The Piccadilly Waterstones café located at the back of the bookshop on the first floor, is a surprising oasis of calm in the centre of London. It was the perfect venue to enjoy a cup of tea/coffee before heading to the New English Art Club annual exhibition on the Mall a few minutes away.
In the pleasantly cool gallery contrasting with the heat outside, artist Neil Pittaway RA and NEAC member led a tour of the three roomed gallery. He briefly highlighted the history of the NEAC which was founded in 1886 as a response to the conservative policies of the Royal Academy of Arts. The NEAC sought to promote and exhibit contemporary, innovative and non-academic art. It played a significant role in the development of British art, particularly in the late 19th and early 20thcenturies. Artists like Walter Sicker, Vanessa Bell and Gwen John for example have been associated with the club. The club welcomes artists working in a variety of mediums, including painting, drawing, printmaking and sculpture. Members and selected artists display their figurative works which are available for purchase ranging from £145 to £15 850 at the 2023 annual exhibition. It was amusing to hear from Neil Pittaway that some works can also be rejected by the jury because the framing or even the signature.
We asked Neil Pittaway to show us a delightful small oil painting by the 103 years old Diana Armfield RA “Spring Time, Entrance to Pensford Field” who has a special connection to the Lyceum Club as the niece of Constance Smedley, the club founder. He also drew our attention to the layout, arrangement and connections between the paintings to create an engaging and cohesive viewing experience. Factors liked wall colours, style, subject matter, themes or lighting are taken into consideration. There was for example a wall painted in grey, highlighting some small works clustered together. The grey wall mirrored another one in the gallery thus creating an instant connection. There was also a memorial wall for members of the NEAC who passed away in 2022/2023 : Antony Green, Dawn Sidoli, Fred Cuming and Ken Howard.
The NEAC is a registered charity which relies on the generosity of their supporters to be able to help aspiring, emerging and established figurative artists through teaching, scholarships and exhibiting.
The venue for both talks about Bletchley Park, home of the legendary World War 2 code
breakers, was the Polish Club in South Kensington.
Mark Lubienski who describes himself as a lifelong Londoner with a keen interest in Britain’s conflicts, the military and secret intelligence – topics on which he does research and writes, explained to us that the Polish contributions provided a crucial foundation for the subsequent code-breaking efforts at Bletchley Park. In the 1930’s, Polish mathematicians Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Rozycki and Henryk Zygalski developed methods and techniques to identify patterns and exploit weaknesses in the Enigma machine’s encryption algorithms. They also constructed replicas of the enigma machine and built a mechanical device known as the “Bomba” to assist in the decryption process. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, many Polish cryptanalysts fled to France and later to Britain, where they continued their work at Bletchley Park. Alan Turing and his team further refined the techniques and developed the electromechanical “Bombe” machines, which greatly accelerated the deciphering process, ultimately aiding the Allied war effort and contributing to their victory.
Ruth Bourne followed and gave us a vivid and humorous account of her experience as a WREN (the Women’s Royal Naval Service) and Turing Bombe Operator. WRENs were involved in operating and maintaining the machines used for decryption, analysing intercepted messages and carrying out other vital duties to support the code-breaking operations. The contributions of WRENs and other women were significant and often overlooked for many years after the war. It was only in the 1970s that information about the code-breaking activities at Bletchley Park started to be declassified. In recent years however, numerous books (“The Bletchley Girls : War, Secrecy, Love and Loss : the Women of Bletchley Park Tell Their Story” by Tessa Dunlop) documentaries (“The Secret Life of Bletchley Park” - 2012 )and films have been dedicated to sharing their stories and shedding light on their vital role in code-breaking and intelligence gathering. In 2018 a new exhibition called “D-Day : Interception, Intelligence, Invasion” was opened at Bletchley Park, focusing on the role of women in intercepting and decrypting German communications during the D-Day landings.
Some time was allocated to questions to Ruth followed by drinks and nibbles.
