Thursday, 15 March 2012

British Museum

I have a new favourite.

I was fortunate enough to be in London a couple of times lately, and for the first time made it to the British Museum. And needless to say, since then I have been going back for more.

The building in itself is inspired- and I cannot help but wonder if the ceiling did not inspire J.K Rowling as the ceiling in the Dining Hall in Hogwarts?

But there are sooooo many things there to admire and to make you think, and to make you want to learn more, I find myself just walking around and either smiling (except getting stuck behind large groups)(that walk slowly), or getting stressed over what to see. I know that there are sane people out there that decide on a part and are happy to see just that, but that has never been my style, so I have to admit that I was just a bit overwhelmed. The audioguide is amazing and a great help and I warmly recommend it even to those that have better memory than me and actually remember their history lessons, but if you are like me and like to take the collection home with you- there is a perfect book you can buy.

A history of the world in 100 objects is written by the Director of the BM, and produced by BBC Radio 4. Basically, it takes you on a journey from what I think are the oldest discovered stone tools, nearly two millions old- to a penny defaced by the Sufragattes and a credit card that is ok for use in the Muslim countries- the last object being a solar power driven lamp. Between the first and the last, there is 800 pages of our history, retold in a very accessible and interesting, to say the least, way. It is a book you can read from cover to cover, or take and enjoy an object at a time- what ever is your way. There are also the podcasts that you can get, and pages dedicated to this both on BBC and on BM pages.

I have so many thoughts and impressions from both the book and the British Museum, and may come back to some of the things I have seen, but that will come later:)

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Pride and Prejudice

Who does not love mr Darcy?

I have read Pride and Prejudice many a time and am trying to think why I like it so much. First of all, I suppose that it is the ultimate romance for me. Witty, romantic, with interesting characters - but not sappy. I like the understatment and the irony, but I can also think that the people are interesting- and you can imagine what drives them.

Over the past decade, or maybe the two last decades, there has been no end to Jane Austen themes in books. Even though Pride and Prejudice in many ways is a Cinderella tale, and therefore a classic that Jane Austen did not invent, I think it is the dramatisations that have contributed to this.

There are two BBC series made, 1980 and 1995. While I like the first one, it is the 1995 version that I find superior, and also most true of the book in the way it is understated. (Apart from the water scenes, both the bath scene and the jump in the lake scene just annoy me) (And, especially the latter goes so against the character of mr Darcy as I know it) I think it is the actors, and the chemistry between them. Ever since Colin Firth gave his first smouldering look to Jennifer Ehle, I have been in love with mr Darcy. When I think of Colin Firth, I hear the soundtrack in my mind (love the soundtrack) and I have to say that together with some chocolate, Pride and Prejudice means a great rainy day. (Honestly, it does not even have to rain..)

Unfortunately, I feel that too many of the Austenia variety do not come up to scratch. Austenland comes to mind, which I did not like much. Ok read, with a giggle or two, but nothing I would read again. The plot felt too contrived, I did not like the characters and overall, I think Jane would have felt rather taken for a ride.

Bridget Jones is initally a less obvious variation of Pride and Prejudice, as the alcohol and calory counting Bridget does not have the personality of Lizzie at all. But, a problematic mother that runs away with a conman and most importantly, Mark Darcy himself give it away. I did not like the film as much as I thought I would, too hysterical and the friends that I like in the book being just too bleak, but the fact that Mark Darcy is played by Colin Firth was a nice twist in deed. The books, I like. And yes, I have laughed loud while reading BJ. A lot.

My favourite P & P is Lions and Liquorice, or Vanity and Vexation in the US, by Kate Fenton. You know all along that it is a P&P plot, funnily enough, on a P&P film set, but there are twists and turns that keep you interested. And I really like Kate Fenton´s writing. Her irony and eye of the obscure in everyday life suit my humour and I have re-read Lions and Liquorice many a time. So, if you aren´t going to read the real thing, this would be my runner-up.

Friday, 30 April 2010

The sweet escape - an ode to chick lit

As life is among the hardest, as a friend of my mother´s says, now and again, (understatement of the year) I choose to escape into the world of the chick lit genre. Sometimes the books make me laugh, like Bridget Jones, sometimes they make me think- like Anna Maxted´s Getting over it- where the main plot is Bridget Jonesesque with a twist, but the subplot really got to me. And sometimes, even though I finish the book, I just wonder...
I know it is about escape, I know it is fiction- but the lapses of some books really bother me. Funnily enough, I never questioned that Harry Potter could be a wizard and defeat Voldemort, but I do question how the Holly of the beginning of this book, with the cluelessness that she had, could make it to become a proffessional success.. So, the only enjoyment I had of this book was when a date was as long and bad as a Kevin Costner movie- my sentiment exactly, and by picturing Holly´s outfits. I even had to check when the book was written, and ok, she was supposed to be a country bumkin from Fresno - but black leather trousers and a turquise silk blouse? And jeans and a red tie-blouse? Really? A 25 year old in 2009? How the San Fran crowd must have suffered.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Close up

In books, frequently, and in real life, not too often, people fall in love by looking deep into each others eyes.

In Clueless, Cher compares a girl to an impressionist painting -looking good from a distance and a mess up front. And it is true that I often find myself stepping onto peoples´ toes and hitting walls while trying to really see a painting.

Then again, there are situations where you don´t notice, or don´t appreciate, the beauty of the separate parts. The other day I was reading about David again and saw a close up of his face- and I am speechless.

The colour of blue and what´s in a name?

