The Queen’s Gallery

Leonardo da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

I was invited to a lecture about Leonardo da Vinci at the Queen’s gallery, so I dug out some smart clothes and blagged a lift to the station with Husband. The gallery is a short walk from Victoria, and is tucked behind Buckingham Palace. I looked at all the people waiting, but none of them looked like my group, so I went inside and spoke to a very nice young man, who suggested I loiter in the shop and he would find me when everyone arrived.

The lecture was held in a private room above the gallery. A table was laid with white cups and saucers, the cups had gold rims (like the cups we were served with at St James’ Palace a few years ago). There were silver coffee pots and teapots, and a plate of biscuits. The Queen has very nice biscuits.

While drinking coffee, I chatted to the man who was giving the lecture, Martin Clayton. He was a quiet, intellectual sort of chap, very knowledgeable about Leonardo, and in charge of the collection. I asked if they ever lent the collection to other galleries, and he said they do—which must be a nightmare to organise, and I doubt if he sleeps while it’s in transit. Nothing can be replaced if it’s spoilt, I would hate to be responsible for such momentous work. Apparently, someone from the Queen’s Gallery always travels with the collection, but even so, must be terrifying.

The lecture was fairly short but interesting. Leonardo was born in Vinci in Italy (the “da Vinci” bit means “from Vinci”, it’s not part of his name) in 1452. He was illegitimate, so unable to go to university (but that doesn’t seem to have held him back at all). He was primarily an architect and designer, as well as making sculptures and the occasional painting. He produced copious drawings for all his work, and it is mainly the drawings that have survived. In 1472, printed books were gradually becoming popular, which led to paper becoming an everyday commodity rather than an expensive luxury. For the first time, artists could afford to experiment, to make drawings that would later be discarded. Leonardo drew using a quill pen and ink, and by metal-point (which is when paper is prepared with a thin layer of bone, and is then scraped with a metal point—it produces a brown line-drawing).

Leonardo was left handed, and because it’s harder to push a pen than pull it, he wrote backwards. His writing is very neat, and goes from right to left (perhaps we should teach children today to do this, if they are left-handed. It’s possibly easier.)

Leonardo was fascinated by how things worked, including the human body. Many of his sketches showed the internal organs of bodies, and he dissected dead bodies to find out how the muscles were placed, the chambers of the heart, etc. Much of his work was way ahead of his time. (Personally, I am suspicious as to where he found all his bodies. Some of the drawings, such as those of lungs, are very detailed. I would have thought that lungs collapsed soon after death, so how did Leonardo manage to find so many recently-dead bodies to cut up? Just wondering…)

On 2nd May, 1519, Leonardo died. He left his work to one of his students (he never married, and Martin C suggested he may have been gay). Many of his drawings were bound into a huge album, and this was given to the king in 1670. It has belonged to the Monarch ever since (so the Queen owns them, but only as the ruling Monarch, she cannot sell them).

We then went to look at the exhibition. Apologies for all the reflections on the photos–galleries seem to be unable to have lighting that does not reflect on the glass covering the pictures. Perhaps it’s something to do with preserving them, so they don’t fade, or maybe they need to update their lighting systems.

If I’m honest, I do not really like Leonardo da Vinci’s art. I can see that it’s clever, and his drawings of dissections are very interesting, but I don’t find I have an emotional response to his paintings. I find his people all have a sort of androgynous look to them—the men look effeminate and the women look masculine. I have never seen anything by Leonardo that is pretty or exciting or sad or passionate; they are the sort of highly detailed, very talented, drawings that you might see in an A Level biology portfolio. Even his more famous paintings, like the Mona Lisa or The Last Supper, are not really paintings that make me feel something. Do you like them? Honestly?

Thank you for reading.

Have a good week.

Take care.

Love, Anne x

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Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy 2019

We went to the summer exhibition again, rather a treat, especially as we started with breakfast at Fortnum and Mason’s (very nice eggs benedict).

As we approached the royal academy, we were met by zombies. At least, they looked like zombies but we can’t be sure, as the sign which explained what the sculptures are was very highfaluting, and not at all understandable. In fact, this was bit of a criticism with all the signs around the exhibition—they were somewhat pretentious, the sort of signs that you read, twice, and then felt completely confused as to what they had actually said. Why they needed to write: “concerns of scale do not contain his ambition” when they could have written: “He likes making big things” is beyond me.

The exhibition was not, I felt, as flamboyant as last year’s, but it was still fun. Here are a few of my favourites:

I loved, of course, all the book-themed installations, especially ones which seemed to be showing how a story can be lifted from a book.