In the magnificent ballroom of the Lansdowne club, we enjoyed the beautifully interpreted pieces of Bach and Chopin played by the young and talented Italian pianist: Giacomo Tora. He is a prize winner of several piano competitions in Italy, Spain and the UK and has been the recipient of important academic awards . His most recent performances in London feature his presence at a concert presented by ABRSM and Classic FM at the South Bank Centre, multiple recitals at St James’ Piccadilly and has been invited to international concert series. He is a member of the Incorporated Society of Musicians UK.
He played works by Bach (Italian Concerto in F Major BWV 971, Aria Variata in A minor BWV 989, Prelude in C Major BWV 846, Prelude and Fugue in E Major BWV 878) and Chopin (Prelude No 23 in F Major , Prelude No 2 in A minor, Etude Op 25 No 12, Prelude No 4 in E minor, Prelude No 7 in A Major) explaining the connection between both composers and how Chopin was influenced by Bach.
Those who decided to stay after the recital, continued the evening at the Courtyard, enjoying a friendly dinner and conversation.
We had the opportunity to explore five private London gardens which are normally inaccessible to the public in unusually hot weather conditions, the temperature soared to 30 degrees in the afternoon!
We started in the tranquil retreat of the Victorian Queen’s Gate Gardens away from bustling South Kensington before taking a black cab to Cadogan Place North and South Gardens on either side of Pont Street. The South Garden is bigger, has 2 tennis courts, a playground and a bee area as well a white wisteria arch and a “Black mulberry” thought to be over 200 years old. Many trees were lost as a result of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s and the “Great Storm” of 1987. Today following extensive replanting, Cadogan Place garden remains one of the largest garden squares in Chelsea.
A few minutes walk away is Eaton Garden. It forms a tranquil retreat of formal lawns, seasonal bedding displays, a tennis court, shady pathways and a seating area where we had lunch. Lofty London plane trees complement the grand terraced properties. Former residents include Neville Chamberlain, Vivien Leigh and Sean Connery.
We ended our walking tour with a few glasses of Pimm’s in one of the 4 sheltered seating areas known as “The Temples” in Belgravia Gardens. Some of the mature London planes date back to the original planting in 1826, the garden has also retained some of its original design. However, it has evolved over the years to meet the needs of the community with a tennis court, children’s playground, an outdoor gym, and a “Forest School” for local children, where they can learn about nature, insects and biodiversity. Unlike the other private residential squares, anyone living in Belgravia become a member for an annual fee.
London Open Gardens is a fundraising event for London Parks & Gardens (LPG) enabling the charity to protect London’s green spaces throughout the year.
Wozzeck, Alban Berg’s operatic masterpiece, was our first outing to the Royal Opera House.
We started the evening with a pre-performance drink in the magnificent light-filled Paul Hamlyn Hall before the drama of Wozzeck began.
Wozzeck, the hero, is a genuinely good man but he is also a traumatised and impoverished veteran. He is subjected to the misdeeds of a succession of characters, each of whom could help him but instead choose to act in ways that degrade him, one at a time, until his eventual destruction. Taunted and exploited by his superiors, he is driven to madness and revenge after he learns of his mistress’s infidelity.
For the Royal Opera’s new production, Deborah Warner sets the work in the present day. The stage is elementary and very dramatic. Deborah Warner’s focused and vivid new production avoids caricature, and, with superb singing and Antonio Pappano’s conducting, drama and music dovetail perfectly.
At the point of crisis, a crimson moon is eclipsed, to spectacular effect, as the orchestra sounds its roaring, unison note in a terrifying crescendo. Direction and music are forged as one.
An experience which definitely gets under your skin.
Shanshan Wang (W. Shanshan Art Gallery) shared her knowledge and passion for Asian antiquities with our group. Not only did we learn about the objects but we were also able to touch them!
We started by trying to guess, through touch, what an object covered with a scarf was. It turned out to be a natural stone called a Gogotte, formed 30 million years ago and found in the Fontainebleau forest near Paris . It is a natural sculpture which looked like a lady’s head with a hair bun similar to the Chinese Tang dynasty court lady on display.
In chronological order we then moved to the so-called stick lady from an imperial tomb in the Han dynasty (206 BCE-220BCE), which was made to accompany the emperor or empress in their afterlife. Originally the lady was well dressed, presumably in silk, and had two moveable wooden arms attached. The whole figure was cold painted with multiple colours to make it look alive.
