Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up

For the first time ever, the possessions of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo have left Mexico and arrived at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum to help tell her powerful, yet tragic story, Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Beginning with an introduction to her family and ending with an impressive collection of clothing, Kahlo’s personal belongings, which were not discovered until 2004, reveal how she assembled her personal identity and coped with her many hardships.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was born on 6th July 1907 and would grow up to become a painter of surrealism and folk art based on her strong opinions about identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Unfortunately, life was not going to be easy for Kahlo, particularly where her health was concerned.

Kahlo’s parents were the German photographer Guillermo Kahlo (1871–1941) and Matilde Calderón y González (1876–1932) of indigenous descent. Although she had three sisters and two step-sisters, it appears that Frida was the favourite. Whilst her siblings went to a convent school, her father insisted she was enrolled into a German school. The reason for her father’s favouritism was on account of her disabilities as a result of Polio, which she contracted when she was six years old. As a result, her right leg was much shorter and thinner than the left.

Unfortunately, children were no better than they are today and bullied Frida about her defects. Isolated from her peers, her father took it upon himself to teach her about literature, nature, and philosophy, which set her in good stead for her political future with the Communist party. Guillermo also taught his daughter about photography, thus introducing Frida into the world of art and composition.

Frida Kahlo’s childhood took place during a time when women were not given equal opportunities and were regarded as weaker and lesser than men. Therefore, Kahlo’s determination to go to school to train to be a doctor shows her strength of character. Unfortunately, this dream of hers was never to be fulfilled. On 17th September 1925, whilst on her way home from school, Kahlo suffered near-fatal injuries after the bus she was travelling on collided with a street car. Lucky to survive, unlike many of the other passengers, Kahlo suffered fractured ribs, leg and collarbone and an iron handrail impaled through her pelvis.

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Plaster corset painted and decorated by Frida Kahlo

Kahlo suffered from pain and illness for the rest of her life as a result of the crash, however, it opened up an entirely new career path for her. During her recovery, Kahlo spent the majority of time in bed, her back held up by uncomfortable plaster corsets, some of which can be seen in the exhibition. Lying on her back with a specially crafted table over her legs, Kahlo stared at herself in a mirror positioned above her bed and began to paint her self-portrait.

Self-portraits make up the majority of Kahlo’s paintings, using them as a means of exploring her identity and existence. Although she never painted the terrible traffic collision, Kahlo expressed her feelings and pain through her artwork. Many of these are made up of several surreal elements, commenting on different aspects of her life.

The V&A does not display many of her paintings, however, except for a still life at the beginning of the exhibition, the few that are shown are self-portraits. These are spread throughout the gallery in order to expand upon the personal objects and periods of her life.

Frida Kahlo can be recognised by her black hair and a striking monobrow, as well as the fine black hairs between her nose and lips – an element many female artists would choose to omit when painting their self-portrait. Although she utilised make-up and carefully styled her hair, Kahlo was not one to be oppressed by female stereotypes. Her strong facial hair was a part of her and she wore it with pride and never let it bother her, even when some young American boys heckled her in the street, asking where the circus was.

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Selection of cosmetics owned by Frida Kahlo

A few of the cosmetics and medications Kahlo frequently used are in display cases along with her sewing box, hairbrush and jewellery. Visitors can also see remnants of paint tubes and brushes personally used by Kahlo shortly before her death in 1954.

These belongings open a window into Kahlo’s life, which the symbolism in her paintings does not quite achieve. Whilst her self-portraits are a visual description of her appearance and cultural identity, the personal items reveal the true woman behind the paintbrush.

Kahlo typically included Mexican components in her paintings as well as the occasional post-colonialism reference. The colours, style of clothing and atmosphere are the type she experienced growing up in Mexico, which she endeavoured to hold onto despite the rise in Americanisation. Kahlo often painted exotic plants native to the country in the backgrounds and foregrounds of her portraits and sometimes included likenesses of her pets, which were also endemic to Mexico, for instance, spider monkeys.

Whenever Kahlo was unwell, her paintings reflected the pain and frustration she was feeling. Kahlo represented herself as wounded and broken, or like a child, depending on how the circumstances affected her mentality. Toward the end of her life, expressing the pain she was in became a common theme for Kahlo.

In The Broken Column (1944), Kahlo paints herself in the nude, her stomach and torso split apart to reveal a broken column that could topple at any moment. Her arms and face are attacked by nails, which, although draw no blood, express the pain and distress she was under at the time. The metaphor of the broken column alludes to the state her spine was in by the 1940s. Her back had worsened to the point that she could no longer sit or stand for any length of time due to the pain and lack of strength in the bones. Despite undergoing several operations throughout her life, nothing had cured her spinal problems and she was soon due to undergo an operation to fuse a bone graft and a steel support to her spine in order to straighten it. Regrettably, this procedure was also unsuccessful.

Despite this, Frida remained mentally strong, as emphasised by her stoic facial expression in the painting and upright posture. The tears on her face represent how she is feeling inside, but the vacuous facial features do not give any of that away. Her eyes look straight ahead at the audience as though she is conveying her spiritual triumph through a glance, challenging herself and others to accept the situation as it is and learn to endure and live with it.

Whilst Kahlo was recovering from the bus crash, other people her age were finishing school and attending university. Although she had missed out on her chance to attend herself, once she was released from bed rest in 1927, she regained contact with her friends and joined them in their involvement with student politics. This quickly led to joining the Mexican Communist Party where Kahlo was introduced to many notable people, including the most successful Mexican painter at the time, Diego Rivera (1886-1957). As well as her politics, Rivera was interested in her artwork stating, “it was obvious to me that this girl was an authentic artist.”

Despite the age gap, Rivera and Kahlo became a couple and were later married in 1929. Kahlo’s parents regarded the match as a “marriage between an elephant and a dove,” however, Kahlo’s father was pleased she had married a rich man who could support her expensive medical treatment. The pair moved to the state of Morelos where Rivera, as a mural painter, had been given a commission. Unfortunately, this meant Kahlo was exposed to the fighting of the Mexican civil war. It is believed this sparked her preference of traditional peasant clothing and Mexican style art, now that she was more aware of the importance of Mexican identity and history.

Rivera had to move around a lot depending on who commisioned him for a mural. In 1930, Kahlo went with him to San Francisco in the United States where she was introduced to a number of American painters. Whilst the trip was by no means horrible, Kahlo was unimpressed by American life, which she regarded as boring, and made her even more determined to express her own heritage in her artwork.

One of the paintings she produced at this time emphasises her longing for her home country. Self-portrait on the Border between Mexico and the United States of America (1932) shows the artist standing on an imaginary boundary stone between her country and the country in which she was currently residing. She paints herself in traditional clothing, holding a Mexican flag, indicating her loyalty to her country.

