A Reminder of Hope, Beauty and Kindness

Yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting up with a dear friend for a bit of culture at the Royal Academy in Piccadilly. Like many other people I have avoided using public transport and because my work at this stage largely consists of writing and the occasional consultation I have been able to stay close to home.

I made my way to the nearest underground station, which is on the Piccadilly line, pausing at the entrance to don a face mask, then descended the escalators and boarded a train almost immediately. I’d estimate the train was about 20% full and people, all masked, were sitting in a well spaced way. Apart from the heat generated by inhaling my own breath on an already warm day and a slightly anxious feeling in my solar plexus it was fine. People don’t usually interact a great deal on the tube so nothing was different in that respect. I noticed the usual advertisements on the walls of the escalator, the platform and inside the train had been replaced by public health notices but having read and listened to so many of these for the last six months I spent my time reading and making notes on my mobile. At Finsbury Park I changed to the much more crowded Victoria line but people seemed mindful of keeping their masked selves as far away from each other as possible. The journey was straight forward and I arrived at my finial destination with half an hour to spare, emerging above ground, removing my mask and gratefully taking in a lung full of unobstructed air.

So on to the RA where my friend plus tickets and membership card would be. As I approached the forecourt it looked like the scene of a major incident, albeit minus emergency vehicles. Cones and cordons, signs, arrows, hand sanitizer stations, marquees  and people in visors and masks with clipboards filled the space. It wasn’t immediately obvious where I should go but one particularly keen young woman in her full PPE stepped in front of me and wanted to know what I was doing. I explained that I was waiting for a friend and could do with visiting the ladies. The latter point of information seemed to pass her by and she demanded to see my membership card. I tried again and this time she wanted to see my ticket. The photograph of same, sent by my friend did not suffice but I tried once more, repeating my need to wait but also use the facilities, at which she sighed heavily, pointed to a corner where I was to: “stand and wait” as she would have to discuss with her manager.  Losing the will but determined to stay polite I told her not to bother and headed out on to the street again.

I’d passed a rather smart looking Italian restaurant with tables outside on my way to the RA so headed back there. The waiter was kindness personified, found me a table in the sunshine, took my order for a coffee and smilingly explained where the ladies was. On my way back to the table the manager asked how I was and when I explained this was my first trip into the centre in six months and I was finding everything rather strange he sympathised and agreed it was still like that for him although it had been a lot worse. Somehow, I pulled myself back together and once more braved the clipboard woman. She obviously saw me coming as she wasted no more time on me and gestured towards a tent, where I explained my situation, was admitted and soon afterwards met the friend and enjoyed two exhibitions. 

First of all we looked at the new ‘Gauguin and the Impressionists – Masterpieces from the Ordrupgaard Collection’. In the early twentieth century, Wealthy Danish business man Wilhelm Hansen and wife, Henny started to assemble an outstanding collection including works by Manet, Monet, Pissarro, Sisley and Gaugin. It’s a pleasing collection, as varied in style and subject matter as you would expect from such a range of artists but the unifying feature for me was the profound sense of peace and stillness that gazing on these treasures created. After the hassles of travel and the obstacle course of rules and prohibitions along with the rule-keepers’ woefully impersonal mode of operation, I felt uplifted.

Moving on to the second exhibition of Belgian artist, Léon Spilliaert’s work, I didn’t expect my raised spirits to last. Spilliaert was a troubled man, plagued by chronic insomnia and physical ailments and his work is the product of long, pain-filled, solitary nights. He worked with a variety of media including Indian ink, wash, watercolour, pen, pencil and wax crayon and his haunting, somewhat other worldly compositions of street and landscapes and ordinary objects play upon light and perspective. I loved the mystery and sheer artistry of his compositions and could understand why his work was so hard to classify but agreeing with the commonly held view that it was most akin to literary symbolism. One thing I noticed as I looked at the different works and read the accompanying text was a distinct change of mood in his work at the point in his life where he found his wife, Rachel Vergison and soon after became a father. As the exhibition notes state: “Dark, brooding landscapes became lighter and more colourful. Trees, which had earlier stood as ominous silhouettes against dark skies, came to life, their twisting branches suggesting hope, stability and, ultimately, the gradual passing of time.” So, on leaving this exhibition, I continued to feel buoyed up and all in all, glad that I had made the effort.

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