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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

My Heroes (39): Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 2002 the BBC commissioned a poll to find who were, according to public opinion, the 100 most important Britons ever. It was no surprise that Sir Winston Churchill came first but the pleasant revelation, for me, was the man who came second - Isambard Kingdom Brunel, one of the greatest engineers the world has known.
Brunel pictured in front of the chains of the SS Great Britain
Like many brilliant people, before and since, he was not afraid to fail; and he had many failures in his relatively short career. Let's look at some of his magnificent achievements. His early successes included the first tunnel under a navigable waterway, (the River Thames), and the wonderful Clifton suspension bridge.
The Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England
The Great Western Railway was one of the wonders of Victorian Britain. It ran from London to Bristol and later was extended to Exeter in Devon. The characteristic of Brunel's work was innovation and engineering originality and a high level of precision. 
His greatest achievement, however, was probably the SS Great Britain, launched in 1843 which was the largest ship in the world at that time. It sailed between Bristol and New York and Brunel also conceived an incredible scheme to extend the Great Western Railway across the Atlantic by utilising steam-powered ships!
The SS Great Britain now restored, pictured in Bristol
He died of a stroke at the young age of 53 in 1859.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

London Monopoly (25); Final stop, Mayfair.

So, at last my journey around the London version of the Monopoly Board has come to an end at Mayfair - deemed the most expensive part of London. There is a pervading atmosphere of timeless quality, tradition and, mostly, wealth in Mayfair.
Berkeley Square Gardens in the centre of Mayfair
I believe that a Nightingale sang there once upon a time...
In 1686 a new location for a two-week long fair held in Haymarket was needed so the 'May fair' was moved to a nearby area of open fields. Development then began in a part known as Shepherd Market and the fair existed there until 1764 when it moved to Fair Field in Bow, East London after complaints from residents. And the name Mayfair stuck.
Since that time until very recently Shepherd Market became synonymous with prostitution but it's image has changed to become a charming centre of pubs and restaurants.
Shepherd Market, Mayfair (
It is thought that the Romans settled in the Mayfair area during the conquest of Britain in AD 43 but moved their camp a short distance to the east to be nearer the Thames. However they would not have had to pay the astronomical rents that they would today! Even in the game of Monopoly if you land on Mayfair with added hotels you are likely to get wiped out.
Beautiful shop entrance in Mount Street in the heart of Mayfair
I am working on my next major London-based project to follow this. Coming to your computer soon!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Painting of the Month (47) July 2014: Matisse

Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953
Henri Matisse, The Snail, 1953, The Tate Gallery , London
Henri Matisse (1869-1954) had a long and successful career as a painter but by the 1940s ill-health had meant a change in the way he worked. He was famous for being a 'colourist' and this picture certainly maintains that tradition, utilising a complex and clever scheme of coloured pieces of cut-out paper to depict the shell of a snail (or is it? read on!) and managing to create an enormous sense of movement.
This is one of his last creations, which he directed his students to compile. He firstly drew the outline, probably using a long pole from his wheel-chair or bed and then told the students exactly where to place the painted paper. This was then traced and sent off to be pasted in place to the exact millimetre.
Matisse himself did not call this work The Snail; he called it La Composition Chromatique. However, it is universally known as The Snail but there may be a clue that, although Matisse was well into his eighties when this was created he had not lost his sense of humour. Take a close look at the top-left lilac-coloured piece of paper. Can you see a very tiny outline of a small creature crawling along the top? That's the snail!
This image has become an iconic reminder of one of the 20th century's greatest artists. I have shown some more of his glorious output below.
I will be in France for a long weekend so replies to comments will be a bit later than usual!