Facing towards Mexico, a handful of crops grow in the foreground, symbolising Mexico’s agricultural history, however, the background is the type of scene Kahlo saw whilst in America. Tall buildings obscure the sky and chimney stacks pollute the air with smoke. On the left, a pre-Columbian building lies partially ruined and being struck by lightning, suggesting that America has destroyed the indigenous origins of the country.

Kahlo’s marriage was not much of a happy one. A number of times, Kahlo fell pregnant but feeling unable to carry and care for a baby, had the pregnancies terminated. Later, she decided she would like to try to carry a baby to full term, however, in her weakened state, her body was unable to cope and resulted in miscarriages. Whilst the loss of an unborn baby can be hard upon a couple, it was Rivera’s womanising ways that caused the most strain. After he had an affair with Kahlo’s younger sister, she moved out and began affairs of her own, with both men and with women. This included Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) who was living in Kahlo’s house after seeking asylum in Mexico. Eventually, Kahlo and Rivera were granted a divorce in 1939, however, they remained on friendly terms.

The Two Fridas (1939) was painted shortly after the couple’s divorce. In this self-portrait, Kahlo has painted herself twice; on the right is Frida wearing traditional costume and on the left, she wears modern clothing. Both Frida’s are holding hands and their hearts, which are visible on top of their chests, are joined together by a single artery.

Kahlo admitted that the painting represents her broken heart and loneliness after her separation from her husband. Torn between her traditional Mexican values and the modern developments occurring throughout the country, she felt lost and unable to determine her own identity. Without Rivera, Kahlo had lost a little bit of herself.

Sadly, for Kahlo, divorce was soon to be the least of her worries. As previously mentioned, Kahlo’s spine was rapidly deteriorating during the 1940s, however, to make matters worse, in 1953 her right leg, already disfigured from Polio, developed gangrene and had to be amputated below the knee. She had a prosthetic leg made so that she could still move about, albeit slowly and in pain. The V&A displays her prosthetic wearing one of her bright red leather boots. Co-curator Circe Henestrosa declared, “this is my favourite object in the exhibition. It is really modern, and it symbolises her whole attitude. Far from letting herself be defined as an invalid, she intervened as a rebel act. She was comfortable uncovering her disabilities.”

On the night of 12th July 1954, Kahlo was in bed suffering from severe pain and a high fever. Having anticipated her death days before, Kahlo had produced a sketch of the Angel of Death annotated with the words, “I joyfully await the exit — and I hope never to return — Frida.” When Kahlo’s nurse came to check on her at 6am the next morning, she was dead.

According to Wikipedia, the Tate Modern has listed Kahlo as “one of the most significant artists of the twentieth century”, and art historian Elizabeth Bakewell concurs that Kahlo was “one of Mexico’s most important twentieth-century figures”. Kahlo’s fame has increased posthumously both as an artist and an unconventional personality. She is admired by feminists and people of the LGBT community on account of her bisexuality.

The V&A exhibition culminates with an extraordinary selection of Kahlo’s clothing, which was discovered in 2004 locked away in her personal bathroom of her house-cum-museum. All the outfits are full of bright colours and displayed on shop dummies created to look like Frida Kahlo, complete with her traditional braided hairstyle.

The style of dress is called Tehuana and comprises of several pieces. The blouses, or Huipile, were typical in Mexico and Central American countries and were usually made by hand. The embroidery is intricately beautiful and must have taken days or even weeks to produce; no doubt these items are one of a kind.

The skirts are floor length and equally delicately decorated. The material would have been perfect for Kahlo to cover up her disfigured leg and, later, the prosthetic leg. The skirt and Huipile were combined with various shawls or rezbos, which were wrapped around the shoulders. Although this was the traditional garb of Mexican peasants, the colours were fit for the elite.

“I am not sick. I am broken. But I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint.”
-Frida Kahlo

The V&A has done a wonderful job, as always, with Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up. Rather than concentrating on her artwork, the museum looks at her entire life from birth to death. With only a limited selection of paintings available, visitors learn more about Kahlo as a person rather than a painter. They discover her passionate determination, her background, the future she paved for herself and, most importantly, the way she wished to be seen by the world.

Most people who visit the exhibition will likely have already heard of and know a little about Frida Kahlo. This is a great benefit because the museum does not elaborate much on certain events of her life. Another downside, as overheard whilst walking around the exhibition, is some of the information about certain paintings or photographs is far too low and small to read for many people, resulting in crowds bending over to get a closer look. Whilst there are booklets with large print available, there are not enough for everyone, especially as the tickets are usually sold out by mid-morning.

The V&A will be showing Frida Kahlo: Making Her Self Up until Sunday 4th November 2018. Tickets cost £15 and can be booked online, which is strongly advisable to limit disappointment. 

Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire

“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out is our own ignorance and folly.”
– Thomas Cole

Throughout the year, the National Gallery puts on several exhibitions about famous artists, art movements, styles and so forth, however, every once in a while, an unknown name crops up. These artists have generally been forgotten about over time and the Gallery endeavours to bring them back into public knowledge. The current exhibition, Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire, focuses on the founding father of American painting who, despite his importance across the pond, is virtually unheard of in Britain.

Thomas Cole was born in Bolton le Moors, Lancashire, England in 1801, however, nothing much is known about his early years. In 1818, the Cole family emigrated to Steubenville, Ohio where Cole taught himself to paint, relying on books and studies of other artists. His first artistic career was as an engraver but his painting soon took precedence. Working as a portrait painter, Cole was encouraged to turn his hand to landscapes, which is where he found his métier.

Cole perceived nature as God’s great gift to the world and aimed to capture its transcendence. At 22, Cole moved to Philadelphia, however, by 1825, he had settled in Catskill, New York where he set up a studio at Cedar Grove. Enamoured by the landscape, Cole was often travelling up and down the Hudson River, capturing in oil paints nature at its most powerful, a romantic portrayal of the American wilderness. This was a complete contrast to the urban, industrialised scenery Cole experienced growing up in England.

 

Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire comprises of 35 works by the American artist, alongside landscapes by those who inspired him. Two British painters from the Romantic-era, J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776-1837), impressed Cole with their naturalistic landscapes. Although Turner and Constable were less precise in applying paint to canvas, particularly Turner whose colours often blur into each other, once the viewer is familiar with Cole’s work, it is clear to see exactly why he enjoyed these paintings. Cole preferred natural, unadulterated scenes where the landscape was in a pure, God-intended condition. Turner and Constable’s countryside landscapes reflect this idea.

Another artist Cole admired was the English Romantic painter, John Martin (1789-1854), however, he was not specifically regarded as a landscape painter. Martin was mostly known for his spectacular painting of religious subjects, preferring dramatic and violent Biblical stories over the more humble ones. When he painted the story of the writing on the wall, Belshazzar’s Feast (1820), based upon Daniel chapter 5, he claimed, “it shall make more noise than any picture ever did before …” His mezzotint engraving of a scene from the story of Noah’s Ark, The Evening of the Deluge (1828), was equally as dramatic.

