A Pictorial Stroll to Apsley House

Here we are together on another London stroll. This time, we’ll be taking in the views as we approach Apsley House whilst walking north on Grosvenor Place.

Our first glimpses of Apley House through the trees.

The Wellington Arch! And many double decker buses.

We’re getting closer.

The gate at Hyde Park Corner, Apsley House and a rare break in the traffic.

The Wellington Statue!

The gates at Hyde Park

Stepping inside the gates, the toll keeper’s cottage.

View from inside gates to the side of Apsley House. Wouldn’t we look marvelous standing on that balcony with a cocktail in our hand?

The Wellington Arch!

Walking round to the front of Apsley House.

The front of Apsley House.

Whoops! Almost forgot to point out the sign.

The steps leading up to the front door. Note the black dots going up each side of the steps. A carpet rail would be slid into these iron rings to hold a stair carpet in place during important events. Personally, I think our visit is an important event in itself, but I suppose since we’re on first name terms with Artie our visit is considered informal.

The front door!
Unfortunately, those are all the first hand photos you’ll see, as no photography is allowed inside. I was able to find a scant few photos online, so those will have to do. I can tell you that the two portraits below, both by Thomas Lawrence, hang within.  
Whilst the portrait above may be the most iconic image of the Duke, I’m also partial to the lesser known and seldom seen portrait below, painted circa 1820.

I feel that this painting captures the essence of the Duke as a man, rather than as a great soldier or statesman. He stands alone, in civilian dress and with no emblem of military might, in the semi-darkness ready to defend against whatever comes his way. At the same time, there is something in the way he protectively holds his arms to his chest that evokes an air of vulnerability, a trait not typically attributed to the Duke of Wellington.

Now we’ll move on to the Waterloo Chamber, below.

Above is the statue of Napoleon by Canova that was taken as a spoil of war and presented to the Duke of Wellington by George IV. I don’t suppose re-gifting was an option then . . . . . .

Above is only a tiny portion of the gold plate presented to the Duke by grateful nations and now on display at Apsley House. Below is the Portuguese Centrepiece, one of the most important examples of Neo-Classical silver ever made, which was always used during the Duke’s annual Waterloo Dinners.

If you’re a faithful reader of this blog, you’ll know that on one of my previous visits I set off the alarm when I touched the centerpiece, which at that time was covered in a layer of dust. I simply couldn’t believe it had been allowed to gather dust and so swiped my finger across it to be sure. I’m happy to report that it’s now gleaming and dust-free. So ends our stroll to Apsley House. I hope you’ve enjoyed as much as I.

A Walk Through Minster Lovell

On one of our day trips out of London, Greg and I took a train to Oxford and the Cotswolds on a London Walks tour. The day was cold, the ground was covered in snow and the view from the train was obscured by heavy fog. After arriving in Oxford, we boarded a private coach for the village of Minster Lovell, located to the west of Oxford. The village is approached via a bridge over the River Windrush.

Disembarking, we had time to take in the chocolate box cottages with thatched roofs that line the single main road of the village that will probably never make it to an episode of Midsomer Murder, as apart from the charming houses, there is only a pub, a church and a ruin. Narrative here isn’t really necessary . . . . let’s just stroll quietly up the frozen road together and admire the view . . . . . .


Follow me up this road to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall and St. Kenelm’s Church . . . 
Coming Soon!

Regency Power & Brilliance at the National Portrait Gallery

Hard on the heels of Jo’s wonderful series of posts on Sir Thomas Lawrence, I thought I’d share with you the fact that whilst in London recently I had the chance to take in the exhibition of Sir Thomas Lawrence’s works entitled Regency Power and Brilliance. You can read all about the Exhibition itself in a prior post on this blog by clicking here. This has really been a banner year for me as during my past two trips to London I’ve been fortunate enough to have seen many iconic British paintings in person. My visit to the Lawrence exhibition reminded me just what a brilliant artist he was.

Ironically, the paintings below were hung side by side on the same wall.

Queen Charlotte
Elizabeth Farren, later Countess of Derby
These are each enormous, full length paintings and it was possible to get up really close to each. The detail was stupendous.
The way in which Lawrence rendered Queen Charlotte’s face and the pearls is uncanny, whilst the details of her dress were brilliant – the silk ribbons, the lace overlay on her dress and the airy lace on the sleeves were a sight to behold. The detail on the fur of the muff in the Farren portrait made one want to reach out and stroke it, so life-like did it appear.  Incidentally, I bought the poster of the Farren portrait, but have yet to have it framed.

I also saw two lesser known, but equally stunning, portraits, the first being the drawing below.

This pencil, black and red chalk drawing of Elizabeth, Duchess of Devonshire done in 1819 is just marvelous. Truly, this picture does not do it justice. Suffice to say that I spent many minutes gazing at Bess’s arresting face.

Is the painting above not one of the most stunning examples of male Regency beauty? The sitter is Arthur Atherley, who had recently graduated from Eton College, which can be seen in the background. So who was Arthur Atherley? There’s not much out there on him, he went on to become a M.P. and Wikipedia has a brief bio on him, but there’s not much else to be found on the web. Really, with such a face and air of insouciance, you’d have thought he’d have gone on to be a serious Brummell rival.

But back to iconic paintings – also included in the Exhibit were these two portraits.

The Prince of Wales, afterwards George IV

and last, but never least . . . .

The Duke of Wellington
Lawrence painted the Duke of Wellington seven times in all and, really, each portrait is equally as good as the next. Again, Lawrence’s superb talent for portraiture is evident in the details of this painting – the folds of the cravat, the red ribbon. When standing before this portrait, one really does feel the force of the Duke’s penetrating gaze.
Hats off to the exceptional talents of Sir Thomas Lawrence, and to the
National Portrait Gallery for mounting this fabulous Exhibition, which moves across the pond to the Yale Center for British Art where it will run from 02/24/11 – 06/05/11.

