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Monday, 17 February 2014

London Monopoly (21): Oxford Street

A further stop in my journey around the London Monopoly board.
Selfridge's, Oxford Street, London. Opened in 1909.
At one and a half miles long Oxford Street is Europe's busiest shopping street. For the main part it is full of all the multinational and international stores that most UK High Street's will have; the big names cannot afford not to be there. This makes it rather unremarkable in some ways. Toward the eastern end at the junction of Tottenham Court Road and Charing Cross Road there are the relatively smaller stores with a few independents and nearer to the western end at Marble Arch, near one corner of Hyde Park there is, for me, the saving grace of Oxford Street - the department stores. Personally I think Selfridge's is the best of these.
It is rather underrated but I prefer it to Harrod's. Somehow the staff seem to be less under pressure and are more pleasant and there is an excellent bookshop.
Oxford Street is only open to taxicabs and buses and no other private or commercial vehicles during the day.
Oxford Street is known to have existed for at least two thousands years but not under that name of course. The Romans called it Via Trinobantina and it formed part of the route into London from the south-west (Hampshire) and out to the north-east (Colchester in Essex). It was the route that condemned prisoners were taken by from Newgate (now the Old Bailey Criminal Court) to Tyburn to be hanged (now Marble Arch). Incidentally people are hanged whereas pictures are hung!
Oxford Street after a heavy German bombing raid in April 1943 (Getty Images)
Oxford Street today
At the halfway point is Oxford Circus, which is where Regent Street crosses Oxford Street. It features something unique for London - diagonal pedestrian crossings.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Painting of the Month (42) February 2014: Van Gogh

This is an iconic image by one of the most revered artists of all time - Vincent Van Gogh. At first glance you may think there's not much to it but come closer and Bazza will enlighten you.....
Wheat Field Under Threatening Skies also known as Wheat Field with Crows.
 Painted in July1890, the month in which he died, by Vincent Van Gogh.
Many people would recognise this as Van Gogh's work even if they had never seen it before. The thickly applied paint, individual brush-strokes and subject matter are all typical of his art. It is thought that this may have been the last picture he ever painted but it was not; it was certainly one of the last few. It is well known that he suffered with mental instability for much of his life and it is easy to define turbulence and impending doom in this picture. In which direction are the crows flying? It's hard to say, isn't it? Look closely at the central path which leads one into the painting. Where is is it going? It's going nowhere; it doesn't disappear so much as stop. Dead. This is a subject that would usually be enriching and uplifting but Vincent has managed to convey his chaotic state of mind. He took his own life shortly afterwards. In a way it is like looking into another person's thought processes and yet it is 'only' a landscape painting. I find that fact incredible.
The impending summer storm depicted here has sometimes been interpreted as Vincent's suicide note but, of course, all interpretation of art is very subjective.
This was one of a series of wheatfield paintings that Van Gogh made in this unusual elongated format 50cm by 100cm.
Footnote: Americans usually pronounce his surname as 'Van Go', Britons as 'Van Goff' and the Dutch (who should know best) sound like they are filling their mouth with phlegm when they pronounce his name!
I promise that my next post will be something more cheerful!