Cole also ventured into biblical painting, which is most likely one of the reasons Martin’s work appealed to him. Martin also included imposing landscapes in the background of his scenes, which was another element that would have gained Cole’s favour. The brushstrokes are much finer than Turner and Constable’s, in fact, they are barely discernable. Cole’s paintings were also produced in this manner, resulting in scenes that could have been imagined by one English artist but painted by Martin.

 

Living in the Catskills with his wife Maria Barlow, who he married in 1836, and their five children, Cole had plenty of opportunities to paint the idyllic landscape. A good number of Cole’s masterpieces were produced in this area, however, he also travelled around the United States to places he wished to paint and also returned to Europe to study the masters and explore various countries. Many of these scenes involved natural landscape, water and an expressive sky.

In 1830, Cole travelled to the border between the U.S and Canada to view the powerful Niagara Falls. Something to be understood about Cole’s work is that he rarely painted exactly what he saw, rather he portrayed what he wished to see. At the time, the landscape surrounding the Falls was crowded with factories and hotels, whereas, Cole depicted an unspoilt natural environment. Throughout his life, Cole was increasingly anxious about the industrialisation of the country believing that it was destroying the American wilderness.

When visiting Europe, Cole spent some time in Italy during the year 1831 where he made sketches of various vistas. Back in his New York studio, Cole transformed his drawings into oil paintings, using artistic license to add extra trees and foliage. View of Florence from San Miniato (1837) reveals the old and new buildings of the beautiful city combined with Cole’s ideal aspects of nature.

Cole’s landscapes tend to be very deep, stretching as far back as the eye can see. One of Cole’s influential paintings officially titled View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm but commonly referred to as The Oxbow (1836), shows a panorama of the Connecticut River Valley. On the left-hand side, the sky remains grey, the storm clouds have not yet completely passed over, whereas, the sky on the opposite side is much brighter, the sun shining onto the river below. Some of the vegetation under the dark clouds look dead or damaged, however, fresh foliage determinedly grows up around the lifeless plants, proving that nature will continually renew itself.

It could be argued that Thomas Cole’s landscapes are fictitious on account of the added natural aspects and removal of urban developments. Whilst this is a fair point, Cole produced completely fictional scenes as well. Cole was interested in history, particularly of native America, fiction, and the Bible and often incorporated notions of these into his paintings.

On a cliff edge, Cole depicted a couple of Indians making a sacrifice to a god. Indians refer to the indigenous people of the Americas who lived almost at one with nature. It was only with the arrival of people from Europe that America began to be developed and urbanised. Cole mourns the loss of the pure, natural environment by imagining what the world may once have looked like; a time when nature was bigger than anything else.

Cole painted another landscape set at a similar time period to Indian Sacrifice (1827), however, it was inspired by a work of fiction. Based on the historical novel The Last of the Mohicans (1826), Cole painted his interpretation of a scene that took place in the year 1757 during the French and Indian War. Titled Cora Kneeling at the Feet of Tamenund (1827), Cole depicts native Delaware Indians encircling two captives, Alice and Cora Munro, the latter who lies prostrate at the feet of the chief, Tamenundin a desperate plea for mercy.

Whilst based upon a book, relying on written description, it is believed that Cole incorporated a view of Mount Chocorua and Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, in the background. It is likely that the elements in the foreground had also been observed by the artist on his journeys in the American countryside.

The most famous of Cole’s individual fictional scenes is The Titan’s Goblet (1833), which has been described as a picture within a picture or a landscape within a landscape. The painting defies explanation, the artist has left no commentary to clarify his intentions. Set on a conventional terrain, a giant goblet sits larger than any of the natural elements in the background. The goblet is full of water that spills over the edge to create waterfalls whilst sailing vessels can be seen in the centre. The rim holds a mini world covered in grass and trees and is inhabited, as suggested by the Greek temple and Italian palace that can be seen on opposite edges. These buildings are similar to ancient relics that Cole would have seen when he visited Europe.

Another of Cole’s more appreciated paintings is his version of The Garden of Eden (1828). This was one of Cole’s earlier paintings and shows God’s garden as described in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Adam and Eve have yet to eat from the tree of knowledge and are unashamed about their naked bodies. A young deer can be seen in the clearing, which the pair appear to be reaching out towards. The landscape is picturesque and pure, the way Cole believed God intended his creation.

Arguably Cole’s best work, and the centrepiece of the exhibition Eden to Empire, is an allegorical work that tells the cycle of the rise and fall of a classical civilisation. The Course of Empire (1834-6) shows the same landscape over centuries, from its primitive beginnings, through its development and destruction by humans, to its return to nature. This series of five paintings were a response to Cole’s fears about the rapidly developing country and his belief that nature will always renew itself, whereas, human nature is far less sustainable.

The first image, The Savage State, reveals nature as it was supposedly intended. The only human interruption is a hunter pursuing a deer, thus revealing what aboriginal North American life was once like.  The unadulterated world is green and luscious; nature and the weather are in control, working together to survive.

The second image, known both as The Arcadian and Pastoral State, is still a natural area, however, there has been a few human developments. Families have settled and converted the wilderness into farmland with lawns, ploughed fields and sheep. The people are working hard to look after the animals and the crops, however, in the distance is a suggestion of further advancements; almost hidden by the trees is a megalith temple. The entire landscape is how Cole’s idealised pre-urban Greece once looked.

There is a massive jump between the Pastoral State and the next in the series, The Consummation of Empire. Here, the entire landscape has been obscured by collonaded marble structures, balcony-fitted buildings and crowds of people. A king strides across a bridge, robed in scarlet, looking very important. Ships fill up the river, the only evidence of the original terrain. In this instance, Cole was imagining the height of Ancient Rome, when it was the most powerful city in the world.

Unfortunately for the civilians, the city was not going to last. In a scene that resembles the sack of Rome in 410AD, Destruction shows enemy warriors attacking and killing the inhabitants. The bridge has collapsed and columns have toppled, barely any of the buildings remain intact. A statue of a warrior standing in a similar pose to a Borghese Gladiator has been decapitated, his head lying smashed on the ground below amongst the blood of fallen men.

Finally, the last scene Desolation shows the results of the destroyed city many decades later. It is the remains of a ruined city, one lone column stubbornly remaining standing, although, now only used by the birds nesting on top. Trees, ivy and overgrowth cover the remaining rubble. With humanity out of the way, nature has repossessed the city, taking back what had been stolen. This is the ultimate cycle of nature; without human intervention, the plants and wildlife would roam wild and free.

As well as Cole’s pessimistic outlook about the developing world, it is also suggested that The Course of Empire was a commentary on President Andrew Jackson’s (1767-1845) policies, which, Cole clearly disagreed with. There is also evidence that Cole was influenced by Lord Byron’s (1788-1824) poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812):

“Freedom falls and then Glory –
when that falls,
wealth, vice, corruption … “

Despite not being well known in Britain, Thomas Cole was a great influence on American painters, particularly Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) and Frederic Edwin Church (1826-1900) who studied with the artist from 1844 until 1846. Looking at Durand and Church’s paintings, which the National Gallery displays in the final room of the exhibition, it is easy to be fooled into thinking they have been painted by Cole. The style, tone and focus of the landscape are exactly the same as their teacher produced, insinuating that Cole was a highly regarded painter.

