was ( I thought) expensive at £10, but there were some exquisite items of furniture, ceramics and glassware which I hadn’t seen before. Permission for photography is still pending from two of the contributors, so unfortunately I can’t share any images here. It is hoped that the permissions will be granted before the exhibition ends in August. You can read about my visit to Kelvingrove Gallery here.

2DF1A3FD-1BE2-4185-8AD7-F5269E889E7E

Another important collection is attracting lots of visitors at the Walker: the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci. I have to confess at this point that I’m not enraptured by these sketches. I saw a similar exhibition in Manchester a decade ago on a much smaller scale, and although they are undoubtedly very detailed and impressive, I wonder if the excitement is perhaps due to the status of the artist rather than the works themselves. As I was on site I decided to take a look. It was difficult to take photographs due to reflections.

22348F75-FD95-4F7E-A41F-EC3AA99673EC
My favourite: The head of Leda, circa 1505

After Da Vinci I went into my favourite room which hosts an eclectic mix by British artists from 1800 to 1950. Here are a few I like best.

C4E22008-B76E-472C-AE34-3FFA0E55180D
Mother and Child, 1938:  Ceri Richards

This abstract cross between sculpture and painting depicts a gentle kiss between mother and child. I love the simplicity of this construction. A perfect image for Mothering Sunday.

4EFCDAEE-4D25-4F94-90C3-FB529625845A
The Waterloo Dock, Liverpool, 1962: LS Lowry

In this painting the water of the river Mersey is white and difficult to distinguish from the snowy ground. It gives the impression of somewhere much colder, perhaps eastern-Europe of the time.

BA17FEA0-9CE2-49FC-8F58-B68EE18B4EB5
The Liver Buildings, Liverpool, 1950: LS Lowry.

Like the Waterloo Dock painting, this looks like a wintry scene. The Liverpool waterfront fades into a soft backdrop to the bolder and disproportionately sized plethora of boats. This is one of my favourite Lowry paintings.

C2DDCC98-040B-4B11-8F6B-3C1BC1E0D403
The Fever Van, 1935. LS Lowry.

The ‘Fever Van’ of the title is  the ambulance which has come for a victim of diphtheria, scarlet fever or one of the other contagious and often fatal diseases prevalent in Salford at the time

FFDBAB5A-5C87-4B8E-BAF7-E9FA495A43C9
Mrs Mounter, 1916: Harold Gilman

Mrs Mounter was Gilman’s cleaning lady as well as his muse. I love the colour in this painting including the wallpaper panel in the background. I like the ordinariness  of Mrs Mounter’s expressive face.

99B791C5-9563-4823-A21F-E607F257DAD0
The Bathers, 1948: Bernard Meninsky

I’m not familiar with Russian born artist Meninksy’s work apart from this one glorious painting. I love the sheer abandonment with which these women head across the beach to the water’s edge.

678A650D-4360-4341-B419-20274E77FD55
Interior at Paddington, 1950-51: Lucian Freud

The grandson of psychologist Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud painted this for the Festival of Britain in 1951, a showcase for new British talent. The subject is Freud’s friend, Harry Diamond. He seems to be retreating into the alcove, unsettled by the quite sinister-looking plant. Very Freudian!

After feasting my eyes on works of art I treated my taste buds to a delicious hummus salad wrap and bottle of Dandelion & Burdock in the Walker cafeteria before strolling in the sunshine back to the station. Sunday Rules work for me. Have good week!

 

 

 

Out on the tiles

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Readers of some of my other posts may know that I am very fond of ceramics, in particular the high-glazed pottery tiles synonymous with the Victorian arts and crafts movement. I love the lustrous decadence of the rich intense colours from the period, and  the opulent crackle of the glaze.

Some of the best examples can be found beneath our feet gracing the ticket halls and the platforms of subterranean train stations or even the humble relics of gentlemen’s public conveniences. I have been known to visit places ( not men’s toilets!)  just for the tiles, whilst on other occasions I have made unexpected discoveries, sometimes in unlikely places. Here are three of my favourites in the city of Manchester.

