A forgotten Marchesa

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The Marchesa Margherita Sarapani Gentili Boccadapuli (1735-1820) seems to have had one of those lives that are incredible not to be better known. According to the biographical sketch on the website where I found this picture, she was a scientist, classicist, traveller who collected widely, kept a (no doubt fascinating) diary and a member of the Roman academy Accademia dell’Arcadia that had been founded in 1690 to reform Italian poetry and commemorate the death of another influential woman, Queen Christina of Sweden who’d abdicated her throne and moved to Rome in the 1650s where she then converted to Catholicism. (Garbo later played the Queen in an early silent film and memorably said that she decided to act the final shot – where Christina sails away from her kingdom – by keeping her thoughts entirely blank and allowing the viewer to project their own emotions onto the scene.)

Anyway, back to the Marchesa she was no doubt a formidable intellect and personality in her time and this portrait deliberately reflects her many interests, as well as a rather masculine colour scheme for the sitter. Clearly the Marchesa wasn’t interested in pale chintzes and now Rococo pastels! The bowl of goldfish looks rather 19th century orientalist to me, but the marble table with pharaoh’s heads and tray of butterfly specimens is pure Enlightenment. My favourite is the statue behind the Marchesa: an allusion to her classical studies, but also possibly to a less cerebral side of her life?

Frances Hodgkins

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I can’t stop (and won’t stop) singing the praises of Eiderdown Books, and they’ve led me to some new artists too. One of these was Frances Hodgkins, a New Zealand artist born in 1869 who was still punching high in avant garde circles in London and St Ives in the 1930s and 1940s. Her style changed from early, charming and rather Sargent-like watercolours pre WW1, to a bolder, modernist style but with far more colour and panache than some of her contemporaries. This, Wings Over Water (1931-2), is actually owned by the Tate although I don’t think I’ve ever seen it there on display. It would go well next to their Carrington, which does get displayed.

Airy mornings

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There’s a change in summer light each year, which means that you wake up with the room feeling airy and bright for the day, even if the breezes are still cool, and which makes it almost as pleasant to lie beneath the sheets and look at the sun through the curtains as to sit in a garden with that first glass of water listening to the birds. These pictures by Andrew Wyeth (part of an American family of painters whose art I first saw in Charleston two years ago) and Federico Zandomeneghi capture just that.

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Greek summers

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Gliko: This can be made of muscat or rosaki grapes, of quince, or even of very immature walnuts. It often greets the traveller after a laborious journey on foot across the mountains, served with ice-cold water from the village fountain.

The gliko is presented on a saucer with a spoon and is consumed under a fig tree in the courtyard. The lady of the house provides you with a rush-seated chair to sit upon, and another on which to rest your legs. She sprinkles the courtyard floor with water from a water jar to lay the dust and cool the air, and presents you with a sprig of basil and glass of spring water whilst you dispatch the gliko.

Hospitality: to be able to discern precisely what your guests are in need of.

Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed and Lucien Freud’s self portrait (Man with a Thistle, 1946)

Cats in the kitchen

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Came for the Ravilious, stayed for the Tirzah Garwood.

I’m still a fan of Ravilious’ work but there’s no doubt that both he and Edward Bawden were shits in that particularly mid-20th century bohemian way (sexual freedom for the man; sock washing and the “satisfaction” of using her art and skills to appreciate his for the woman).

Tirzah’s memoir, Long Live Great Bardfield, sits alongside that other interesting and un-self-pitying piece A Slender Reputation and covers amongst other things the ways in which she managed to keep her art going even during the paper rationing of World War 2. I find her work has so much sly humour in it, she must have been delightful.

Morisot and Manet

One is the things I’ve enjoyed most during lockdown was the postings from the Musee Marmatton Monet of paintings in their collection. As the name suggests, they hold several Monets, and indeed quite a bit impressionism collection overall. The museum owns a number of Morisots, including paintings from her private life.

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In 1874 Berthe married the brother of her friend and fellow artist Manet and this is a picture of their honeymoon on the Isle of Wight. Later, she would paint Edgar solemnly playing at teaparties in their garden with their daughter, and he continues to encourage her to both paint and exhibit under her maiden name.