If you close your eyes and think about the colour blue - what do you see?

I see this cut-out by Henri Matisse. I have always liked it, and to me it always symbolised the joy de vivre, which is probably misspelled, but so much better than joy of life. A man with a beating heart, dancing wildly in the starry night. A part of Matisse´s famous Jazz series, so very much expressing the joy and creativity of a jam session. Even though blue as colour is supposed to be calming, soothing and heavenly (hence the blue robes of Virgin Mary), I have always seen passion and joy.

Until yesterday, when I found out that this - print- for lack of better word- is called Icaros, and shows the man with the big dreams not soaring up on his wax wings anymore, but falling down after they melt when he came too close to the sun.

And no matter what I do, I cannot find the joy de vivre anymore, I only see the falling man with a beating heart. Speaking about colours, I can imagine that the poor man probably is feeling blue in deed. And, funny thing, the only thing different from yesterday is that I know his name.

Monday, 29 March 2010

The underdog triumfant

On rare occasions an art piece surpasses itself and the idea of what it represents becomes inseparable with the craft. This is then the making of a masterpiece, and one of the non-desputable masterpieces of the world is Michaelangelo´s David.

I have heard that there are seven core themes that are the root of every story ever told by mankind. Surely the story of David, who defeats Goliath against all odds is one version of the underdog winning against a much stronger opponent. And the theme can really be tracked from the biblical David to Star Wars, Lord of the Ring, Harry Potter, Rainmaker and Erin Brockovich and pretty much any fairytale where heros, ranging from courageous but poor to good-for-nothing but transformed by magic or love, kill the dragon and get the princess. Mix the underdog theme with the one of the love triangle, and you have the recipe to pretty much any romance/ romantic comedy, where the less fortunate gets the girl/boy, in spite of not being as popular, good looking or rich.

The underdog that has been mocked, heckled and ridiculed but that triumfs in the end gives hope to all of those who have ever felt illtreated by fate. We need to aspire to something and we need to have faith that we can overcome our worries. And the story of David gives us just that. This is part of the fascination with "the" David. The fact that it was chiseled over 500 years ago by the 26 year old Michaelangelo, who was hailed as divine during his life time helps. Michaelangelo´s passion and temper for his work were legendary and possibly here the idea of the tortured artist started. So the legend of Michaelangelo contributes to the legend of David. But David himself, standing 5.17 cm proud, pensive, but not afraid, has also become the symbol of the free Florence, resisting the pressure of the enemies, so much stronger than she. The Florentines positioned him so that he faces Rome, their biggest threat. Even if it is a replica that has taken the original´s place, I still believe that David inspires both locals and the masses of tourists that come by.

An interesting book of from the Renaissance period, purely fictive, but nice read nevertheless, is Sarah Dunant´s Birth of Venus, about a artistic noble woman, growing up in Savonarola´s and Michaelangelo´s Florence.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Paintings that stopped the clock

Johannes Vermeer and how Scarlett Johansson increased the numbers of gallery visitors

Today Vermeer belongs to most treasured artists and is a household name, thanks to the 2003 filmatisation of "Girl with a Pearl Earring", a novel by Tracy Chavalier about one of Vermeer´s most famous paintings. On internet, Johannes Vermeer pops among the top 15 most famous artists, yet, 100 years ago, nobody knew who he was.

When a Dutch delegation gave "A Music Lesson" to the English court in the end of the 18th century, the name of the artist was changed from Vermeer to Pieter de Hooch or Nicolaes Maas, I can´t remember which one of them, as that artist was so much more valued. 200 years later, not only were the curates extremely keen to asign the painting to Vermeer, the painting is also the pride of the royal collection at Windsor Palace- because it is a Vermeer.

Even though Johannes Vermeer enjoyed some acknowledgement as artist during his life, when he died in 1675, he quickly fell out of radar of art conneseurs. If it hadn´t been for two art historians who in the beginning of the 20th century made it their mission to catalogue and in their way market his work, chances are very few people would know his paintings. After 1930s, Vermeer became very highly priced and today his paintings belong to the highlights of the few galleries that are fortunate enough to own his work. There are many reasons for this. He was in his forties when he died, so he did not enjoy to long productivity of Rembrandt or Monet. Vermeer also was extremely precise in his painting, and is said to have painted only about three paintings a year. All and all, today we know of 34-36 paintings that for sure are made by him. But, I have forgotten to mention the most important reason for Vermeer´s fame. His paintings are wonderously wonderful.

One of the reasons is the colours. Learning from the studies of among others Leonardo da Vinci, Vermeer carefully planned the the colour composition in order to create the best effect. He also used real pigments, that he grounded himself and he was a pioneer in using the expensive lapis lazuli in his day and age- to my understanding, it had been reserved for Virgin Mary by artists such as Michaelangelo. This is why his paintings are so vivid and why the blues are nearly explosive.

Needless to say, I noticed Vermeer before the books. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several Vermeers, and the one that caught my eye was the one of the sleeping maid. Ironically, I did not see the maid, but I noticed the carpet. I am a toucher, I can´t order clothes on line as I need to feel the fabrice, and it is always a challenge to pass statues. Normally, I can handle paintings, but my fingers itched to touch this carpet. And once you start looking, you can´t stop. In Johannes Vermeer´s paintings, there is such a quality of harmony, balance and tranquility, that you feel as if you were suspended in time. You are drawn into an unknown world, that seems as real as the carpet seemed to me. It is no wonder that there are at least three books of fiction written about Vermeer´s paintings. I wonder that there isn´t more of them.