The next sculpture was the terracotta Sichuan Dancing Lady also from the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220CE). Her elaborate flower hair ornament, with three chrysanthemums symbolising prosperity in Eastern Asian Culture were particularly exquisite. Although both figures are from the Han dynasty, the styles are completely different reflecting the different cultures and lifestyles from the Sichuan area and the the central plain around the capital.
We then focused on two figures from the more recent Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE); a woman on horseback playing polo and the other, know as the Fat Lady Dressed in Blue with a Bird. Similar pottery figures from the Tang dynasty are fairly common but those with blue glaze are very rare, since the cobalt blue was imported from Central Asia and highly valued.
In addition to being a chemist and collector, Shanshan is also an artist herself. We admired her drawings with calligraphy of two contrasting female figures on a handscroll. Lightweight and mobile, scrolls were meant to be enjoyed, and even stamped by eminent visitors who had seen them. They would then be rolled up again and preserved until the next special occasion!
In the superb setting of Leighton House, we enjoyed the last concert of the 2022-2023 season of the Kensington and Chelsea Music Society with Guy Johnston at the cello accompanied by William Vann at the piano. They beautifully performed the cello sonatas by Felix Mendelssohn, Robert Schumann, Gabriel Fauré and the contemporary British composer Joseph Phibbs.
Guy Johnston is one of the most exciting British cellists of his generation. His early successes included winning the BBC Young Musician of the Year and significant awards notably the Young British Classical Performer Brit Award. He performs with many leading international orchestras including the London Philharmonic, the BBC Philharmonic etc. He is a passionate advocate for chamber music and recitals and performs regularly at prestigious venues and festivals across Europe. He is also patron of several charities which promote music education for school children and young people.
William Vann is a multiple prize winning and critically acclaimed conductor and accompanist with an extensive discography and is also, amongst other things, the chairman of Kensington and Chelsea Music Society.
A few minutes away from Leighton House, we enjoyed afterwards a tasty meal at the Iranian restaurant “Apadana” which has long been established as a staple of Persian dining in London since opening its doors in 1967.
The international Lyceum Club in Athens hosted the international event this year which
included two days in Athens and one day on two Greek islands.
We started the cultural days with a cocktail reception at the Lykeion ton Ellinidon, home of the Greek Lyceum Club. Its elegant neoclassical façade and interior design is a testament to the architectural beauty of Athens, befitting the club’s mission to foster art, culture and education. There were more than 200 participants from all over the world : Australia, Germany, Belgium, France, Cyprus, Finland, Georgia, Italy, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and for the first time the United Kingdom with London and Edinburgh, a testimony to the international dimension of the Lyceum Club.
On the following day we went on a bus tour of Athens which included a visit to the
Acropolis. Each bus was marked with a colour according to the different languages (English, French and German). We were given a name badge with little cards matching the colour of the bus we were assigned to. How organised is that !
We could not have dreamt of a better day to go to the Isabella Plantation in Richmond park. The weather was perfect to visit this beautiful woodland garden planted in the 1830’s, first opened to the public in 1953 and managed by the Royal Parks. The numerous Rhododendrons, Camelias, Azaleas as well as rare and unusual trees and shrubs were starting to come alive with colours.
Dorich House, located less than a 5mn drive away from the Isabella Plantation, is a little gem on Kingston Hill and a discovery for all of us including the locals in our group. The Museum, former home of the internationally acclaimed Latvian figurative and portraitist Sculptor Dora Gordine, holds the major collection of her bronzes, paintings and drawings, and a superb collection of Russian Imperial Art, gathered by her husband, the Hon. Richard Hare.
The two studios, gallery and top floor apartment were all designed by Gordine herself in 1935/6. She lived there until her death in 1991 at the age of 96. Her presence is everywhere in the house with ground and first floor studios connected by an industrial hoist for her heavier works. The upper floors are domestic with a lounge and dining room connected by a circular door. The house was acknowledged for its significance through Grade II listing, it was burgled, squatted and used as a film set before being acquired by Kingston University which took on the restoration and maintenance of this beautiful house. To cover the costs of renovation much of Gordine and her husband Richard Hare’s collection of Russian art was sold in a series of auctions.