From approximately 1825, Thomas Cole became a leading figure and possibly founder of the Hudson River School, a term retrospectively applied to the group of American landscape artists that worked between c1825 and 1875. All of these artists, like Cole, were inspired by the beauty of nature and the 18th-century artistic movement, Romanticism. As the name of the group implies, these artists worked within the Hudson Valley, in areas such as the Catskill, Adirondack, and White Mountains. They mostly portrayed remote and untouched areas of natural beauty in their work.

Sadly, Thomas Cole’s life was cut short when he died on 11th February 1848. In honour of his devotion to landscape painting, the fourth highest peak in the Catskills is named Thomas Cole Mountain in his honour. His home, Cedar Grove, has been renamed the Thomas Cole House, declared a National Historic Site in 1999 and is now open to the public.

It is surprising that Thomas Cole is not known in Great Britain, despite his English origins and painting expertise. With the first ever exhibition of his work in this country, it is hoped that Cole will become more popular. There is nothing to dislike about his work, which is realistic with a magical quality within. Compared to world famous artists, some of Cole’s paintings are more pleasant to look at, earning their reputation through aesthetic rather than a recognised name.

The National Gallery will continue to display Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire until 7th October 2018. Being an unknown artist, the exhibition is usually quiet and therefore it is not vital to book tickets in advance. Standard admission price is £10 per person, although, members of the Gallery can enter free of charge. 

Monet’s Architectural Visions

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The Water-Lily Pond

Claude Monet (1840-1926) is perhaps best known for his en plein air paintings of gardens and countryside, particularly, for example, The Water-Lily Pond (1899). Whilst it is true that Monet produced many paintings of nature, for the majority of his artistic career, Monet concentrated on landscapes and cityscapes, focusing on the man-made buildings rather than the natural environment.

In a recent exhibition at the National Gallery, sponsored by the Credit Suisse, Monet & Architecture explored the overlooked aspects of Monet’s works with over 75 paintings spanning from the early 1860s until 1912. Split into three themes, the gallery focused on The Village and the Picturesque, which included paintings of cottages by rocky paths or sea fronts; The City and the Modern, featuring a mix of new and old buildings; and, finally, The Monument and the Mysterious, with examples of Monet’s experiments with atmosphere and light.

Born in Paris and brought up in Normandy, Monet had access to an area of France steeped in medieval history and buildings. With these scenes at his mercy, he produced many picturesque landscapes, not too dissimilar in style to his nature-based paintings.

As Monet’s reputation as a painter increased, he began visiting other areas of France and travelling to various countries on the continent. As a result, his broad collection of artwork almost reads like a photo album, documenting the places he lived or holidayed.

 

Many of Monet’s landscapes involve a body of water, be it sea, river or pond. Despite his Impressionist style – a name coined in 1874 to describe the works of the Sociéte anonyme des artistes peintres, of which he was a founding member – Monet was exceptionally good at portraying the movement of the water, both stormy and calm, and expertly reveals the reflection of the sky and buildings amongst the waves and ripples.

Whilst staying at Zaandam in the Netherlands, Monet had plenty of opportunities to combine water and architecture by studying the many commercial waterways, particularly those he saw during a trip to Amsterdam.

Often, Monet repainted scenes several times over a long period. He was always interested in the ways different lights and weather (effets) affected the landscapes he painted. An early example of this method of working took place on the coast of Normandy during 1882. Here, Monet became fascinated with a little cottage hidden between the jutting rocks of the cliffs.

 

The National Gallery displayed three paintings containing the hidden cottage, which was purportedly used during Napoleon’s reign as a customs office to keep a lookout for smugglers. The first painting, The Customs Officer’s Cottage, Varengeville, was most likely produced at the end of the winter months. The sea is choppy and the sky fairly dark, possibly a sign of an approaching storm. Monet stood behind and to the left of the building but near enough that the cottage became the main focus on the canvas.

The Cliff at Varengeville, on the other hand, was painted further away from the cliff edge. At first glance, it is easy to miss the roof of the cottage hidden by the uneven clifftop. This painting was produced during the summer months; the sky is clear and the sea much calmer. Although it is not shown in the landscape, the sun is bright, its rays lighting up the vegetation and reflecting off the surface of the water.

The final painting of the customs office was produced below rather than atop the cliff. The Path Through the Cliff at Varengeville is set in one of the ravines leading down to the sea. The cottage can be seen in the top left-hand corner, however, the eye is instinctively drawn to the v-shaped view of the sea in the distance. The blue water contrasts with the autumnal colours of the growth along the cliffs and the darkening sky, suggesting that this was one of the final paintings Monet produced before he left Varengeville in early October.

During the 1860s and 70s, Monet developed an interest of painting in cities, studying the more modern buildings that had begun to crop up – a contrast to the stone cottages as seen in the villages. The Exposition Universelle of 1867, the second world’s fair to be held in Paris, drew Monet to the capital. Here he sat on a balcony overlooking the Seine, painting the buildings on the opposite bank as well as portraying the crowds on the street below him. Including members of the public was an unusual feature for Monet, who prefered to concentrate on the scenery rather than the day-to-day goings on in the surroundings. This could be due to the manner of en plein air painting, in which most of the work is completed in situ; it is far easier to paint the stationary buildings than the moving bodies, carriages and animals.

Whilst in Paris, Monet painted a combination of old and new buildings, revealing the diverse styles of architecture. In The Quai du Louvre (1867), Monet contrasted the medieval clock tower of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont with the 18th-century Panthéon. Within the same landscape is the Pont Neuf, which was completed in yet another century, 1606 to be precise.

Three years later, Monet married Camille Doncieux (1847-79), who had already born him one son, Jean, in August 1867. The couple would later have another son, Michel, in 1878, a year before Camille sadly succumbed to pelvic cancer. For their honeymoon, M. and Mme Monet travelled to Trouville, a commune on the coast in the Calvados department in Normandy. Although this was not a city, it was a fashionable place for tourists with picturesque buildings. On the Boardwalk at Trouville (1870), Monet provides a glimpse of the holiday resort from his position near the edge of the beach, looking over at the tall seaside buildings.

The following year, 1871, Monet and his family fled to London to escape the Franco-Prussian War. It was whilst he was here that he met artists, such as Camille Pissarro (1830-1903), with whom he developed the Sociéte anonyme des artistes peintres or Impressionism movement. During this time, Monet took pleasure in painting the recently built Houses of Parliament whilst also experimenting with different effets. After it was safe to return to Paris, Monet continued to paint important buildings, including the Pont Neuf and those along the Boulevard des Capucines.

