Posts Tagged ‘animals’

Robert MacFarlane’s “Lost Words” and the Thyssen-Bornemisra Museum

October 21, 2017

In a recent Guardian Review article, Robert Macfarlane – the well known writer on the British landscape – argues that children need to be reacquainted with the natural world. In the article, Macfarlane cites a Cambridge University study that showed how children aged 4 to 11 were much more likely to identify Pokémon characters (80% accuracy) than common plants and animals in the UK (50% accuracy). One of the conclusions of the report stated “What is the extinction of the condor to a child who has never seen a wren?”. Other studies cited show that adults’ knowledge of wildlife is not much better but 9 out of 10 adults wanted children to have much more knowledge of plants and animals. Macfarlane’s reaction to the reports was that he wanted to write a book for children which might increase their appreciation of the living world, as opposed to the digital world of Pokémon. The reasons for children’s lack of experience and knowledge of nature is well known – more children live in cities and more children spend more time online than out of doors.

The result is what looks like a beautiful book, written by Macfarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.

lost words

New book by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Click to enlarge all photos)

The article concluded with “The bird which became the guiding, gilding spirit of The Lost Words is the goldfinch. Goldfinches flit across its cover and gleam from its pages”. Macfarlane notes that the collective word for goldfinch is a charm which can also mean the singing of a group of children. Below is a close up of a goldfinch, taken by Harry Scott. This book would make a wonderful present for anyone – adult or child – and if you can combine this with a trip to the countryside or the seaside for the children, Dr Macfarlane would be most pleased. I have just come back from the beach near our house where my nearly 6 year old twin grand daughters saw oystercatchers, plovers and redshanks on the shore, feeding on what was coming in on the tide. So, I’m doing my bit.


Goldfinch by Harry Scott

One of the highlights of our trip to Madrid was the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum which can be found opposite the more famous Prado Museum. The Thyssen-Bornemisza has much more modern painting and is less focused on religious painting. It is a very extensive art gallery, with numerous rooms and would take more than one visit to do it justice. I have always been impressed by the American  painter Edward Hopper and there are four of his works here. The first of my selection is Hotel Room (below) and what strikes you is the rather lonely looking woman, sitting on the bed, in her underwear, reading a book. Then there are the colours – the green chair, the black hat, and the white bed which contrasts with the woman’s undergarment. The museum has a short video on this painting which is well worth viewing.


Hotel Room by Edward Hopper

The 2nd Hopper painting is The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet  which is intriguingly named after someone who took Hopper and his wife sailing i.e. there is no yacht with this name. Although the sandbank looks rather fanciful, this is a painting with delicate shades of blue, white and cream, with the movement of the boat emphasised by the undulating waves. I see a spirit of freedom and enjoyment in this painting, on the part of the humans. The seagulls look away, unimpressed and the small, bubbly clouds on the horizon are dominated by a clearer sky above, suggesting a warm summer’s day.


The “Martha McKeen” of Wellfleet by Edward Hopper

I’ve seen Hopper’s lighthouse paintings before, but Martin Johnson Heade is a new artist for me. His painting Orchid and a Hummingbird Near a Mountain Waterfall was one of the highlights of our visit. It is a stunningly original painting, with its combination of dark and light and the colours of the orchid are reflected in the hummingbird. There is so much to see in this work – shapes, patterns, the real and what I see as the surreal combined – that you can find yourself standing in front of the painting for quite a while. The detail on the plant and the bird are superb.


Orchid and Hummingbird near a Waterfall by Martin Johnson Heade

So an exhilarating visit to this museum in Madrid which is not to be missed if you are in the city. No blog next week as I’m off to Pisa and Florence with my pal to take in the sights and a football (aka soccer) game.


V&A exhibition and TS Eliot Prize readings

January 19, 2017

A delay in the blog this week as we were in London for a few days. We both went to the outstanding Victoria and Albert Museum to see the exhibition entitled You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970 . This is a fascinating exhibition, particularly for people who remember the 1960s and the bands such as The Beatles, The Animals and The Who, amongst many others. When you go into the exhibition, there is a free audio provided. This is not your usual audio guide to exhibits, but is a soundtrack  (list of songs here)of the music of the middle and late 1960s. Some people found this distracting e.g. looking at John  Lennon’s written lyrics to Help while the soundtrack is playing Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction. The exhibition covers the 1960s revolutions in music, protest, fashion and consumption. It has a vast number of exhibits, perhaps too many to take in during one visit, including photographs, letters, TV coverage, film, clothes and consumer items. It is a very stimulating exhibition, taking in the trivialities of some pop music to the horrors of the Vietnam war and civil rights violence. The V&A of course is always a pleasure to visit, with its numerous rooms and hallways full of statues. Even if you only visit the ornately decorated tea room (good photos), with the William Morris room adjacent to it, you are assured a superb aesthetic experience. No photos were allowed in the exhibition but I took one on my mobile phone’s (not very good) camera of the entrance.