1. The Principal Hotel ( formerly the Palace Hotel). This grade 2 listed building on The corner of Whitworth Street and Oxford Street was built between 1891 and 1895 by the architect Alfred Waterhouse for the Refuge Assurance Company, a very successful insurance business. The outside of the building is nothing extraordinary….

E001E2DA-9287-48B8-9D93-AB9CD2E07373

…but the inside is glorious!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love the glamour and the sense of the exotic conjured by the pillars and foliage. The design is of glazed brick and Burmantofts faience, a decorative style of architectural terracotta and glazed pottery which used warm cream, buff, rich orange and rusty tones. The Burmantofts company emerged in Leeds in the late 1850s with Waterhouse being one of their patrons.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

An overseas-based friend and I meet in Manchester once a year when she visits family in the city. Our venue of choice is almost always the Palace where for a couple of hours we can escape the Manchester rain and the hustle and bustle of the world outside and marvel at the sparkling chandeliers’ reflections on the glossy surfaces of the walls around us as we indulge in afternoon tea.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2. Peveril of the Peak. This iconic Manchester public house has stood near the Bridgewater Hall since the 1820s and is named after the novel of the same title written by Sir Walter Scott (better known as the author of Ivanhoe) in 1823, but set in the 17th century.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Peveril is brilliant. It’s actually nothing special inside, but wonderfully incongruous in its modern and muted surroundings this Victorian pottery pub is also grade II listed. Some of the outer tiles were added in the 1920s but have remained unaltered since – happily for those of us who like its style.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

3. J&J Shaw Ltd. This is my favourite doorway in Manchester.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

J & J Shaw established the furniture warehouse in 1924. This place is a hidden gem, tucked away close to Oxford Road train station.  I love the colours and the detail and can never resist tracing the shapes of the smooth leaves and fruits when I pass by. Its gorgeous art-deco entrance hints at the possibility of stylish furnishings that customers might have perused once they had stepped through the pottery portal. How exciting! They don’t make doors like they used to, do they?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Glasgow Style at the Kelvingrove Gallery

DSCF7673

My recent trip to Glasgow  included a visit to Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Amongst the exhibitions is one dedicated to Glasgow Style, a celebration of the vibrant and iconic decorative arts and architecture which have become synonymous with the city’s creative past.

DSCF7630

At the end of the 19th century, the Glasgow School of Art had established itself as one of the leading academies of its kind in Europe. The school gained a reputation as a design leader with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose eye for design saw him become a legend of his craft, being instrumental at the forefront of the School‘s success. Glasgow Style was born.

This mural of the man himself, and incorporating his iconic rose design, adorns a wall in the city centre, one of many fabulous murals in Glasgow.

DSCF7546

Charles Rennie Mackintosh trained as an architect but enrolled at the Glasgow School of Art to enhance his skills set. Like many great artists, Mackintosh’s achievements were not fully appreciated until after his death.

He was commissioned to design a series of tea rooms and given full creative freedom over the decor and furnishings, even cutlery. These tearooms became synonymous with Mackintosh to the extent that when one building was demolished, it was decided to painstakingly remove and preserve the interiors beforehand.

DSCF7675

Below are some of the original furnishings and fittings, including tableware which can be seen in the display cabinet. Another original tea room has been reassembled at the new Victoria & Albert Museum in Dundee.

DSCF7626

DSCF7690

DSCF7681

DSCF7680

The Mackintosh design style was not only to be found in public spaces. Some other exquisite examples in private ownership are included in the exhibit.

DSCF7667

DSCF7668

DSCF7678

DSCF7662

DSCF7664

It was during his time at the Glasgow School of Art that Mackintosh met his future wife, Margaret Macdonald and her sister, Frances, who married Mackintosh’s friend, James McNair. They were known as the four, all contributing to the Glasgow Style movement.

DSCF7686
The four and their stylish crowd.

Margaret Macdonald collaborated closely with her husband on numerous projects and was a talented artist in her own right. In fact, her husband modestly acknowledged her genius as compared with his own simple “talent”.

The Gesso panel on the wall below is entitled The Wassail and was designed by Margaret Macdonald, and was displayed in the  Ladies’ Luncheon room at one of Miss Cranston’s tea rooms.