Thanks to the recommendation from one of our members, we discovered the Warren Hotel tucked away in the leafy Kingston Coombe Estate. It is a Victorian manor house built in 1865 now grade II listed building with elegant interiors set within 5 acres of beautiful landscaped gardens, the perfect venue for a wedding or afternoon tea or dinner with reasonably priced food.
The superbly expressive and powerful voice of the Spanish-born British soprano Alexandra Lowe accompanied by Emma Abate at the piano, delighted us with a variety of songs and arias including works from Mozart, Schubert, Strauss, Britten, Poulenc, Granados, Pauline Viardot and Roger Quilter focusing mainly on the romantic song repertoire.
The variety of the short musical pieces introduced alternatively by both artists was a real delight and Alexandra’s stage presence was impressive.
She has just released her new album “Le Voyage” which focuses on music of the French “Romantic” song repertoire broadly encompassing the period 1860-1920.
The Crush Room perfectly captures the historical splendour of the ROH and is adorned with 17th century Flemish artwork as well as two crystal chandeliers crafted from the original one that once hung in the centre of the main auditorium.
After the performance we enjoyed a light and tasty lunch at the Piazza restaurant on the 5th floor of the ROH which offers a sustainably sourced menu and superb views over Covent Garden.
The Nederlands Dance Theatre performance on Thursday evening was both powerful and mesmerising. I cannot remember having been so drawn into a dance performance both emotionally and visually!
The evening was divided into three contrasting stories, starting with La Ruta by choreographer Gabriela Carrizo. Set on a road by a bus stop and a junction box, the performance was like a bad dream, macabre and unsettling, yet mesmerising at the same time due to the excellent dancing and choreography.
By contrast, Gods and Dogs by Jiří Kylián was harmonious and dream-like. Set to Beethoven, the fluidity and incredible flexibility of the dancers, along with a shimmering backdrop, was almost hypnotic at times.
The highlight of the show however was Figures in Extinction [1.0] by acclaimed Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite and director Simon McBurney.
Set as a call to arms at the increasing pace of extinction caused by human action, the performance focused on the beauty of what is being lost, forever. From a Pyrenean Ibex to a herd of caribou, a school of graceful handfish, to orchids and glaciers, we were reminded of the pace and magnitude of our actions. An almost comical climate denier reinforced the message but also provided a sense of hope, as he too seemed to be fading into extinction.
In additional to memorable and mind-bending performances we certainly had a lot to talk about over a glass of wine during the intervals!
Photo: Figures in Extinction [1.0] ©RAHI REZVANI 2022
A visit to the hospital is rarely associated with good memories but on Thursday it was a different story which made for a very enjoyable evening.
Sabine Casparie, our guide and Art Consultant for the Chelsea and Westminster hospital, CW+ (the official charity of Chelsea &Westminster NHS Foundation Trust ) led us to the unusual discovery of some of the 2508 art works which form the hospital's collection. Arranged over five floors of this state-of-the-art public building built in 1993, the artworks on display are either donated by generous local patients, artists, or donators, or commissioned by CW+. The size, quality and creativity of the collection are impressive, and it all started thanks to a very enthusiastic contemporary art lover and orthopaedic surgeon, Dr James Scott, founder of the CWH Arts Project. One of the first artworks commissioned by the charity is The Healing Arts by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, which welcomes patients and visitors in the entrance hall of the hospital.
The CWH is not the only hospital in London that can pride itself on having an art collection, but it is the first one to recognize the importance of art in the healing process. Sabine Casparie’s role is to advise the charity on the artworks to keep, to sell at auction or to commission as well as where or which one to display. Some of the works commissioned are now features of the hospital and will remain permanently. A very good example is the entrance wall of the Reuben Maternity Centre by Adam Nathaniel Furman’s Radiance. Adam’s bright colourful tiles perfectly match the environment and the other pieces of art on display, like Sian Tucker’s Falling Leaves. The Acrobat by the British Pop artist Allen Jones is another example of a piece of art which has become part of the building: it was installed while the hospital was being built and could only be removed by opening the roof. Others will be auctioned, giving the charity a budget to purchase other pieces.
