Wednesday 4 July 2012

Urban Diary

As soon as you turn right from St Martin's Place, you see the sign. Hanging from the side of the building, it boasts its message loud and proud: free admission.
This is a regular pilgrimage for me. The National Gallery is one of those places in London to which I repair whenever I have the opportunity. Today my wife and our children have gone off to visit my father-in-law and I find myself emerging from Leicester Square tube station into a beautiful sunny morning sans famille.

Once I get to the building I head for Room 43 straight away. I have a couple of hours to spare and want to lose myself in the realm of impressionism, one of my two favourite art movements (the other one is surrealism).

Manet and Monet greet me like an old friend. In almost fifteen years in the UK, I have probably been in this room half a dozen times. And I never tire of it. Or of the National Gallery.

The instituition was established in the 1820s as a way to address the lack of a British equivalent to the great state collections of continental Europe. It welcomes everyone: adults on their own, families and students.
Room 43 for me is the reverse of Room 101 in 1984. I never want to leave it. There are very few places - except for home, of course, both in Cuba and here in London - where I feel more at ease than here. I walk over Monet's Japanese Bridge  and run down Alfred Sisley's Small Meadows in Spring. I even allow Manet's feline from Woman with a Cat to purr on my lap.

But today I make another "discovery". I leave my usual haunt and venture forth into Room 44 and immediately "it" catches my eye. What is "it"? I've never seen "it" before. Is "it" a new acquisition? I ask one of the invigilators. No, they reply, that painting's been there for ages. How come I've never noticed it? I ask myself silently.

It is the sea that really grabs me. Théo van Rysselberghe's Coastal Scene dances off the canvas. A tiny cluster of white and blue dots sprinkled across the surface. The effect is calming. I want to be there, I tell myself. I have already been there, I correct myself immediately. In Oban, Scotland. In Cantabria, Spain. In Cardigan, Wales. In Cornwall, England. I recognise this landscape. And yet it's eerie and foreign at the same time. It has a sense of otherness. Which I understand when I read about the painter's style. Beyond impressionism. There's still the flickering brushstroke and the effects of light and colour. But there're also more defined lines. The known unknown.

I remain transfixed on the spot for a few minutes, soaking up the atmosphere from the picture. After a while I head for the shop where I buy a guide to surrealism. I leave the museum, stop outside and turn around. The sign still boasts the same caption loud and proud: free admission. And may it continue!

Photo of the National Gallery taken by the blog author

Photo of the "Coastal Scene" taken from the National Gallery website

© 2012

Next Post: “Sunday Mornings: Coffee, Reflections and Music”, to be published on Sunday 8th July at 10am (GMT)


  1. a very interesting post, cuban!

    very well written, too. you have a way with words.
    also, love your new template and your header.

    have a great day!
    p.s. thanks for the lovely comments, always appreciated:)

  2. I love these rooms too in the National and still marvel that admission is free to view so many treasures - last time I was there in feb I was blown away by a latest Monet acquisition....207 ereasen

  3. Wonderful commentary on a really beautiful painting -- thanks, Cuban! And have you ever heard of the Stendhal affect while viewing art? If not, it's fascinating --

  4. Lovely post. I'll be in London in October and I'm heading straight for the National Gallery. And I love the National Portrait Gallery too. Is that also free?

  5. What a wonderful place to visit and for free! The art just speaks to us doesnt it...

  6. Yes, we need the free places!

  7. Many thanks for your kind comments.

    Elizabeth, no, I haven't heard of the Stendhal affect. I'll have to Google it.

    Have a great weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  8. I love spending the day in art museums too. Love impressionists and your review. Free admission makes everything more beautiful!



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