At the end of 1871, the Monets moved to Argenteuil, a commune in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, approximately 15 kilometres from the city centre. This was useful for Monet who was often exhibiting with the Impressionists and needed to be within reach of the capital. Argenteuil was continuously being repaired and updated after the damage caused by the Franco-Prussian War, and its population was rapidly increasing. As a result, Monet was able to record the developments as they occurred, painting the modern houses, bridges and factories.

Of course, Monet also continued with his more natural landscapes, as seen in The Ball-shaped Tree, Argenteuil (1876), which was lent to the National Gallery from a private collection specifically for the Monet & Architecture exhibition. This tidily balanced composition was actually one of Monet’s final artworks in Argenteuil before the family relocated to the village of Vétheuil. It reveals two large houses in the distance set within walled gardens. The main feature of the painting, however, as the title suggests, is the ball-shaped tree that stands in front of them and is carefully reflected in Monet’s signature water aspect.

Travelling to and from the city, Monet was a frequent passenger at the Gare St-Lazare which was fairly modern, having only been built in 1837, although it was enlarged and extended at the end of the 1860s. Monet was given special permission to paint the station, which he did several times, exhibiting at least seven canvases in the third Impressionist exhibition. The Gare St-Lazare (1877) is unlike anything Monet had chosen to focus on before. Instead of a broad landscape or a picturesque location, the painting reveal a dirty, smoke-filled modern construction. The steam trains are also an unusual subject for the artist.

Another painting that went against convention, was Monet’s The Rue Montorgueil, Paris (1878), which was produced on a portrait canvas. The French government had declared 30th June 1878 a national holiday and the streets of Paris were full of people taking advantage of the day to hold drunken celebrations. From a balcony, Monet painted the long street overflowing with excited crowds, the buildings covered with bright tricolour flags. The blue, white and red dominate the composition, making it appear busy and untidy.  Yet, when viewed from a distance, the outlines lose their blurriness, resulting in a fascinatingly elaborate composition.

During the final three decades of Monet’s career, he visited and painted in three particular cities. After the untimely death of his wife Camille, Monet and his sons moved to a large house in Giverny, a village in Normandy, with another woman, Alice Hoschedé (1844-1911) and her six children in 1883. It was here that Monet’s famous water lily paintings were made. Almost a decade later, Alice and Monet married shortly after returning from the city of Rouen on the River Seine.

Whilst in Rouen, Monet was enamoured with its 12th-century gothic cathedral of which he produced at least thirty paintings. Rather than present landscapes as he had done in other cities and villages, Monet chose to concentrate on the cathedral facade, working on different effets caused by the position of the sun during different points of the day. One canvas, although brighter in colour, was probably produced mid-morning rather than when the sun was at its peak on account of the shadows, which bring out the features of the architecture.

In contrast, the painting of Rouen Cathedral at sunset appears to be a blurry copy of the previous painting. Seen from a distance, the muted colours have an impressive effect, however, up close, the painting feels incomplete and rushed. Nonetheless, Monet was not attempting to produce a precise study of the cathedral, he was examining the play of fading light upon the building.

In 1899, Monet took the opportunity to return to London, a city he had enjoyed so much on his last visit. On this occasion, Monet travelled alone, staying on the sixth floor of the Savoy Hotel, which at this point was fitted with balconies, providing the perfect position for Monet to paint the iconic buildings he could see from his suite. Depending on which way he positioned his chair, Monet had an excellent view of Waterloo Bridge and the Houses of Parliament.

Again, Monet’s focus was on effets rather than the buildings in question, painting in different lights at different hours. At the time, the many London factories often caused the city to be shrouded in smoke and fog, which along with the sun, created a hazy atmosphere. The vast changes in the British climate can be seen by comparing a painting of Waterloo Bridge on a clear day with one produced on a foggy day, the orange sun struggling to pierce through the smog.

Likewise, Monet’s paintings of the Houses of Parliament varied enormously due to the fog, sunrises and sunsets. In some versions, the neo-Gothic architecture is shown as a pronounced silhouette, whereas, in the foggier version, the tower blends into the clouded background.

The final city Monet visited was Venice in 1908, where he stayed for two months with his wife Alice. Whilst Alice wished to go out and enjoy the magical city, Monet wanted to paint the important buildings and their reflections in the water of the canals. Just like the Rouen and London pictures, Monet disregarded the numerous tourists, painting only the architecture and water, his focus, as always, on the intensity of effet. These paintings, as well as those from the previous cities, have an other-worldly quality due to the unique use of light.

Two buildings Monet was particularly interested in were the 17th-century church Santa Maria Della Salute, which he could see from the opposite side of the Grand Canal, and the Venetian Gothic Doge’s Palace. Both these buildings are instantly recognisable from their unique structure, however, once again, Monet was not interested in this. The various lights altered the sharpness of the buildings depicted; some appear blurred, whereas, others are much clearer.

The unfortunate thing about all of these paintings today is they are rarely shown together, as Monet intended. One gallery may own a version that was painted on a clear, sunny day, whereas, another may only have access to a foggy scene, thus not showing Monet’s skills as a painter of buildings. In order to appreciate the paintings fully, they need to be displayed together so that the different effets can be compared and contrasted. Luckily, the National Gallery was able to provide a couple of different copies of each building for the Monet & Architecture exhibition.

Venice was the last city Monet painted; his eyesight was deteriorating and he was reluctant to undergo a cataract operation. As a result, he was often unable to work. After Alice died in 1911, Monet tended to stay at home, painting in his garden. In 1914, at the start of the First World War, Monet remained in safety at Giverny, painting large canvases of Nymphéas (waterlilies). He continued as best as he could, wearing corrective glasses to aid his vision, until his death in December 1926 at the age of 86.

The National Gallery’s Monet & Architecture provided a new way of looking at Monet’s work. Instead of perceiving him as an en plein air French Impressionist with a penchant for waterlilies and poppies, the Gallery provided a different insight, introducing the non-artistic to the term effets and the result of focusing on atmosphere instead intricate details. This was the first exhibition of its kind and the National Gallery did an excellent job.

Monet & Architecture closed on 29th July 2018, however, there are many exciting exhibitions to look forward to in the near future. Visit the National Gallery’s website for details. 

Shakespeare’s Globe

shakespeareWilliam Shakespeare (1564-1616), the great English playwright, is known throughout the world for his comedies, tragedies, histories and sonnets. His works are quoted throughout the Oxford English Dictionary and he invented over 1700 words, changing nouns into verbs, verbs into adjectives, adding prefixes and suffixes, many of which are still in common use today. Despite this fame, the man himself remains a mystery. Very little is known about his upbringing, his personality or his day-to-day life; even his authorship is often brought into question. Yet, his name remains strongly associated with England, particularly in Stratford, his place of birth, and London, the location of his famous theatre, The Globe.