The visit gave us an opportunity to see some of the first pieces of the collection: Patrick Heron’s striking Three Banners and Melvin Chantrey’s Waterfall, a set of 12 panels displayed over several floors, as well as the 16th century Resurrection by Paolo Veronese for which a chapel was built in the center of the hospital.
We then moved to the latest additions to the collection giving it a new dimension: Chloe Dewe Mathews’s photographic works Modern Herbal, Isaac Julien’s digital work Stones Against Diamond, Julian Opie’s three dimensions paintings and the last but not the least Zheyuan Zhang’s Rippling Senses, founder of Studio Inneract. Zheyuan Zhang works on Immersive Healing Art System, which involves digital and IA technologies to contribute to the wellbeing of patients and staff.
While leaving the building, we realised that we would need more than one visit to fully appreciate the quality of the collection.
Jolanda Chandler’s inspiring and relaxed tour introduced us to the work of different contemporary artists starting with the German abstract painter, sculptor, graphic designer and photographer Günther Förg at the Hauser & Wirth gallery, which displayed his final series of paintings made between 2005-2010. The Spot Paintings were partially influenced by the colourful blotches of paint in Francis Bacon’s studio when he would wipe his brushes on the walls and door of the studio to remove excess paint.
We then went to the Waddington Custot gallery and focused on the beautiful work of French painter Fabienne Verdier. She paints vertically in ink, standing directly on her stretchers with giant brushes and tools of her invention suspended from her studio ceiling. She studied the art of calligraphy in China and recounts her ten year experience as an apprentice painter in a beautiful book recommended by Jolanda : “Passagère du Silence : Dix ans d’initiation en Chine”.
At the Flowers gallery we looked at the wonderful prints of Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado from this new series Platinum-palladium. He is one of the most celebrated photojournalist working today. Whilst inescapably memorable for their beauty, Saldago’s photographs are laden with political purpose exposing the social and environmental problems facing our planet.
We finished our tour at the NFT Gallery showcasing the Ukrainian graphic designer and illustrator Varvara Alay’s incredibly colourful and intricately detailed work. The Coin Girl series explores the world of blockchain technology and NFTs. Turning art into nonfungible tokens is something that many artists are exploring as a potential way to sell their work. NFTs allow art to be sold in a digital form by establishing the secure ownership of an original digital asset and they can open up access to communities of interested buyers. NFTs offer a new way to prove the ownership of the original item through the creation of a digital register on a blockchain. NFTs, a new concept to most of us, raised a lot of interest and questions in our group.
We enjoyed afterwards the friendly and cosy atmosphere of the Courtyard at the Landsdowne Club just down the road.
We enjoyed an outstanding recital by Jack Tyndale-Biscoe, a talented pianist already known to those of our members who attended our lunch and concert at the end of last October, in the beautiful setting of the Ballroom of the Lansdowne Club.
Once again, Jack played with perfection works by Bach (French Suite No.4 in Eb Major, BWV 815), Beethoven (Sonata No.31 in Op.110 in Ab Major) and the beautiful and emotional Franck’s Prelude, Chorale et Fugue.
Internationally acclaimed and recognised for his talent and dedication to music, Jack Tyndale-Biscoe had a rather unorthodox start in music. He started as an autodidact, learning to play the piano by himself until the age of 15 before pursuing his music education in music schools and conservatory in Australia, the US and now London.
We continued our evening at the Courtyard, enjoying a friendly dinner and conversation.
Food writer Jenny Linford, author of Food Lovers’ London and editor of the Kew Gardens Cookbook shared with us her knowledge of London’s food scene in a delightful and informative walking tour of Soho and Covent Garden.
We were treated some delicious tasting on the way, which ranged from freshly baked almond croissants and a fragrant cup of cappuccino or expresso, to some exquisite Parma ham and truffle mortadella and British farmhouse cheese.
