Today was the next-to-last full day in London. I am staying in a central London with a great view in the distance of Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and the Union Jack flying over Parliament. It probably needs to be in session, as Mrs May seems to be having as much trouble with her legislators as President Trump has with his!
I went to James Smith and Sons to pick up an umbrella I had left for repair when I first arrived. There are at least two renowned umbrella shops in London, this one and Brigg Umbrellas from Swaine, Adeney, Brigg. Both are expensive but very good. I lost a Brigg apple wood umbrella with a solid shaft on which one could lean! Unfortunately, apple trees now are trained in esplanade, so there is almost no apple wood long enough to make umbrellas. I particularly liked this one because of Elizabeth Posten’s haunting setting of “Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree,” – a compositions that seem always to have been there, even though it is a modern piece by a modern composer. With my repaired my old traveler umbrella (the crook and the tip unscrew for packing), I went happily on my way.
I then visited the National Gallery to visit a few old friends – in this case, painted ones. Most of them are in the Sainsbury wing, the earlier paintings, but I did make a detour to see a marvelous Zurbarán still life of a ceramic cup of water on a silver platter with a rose. Portraits and Still Lifes either entrance me or leave me cold. (I did not have time to revisit the Sargent portrait of Sir Philip Sassoon in the Tate, a man who not only finds the world his oyster but has also inherited the perfect oyster knife. It is one of my favorites: a vast expanse of white waistcoat and a glim of a gold signet ring on the little finger show him to be an enviable gentleman.) This Zurbarán still life entrances me. It is a small study of the right third (a silver salver, a ceramic cup of water, and a rose) of the magnificent Zurbarán Still Life with Lemons, Oranges, and a Rose in the Norton Simon: https://www.nortonsimon.org/art/detail/F.1972.06.P/.
Here is the National Gallery painting:
http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/francisco-de-zurbaran-a-cup-of-water-and-a-rose. You can see Zurbarán claiming “I can paint this! Watch!” The handling of the silver, ceramic cup, water, and the rose demonstrate his mastery of texture. (I have already written about Zurbarán as number nine of the original series of this blog; my editors interjected “The Incensed Professor at Sea” essays in the series before they will publish that the others in the series submitted before I was “At Sea.”)
I also revisited Van Eyck’s splendid man in a red turban, possibly the artist himself. By it is the Arnolfini Portrait with its charming little dog. My last visit was to the Wilton Diptych, which shows the Madonna and Child surrounded by angels wearing Richard II’s own heraldic badge of the White Hart. Now that is confidence! Shortly after it was painted, poor Richard came a cropper. He kneels before Our Lady sponsored by his three patron Saints, the Baptist and the kings Edward the Confessor and Edmund the Martyr. The back shows the royal arms impaled (joined half and half) with the Arms of the Confessor, with Richard’s Royal England on the viewer’s right, which is actually the left of the person holding the shield, i.e. “sinister” in heraldic terms. This is balanced with Richard’s personal badge, a lovely White Hart with a crown for a collar and a gold chain. It is a magnificent example of International Gothic, and the blue of the heavenly hosts is actually ground lapis lazuli, which was a very expensive pigment, indeed. I heard the Chaucerian Richard Green lectured on this painting back in the 1970s, and he demonstrated that a literary scholar must know everything pertaining to his field, even art. The Wilton Diptych made my farewell to these old friends.
I dined that night at the Oxford and Cambridge Club for one of the best dinners of my trip – even better than the excellent food on the Queen Mary II. The emphasis this trip has been the opera at Glyndebourne, Somerset, and eating, so here is the menu for the Club Dinner for Wednesday 19th July 2017:
Roast Fillet of Bril. Tempura Oyster, Leek Confit, White Wine and Avruga Butter Sauce
Sauteed Three Fillets, Lamb, Beef, Pork. Asparagus, Tarragon Boudin, Gallette Potatoe [sic], and Port Wine Sauce
Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes. Tender Stem Broccoli
I could have had cheese, but I chose as I almost always do, Summer Pudding from the “Sweet Trolley.” The chef at the Oxford and Cambridge Club is excellent, and the meal was one of the best! It was also under fifty US dollars, so it was a real coup!
I spent considerably more on the wines. The club has a Coravin system that allows you to buy great wines by the glass. With the Bril I had a glass of 2010 Latour Bâtard-Monrachet Grand Cru that was more expensive than the price of the food, and I followed it with a marvelous glass of earthy 1996 Pinchon-Lalande, worth the hefty price. For dessert I had a glass of 1982 Graham’s Single Harvest Tawny Port that was amazing! Lots of dry fruit, it was a delicious dessert wine.
Few things are as dull as accounts of other people’s meals, but I want to emphasize that London has become a gourmet’s paradise. It didn’t used to be. Years ago, the best bets were probably beef at Simpson’s in the Strand (which I believe uses the same kitchens as the Savoy), or Indian food. Or Rules restaurant. Now there are Michelin three-star restaurants in the U.K. and a host of other places to eat, including some of the London clubs which specialize in more than “Spotted Dick.”