Just as the playwright persists to be an enigma, very little is known about the Globe theatre built on the Bankside in London. However, a team of dedicated actors, architects and historians have built a replica based on every tiny detail they could unearth. Situated south of the River Thames, to the west of London Bridge, the reconstructed Shakespeare’s Globe is open to visitors for plays, tours and exhibitions.

Due to the lack of information about William Shakespeare, it is difficult to determine when he first came to London. The majority of his life has been pieced together from official records, the first being his baptism on 26th April 1564. At the time, it was common for babies to be baptised within days after their birth, therefore, historians have dedicated 23rd April as his birthday, which is incidentally the day of his death 52 years later.

There are no records made during Shakespeare’s childhood but it can be presumed he went to the local grammar school in Stratford due to his exceptional writing skills and knowledge of Latin. His name reappeared in 1582 when he married Anne Hathaway (1556-1623), which was quickly followed by the birth of his eldest daughter Susanna (1583-1649). A couple of years later, records reveal the birth of twins Hamnet (1585-96) and Judith (1585-1662).

Between the birth of his children and the next time Shakespeare appears in records dated 1592, it is unclear what he did or where he lived. Historians rule out the possibility of university because only unmarried men were allowed to attend. The earliest record of Shakespeare’s career refers to him as an actor and two years later he is made a partner of the acting troop Lord Chamberlain’s Men (later The King’s Men, 1603).

 

At the time of Shakespeare’s birth, there were no theatres in England. Plays were performed on the streets or in taverns around the city, however, this was often disapproved of by city authorities. The city of London was not as large as it is today, only spanning the area north of the Thames, therefore, it was safer for actors to stay on the southern side out of reach from the Mayor and Council. The first theatre to appear on Bankside was The Rose in 1587, shortly followed by The Swan in 1595. Neither of these theatres exists today but written records of the buildings helped reconstruct the Globe, whose original construction took place in 1599.

A detailed record of the Globe has been found in a diary written by a Swiss traveller, Thomas Platter (1574-1628) after his visit during the Globe’s first year. He describes the thatched-roofed playhouse, open to the elements in the centre, the stage, the galleries and his experience during a performance of Julius Caesar (1599). Many people could stand on the ground in the yard in front of the stage and pay “only one penny”. To have a seat, the audience was charged two pennies and “if he desires to sit on a cushion, in the most comfortable place of all … then he gives yet another penny.”

Platter’s description of the Globe reveals that the stage was covered by a roof but the yard was open, and there were three tiers of seats around the outside of the building, however, it was not enough information for the team of architects to reconstruct the historic building.

globeburnsdownAlthough not a lot is known about the physical size and appearance of the Globe, the theatre appeared in many records and accounts, most famously for its demise in 1613. On 29th June, the Globe was putting on its third performance of Shakespeare’s new play All Is True (now known as Henry VIII), telling the story of the christening of the late Queen Elizabeth. Being the most patriotic of playwrights, Shakespeare went over the top, creating a powerful sound to announce the arrival of the king at Hampton Court Palace.

 

Drum and Trumpet, Chambers discharged.” 

Chambers were the small cannons used to create the thunderous noise, stuffed with wadding and gunpowder instead of cannon balls. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the wadding caught alight during the discharge and landed on the thatched-roof of the theatre. By the time the fire was noticed, it was spreading too quickly to be dealt with. Although there were only two fire exits, the entire audience and acting group – an estimated 3000 people – managed to escape unharmed. The Globe, however, burnt to the ground.

The current Globe Theatre was not the first reconstruction of the open-air playhouse. In 1614, the King’s Men decided to rebuild the famous theatre despite it costing twice as much as the original. During the winter months, the players performed at an indoor theatre, the Blackfriars (of which even less information is known), however, they preferred the atmosphere of the Globe during the summer. The new building looked similar to its predecessor, however, the roof was made from tiles in order to reduce the risk of a repeat of the fire of 1613. Despite this change, the playhouse was described as “the fairest that ever was in England.” (John Chamberlain, 1614)

The second Globe Theatre lasted until 1642 when it was shut down by the Long Parliament who ordered a closure of all the London theatres. Over time, new buildings appeared on and around the site and bombs during the Second World War destroyed any lasting evidence of the Globe’s existence. The modern reconstruction, completed in 1997, sits closer to the river, approximately 230 metres from the original site.

By the end of World War Two, the only commemoration of Shakespeare’s life and work in London was a bronze plaque on a brewery wall. Sam Wanamaker (1919-93), an American actor-director, was horrified at the lack of recognition: “He needs, and we need, something more substantial than that.” Having begun his career at the Globe theatre in Cleveland, Ohio (1936), Wanamaker was an avid fan of the great bard and determinedly began a campaign to create a reconstruction of the London Globe theatre. He also aimed for the building to be used for education and research, exhibitions and house an additional indoor theatre.

Mistakenly believing it would only take a few years, Wanamaker did not live to see the opening of the new Globe theatre, however, he dedicated the majority of his life to the project. The reason for the lengthy construction was partly due to the lack of information about the original theatre. The Globe team consulted scholars, actors and directors in order to produce the most accurate representation of the Tudor theatre as they could.

By borrowing details from other theatres in the area at the time Shakespeare was around, the team managed to assemble a round-like, open-air theatre surrounded by a three-tiered gallery. The roof of the gallery and stage is thatched like the original, making it the only thatched-roof in the City of London. Special permission was granted for this feature and the building has more fire exits than its predecessor – nor do they use cannons!

The Globe is open to visitors daily between 23rd April and 14th October for tours around the playhouse. Half-hour tours are given by expert guides who have an extraordinary knowledge of the auditorium and the original built in the year 1599. After beginning outside the theatre, tour parties are taken inside to experience the Tudor-style interior. The galleries are full of wooden benches that face the 44.5ft by 25.25ft stage and look down on an empty yard, which during a play is full of standing spectators. The stage itself is 5ft high and has three entrances on the back wall or frons scenae.

36758186_10214284211850636_8005879341084835840_nAlthough it is impossible to know exactly how the interior was decorated, there are accounts of its beauty, implying that it was painted in some way. The stage roof rests on wooden pillars that have been painted to resemble marble – a feature that the Swan theatre once had. The Heavens (stage ceiling) is painted a deep blue with a sunburst concealing the trap door that is used for special effects. Surrounding this are representations of the signs of the zodiac.

 

“We’ll hear a play”
– Hamlet II ii

As luck may have it, rehearsals for upcoming Shakespeare plays may disrupt the tours, however, on some of these occasions, as long as they are quiet, tour parties may enter the theatre and watch the actors practising. This helps put the theatre in context, seeing it as a working playhouse rather than a monument or museum. Alternatively, visitors can book to watch a play and get the full Tudor theatre experience.

In addition to the tour, an exhibition is housed underneath the Globe itself, full of information about Shakespeare’s life and works. Beginning with a history of London, maps and drawings reveal the skyline of the city at the beginning of the 1600s and the gradual appearance of theatres. Described are the daily lives of the common people, the nobility and those that frequented the Globe theatre. There is also insight into Shakespeare’s life as an actor and playwright, or at least as much that can be pieced together.

