How have you been since my last missive? Time flies and I can’t believe we’ve already come to the end of January … yet again! The older I get (sigh) the more I believe our perception of time changes and perhaps, in a nod to my blog’s name, I should take a cue from Proust?
With preparations for my upcoming guiding exam at the National Portrait Gallery going full steam ahead (think Anna Karenina!), January, cruel month of many broken resolutions, has certainly kept me busy. However, let me immediately reassure you, gentle reader(s), there have been plenty of opportunities for fun too, including the running of my regular tours as well as gathering new material for this blog.
While wandering the city in search of inspiration and cake (I have a valid reason for this quest as a macarons-themed walk is in the works), the fickle weather has allowed me to see some of London’s most’s famous sculptures masquerading as gigantic silhouettes.
A meeting point for many tour guides in Green Park, Estcourt J. Clack’s statue depicts Diana, the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, as a nimble huntress accompanied by one of her faithful hounds (of love?). Formally known as Diana, Goddess of the Chase, this sculpture was first presented to the public in 1954. With the slowly disappearing sun shining on her back, this silhouetted ‘version’ of Diana emphasizes her lithe body, her dramatic hand gesture as well as the whip (?) that she seems to be carrying with her.
As much as I like the ‘original’ version of Diana, I must admit I find the silhouette of the statue much more striking and powerful. While this doesn’t necessarily reflect how Clack intended his sculpture to be seen, it underlines how works of arts have a life of their own, especially when they are facing the elements of such a temperamental city as London. If you’d like to know more about the history of the statue itself, I recommend you have a look @PeteBSW1‘s excellent blog post on the topic. (Even the daughter of the artist left a comment, so make sure to read those too!)
Standing high on top of a Corinthian column, the iconic statue of Lord Horatio Nelson has been looking down upon Londoners for over 170 years. Made by E. H. Baily in 1843, this sculpture towers over Trafalgar Square – arguably the epicentre of the Big Smoke – and commemorates Britain’s most recognized naval hero. His gaze forever fixed down Whitehall, the silhouette of Lady Emma Hamilton‘s infamous paramore suggests a certain rigidity and dignity of character, making it thus a fitting tribute.
While taking these photographs from the balcony of the National Gallery, I kept wondering about the etymology of the word ‘silhouette’. While I knew the word to be of Gallic origins, I didn’t realize the term was actually an eponym once used to ridicule a French minister. Of course, Wikipedia, our (not-always-so) trustworthy friend quickly came to my rescue:
The word “silhouette” derives from the name of Étienne de Silhouette, a French finance minister who, in 1759, was forced by France’s credit crisis during the Seven Years War to impose severe economic demands upon the French people, particularly the wealthy. Because of de Silhouette’s austere economies, his name became synonymous with anything done or made cheaply and so with these outline portraits. Prior to the advent of photography, silhouette profiles cut from black card were the cheapest way of recording a person’s appearance.
Well, if this story doesn’t make for a nice bit of trivia or pub quiz question, I don’t know what possibly could. Hands up, readers, who of you had heard about this before? I can’t believe you didn’t tell me and kept me in the dark on this one! I suspect @theframeblog might have had an inkling … (Oh dear, the mention of the War of Seven Years in the quoted text above takes me right back to William Pitt and The Death of the Earl of Chatham, a history painting which is going to be featured in my exam. Help, I need an intervention!)
Towering over all of Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch‘s triumphant Quadriga, which depicts the Angel of Peace descending upon earth on the four-horsed Chariot of War, has become one of London’s most recognisable landmarks. Installed in 1913, the work of Adrian Jones is considered to be largest equestrian figure as well as the largest bronze sculpture in Europe. (Two records for the price of one, I suppose!) From Berlin’s Brandenburger Tor to Venice’s Four Horses of St. Mark, every metropolis worth its salt has a quadriga of its own and London’s version is certainly very impressive too.
A couple of weeks ago, @FranPickering, @GWinLondon, @Mandyist, @LondonSlant and I met up to go see Almost Lost: London’s Buildings Loved & Loathed together. Organised by English Heritage and hosted by the Quadriga Gallery, this exhibition examined how London might have looked like if certain developers hadn’t been stopped in the past. (The most ridiculous-yet-incredible scheme we saw was what can best be described as a 1954 post-apocalyptic pseudo-Venice perched on top of Soho. Yes, I’m not making this up and you can judge it for yourself over at the Londonist!)
Well, this brings us to the end of this silhouetted view of London as I must get back to my exam revisions. One of my not-yet broken resolutions has been to try to blog more frequently this year, so hopefully I shall be able to keep that promise.
I’ll be back next month to write about my Christmas visit to Luxembourg and entertain you with tales about Europe’s smallest country. Oh boy … (@FranPickering shall be pleased as she has rather funnily challenged me to blog about this trip to the homeland, but I shall keep that story for next time. #tease. By the way, February will see Fran release her first detective novel, The Cherry Blossom Murder, which is, as you would expect from her, set in Japan.)
Take care and see you soon,