The Beatles’ at the entrance to the V&A

My treat on Sunday evening was to go to the Royal Festival Hall for the T S Eliot Poetry Prize readings. The competition for the best collection is worth £20,000 to the winner. One of the best things about this event is that, while the 10 poets read from their collections, the winner is not announced until later – no annoying Masterchef  pauses here. The readings were compered by the irrepressible Ian McMillan whose amusing but very perceptive introductions to each poet added much to the occasion. In one introduction, he referred to his Uncle Harry who had “sticky-out false teeth  – like a pub piano”. He also summed up the quality of the evening by pointing out that despite the vast hall and the hundreds of people in the audience, when each poet spoke, it was like being in a small room with only a few people. Two of the poets, J O Morgan and Alice Oswald (the favourite to win) recited their poems from memory and made a substantial impact on the audience. The winner, announced on Monday, was Jacob Polley’s collection Jackself which the judges called “a firecracker of a book” in which the main character can change into different shapes and things. I intend to buy this book, so more on this later.


Jacob Polley’s collection entitled Jackself



Lucy Newton and Aix En Provence

July 14, 2015

A new exhibition at Waterstone House, Aberlady features the artist Lucy Newton and it is a stunning collection of paintings of animals and birds. For me, there were three outstanding features of the work on show. Lucy kindly gave permission for me to include two of her paintings on the blog and they are shown below. Firstly, there was the amazing detail on her animal paintings of a badger and a fox. On both portraits, the animal’s fur is crystal clear and the hairs are delicately drawn and there is a real sense of life in the paintings. (Click on paintings/photos for best effect)

Badger by Lucy Newton

Badger by Lucy Newton

Secondly, in most of the paintings, the artist has included background which is a mixture of the realistic – grass, leaves and a tree – and the abstract, and this gives an intriguing depth to the paintings. Thirdly, in the bird portraits (and I use the word “portraits” deliberately as you get a real sense of these being “real” birds with personalities of their own) Lucy Newton uses splashes of colour which also have a realistic and an abstract quality. This exhibition is another winner for SOC and I would urge you to go and see the exhibition if you are in the area.

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

Fieldfare Study by Lucy Newton

One of the delights of our trip to Marseille was visiting the beautiful town of Aix En Provence – the Aix is pronounced Ex. The town is a world away from the bustling city of Marseille and, although there are many tourists in the town, once you leave the main streets, there are many quieter side streets to wander through. Aix is well known as the home of the painter Cezanne and we went to the Musée Granet which contains a range of paintings by Cezanne but also many other artists. The ticket to the museum also allows you to visit the very impressive Chapelle des Pénitents, an old church which has been refurbished into a stunning, high-ceilinged art gallery, where there is an extensive exhibition of painters such as Cezanne, Picasso and Klee. The gallery (photo below) is on 3 floors and the interior itself is a work of art.

Musee Granet Chapelle, Aix En Provence

Musee Granet Chapelle,
Aix En Provence

Aix is an historic town and as you walk through the streets, there are many impressive squares with numerous cafes in which you can sit with a nice glass of Provence Rosé and watch the world go by – or study the concentration of chess players.

Chess players in Aix En Provence

Chess players in Aix En Provence

On our second visit to Aix, we went to the equally impressive Caumont Centre D’Art which is housed in a grand 18th century mansion. We were there  to see an excellent exhibition  of the artist Canaletto and the paintings came from galleries all over the world. At the back of the mansion, there are beautiful gardens, part of which includes an outdoor restaurant, set in a corner with a number of attractively planted jardinières, as in the photos below. We did not know about the gardens when we went to see the paintings and lunch at the Centre D’Art was a treat. If you are in Provence, Aix is a must-see.

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The formal garden at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

Jardinière at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D'Art, Aix

The rose on our lunch table at Caumont Centre D’Art, Aix

I’ve put a slide show of photos from part of our trip on my Photopeach page (click on full screen for best effect) and it includes a delightful song by Francoise Hardy, whom I absolutely adored in my youth.