Next Mathew took us to see ‘Rokeby Venus’ or ‘The Toilet of Venus’ by Diego Velazquez, a Spanish painter from the 17th century. This time it was a painting of the goddess, Venus, reclining on her bed. Her son, Cupid, is holding a mirror in which you can see the reflection of her face. She is facing her son and all we can see is her back. I wondered why the angle of the mirror looked awkward. Was it a mistake? Mathew explained that for an artist like Velasquez, it was not a mistake, but the idea was to show that the mirror was facing the artist or rather looking at us now. So the perspective now changes. She is watching us watch her.
In 1914, a suffragette damaged the painting by taking an axe to it following the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst, to demonstrate her protest. The painting was restored, but it has left faint scars.
We move on to the 18th century and Joseph Wright of Debby’s ‘An experiment on a bird in the air pump’. A painting of a lecturer giving a private demonstration of a science subject and how it comes across to the different members of the audience. Couple of children reacting with shock and horror at the plight of the bird, their dad trying to explain it to them, another young boy who is completely enraptured by the spectacle, a couple in love who only have eyes for each other, a scientist doing the time keeping and another person contemplating the moral aspects of the experiment. A picture to show how a subject can evoke different feelings in different people.
Next and last stop is the French impressionist painter Claude Monet and his painting ‘The Thames below Westminster’. It is a painting of Westminster bridge and the Houses of Parliament seen through the thick London smog and drawn during the latter part of the nineteenth century. A painting to show that a scene doesn’t need to be picture perfect to bring out the beauty in it.
It has been a lovely morning, I’ve learned an awful lot. A painting is not just about creating a beautiful picture but it is the equivalent of writing poetry with the strokes of a brush. As I look around the gallery I can slowly recognise the well known paintings by different artists.
It is time to go home as I am working this afternoon. As I get off the tube at Grange Hill station, I get drenched in a shower of hail stones. I cannot walk home in this weather and so I go to the nearby cafe and have a Latke (crispy potato pancake) and a much needed hot cup of tea. By the time I’ve finished the rain has stopped. I collect my dry cleaning and walk home.