A glimpse of Notre Dame

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A glimpse of Notre Dame in the afternoon by Matisse (1902). I like how his reduction of the cathedral to its outline reinvents it as a modernist urban factory, in vogue with artists of the time and a world away from Monet’s detailed paintings of Rouen cathedral, for example.

image from Wikiart

Rubenshuis

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The last day of Antwerp we talked about whether it was worth going to see this. It’s the home of the painter Rubens, built when he was already rich and successful as a base to trade paintings from and I’d been keen, but now I was feeling lazy, and there were biscuits to buy, naps to have. I wasn’t so bothered about seeing a lot of art.

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But it was five minutes from the flat, on the way to the station and actually this place – far bigger than expected, and showing a delightful mix of the art Rubens himself collected – was a charming mix of Italianate gardens, domestic rooms and fine art.

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Possibly my favourite thing after the Begijnhof and Mode Museum?

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All photos August 2017.

Ham House

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Blazing hot on bank holiday weekend, reached by a welcome walk through trees or by the river.

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Cool and dark inside, with tapestries, leather walls, portraits and a gallery

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and then back outside to the grounds in the midday heat. August 2017.

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Inko

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I’m enjoying these personifications of the London Tube lines by the manga artist Inko. Part manga heroes and heroines, part flower fairies, there are plenty of witty touches that will keep any Londoner chuckling. Have a look at Inko’s website here for more.

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Margiela revelations

When I was 15, a friend’s mother kindly introduced me to a curator at the V&A’s fashion department, where I spent a week’s work experience. The exhibition they were putting on at the time and I remember listening with bafflement to tales of Martin Margiela, unsure why I was meant to admire a man for putting mould on tweed suits and deliberately making “ugly” clothes. I liked McQueen and Galliano, but avoided searching out Margiela any further.

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I was surprised therefore to see that the show at Antwerp’s MoMu (fashion museum) was titled Margiela: The Hermes Years. What would this designer have to do with a rather stuffy fashion house best known for its scarves and handbags? I couldn’t imagine it, but the show was a revelation.

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Simply displayed against plain white or Hermes-orange walls, the clothes were ultra-luxe, genuinely timeless in emphasising quality over passing whims, and yet not boring.

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There were defiant surrealist touches – a dress made out of fake engagement rings, a pair of stockings for a coat belt, a string of plastic jewels “staining” a dress with light or blood – but mostly just superb plays of texture against each other and immaculate cutting.

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It’ll never be my budget, and Margiela’s colour palette wouldn’t suit me anyway, but you see totally why these clothes were #lifegoals for his audience.

all photos August 2017.

Moody

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Then there was the bad weather. It would come in one day…We would have to shut the windows in the night against the rain and the cold wind would strip the leaves from the trees in the Place Contrescarpe. The leaves lay sodden in the rain and the wind drive the rain against the big green autobus at the terminal…

Hemingway – A Moveable Feast

Always a gamble whether September ushers in the start of 6 months like this, or a glorious burst of summer that runs till mid-October. Either way, I think Hemingway would have approved of this fellow, and I’m in the mood for his short, crunchy sentences.

Portrait of a gipsy, Israel Gonzalez de la Serna, 1925-1930

Glowing

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I saw this late work by Alma-Tadema (better known for his massive classical set pieces) over at Leighton House on a pouring wet day earlier this month. Leighton House itself is pretty stunning, with an “Arab Hall” inspired by Syria and Sicily and an entrance of deep peacock blue tiles, so the perfect setting for Alma-Tadema’s equally lush art.

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Rather nicely, the two artists actually knew each other and Leighton recommended his architect to Alms Tadema, when he bought Tissot’s house in St John’s Wood and decided to remodel it to include extra studios for his wife and each of his daughters. This exhibition’s well worth a trip, especially for the films showing how Alma Tadema’s art has influenced film depictions of Ancient Rome, and for a reconstruction of the “panel room”, where artistic visitors were asked to paint a contribution before leaving.

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photos of Leighton House from my visit.

Les Augustins

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Toulouse has two main art museums which are converted monasteries, now with peaceful cloisters, deck chairs for tourists and collections of religious art. The Musee des Augustins is the bigger – and if I were to guess, the wealthier, a huge red brick building that reminded me of London’s V&A.

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The cloisters and gothic architecture are certainly great, while the main staircase is totally throwing out the Harry Potter vibes, but for me the absolute coup was this downstairs hall which paired sci-fi-Essie lights with a great display of earthy and funny Romanesque capitols taken from the basilica of St Sernin.

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It was witty and striking without denigrating either the old or new, and done with a sense of humour that sadly most modern art galleries (Tate, I’m looking at you) lack entirely.

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Probably my favourite place to see in Toulouse?

August 2017.