There was a sort of ‘Where’s Wally’ painting, full of famous people to find. As bit of a book nerd who doesn’t watch much telly, many of the characters were lost on me, but I did recognise a few. The painting as a whole had a sort of Central Park feel to it, and was rather fun.

This forest of horses, made of wire, is lovely. I am almost certain that it is the exact same one which I enjoyed last year, which feels like cheating, but it’s still good.

This view of gardens is another one I loved. There is so much going on, and the painting sort of draws you into it.

This photo is rubbish, so you’ll have to imagine, but the sculpture was of lots of crows, on upturned boxes. I can tell you that if you get too close and your coat brushes them, they wobble (but I don’t think you are supposed to do that). There are also headphones, with a soundtrack to listen to. I wouldn’t bother if I were you, it’s not very interesting, and I felt it was another bunch of words where the artist was ‘trying to be clever’ but it didn’t really work. I think perhaps I don’t much like how artists write.

There were a couple of these pictures, with all sorts of flowers and textures growing in the roots of a tree. I couldn’t decide if the artist had created the image and then photographed it, or if they had merged several photos together. Either way, it was clever, and very pleasing to look at. I have no idea who the artist was (because I was too mean to buy a brochure) but I feel the artist was female, and young.

This polar bear on a hoop was in miniature in the entrance hall, and enlarged in another gallery. I think it was made with straw (and an old tyre) but it reminded me of shredded wheat. It had a rather friendly feel to it.

This was a painting, and was simply clever.

This was clever too. White blobs, which are somehow very pleasing to look at.

I love paintings which tell a story, and this one sort of entices you into it.

This photograph I love simply because I can imagine the conversation between the artist and the model. Did she know, when asked to strip off and lie down, that the artist was going to drape an octopus over her? Or did the artist pretend it was jewellery, or damp fabric, and it wasn’t until she saw the picture that she realised what the cold slimy thing was? (Made me chuckle, anyway!)

Of course, part of the fun of the summer exhibition is all the other people who go to see it. There are all sorts of people viewing the paintings, and you overhear all kinds of conversations (which are a great source of characters for your next novel!) As ever, I do have a few feedback points for the organisers, especially with regard to their lighting decisions, where they display some of the smaller works, and, most importantly, who they employ to write their signs. Should they ever decide to write information signs which actually impart information rather than confuse people (gosh, there’s a thought!) then I would be happy to help.

Thanks for reading.
Take care.

Love, Anne x

Spoons and Art

I had another rather nice treat (another of my: “you’re too difficult to buy for so we’re giving you vouchers for Christmas”).
I had a voucher for ‘Lunch in a Spoons followed by a trip to a gallery’, a gift from one of my sons.

Off we set. The travel was somewhat more exciting than anticipated, as neither myself nor the son who gave me the voucher are great at time-keeping, so catching the train involved a rather panicked abandoning of the house, a fast drive to the station, and a run onto the platform. But we made it. I then sat on the train worrying whether I’d remembered to get the dog in from the garden, and son checked his phone for directions to the gallery.

We arrived at Victoria, and walked to the pub for lunch. I was expecting the pub to be called ‘Spoons’ because that is what my son talks about (rather more often than you might expect) but it’s actually called ‘Wetherspoons’ – which I suspect you and the rest of the world, already knew. I was also expecting a rather greasy, uncomfortable lunch, but the pub was not dissimilar to a Beefeater, and the lunch was very nice. (Of course, I am a mother, so the nicest part was simply that I was having lunch with one of my children!)

The Tate Britain – complete with giant slugs outside!

We then walked down to the river, and along to the Tate Britain. I’ve never been before, and wasn’t sure what to expect. As we approached, and I saw giant slugs outside, with slime-trails of fairy lights, I knew I was going to like it.

We wandered round for a couple of hours, and still didn’t see everything. I’m not keen on some modern art (I like things that are better than something I could produce) so any halls that at a glance could have been either building works or art installations, we avoided.

The Shipwreck
By Joseph Turner
(One of my favourite paintings.)

Painting by Lowry


There was an excellent exhibition of Turner’s work, and a Lowry (who I am rather fond of due to the song that was popular in the 70’s about ‘matchstick men and matchstick cats and dogs’).

We briefly popped into a room displaying work by William Blake – who I thought was the chap who did flower etchings that are often used for wallpaper – but I was wrong! He did etchings, but of characters from Chaucer and things that don’t much appeal to me.

There was a rather spooky painting of a girl, whose eyes followed us round the hall, and an excellent painting of a boat in a storm.

I found it was better to enjoy the paintings without reading the explanations: there was one of a graveyard, and people climbing out of the graves. There was a man, trying to push his wife back, and a family of children all struggling to get out first, and an unmarked grave with lots of black people (who I guessed were slaves). But when we read the card next to it, the painting was meant to be symbolic, and all about the resurrection when Jesus returns – which was much less fun!

