The first two days of my time in London were orientation days given by Arcadia for all of it’s American study abroad students. Not that I don’t love sitting for hours while people with heavy accents give long (however humorous, as should be expected by the Brits) presentations on culture shock and good study habits, that are intended for the average college student who is the average college student age, neither category of which I fall under. What was really interesting though, was on the second day Arcadia brought in members of the British Parliament, both from the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Hearing them speak was incredibly striking and a distinct contrast from any of the politicians that I have heard speak before. Prejudice of the politician, that really amounts to the assumption that all politicians are lying crooks, is rather easy to develop, it seems natural because of the political masks that so many of them wear. I generally pride myself on being very good at seeing through the veil of deception, and I have come to expect to view political figures with skepticism, if not full cynicism.
Well I am here to say, that my assumptions have been swayed. I truly felt that I was speaking with three very real people, who had very real lives and very real convictions and best of all, they had very real senses of humor. At least two out three did, maybe the third took himself much more seriously, but still firmly believed in what he was saying. I never felt that words were being spoken for our benefit, so that we would walk away believing something were true that was not, the feeling I usually have after hearing a politician speak. Kudos to the Brits! For those who would like more information about the British Parliamentary System…
Yesterday, we had our first free day in London. I woke up early, went for a 2 1/2 mile run, and was on my way to the National Gallery by 10 am. Surrounded by some of my favorite master paintings, I walked through the museum alone, breathing in the work of so many great great artists. Seeing famous paintings in Philadelphia or New York is powerful of course, but there is something so much more magical when you stand in front of a painting, or sculpture or building you’ve read about so many times, when you are in a place like Rome or London. The national Gallery holds works like Bronzino’s “Allegory with Venus and Cupid” and Diego Velasquez’s “The Rokeby Venus”. One of my favorite paintings that I happened upon was a work by Caravaggio that I used as a master copy for my Drawing IV class at the Community College of Philadelphia before I came to Bucknell, “The Supper at Emmaus”.
One of my favorite discoveries that I have never come across before was a Flemish Fad in the 17th century, perspective boxes. It’s difficult to describe, but it is a box that has been painted on five interior sides, with the sixth side covered with glass. On either side of the glass front there are peep-holes that are intended for you to view the interior from and show a distorted perspective that appears to be the 3-dimensional interior of a dutch house. The one here at the National Gallery is by Samuel van Hoogstraten, “A Peepshow with Views of the Interior of a Dutch House”.
My next stop for the afternoon was next door at the National Portrait Gallery. There was a collection of portraits stemming from the Royal Tudor portraits from the Renaissance through to contemporary portrait work as well. I was particularly pleased with the amount of sculptural portraiture the gallery had in its collection, including works that were more abstract. A few of my favorites were: Maggie Hambling, “Self- portrait” 1977-78, Marino Marini “Henry Moore” 1962, Dame Laura Knight ” Self Portrait: Self with a Nude” 1913 and L.S. Lowry, “Self Portrait: The Man with Red Eyes”
At 1:15 in the lecture space on the basement floor of the National Portrait Gallery, there was a rather interesting lecture on Oscar Wilde called “Oscar Wilde: The Creation of Celebrity” by Lucinda Hawksley. Admittedly I am not a theater buff, and I have never read nor seen an Oscar Wilde play, but the title was very intriguing and as an artist whose work deals with the aesthetics of identity and the creation of self-image, I decided to sit in on the lecture. The scholar who gave the lecture is an art historian whose Master’s Thesis was concerned with this very subject, so she was very knowlegable and eloquent in her lecture. As a result of what I learned, I decided I would like to do some research on the very subject myself because it seems very relevant to my own work and Oscar Wilde the character is very interesting.