Walking through China town, we not only tasted freshly baked Chinese buns but also discovered a three story food shop with an extensive range of Chinese and South East Asian foodstuffs, ranging from fresh Chinese broccoli and Thai basil, to a remarkable array of store-cupboard ingredients.
All the shops were a treat to visit and a welcome escape from your typical soulless trip around the supermarket. Some of us had even wisely anticipated bringing a large enough shoulder bag to carry all the food bought along the way!
We enjoyed a delicious 3-course à la carte dinner which was designed, tested, cooked and served by the Westminster Kingsway College 2nd year student chefs in the Vincent Brasserie.
During the meal, Liane Bhalla-van Veen, a College lecturer and supervisor gave us a very interesting and informal talk on the organisation and history of the College. She also showed us a few of the 13 kitchens in the building, including the Escoffier kitchen serving the high-end Escoffier restaurant, also located in the Victoria Centre. We walked passed the framed photographs of some well-known alumni like Ben Murphy – Head Chef at Launceston Place and Selin Kiazim, one of the few women restaurateurs, who owns and runs Oklava in London.
The Vincent Brasserie training restaurant is one of the hidden treasures of Central London and offers incredible value for money. There is a lunch service Monday to Friday and an evening service Wednesdays and Thursdays, by reservation only during term time.
A perfect idea for a weekday or evening treat!
We started the afternoon with a cup of coffee/tea in the elegant surroundings of the Kensington hotel which gave us the opportunity to catch up with members and get to know new people joining the event.
The biopic “Simone, a woman of the century” completes the trilogy film director Olivier Dagan began with the Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en Rose” and “Grace of Monaco”. In “Simone, a woman of the century” he paints the portrait of the French politician, women’s rights champion and Holocaust survivor Simone Veil who challenged and transformed her era. In bringing her extraordinary life to the screen, the film also shines a light on some key moments in 20th century France : the Algerian war, the May 1968 riots for example. Her humanist message is still keenly relevant today.
The film quickly climbed to the top of the French box office and has become one of the leading French films of the year. The Cine Lumière auditorium at the French Institute in London was full and testifies for the success of the film here in the UK.
Our group similarly found the Simone Veil’s biopic as inspiring , a woman triumphing in the face of terrible adversity, as it was harrowing with the dark horror of the Shoah in the last part of the film. A powerful film indeed.
The Old Vic beautiful Victorian auditorium was packed with an enthusiastic audience who gave a standing ovation to the cast at the end of the show.
The story of Sylvia Pankhurst and her pivotal role in the campaign for women’s rights certainly did not feel like a history lesson. This dynamic and modern musical was incredibly entertaining, The unusual combination of history, hip pop , funk and soul music was inspiring: The simple set with large moveable blocks to create scenes was very effective and the onstage band gave a modern feel to the show. The black and white greyscale colouring of the entire production with the exception of the red scarf and socks depicting the Labour Party worked very well in describing the oppression of the women at the time. The score was a blend of styles from acapella to rap sections, duets and harmonies to powerful soul numbers.
The excellent cast performed each song with great talent and emotion. Sylvia is creative, diverse and unique and definitely well worth seeing. We left the show feeling uplifted and energised.
Making Modernism was an intimate and thought-provoking view of life in the early 1900's in Germany through the lens of four pioneering women: Paula Modersohn-Becker, Käthe Kollwitz, Gabriele Münter and Mariane Werefkin.
Regardless of talent, and privilege in the case of Gabriele Münter who was also in a decade long relationship with Wassily Kandinsky, they were all denied access to the art academies and largely excluded from the canon of their male counterparts.
The central gallery space, devoted to the theme of intimacy revealed Käthe Kollwitz’s powerful drawings and prints. Her self portrait and the etching on paper “Woman with Dead Child” were particularly striking.
It is worth mentioning that Käthe Kollwitz, well known in Germany, has a museum devoted to her in Cologne, and was a member of the International Lyceum Club of Berlin.
We then enjoyed a friendly and warm (thanks to the blankets and heaters!) lunch in the cosy atmosphere of the Courtyard at the Lansdowne Club.