After a couple of hours, we’d both seen enough art. We walked out, past the Star Wars sculpture, and back into the wintery sunshine. It was a lovely treat, and we got home tired and happy – and yes, the dog was safely in the kitchen.

Hope you see some good things this week. Take care.
Anne x

A spooky girl – her eyes follow you when you move…

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The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition

Have you visited the Summer Exhibition this year? There are worse things you could do. The annual exhibition at The Royal Academy of Art is always an eclectic mix, as it has an open submission, so the great and famous are displayed next to Aunty Mabel—assuming Aunty Mabel has caught the eye of whoever is this year’s coordinator. This year, Grayson Perry was in charge (he’s the man who resembles a pantomime dame) and, like his dress sense, the exhibition is flamboyant and unexpected. With over a thousand works of art on show, it’s impossible to even notice them individually, never mind trying to assess each one. They range from the completely brilliant, to the absolute rubbish (in my opinion). But overall, the impression is one of colour and fun and strong political statement. This year’s show feels very contemporary, and I for one enjoyed it.

Much of the art, I really do not understand. When I got home, I tried to find online reviews of individual pieces, or at least explanations, but there weren’t any. Perhaps there are too many for the critics to cope with. I will therefore share with you my own highlights and lowlights of the exhibition. I am not an artist, so I expect I missed the point on some of them. However, as art is subjective, I will go ahead and give you my brutally honest review.

 When you first arrive, you’re greeted by this stupendous piece of haberdashery. It is huge, and for anyone who has ever sewn anything and agonised over straight seams, it epitomises skill. It is knitted and sewn and embroidered. I have absolutely no idea what it is meant to signify, or what will happen to it after the exhibition (it will be a nightmare to dust) but I loved it.






 The next gallery is painted bright yellow. This made the room very exciting, even if you didn’t like the art. In fact, I would say that this year, all the galleries could be viewed as a whole—you walked in, and thought “brilliant” or “terrible”, without needing to examine the individual works. Some were displayed so high that you couldn’t see them anyway (unless you happen to have a stepladder in your handbag).

This particular photograph made me laugh. I assume the model is the artist’s mother. No one else would be prepared to dress up as a compost heap. She doesn’t look especially pleased. Hopefully she’s proud of him now.


 This gallery also had a picture by Banksy, with the ‘Vote Leave’ slogan changed by a heart shaped balloon to ‘Vote Love’. It was for sale at the price of £350 million (bit sarcy).

There was also a large portrait of Nigel Farage. Above it was a portrait of a man being sick. Which I’m sure was a coincidence.

The picture on the left was simply a nice picture—one of the few on display that you might actually choose to hang in your own house. It was wonderfully chocolate-box, and little children could write whole stories about it.


 Talking of stories, this should definitely be used for the cover of a book.It had some wonderfully clever imagery, with people of different heights, and all sorts of political messages.






 Here’s one for my Aunty Margaret. Not sure she’s ever knitted/crocheted anything quite like this. Something to aspire to perhaps. Or perhaps not. It wasn’t something you really wanted to look at for long.





 This one was by Harry Hill, who apparently used to be a medic. I didn’t like it. But I guess someone did. It reminded me of the game: ‘Operation’ which we used to play when I was a child. (I didn’t like that much, either.)






 I have no idea why anyone thought this head was worth displaying. If it had been in a primary school art room, it might have been considered good. But not here. And not at that price. 




 This was brilliant. Completely brilliant. It is made from broken egg shells. Wow. Glad I wasn’t responsible for transporting it.








 The carpet bear was another favourite. Though again, I imagine the artist’s mother was somewhat cross when she came home and saw what he’d done to her best rug.








 On the topic of broken things and mothers, next time you break a tea-cup, here’s what you should do with it. A brilliant way to avert anger. It wasn’t until I spotted the handle that I realised it had once been a cup.





 This was a great picture that was spoilt by the terrible lighting in the gallery. I’m not sure why we needed lights on anyway, as the sun was bright enough. Several works were very hard to see. Maybe the exhibition is best visited after dark. Or on cloudy days.








 This one would be impossible to spoil. It was an upturned television and a block of concrete. Why? No idea. My best guess is that it was put out for the bin men and someone took it to the academy by mistake. It said nothing to me, and was ugly. (Sorry if it was your child who created it.)





 This was a display of carved soap. There wasn’t a scent (it just smelt of the pine display rack). Very clever. The soap is prison soap. We had trouble stopping the man next to us from touching it, but I did know what he meant. There was something about it that made you want to touch it.







