Friday, November 30, 2007

London Calling - Mad about Millais

Friday morning, I headed off to the Tate Britain in Pimlico to see the Millais exhibit. Since it was one stop over on the Victoria line from where I was in Vauxhall it seemed silly not to go. Plus they were having an exhibition on the paintings of John Everett Millais and I was dying to see it.

When I got off the tube and I started walking towards the museum, I noticed that several of the streets were named after the Earl of Bessborough, including Bessborough Street, Ponsonby Street, and Ponsonby Square. It made me wonder if the area had once been owned by them or they lived in the area. I'm not sure but it's certainly something for me to research!

What's cool about the Tate Britain which used to just be the Tate until they split the collection up between the Tate Britain and the Tate Modern were these little guides they have for paintings you might want to look at if you're hung over or just went through a break-up. They were very clever and an interesting way for people to look at the collection.

I immediately headed downstairs to the Millais exhibit which cost a whopping 11 pounds ($22) but since this was the first exhibition in a long time of most of his paintings, I just closed my eyes to the price. Millais is a very interesting man, he was admitted the Royal Academy at a very young and had his first painting exhibited there when he was 16. He was also a member of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood along with Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Holman Hunt among others, who rejected the traditional painting of the day and looked back towards the Renaissance painters.

He was also involved in a scandalous love triangle. John Ruskin, an art critic, befriended young Millais and invited him to stay with him and his wife Effie. Effie's family and Ruskin knew each other and they encouraged a match between them. However there were problems between them from the beginning. Effie posed for Millais and they fell in love. It turned out that her marriage to Ruskin had never been consummated although they had been married for over five years. Apparently Ruskin didn't find her physically attractive (one wonders if he had ever had sex with a woman at all before he married. It also seems as if he was only attracted to very young adolescent girls.). Anyway, the marriage was annulled and Millais and Effie were married. She bore him eight children and they were apparently very happy. However, because of the annullment, Effie was barred from some social functions, including nto being allowed in the presence of the Queen.

What struck me about the exhibition were a series of paintings that Millais did concerning lovers who were in a crisis moment. The painting above is about a young Hugenot couple just after the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, where hundreds of Hugenots were killed. She wants him to wear an armband that would proclaim him a Catholic to protect him, but he's refusing her, his faith means too much to him. If anyone is ever stuck on what to write about, any of these paintings could kick start a plot.

He also did a famous painting of Ophelia floating down the river as she drowned and the two princes in the Tower. One painting was a revelation and that was a painting of Charles Dicken's daughter Kate Dickens Perugini was also a painter.
Famished, I stopped off at Pizza Express, a chain of pizza restaurants that put Pizza Hut and California Pizza to shame. Think upscale pizza chain with some strange combinations including one served with a fried egg on top. I had a lovely Pizza Margarita, and a glass of Pinto Grigio Rose. Fortified, I went off to my afternoon walking tour of Dicken's London, led by Jean, a very tiny elderly woman wearing a Victorian costume.
The tour mainly centered around the Inns of Court, and the Strand. I had hoped for a little bit more, but I did get to see the Old Curiousity Shop which is actually not the one in Dicken's novel but it claims to be. I was amazed as well by how Jean had managed to memorize great swaths of Dickens (the man did tend to go on and on), which she duly recited to us during the walk.
That evening, I went to see The Sound of Music, which I was curious to see because the star of the show Connie Fisher, had won the role during this reality TV show called, "How Do You solve a problem like Maria?". I had picked Friday because I knew that she didn't perform Wednesday matinees or Saturday nights (Okay mini-rant here, it's amazing to me that stars like Mary Martin were able to do 8 performances a week with no microphones but today's West End and Broadway stars who are miked! are to fragile to do a full week of performances. Sound of Music is not Evita or Phantom).
Well, Ms. Fisher did not perform, her understudy did. Understudy No. 1 since she has 2 as well as the alternate who does 2 performances a week. The understudy was okay, and I applaud her for being able to give a well-rounded performance at a moment's notice. An understudy's lot is not easy, particulary if you aren't part of the ensemble during the performance. You're just waiting around to see if the star is sick or not. Yes, you're getting paid but to do nothing which is not as much fun as it sounds.
I enjoyed the show nonetheless, and the scene where the Captain joins in when the kids are singing The Sound of Music just brought me to tears. Yes, I wept openly during this show. I admit it, I'm a total sap. After dinner, I met my friends PH and his husband to have dinner at Ping Pong which is a groovy chain of dim sum restaurants. We ordered and ate way too much food but it was a great evening. Seriously the vegetable puffs were to die for.
I took the night bus home which took forever but it beat taking a cab which is way too expensive. Oh, and they have those annoying rickshaw bicycle guys in London the way they do in New York.
Thanks for reading,

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