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Arts Afternoon

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On a bitterly cold February day a world class city like London comes into its own. A mind blowingly long list of attractions , exhibitions, events, talks , walks  and sporting, cinematic and theatrical activities are ever present even on a dreary out of season February afternoon.  So without anything planned we head into town with nothing more certain than wanting to see some Art. And there is a lot of that around too.

Before leaving we had found out that the Light Show at the Hayward Gallery and the Lichtenstein retrospective at Tate Modern  were sold out but the Picasso exhibition at the Courtauld looked a possibility. We wandered through Bloomsbury and, partly to get a brief respite from the icy blasts coming from Siberia via Southend , found ourselves outside, then inside the October Gallery in Old Gloucester Street a narrow lane that runs south out of Queen’s Square.

This small free to enter gallery has an eclectic collection of modern art and sculptures in a couple of ground floor rooms. At the back, a pretty courtyard with plants and further exhibits, completely deserted today of course but definitely worth a further visit on a warmer day. A plaster of Paris head with radios quietly emitting programmes, a machine gun bedecked in jewels and ribbons and a huge ball of an exhibit made from pressed oil cans  together with some paintings and a weird lumpy mirror all provided amusement and puzzlement in equal measures. A pretty Iranian girl confirmed that during the week an added attraction was the high quality Persian food served at lunchtime.

Time to move on through Lincolns Inn Fields and through the warren of streets that is the home of the LSE.  At Somerset House, the home of the Courtauld Gallery a giant noisy marquee in the courtyard of this great 18th century house was hosting “The London Fashion Week”.  The Gallery itself was packed out but with our pre booked timed tickets we made our way up the elegant staircase to rooms 14 and 15 where the Picasso exhibition was displayed.

The pictures on display were those of a brilliant and emerging talent. Pablo Picasso  was a mere 19 years old when he exhibited at the famous Paris exhibition in 1901. He found himself in Paris at the height of the Belle Epoch when Paris was undoubtedly the capital of the Art world. It was the home of Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Manet and Degas. The Can Can was all the range and poets and intellectuals roamed the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.  Yet clearly the critics were right to spot the genius of this prodigious artist.

These 40 or so pictures by the young Picasso showed the emerging talent and even in this one year the beginnings of his development and experimentation that later became famous as his Blue period. Two works dominated by a blue wash paid homage to a young poet friend who had shot himself that year. A self portrait of the young artist with bright orange crevette stared confidently back at you. Other oils demonstrated the artisits eye for the joy of Parisian nightlife as well as more random subjects such asthe Harlequin and the Companion. Picasso was working at a furious pace at this stage in his career as if the creativity within him needed to be instantly expressed on canvass. Sometimes this resulted in as many as three pictures a day! An interesting and stimulating look at the 20th century’s greatest artist. What also caught my eye was the global appeal of the artist as museums and galleries from Moscow, Paris, St. Louis, Barcelona and New York as well as many pictures from private collections had all lent works for the exhibition.

There was also time to have a quick look at some of the other Art in the other rooms and, as we both love the Impressionists, there are some great artists and paintings to see. One of Degas’ famous ballerina pictures, a number of pictures and sketches by Renoir and Provence scenes by Cezanne and Monets and Manets as well as some of those very distinguished and easily recognisable Tahitian ladies of Paul Gauguin. My favourites and possibly most people’s favourites the bandaged self-portrait by Van Gogh and the masterfall ” Bar at the Folies Bergere ” by Edauard Manet. The room reflected so brilliantly in the mirror at the back of the bar you think at first that the barmaid is looking at you the viewer when in fact the reflection from the mirror reveals that the barmaid herself is fully engaged with a customer at the bar. Magnifique!

By 5-30 we were both “Arted out” and after a cup of Rosy Lee we headed back to the frozen north of Southgate.

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