da Vinci, Dickens and Snow

Working on projects in Winchester and then near Tisbury, so stayed the night with old friends Olly and Camilla Akers-Douglas in their beautifully restored farmhouse; Camilla is a writer and editor, who I have known for years, and Olly is a talented landscape painter newly associated with the Portland Gallery. He has a splendid remote studio carved out of a large barn

Back via London, so I was able to visit the celebrated Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the National Gallery, which brought together so many interesting paintings and important preparatory drawings and demonstrated the technical and intellectual depth of Leonardo as a painter. It focuses especially on his role as a court painter to the Duke of Milan and how this gave him the freedom to concentrate on his art. This wonderful exhibition was expertly curated by Luke Syson – he has now just moved to the Metroplitan Museum of Art In New York.

I also recently visited Rockingham Castle in preparation for a feature that I am writing for Country Life, to be published in february It was a splendidly wintry day, which seemed rather fitting for this picturesque old house. Rockingham has a dramatic 14th-century gatehouse, but once you pass through the gate the house you see is mostly as rebuilt in 16th century – with parts remodelled by Salvin in the mid 19th century. I am interested in Charles Dickens’ visits here, the amateur dramatics and readings, and the inspiration he drew from the house and garden when creating Chesney Wold, the seat of the Dedlocks in Bleak House. This was a house that he loved, and he was close to Richard and Lavinia Watson who were his hosts.

Cambridge has been looking very lovely in the snow, although it did all come down very quickly in a huge storm while we were all out to supper on Saturday with my father and stepmother at Loch Fyne opposite The Fitzwilliam Museum. I had spent the day contributing to a study day on Oliver Messel at the Victoria and Albert Museum which had all the contributors speaking; Stephen Calloway very good on the Bright Young Things, Sarah Woodcock on his theatre and Keith Lodwick on his film set and costume design. I very much enjoyed the event and there was an excellent showing of young theatre design students.

Best Books Read this month:
Claire Tomalin Charles Dickens: A Life
John Martin Robinson Felling the Ancient Oaks

Best Lecture heard: Paul Crossley, Slade Lectures

Important date: January 28th, is Archie the Jack Russell’s 4th birthday

Recent articles:

Feature on country house theatres and amateur theatricals, Country Life, in December 7, 2011
Interview with Chris Cole, compass collector in the The Field magazine, February 2012 issue, and interview with Dr Michael Darby, beetle collector, in The Field March issue
Interview with Lady Emma Barnard about life at Parham, in Sussex, The Lady, Jan 27, 2012

January 2012

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