London and art

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Trafalgar Square

Yesterday we took the train to London and settled into a really super modern hi-tech hotel dubbed “The Hub by Premier Inns.” It is also the crummiest hotel I have ever stayed at. I picked it because it was well recommended and was located less than a block from Trafalgar Square, shown on the right. And yes, it is new and fancy, with motion-controlled LED lights and fancy touch buttons and aps to control everything. It is also tiny, cramped, the controls are too limited and too difficult to decipher, even for a science journalist like myself. I suppose I shouldn’t complain, as it was reasonable in price considering the location. I still dislike the hi-tech nature of the room that only ended up limiting our convenience and comfort.

And the hotel didn’t even have an ice machine!

National Gallery in London

Today we wandered about the square, watching the street performers (buskers in British lingo) and admiring the statues and sights. Then we went into the National Gallery to enjoy some of humanity’s greatest art, as were a class of elementary school children as shown in the picture on the right.

The museum was packed with people from everywhere. I saw Japanese, Chinese, and Israeli tour groups. I saw people of all types clearly from London, including several school groups like the one to the right.

Interestingly, these crowds were all found in the permanent exhibits. One temporary exhibit we wandered through, art by an modern abstract artist by the name of Sean Scully, was practically empty.

Abstract art by Sean Scully

Maybe this is a good sign. The picture on the right shows three of the many paintings by Scully in the exhibit. They are typical of all the paintings on display. While a close look at his technique and other works not on exhibit by him suggests he is a skilled and trained artist, the works on display were essentially intellectually bankrupt, as is most modern art. Thus, museum visitors walked through this exhibit quickly with little interest, mainly because the painting are simply not interesting. He might be experimenting with light and color, but after ten seconds the experiment becomes boring.

Sadly, this seems to the nature of too much modern art. When we took our first walk by the square last night we wandered into a gallery opening of another modern avant-garde artist whose work was as meaningless. That opening was packed with the snooty elitists of modern culture, advertising their individualism by nose-rings, tattoos, strange clothes and hairstyles (all of which are just variations of the the same thing so they all looked exactly alike). The only word I could think of was bankrupt.


The art that attracted the public however was truly a delight. We saw paintings covering almost five hundred years, from medieval religious art to 19th century Impressionism. The painting to the right was by Titian called the “The Vendramin Family” and painted around 1540. It shows the father and his brother “venerating the true cross” with the father’s seven sons gathered around. What attracted me was the youngest boy third from the right, holding the dog. Earlier religious paintings have the people looking at nothing in a contemplative manner. They also seem posed. Here Titian shows a real child, uninterested in the true cross as he eyes his brothers with a look that says, “Can I go now and play with my dog?” Very human.

Jean-Etienne Liotard's

I also liked the painting on the right by Jean-Etienne Liotard called “The Lavergne Family Breakfast.” Painted in 1754, it shows a mother and daughter eating breakfast with the little girl’s hair still in paper curlers. I had never heard of this artist before, but his work was quite impressive. I especially liked the naturalness of this painting, plus its clarity and luminescence.

Note also that though both are natural, they exude a sense of dignity. They come from a time where such behavior was always the goal, even though all recognized that as imperfect humans that goal was often unattainable.

Van Gogh's

Finally there was the Impressionists. To the right was Diane’s favorite painting of the day, Vincent van Gogh’s “Long Grass with Butterflies”, painted in 1890. We were both impressed at his ability to invoke grass so clearly, using single brushstrokes of green, white, and black. The man was an artistic genius, with a talent that transcends analysis.

Van Gogh of course was not the only impressionist art on display. We saw many masterpieces by Manet, Monet, Cezanne, Gauguin, Degas, Seurat, to name a few. Seeing these paintings live gives you a view you can’t get from television, movies, prints, or the internet.

Tonight we go to see “Man of La Mancha.” We were able to get nice seats for only 25 pounds each by buying the day of the performance.



  • wayne

    Great art!
    Q: Is the National Gallery free to get inside?


    The British Attempt to Construct a Socialist Commonwealth, 1945-1951
    Gresham College lecture

  • Wayne: Yes, no charge, though there was one temporary exhibit that required payment. We chose to enjoy the free permanent exhibits.

  • Lee S

    Probably too late… But the natural history museum is my favourite… Along with all their fossils, their mineral collection is absolutely bloody amazing! The best I’ve ever visited…. Geodes and quartz crystals taller than me!

  • Lee S: Our plan in London this trip was very simple. Arrive at the hotel, wander about, and do whatever appealed in the immediate neighborhood. Trafalgar Square provides ample choices of wonderful things, and I especially did not wish to overplan this. More fun to take it as it went.

    Thus, though we got a lot of recommendations, I generally ignored them all so that we could improvise instead. Worked out great.

  • Lee S

    Can’t fault you Bob… That is always a fun way to explore a place on a limited time budget….. But if you ever return to London, ( or any of the readers here with an interest in geology..), I can’t recommend the Natural history museum too much… It’s truly stunning in its scope, and like all the great museums, it’s amazing to realize that they only have a small percentage of their total collection on display at any one time…
    Anyway, I’m pleased you had a great time in the UK, and wish you both a safe, and hassle free journey home!

  • Cotour

    Why not attempt to arrange to run into Nigel Farage for an interview? Or Boris Johnson?

  • Lee S

    @ Cotour,
    I guess the the untold millennia of the exhibits at the museum, and Nigel and Boris, are all remarkable products of this world we live in, just some will still be on show in a hundred years and much, much longer!
    To turn this political for a moment, if Boris Johnson does become PM of the UK it will be good for transatlantic relations… They can share hair styling tips!!

  • Alex Andrite


    whoa, room temp gin?
    With a slice of water ?
    Pink Gin is its name as I recall.

    The London “antique” shops really killed me. Beautiful and remarkable items of all types. Lots of “fly fishing gear” items. I was without words, and $$$$.

  • wayne

    “You are not laughing now, are you?”
    Nigel Farage at European Parliament

  • Ian C.

    Yeah, wayne, that’s a classic. Nigel is wonderful.

    “Trumpwave – f a r a g e”

  • wayne

    Ian C.:
    Good stuff!


    Jocko Motivation

  • wayne

    “When I attack, follow me. If I’m killed, avenge me. If I retreat, shoot me.”

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