So I decided to go to London to end the year. Samuel Johnson has said "When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life."
I like London, but I'm not sure I agree. In any case, he was biased, being that he was an Englishman, and don't all homogeneous cultures tend to think of themselves as the best and the brightest? I'm sure the Chinese probably have a variation as to why their cities are the best. This may be an old joke, but certainly the food must be better. When I was first in England over 10 years ago, the food was pretty bad. Now it's just okay. The potato chips however, are fantastic, if you like meat-flavored potato chips. Which I do. Sue me.
I did a lot of sketching in the National Portrait Gallery, which is just off to the side of the National Gallery. I like the portrait gallery better. I suppose because I'm more into pictures of real people, and also because there are several good Sargent paintings there. What's funny is that in the National Gallery, there are romantic depictions of historical events. One of my favorite paintings there (or as the British would say "favourite") is "The Execution of the Lady Jane Grey". Jane Grey was executed by Queen Mary (a.k.a "Bloody" Mary). There was a romantic movie that came out about the event sometime in the 80's I think, starring Helena Bonham Carter and Cary Elwes (Welsey from "The Princess Bride").
Here's the National Gallery painting of Lady Jane Grey
And here is the National Portrait Gallery portrait of her (i.e. what she really looked like)I think this is the reason why the British go slightly crazy when one of the aristocracy is born and he/she isn't hideous.
The National Portrait Gallery is a fun place to see what England's historical figures actually looked like. Sometimes it's also fun because of all the wigs the men used to wear. There is one room that is full of men in wigs. They were the cool kids of their time, politicians, philosophers, and were called the Kit-Kat Club. All-titled, and I really do think, uniformly ugly. But who needs looks when you have money, right?
There is also a very large painting done by Sargent depicting the officers of WWI. It's an impressive painting in that it was done at all, but in terms of a work of art, it really didn't do anything for me. However, the sense of what WWI did and what was lost, was clear. Because in the same room as this:
there is a sculpture of one of the pilots of WWI. The sculpture, which was probably only about 3 feet tall, there is the sense of determination and joy of life that maybe you can only have when you're 21. Which is how old this man (boy?) was, when he was shot down.
And it made me think about all those old men's faces, with their solemn, proud, "we are the serious men doing serious work" expressions. Perhaps they were heroes too, perhaps they did understand the gravity of the choices they were making. But every single last one of them was too old to go to the front.
So there you go.