Turnips for Baldrick

Am just longing for some fruit. Went out with the firm determination to pay one shilling per pound for apples, but to my horror there was not one to be found in N.H. Gate at any price whatever. The windows seem full of turnips.

Vere Hodgson

Decided that a flat there would be nice

Alighting at St Paul’s we walked along we walked towards London Wall. At once we found the church Mr Hillyard was interested in. It was shut. We contented ourselves with noting the Roman Bastion which forms the vestry. Reached Charterhouse Square, and decided that a flat there, looking on the trees, would be nice. Sat beneath the Mulberry Tree in the Courtyard. Half dead with thirst we made for Holborn, and found an orangeade. Just as we reached home and had a cup of tea the Siren went again. Thankful to be in!

Vere Hodgson, August 1940.

English Baroque


Another excellent art show whose life has been unexpectedly curtailed, and unfortunately probably wasn’t as well attended as it deserved, being not peak trendy right now. Despite this, English Baroque at the Tate is/was a stonkingly large and shiny five star show and in the unlikely we all get lockdown lifted before 19 April, when this was due to close, I’d recommend anyone who can to get there.


The late Stuart monarchs covered over 50 years between them and a significant shift from a lush Italianate counter-Reformation style to a more pared-back aesthetic that already looked forward to the neo-classicism of the 1790s. In between, other styles (from trompe l’oiel cut outs, to Dutch flower paintings and blue and white porcelain, to quasi-Elizabethan portraits of estates and a family’s grounds) also flourished.


This exhibition covered each theme piece by piece, starting with the political restoration of Charles II and the cult of monarchy, which kickstarted a round of court portraiture equal to that of Vandyke at Charles’ father’s court.


Interestingly, Charles’ queen – the Portuguese Catherine of Braganza – deliberately patronised Catholic artists, as did the Arundell family and also Charles’ brother, James II, in a deliberate alignment between politics and taste. This split carried on into the early 18th century where Tories and Whigs argues whether the Gothic or Grecian styles were more patriotic.


Whilst in exile, Charles had taken refuge in the Netherlands – and one of his nieces was in fact married to the Stadtholder – and a Dutch influence was also clear at this time in a preference for blue and white vases, embroidered carpets and elaborate flower and nature still lifes.


However, as the century waned and the nobility re-established themselves a new trend crept in and families spent as much time and money capturing their estates on canvas – or buying drawings of the new buildings under construction in London following the Great Fire – as they did on portraits.


Those individuals who were painted still adopted the rich silks that Lely had popularised on the 1660s, but a more fluid line became popular and the poses thought to be graceful were more static and less theatrical. One room was dedicated to the amazing collection of “beauties” all commissioned by the same patron and a feminine counterpart to the more famous male “Kit Kat Club” portraits of 30 years later.


The final rooms looked at the many wars fought over the 50 years and how allegorical murals were adapted from royal palaces to celebrate newly enobled generals and admirals in their country seats,



and at how a “polite society” of letters and politicians coalesced in early 18th century London, setting the foundations for the Parliamentary democracy and free press of the 19th century. The move away from absolute monarchy and the Baroque court had begun.


Fascinating, full of beautiful pieces and well curated this really was a gem.

East India Company

Sad to think of how many exhibitions have been closed or cancelled due to the current situation, but also heartening to see museums and galleries open up their collections for free online. Hopefully this somewhat reversed the current trend of government funding being cut until tickets soar to £20 a person, making it a hobby for the privilger few.

In the meantime, here’s a throwback to an outstanding exhibition put on by the Wallace Collection of art commissioned by diplomats and soldiers of the East India Company:


Next on the list


2020 has already been a rip-roaring year for art: Freud, Riley, food photography, the East India Company, and this excellent exhibition from 2 Temple Place.



2 Temple Place was built for John Jacob Astor who was then too scared of kidnapping to live in it and now opens once a year for a free exhibition. This year’s offering, a survey of female textile collectors and creators, fits in a treat to the space.


Amongst the first part of the exhibition are Edith Durham, advocate of Albanian independence who spent her “grey months” learning Serbo Croat in London and Louisa Pessel who helped shellshocked servicemen to recover from WW1 with needlework, whilst also researching Greek and Norwegian textile techniques.


Later on 1930s abstract patterns from Enid Marx follow 18th century court dress collections (and Enid’s own collection of British folk art)


and more modern pieces challenge identity and history in modern day Britain. I can’t recommend it highly enough. On till late April.

ps this is the 2000th post on The Universal Cabinet, thank you to all those who’ve been following along.

Hampton Court


It had been several years since I’d last visited Hampton Court, but being on the right side of town (well, sort of) I thought I’d make a visit to see Queen Elizabeth’s dress, of which more anon.


The Tudor rooms were largely shut up for restoration which was a shame as I’d fancied seeing the great kitchens and hall with the York and Lancaster roses painted on the ceiling again.


Ditto the William and Mary apartments were a lot barer than I remembered, whilst the Georgian wing had entirely escaped my memory.


But what was open was well worth seeing: the hanoverian dynasty building, one painted ceiling at a time; the gambling rooms, chocolate kitchen and royal art collection,


and the Chapel Royal and a painted leather chamber said to contain belongings of Cardinal Wolsey. It’s not a cheap visit but on such a bright and beautiful day I could have spent another 2 hours there if it had been fully open.