DSCF7663

One of my favourite pieces is this stunning Tiyptych, by another female artist, Marion Henderson Wilson. Designed in 1905, these three panels of beaten tin depict a series of Glasgow motifs including intertwined lines of natural growth and the iconic roses. The subject is described as a mediaeval woman, but she looks quite of the moment – the 1905 moment, that is.

DSCF7711

The production of glassware first started up in Glasgow in the 1600s, but the industry grew from the 1850s and was thriving by 1900, supplying the domestic market and churches. The Glasgow rose often featured, as in this splendid panel found in a tenement flat on Florida Avenue.

DSCF7702

Here are some more intricately painted panels which once would have looked stunning in a private house.

DSCF7706

If you like Art Nouveau, these are just some examples of a superb collection at Kelvingrove.

DSCF7608

 

 

 

 

 

An autumn day in Glasgow

DSCF7521

The last time I went to Glasgow was on a very hot day in the summer of 1982. I was with my family and we had driven up for the day from the south of Scotland where we holidayed frequently at our caravan. I had spent some pocket money on an album by Visage, one of my favourite groups of the time, and it was so hot that the vinyl record melted in the boot of our car. It’s funny, the things we remember. I don’t recall anything else about that day or any other childhood visits, so yesterday’s long overdue return was like going for the first time…. and this time it definitely wasn’t hot.

One of the best ways to get a flavour of a city when time is short is by boarding a sightseeing bus. Although still quite mild for November, it was a bit nippy on the open top deck. We started our tour at George Square where Christmas decorations had already been installed .

DSCF7510

DSCF7513
Statue of Sir Robert Peel, founder of the modern  British police service
DSCF7502
Glasgow is already bedecked with stunning Christmas decorations

The agreeable voice of suave TV historian Neil Oliver provided the recorded commentary as we wound our way around the city.

DSCF7509
The first Duke of Wellington has been in situ outside of the Gallery of Modern Art since 1844 but with a more recent addition to his attire

DSCF7523

Glasgow has some fantastic murals. It would be worth spending a day looking at the city’s outstanding street art (I might well do that!). I love this depiction of the city’s founder, Saint Mungo, on High Street. Represented as a modern man, Mungo tenderly handles the bird that never flew which he is said to have restored to life after having been wrongly blamed for its death. The story of the wild robin tamed by Mungo’s master, Saint Serf, is part of the story of the city’s origins and is included in its motto:

‘Here is the bird that never flew

Here is the tree that never grew

Here is the bell that never rang

Here is the fish that never swam.’

 

DSCF7532
Billy Connolly mural
DSCF7546
Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The tollbooth steeple clock stands at the junction of four main mediaeval streets. It is all that remains of the early 17th century civic building which it had once stood atop.

DSCF7526

I didn’t visit the Purple Cat cafe, but thought it was a great name!

 

Glasgow Green is in the city’s east end. I really wanted to spend some time here exploring the beautiful People’s Palace but in the end we didn’t have time to go back; such a shame as it looked so lovely, but even more reason to visit again!

DSCF7541

We journeyed on alongside the river Clyde, passing the Riverside Museum and Scottish Events Campus

 

DSCF7565

DSCF7557
Scottish Events Campus – the armadillo
DSCF7559
Scottish Events Campus – the Hydro

From the riverside location our bus continued towards the west of the city. It was a bright and sunny day and the colours of autumn were glorious.

 

DSCF7566

DSCF7582

Alighting in salubrious Kelvingrove, we enjoyed a warming and very tasty lunch near the welcoming coal fire of The 78, a popular vegan bar restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere and an interesting and delicious menu.

DSCF7599

Warmed and reinvigorated, we walked to our main destination, the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, stopping at the bridge over the river Kelvin to admire the water below,  the autumnal trees and the bronze-cast sculptures, including this 1926 depiction of Philosophy and Inspiration. I have a feeling that the skull’s eyes are a much more recent addition.

DSCF7573

DSCF7570

The grounds of Kelvingrove Gallery are lovely and are a perfect setting for the location of the many exquisite objects within.

DSCF7603

DSCF7607

DSCF7733

DSCF7608

Having come to the end of our mini tour of a marvellous city, off we went to enjoy some awesome Scottish art and art-deco designs which I’ll be sharing with you soon.