A Visit to Buckingham Palace

In all my visits to England, I’ve never managed to be in London during public openings of Buckingham Palace. And I didn’t expect it to be open this time over, either. As I mentioned in a previous post, one day whilst in London I strolled across the street from our hotel to the Royal Mews gift shop and while there I overheard one of the ladies who works there telling a man about an unprecedented opening of Buckingham Palace while the family was away over the Christmas holidays. On that day and the next, the Palace would be offering two private, guided, champagne tours each day. Tickets were to be had a few doors down at the Queen’s Gallery. Honestly, dear Reader, no one ever covered the ground between the gift shop and the Queen’s Gallery as quickly as I did that day. I snapped up two tickets to the 4 p.m. tour that very day – by the way, the tickets were enclosed in a really impressive blue envelope, with directions on what forms of I.D. to bring – and then I hightailed it back to the hotel to crow at Greg about my coup. Even he was impressed. And excited.

As instructed, we arrived at the gate on the Queen’s Gallery side of the Palace in Buckingham Palace Road at 3:45. After showing two forms of picture I.D. each, Greg and I were personally escorted to the Ambassador’s Entrance of the Palace and passed through a security screening. Typically, when the Palace is open during the summer, visitors are taken inside in large groups, with over 7,000 visitors coming through in all. Over the two days the Palace was opened in December, just 100 people would have the opportunity to view the interiors. This personalization was evident from the start – we were shown into a waiting area and given upholstered chairs to sit upon until the rest of our group had arrived. Greg and I gawped, goggled, gaped and poked each other in the legs for a while before I turned my head to the right . . . and saw Chantrey’s bust of the Duke of Wellington!

To digress, by this point in our London visit, it had become abundantly clear to Greg that several people other than myself actually knew who the Duke of Wellington was, our having seen Apsley House, the Wellington Arch, Wellington Place, Wellington Street and having had dinner in the Wellington Pub. Vindication at last!

But back to the Palace . . . . once we were all assembled, our tour guide, Dawn, greeted us and took us into an antechamber where a coat check had been set up. We then assembled in a massive hall, where there were full length portraits of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, amongst others. This chamber opened onto the staircase, below, and we were invited to ascend and stand on either side of the staircase whilst Dawn told us a bit about the paintings – William IV, Queen Adelaide, Prince Leopold, Princess Charlotte,  etc. etc. etc.  As The British Monarchy Website explains: “Queen Victoria requested that the series of portraits of her immediate family were displayed around the upper part of the stairs. These include her grandparents, George III and Queen Charlotte, her parents the Duke and Duchess of Kent and her predecessor on the throne, her uncle William IV, and his wife Queen Adelaide. Thus the portraits served as a kind of ‘receiving line’ so that whoever climbed the staircase was simultaneously received by her family.”

I should tell you here that in addition to Dawn, there were two other uniformed Palace people attached to our group, one of whom preceeded us and opened the tall, double doors to every room we entered, the other followed our group and closed the doors behind us as we left. And whilst you might think that decorum ruled the visit, you’ll be glad to know that Dawn encouraged us at every step to make ourselves at home – “get up close and get a good look at that painting; do go over to the windows and push the curtains aside for a look at the lawns where the garden parties are held; take a seat – any seat; yes, yes, do go on up to the front and stand where those who are being knighted stand. Terribly fun, is it not?” Greg and I kept catching each other’s eye and making faces. Terribly fun, yes.

Of course, no photos were allowed, and I’ll admit here and now that I could not for the life of me tell you the exact route of our procession through the State Apartments, but here are some photos of some of the rooms we visited. Note: the work of architect John Nash was evident everywhere and his ornate ceilings and fireplaces appeared in almost every room.

The Picture Gallery

Where I saw Winterhalter’s portrait of the Royal Family, above, which Victoria and I had previously viewed at the Victoria and Albert: Art in Love Exhibition at the Queen’s Gallery in June. No, Chuck was not actually present during my tour. More’s the pity.

The White Drawing Room

The Music Room

The State Dining Room


The Blue Drawing Room

Shown above is the old Throne Room, used up until the reign of Queen Victoria, who found it too small and had another built, large enough for dancing. You can’t see it in the photo, but on the wall to the left of the thrones hangs the only portrait in the entire room, shown below.

As Dawn hadn’t mentioned the portrait, I sidled up to her and asked, “Pardon me, but isn’t that a Wellesley?”

“Yes,” Dawn replied, “He was brother to the Duke of Wellington.”

“Elder brother,” said I, “Richard, Lord Mornington.”

“Oh,” said Dawn, “I am impressed.”

Greg was impressed, too. I was a tad depressed. After all, the ability to properly identify Wellesleys isn’t all that impressive as party tricks go. I mean, how often can one flaunt such a talent? And to whom? The ability to eat fire, do bird calls or play the zither would be much handier, but one must be satisfied with one’s lot in life.

This is the new throne room below, where investitures take place and where all the chairs are hauled out and an enormous table laid for State Banquets.

We ended our tour exactly where we’d begun, in the Great Hall, shown below, where flutes of cold champagne were served before we all trooped off to a makeshift giftshop near the cloakroom.

And where I bought myself an official William and Kate wedding tankard. Once we’d collected our coats, Greg and I were each handed an official Buckingham Palace Souvenier Guide and the pair of us were personally escorted out, across the quadrant below

and through the archway on the far right

to the front of the Palace, where we were finally escorted through the entry gate.

By this time, night had fallen and we paused to take one last look back at the Palace, where we’d enjoyed a truly Royal visit.