Art, Architecture and a farewell to Pevsner . . for me

The past few weeks have passed in a haze of writing industry, working on two main book projects concurrently, one based in Birmingham and one in London. In April managed a launch for English Ruins in The Gallery at Cowcross Street, courtesy of Alan Baxter for which we installed a looped slide show of Paul’s wonderful pictures. I have to confess that I enjoyed the event hugely, although it was very do it yourself, a book launch marks the end point of a project, something more like a christening than a funeral – the truth is nothing gives me more pleasure than a gathering of friends.

I was obliged to go and see the Cult of Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, in order to see some Whistler drawings relevant to one of my projects, and was impressed by the richness and interest of the show, although for my money Whistler emerges as the star, for his restraint and sense of colour, but the exhibition presents some superb paintings and furniture, and a suit like the one worn by Oscar Wilde.

I also have just published a piece in The Lady on the re-opening of The Watts Gallery, the late Victorian artists’ purpose built gallery in the woods near Compton, near Guildford, which I have known for 30 years – its been very well restored, and a new exhibition gallery created. My father and I used to ride on a circuit which ended on the sandy track by the gallery Watts created, not inappropriately because the great Victorian artist built his house down here to take up riding for his health. The main galleries returned to their 19th century atmosphere. In Country Life I wrote on the exhibition of two enormous canvases by Carl Laubin, showing all the works of Vanbrugh composed into scenes in the manner of a capriccio as if by Canaletto – genius.

Last Monday I said farewell to the committee of trustees of the Pevsner Architectural Guides Trust, on which I have served for four years, and which supports the publication by Yale University Press of the revisions of the Pevsner Guides, which is now to be funded by a new arrangement with a foundation (announcement to follow), which will see the revision of the whole series through to the end, which is really wonderful news, there are about twenty volumes in need of revision. Chairman Simon Jenkins proposed the toast to Pevsner and we thanked Gavin Watson for his devoted secretaryship, another emotional moment in a way. These books are solid gold, Pevsner was an inspired genius and the present revising editors, industrious, witty and wise.

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