Further into the exhibition, the focus changes to the productions themselves. On display is a variety of clothing that has been used in plays and films in the recent decades. Although these are fairly new costumes, they have been made in the style that Shakespeare and his colleagues would have worn on stage. Some of the outfits are particularly detailed and decorated, which was a new style of dress that appeared in Tudor times.

Today, the globe is fitted with electricity allowing for easier and safer methods of putting on productions. Whilst the costumes and language may be the same, the theatre has moved on in other ways, for instance, musical instruments. The exhibition includes a variety of instruments that are no longer in use today. Most of these are reconstructions, the originals, those that have survived, being kept safely in other museums. A digital screen allows visitors to “play” the instruments in order to understand how they would sound in comparison to their modern counterparts.

To fully appreciate Shakespeare’s Globe, it is important to do both the tour and the exhibition. Whilst the tour guides are very knowledgeable and the building itself impressive, the exhibition fills in the gaps and expands upon the history of the original Globe theatre and its actors.

There is the option to explore even further with a Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Tour that takes place on selected dates between May and September. Wanamaker, the brains behind the reconstruction of the Globe, died in 1993 at the age of 74 but his memory and the recognition of his hard work lives on in the name of the indoor theatre. The tour reveals the story of its creation and how productions are directed to work in a candlelit indoor playhouse.

A third tour, the Shakespeare’s Southwark Tour, occurs at various times during the summer and takes visitors on a walk around the original locations of places of Elizabethan entertainment, including the site of the first Globe and the Rose Theatre. For dates of this tour and the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Tour, check and book online.

Shakespeare’s Globe is a fantastic venue in the heart of the city providing entertainment and information for all. Not only does it reconnect contemporary society with the famous English bard, it provides a history of architecture, fashion, language and music. Suitable for adults and children, a trip to the Globe is a fun day out (as long as the weather is nice!) with various activities going on at different times. As the Sunday Telegraph states, it is “the capital at its very best.”

“A great while ago the world begun,
With hey ho, the wind and the rain,
But that’s all one, our play is done,
And we’ll strive to please you every day.”
– Twelfth Night V i

Tickets for the Globe Theatre Tour and Exhibition can be purchased on the day or online. Due to high demand, it is safer to book in advance to avoid disappointment. Tickets are £17 for adults and £10 for children, which includes both the tour and all-day access to the exhibition.

 

Exploring​ London the Fun Way

36267457_10214211559874382_7551268224013172736_nSir Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral is one of the most iconic buildings in the City of London. Recognised throughout the world by its impressive dome, tourists flock to stand in front of or even go inside to explore the famous cathedral. Crowds gather in the churchyard to sit and rest or eat picnics on a nice day but how many people take notice of the history around them? St Paul’s may be a huge tourist attraction, however, there is so much more to see hidden within the surrounding streets.

To begin with, there are many things worthy of note in the vicinity of the cathedral. Opposite the steps to St Paul’s stands a plinth with a statue of Queen Anne (1665-1714), the first monarch of Great Britain. As many people are aware, St Paul’s Cathedral burnt down during the Great Fire of London in 1666 and was rebuilt using Wren’s designs soon after. The building was completed during Anne’s reign, therefore, it is for this reason that a statue of the Queen was erected here to commemorate the completion of Saint Paul’s Cathedral in 1712. What visitors to St Paul’s see today is not the original statue by Francis Bird (1667-1731) but a replica that was put in place in 1886 after the first version started deteriorating.

Surrounding the statue of Queen Anne are four female figures to represent Britannia, France, America and Ireland, four countries that the newly established Great Britain had some control over. The reason for the railings which surround the entire sculpture is supposed to prevent anyone from damaging the statues, something which an Indian sailor managed to do in 1769.

 

By entering the churchyard, a number of other statues can be discovered, most famously the St Paul’s Cross. This is a column mounted with a gilded statue of St Paul to mark the location of the original St Paul’s Cross. The original, however, was not a column but a place for religious gatherings and news reports. It was first used in approximately 1191 and continued to draw a crowd until 1643. During the Reformation, William Tyndale’s (1494-1536) New Testament was burnt by Catholics at the site because it was in English. At other times, many other protests involving public opinion occurred here and it became a place to publicly preach the Christian faith.

On the other side of St Paul’s Churchyard is a bronze statue of John Wesley (1703-91), the theologian, cleric and co-founder of Methodism. Depicted wearing a cassock and holding a Bible, the statue is 5’1″, the exact height Wesley was during his life. Although St Paul’s Cathedral is not a Methodist building, the statue has been placed here to commemorate the changes Wesley brought to the British Christian faith and acknowledges that he used the nearby Chancel of the Cathedral for worship.

 

Whilst it may be tempting to stay and relax in St Paul’s churchyard, there are a number of other small parks to visit nearby. On the opposite side of the road sit Carter Lane Gardens, which were improved and made pedestrian friendly in 2006. Although it may be noisy because it is situated on the carriageway between Godliman Street and New Change, it is full of flower gardens, lawns and seating. It is also the site of the City of London Information Centre where tourists can buy guides or ask for directions.

Close by, at the top of St Peter’s Hill, is the National Firefighters Memorial depicting three bronze fireman in action, wearing the typical uniform of the 1940s. It is a comparatively new statue that was commissioned by the Firefighters Memorial Charitable Trust which was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1991. Initially, the memorial was for the men and women who lost their lives fighting the fires caused by the Blitz in WWII when the city was attacked by bombs for 57 consecutive nights. Later, it was decided that the memorial would honour all firefighters throughout the UK who had been killed whilst doing their duty. The names of the 1,192 heroes were inscribed on plaques surrounding the monument in September 2003.

 

On the same side of the road as and a mere stone’s throw away from the cathedral is the award-winning Festival Gardens. Created in 1951 by Sir Albert Richardson (1880-1964), the sunken lawns and water feature were established to tidy up the damage caused by the war. It was once the site of Cordwainers Hall, where shoemakers practised their trade as well as a number of other halls at various points in history.

Hidden in the shade of the trees is a recent statue depicting the bust of the poet John Donne (1572-1631) who once lived across the road on Bread Street. It was commissioned by the City of London in memory of Donne’s devotional poems, particularly Good Friday, 1613, Riding Westward from which words have been extracted and inscribed below the bust: “Hence is’t, that I am carried towards the West/This day, when my Soul’s form bends to the East”

Famed for his poems and coined phrases, such as “No man is an island” and “For whom the bell tolls”, Donne was also a priest and preacher who worked at St Paul’s during the early 17th century. It is for this reason that the first public memorial to Donne was placed in this location.

