Last week, Lexie’s school had this day set aside for something called three-way conferences. Basically, just a day for Lexie, myself, and each of her teachers to meet and discuss her progress so far in the term. For the record, I totally would have been on board for this if we hadn’t done almost the exact same thing a few months earlier, but on this relatively sunny Friday, I just couldn’t bring myself to go to the school where we’d wait for half an hour to speak to one teacher for five minutes and then waste the day away doing the same thing five or six more times, so I made a decision fully within my parental rights (I think) – we were going to play hooky instead! With the day now completely open, we decided to head into London and visit somewhere we’d never been before – the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square.
I get a little sentimental about this part of the city, actually. We had been living in London only a week when we decided to meet some friends for lunch in the city. During that first week, we had only spent time in the areas of London we thought we might be living in, so central London was all new at that point. We had designated Trafalgar Square as our meeting point, so we exited the tube station and were waiting in the square for our friends to arrive when I turned around and spotted something. That’s not…no…can’t be. Wait…maybe it is. Yeah, I think it is. That’s Big Ben! That was my first time getting a glimpse of London’s most famous monument. I can’t even count how many times I’ve walked past that beautiful clock tower now, but nothing beats what it felt like to see it the first time…by accident.
The other reason I used to get a little sentimental walking through Trafalgar Square was because of its (recently removed) resident, Hahn/Cock, the giant blue rooster standing proud on the Fourth Plinth. Earlier this month he was succeeded by Gift Horse, a skeletal horse with a bow tied around his leg featuring the live ticker of the London Stock Exchange. He’s unusual and pretty cool to see at night, but he’s no Hahn/Cock, not in my opinion. You see, before we moved to London, we raised chickens (and one rooster) on our mini-farm, and saying goodbye to them was probably the hardest part about moving abroad for me. London is about as different from Rockvale, Tennessee as any two places can be, but Hahn/Cock was my link to home. My little piece of Tennessee in London. As much as I’m for new art and artists getting exposure, I wouldn’t have complained if they’d decided to make that pretty blue rooster a permanent fixture in the square. But what do you think – which looks better?
As often as I’ve walked through Trafalgar Square, until our recent ditch day, I’d never done more than glance at the beautiful, old building that dominates it. I didn’t even know what was inside until I’d lived here for over a year. (That’s when you know you live in a city with too many museums.) The National Gallery is home to over 2,000 paintings from familiar names like Monet, Van Gogh, Michaelangelo and plenty more my art-ignorant self has never heard of.
Entrance to the National Gallery is free, and the art show begins before you even enter the galleries, because the floor in the entrance hall is a collection of art itself. Dozens of colorful, mosaic scenes depicting the Labors of Life, the Pleasures of Life, and the Modern Virtues decorate the landings of the main hall. Good luck getting a good look at them on a busy day, though! I had people streaming around me on each side, and probably cursing me in their heads for stopping in the middle of the stairs, while I tried to get a few shots. Amateur photographers have got to be some of the most annoying people on the planet. Sorry about that.
I’ve been to art museums in Europe where the design of the museum is pretty understated so as to keep the main focus on the art. Not so in the National Gallery. As we were walking through we’d move from large galleries with high ceilings and natural light flooding in through glass-topped domes to small, intimate, darkened spaces where it felt more like we were viewing a private collection in someone’s home than one of the world’s most visited art galleries, and all of them were so beautifully designed and laid out that sometimes I found the gallery rooms more attractive than the art itself.
This kind of art, all predating the 1900’s, just isn’t really my cup of tea. To be fair, we didn’t have time to make it to the section of the museum where the Van Goghs and the Monets are, which I believe I’d probably enjoy more. Instead, most of what we saw was religious-themed art and sometimes downright creepy art (like the painting of Venus being seduced by her son, Cupid, above). I liked the special exhibition featuring work by Peder Balke better, because at least his paintings didn’t feature gruesome beheadings or close-to-death Jesus’, but I was still not seeing anything I could really connect with. Maybe I’m just not enough of an art person to appreciate the really old stuff.
What I can appreciate are the people who have this artistic talent thing down. All my life I’ve wished for the ability to draw or paint or do anything that transforms a blank canvas into something beautiful, but that particular skill just skipped right over me. A lack of natural talent and a short attention span ensure I’ll probably never learn, but I do so love watching other people do what I can’t.
There were many artists in the National Gallery sketching and painting the famous works, and I am so proud of myself for being brave enough to ask a few of them if I could take their photos while they work. That’s big for me. I love people pictures, but I have this irrational fear of asking people if I can photograph them. Even as I took these, with permission, my heart was still beating out of my chest. (I suppose irrational fears are called so for a reason.)
Anyway, as far as spontaneous days off of school go, I think Lexie thought this was a pretty good one. Having a partner in crime to giggle with at the naked cherubs was fun. I’m so used to being alone during the week that this was a real treat for me, too. Now I’ve just got to get back and check out that last section we missed. I have a feeling I’d be singing a different tune in regards to the art if we’d gone there first instead!
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