 This was a chair, with the seat the wrong way up. All I can think is that someone ordered something from IKEA, lost the assembly instructions, and then was too embarrassed to admit they’d messed it up, so entered it to the academy instead. Not something I needed to see.





 I don’t even know what to write about this one. It was sort of hidden behind a display cabinet. Were the workmen having a laugh? Really?






 This was my favourite. Unicorns, galloping through a forest, all made from twisted wires. It was beautiful, a whole story.






 You have to see this one in real life really, as the details are too small. It was very contemporary, with lots of references to politicians and modern life. There was so much to see, it was very skilful, very intelligent, a visual feast.








 As an author, I had to include this one. A finely balanced work of art, which said that we need books to be balanced (at least, that’s what it said to me!) Excellent.



Thank you for looking at the art with me. Try to find time to pop to London to see the exhibition for yourself. It’s there until the end of August.


Have a good week, and don’t melt.

Anne x

Thank you for reading

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Letter to a Daughter

Dear Bee,

How are you? I hope work is fun but you’re getting home at a decent time. So awful at the moment with no sun and dingy mornings, I am ready for Spring to arrive.

I thought about you yesterday. Partly because I was in London (I waved from the train when we passed near your flat. Got strange looks from everyone else in the carriage and the man sitting next to me moved to another seat.) The other reason was because I was going to a Picasso exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. It reminded me of when I used to take you there when you were little.

We had a lecture first. There was a lot of information (too much to remember actually, but it wasn’t too warm, so I stayed awake.) The lecturer was very good, she obviously knew her stuff, and explained it nice and simply. I think Picasso can be summed up in three words: seedy, witty, clever. But I’ll give you a quick over view of his life, it might be useful if ever you have to look knowledgeable.

img_5544He was born in Malaga (I’m sure you remember this, from our holiday there when you were about 4 years old…) His father was an artist (painted mainly birds it seems – pigeons and doves – very realistically.) Picasso started to copy his father, and when he was just twelve he finished one of his Dad’s paintings and was told it was better than his father’s. We saw a self-portrait he did when he was 13 (to be honest, he did a LOT of self-portraits. Says something about the man, I think.) He was at an art college in Barcelona, and his work was pretty good actually. None of the weird stuff that appeared later.

When he was older, he lived in Paris, and was there during the war (when he used lots of dingy colours and contorted faces to show the unrest/cruelty of the times.) He tried out lots of different styles, copying other artists. There was a bit of cubism (painting weird geometric shapes across the canvas), things like that. He doodled a lot, and drew caricatures of his friends and family. He always refused to take commissions for ‘classical’ portraits, when the model is flattered and surrounded by lots of emblems to show their status. He wanted to paint their personality, their mood. Many of his portraits, even though the subject sat for many hours when posing, are barely even recognisable as human. (I expect some of them were rather cross.) However, lots of his work was given to friends, rather than for exhibition. These pieces tended to be smaller, and more realistic. I preferred them.

I was interested by his realistic portraits. He was undoubtedly talented. I don’t really like his later stuff at all – all those eyes at weird angles and mouths and noses not in sync. However, one thing was interesting. We were shown a cubist painting (which just looked a mess of shapes with a random eye plonked to one side) and were told to ‘fuzz’ our eyes. I took off my glasses (fuzzes the whole world!) and the portrait looked completely different – you could see the man, how he was sitting, holding his hands in front of him. That was clever.

I also went to the gift shop, while waiting for the people who I was having lunch with (who were all rather more interested in the paintings than I was). I managed to avoid the £800 etchings and £52 tray, and even the rather natty ‘Picasso’ tee-shirt and beret set. I was tempted by one of the books though. It was a children’s book, and I wished you were young again, so I could buy it for you. It was written about a little boy’s experiences, when Picasso visited him in England. It showed a glimpse of the man, the child-like, creative, story-telling old man, who was happy to make curiosities for a little boy. There was also a painting of the boy’s mother – all skew-wiffy, with nose and mouth and eyes in different directions. But when you compared it to a photograph of the mother, and drew a line around her profile, what Picasso had painted has exactly the same edge. Which is also clever.

But you’re not little any more, so I didn’t buy you a copy. I bought some postcards instead.
Better go. Try and pop down when you get time. Eat properly.

Lots of Love,
Mum xx

img_5545 Portrait of his first wife, Olga (he had a lots of women, but only married two of them.) This one won a prize in the US (where Picasso never visited, but a friend entered it for him.) I like this painting (it’s less fuzzy in real life). She does look fed up in all of them though, so I think being painted must be boring. She was a Russian ballet dancer, so probs didn’t much like having to keep still for long periods of time.