Whilst visiting the Festival Gardens, it is worth crossing New Change and entering Watling Street. So narrow that it is almost inaccessible to cars, Watling Street was once an ancient Briton trackway between Canterbury and St. Albans. Later, after the invasion of the Romans, the road was extended as far South as Dover, through London, and all the way to Wroxeter in Shropshire. Today, many parts of Watling Street are still used, however, have been diverted or converted into more car-friendly roads, for instance, the A2 and the A5.

 

Those who visit St Paul’s Cathedral because of their passion for history, art or architecture will be interested in visiting the Guildhall Yard on Gresham Street. The Guildhall has been used as a town hall for hundreds of years and is currently the ceremonial and administrative centre of the City of London. Occasionally, the yard will be out of access due to royal events, however, the majority of the time it is open to the public. The courtyard itself is paved over but has a circular line running across the flagstones, indicating the position of the Roman amphitheatre, which lies beneath the ground.

A section of the Roman amphitheatre can be seen for free via the basement of the Guildhall Art Gallery on the righthand side of the courtyard. The art gallery was built in 1885 as a place to contain the art collections from the City of London Corporation. Today, the gallery rotates the 4000-piece strong collection, showing 250 paintings at a time. The majority of these paintings represent London, however, there are some from the Victorian era, including the Pre-Raphaelites.

On the façade of the Guildhall Art Gallery are four busts of well-known Englishmen: Oliver Cromwell, Christopher Wren, William Shakespeare and Samuel Pepys. Each of these men contributed significantly to the history of the city and have rightfully been commemorated. Without them, the City of London would not be what it is today.

On the opposite side of the yard is grade 1 listed Baroque church, St Lawrence Jewry, the official church of the Lord Mayor of London. Like St Paul’s Cathedral, this church was destroyed in the Great Fire of London and rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723). It is believed that before it became a Church of England, St Thomas Moore, the Lord High Chancellor during the reign of Henry VIII, preached on the site.

 

Those who prefer a quieter place to sit and escape the hustle and bustle of the city should head to the Brewers’ Hall Gardens in Aldelmanbury Square. Situated behind Brewers’ Hall, there are a number of benches and flowerbeds, popular with office workers who want a peaceful lunch before heading back inside.

The original Brewers’ Hall was built in 1420, making the Brewers one of the first Guilds to have a Hall of their own. As with many buildings in this area, the Hall also succumbed to the flames in 1666 and was rebuilt in 1673. Unfortunately, the Blitz saw off the second Hall in 1940. The present Hall has been safely in place since 1960, along with the small garden.

In 1971, the gardens became home to a gardener, a life-size bronze statue by Karin Jonzen (1914-98). The male figure is on his knees, touching the ground in front of him as though tending to a plant. Jonzen was commissioned to produce the sculpture as a tribute to all the unseen gardeners around the city who tend to the many parks and green areas.

 

London is full of different memorials, some already mentioned, and there is yet another in a park not too far away from St Paul’s Cathedral. Postman’s Park, the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office, was opened in 1880 on the original churchyard of St Botolph’s Aldersgate. Since 1900, however, the park has become famous for the Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice established by the artist George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The memorial commemorates ordinary people who died saving the lives of others who otherwise would have been forgotten. A wall of 54 ceramic tablets with names and dates from 1863 to 2007 state the heroic acts and circumstances of death. Examples include Mary Rogers who gave up her lifebelt on a sinking ship, Alice Ayres who save three children from a burning house at the cost of her own life, and Leigh Pitt who saved a drowning boy from the canal at Thamesmead but drowned himself.

It is difficult to believe that less than a hundred years ago the area around St Paul’s Cathedral was a bomb site, completely pulverized by the enemy during the Blitz. So many buildings were destroyed, it is a wonder that the cathedral remained standing. To the north of St Paul’s is the current location of the London Stock Exchange and an urban development plaza, owned by the Mitsubishi Estate Co. Named Paternoster Square from the Latin pater noster, meaning “our Father”, thus connecting it with the nearby place of worship, it replaces the demolished Paternoster Row, home to the centre of the London publishing trade pre-World War II.

The redevelopment took place during the 1960s and two decades later became popular with many investment banks. The paved square is surrounded by restaurants and cafes, making it the go-to place for many office staff at lunchtime. Yet, like most places in the area, it also houses a couple of monuments.

The most important, unmissable monument in Paternoster Square is the 75 ft (23m) tall Paternoster Square Column. Often confused with the Monument to the Great Fire of London near London Bridge, this column was erected in memory of both the fire of 1666 and the devastation of 1940 in this particular area. Made of Portland stone, it is a Corinthian-style column topped with a gold leaf covered flaming copper urn. Although it looks similar to the age-old monuments around the city, it has a fairly modern usage. The plinth contains ventilation shafts for the car park hidden underneath the square.

On the opposite side of the square is a bronze Paternoster sculpted by Dame Elisabeth Frink (1930-93) in 1975. Also known as the Shepherd and Sheep, it was commissioned by Trafalgar House in memory of Newgate Market, which once stood in Paternoster Row where farmers sold their livestock. Incidentally, Paternoster Square is situated very near to the old site of Newgate Prison, which existed from 1188 until 1902.

Upon the side of one of the office buildings and easily missed by those hurrying by is a sculptural piece of steelwork that functions as a sundial. Rather than telling the exact time, the dial indicates the month of the year as well as the Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter equinoxes. Within each months’ section are 28-31 notches to indicate the day, which the tip of the shadow moves across as the sun rises and sets. There are also small notches that the shadow passes at midday. Erected in 2003, it remains in perfect condition and is an amazing invention.

paternostersquare-templebar

Temple Bar

In order to return to St Paul’s from Paternoster Square, people must walk under an ornamental gateway named Temple Bar. It was once the principal ceremonial entrance to the City of London on the western side and is attributed to Sir Christopher Wren. In 2004, the structure was moved and repositioned at the entrance to Paternoster Square. Like the memorial in the middle of the square, Temple Bar is also made from Portland Stone

The number of places, statues and so forth that can be found in the vicinity of St Paul’s, both ancient and modern, is astonishing. Tourists make a beeline for the Cathedral and dismiss everything else as modern offices and unimportant buildings. However, by taking the time to look carefully, a whole wealth of history can be uncovered. Away from the busy roads are small alleyways with interesting establishments and quiet retreats away from the bustling city workers and sightseers.

Personally, I had the chance to discover these historical and urban sites with the aid of a treasure map produced by Treasure Trails. The trail challenges explorers between the ages of 6 and 106 to follow a set of clues to locate where some (fictional) long-lost treasure may be buried. The directions lead to all sorts of places that are often overlooked, such as statues, plaques on buildings, road signs, pubs and so forth. It is a fantastic way of learning more about the city without the need for a local guide or expensive book. At £6.99 per trail, it is a wonderful and enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.

Whether you explore the city by yourself or opt for the fun-filled treasure trail, there is so much to discover around St Paul’s Cathedral. From historical monuments to more recent developments, there are a number of interesting things to locate and appreciate. Regardless of how you go about exploring, here is a piece of advice: always remember to look up!

Certificate - St Pauls