Inventing Impressionism – National Gallery

I visited the Inventing Impressionism exhibition at the National Gallery on Sunday. Subtitled Paul Durand-Ruel and the Modern Art Market, the exhibition looks at the role of Parisian art dealer Durand-Ruel in championing and promoting the Impressionist painters. Though Impressionism is now well-respected and loved, this was not always the case – when this new kind of art first began to emerge, most critics and members of the public shunned and mocked it. Monet himself suggested that if it wasn’t for Durand-Ruel, his work and that of his contemporaries would not have flourished.

Filled with works by Renoir, Monet, Manet and Degas, as well as Rodin, Rousseau and Millet, the exhibition is incredibly impressive and it’s hard to imagine how and why contemporary critics rejected the work. Anyone attending the exhibition will surely find themselves feeling extremely grateful to this entrepreneurial art dealer.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book written by someone under 30

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I wasn’t sure how I would go about finding a book written by someone under 30, but then I remembered this one, which I’d heard of a while back. Abigail Gibbs wrote The Dark Heroine while she was still at school, and sometimes it shows, with dodgy grammar and slightly confusing plot points. And yet, considering her age, it’s very accomplished. I don’t make a habit of reading vampire romances, but this one is entertaining and kept me guessing, and the heroine is much more appealing than soppy Bella Swan from Twilight.

Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends – National Portrait Gallery

I visited the Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery on Friday after work, suddenly realising that it was due to close on the Bank Holiday. I’m very glad I got the chance to see the exhibition, as I love Sargent’s style and his pictures really appeal to me.

John Singer Sargent (1856-1925) was born in Florence to American parents. He showed early promise as an artist and trained with many expatriate artists. He later studied at the École des Beaux-Arts, and his career went from strength to strength; he was acclaimed on both sides of the Atlantic.

The portraits here are largely of artists and other society figures that Sargent knew personally, meaning that they are more varied and generally more informal than his commissioned works. I loved the glorious colours of the paintings and the interesting figures who form their subjects. One of my favourites was a picture of his friend Ramón Subercaseaux, painted in a Venetian gondola in around 1880. Ramon looks directly at the painting as if he is looking into the eyes of his friend. I also loved the paintings of Robert Louis Stevenson, completed a few years later, showing the author in an almost “accidental” pose. Another image I loved, much more formal and staged, was Sargent’s painting of actress Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth – incredibly impressive.

I could have stayed here for hours; sadly the exhibition has finished but many of Sargent’s works are visible in public galleries, including Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose (Tate) and his 1913 portrait of the novelist Henry James (National Portrait Gallery).

Ellen Terry as Lady Macbeth, 1889


2015 Reading Challenge – A book you started but never finished

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I read The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath at secondary school as part of my GCSE coursework. Except I didn’t, not completely – we started the book halfway through and didn’t bother finishing it. This led me to spend over a decade thinking I didn’t like Sylvia Plath. However, when I came to re-read this book (prompted by this challenge) I was blown away by how much I loved it. I don’t think I was mature enough to appreciate it before.

Retro technology

Recently I was at home for a week, and as my parents are moving in a few months I was given the job of sorting out all my stuff. I came across some retro gems that I loved and enjoyed while I was a child and a teenager!

First up, my beloved cassette player/recorder/radio. I got hours of use out of this. Do kids today even know what cassettes are?

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Alba Radio Cassette Recorder

Gender-specific toys are not a new thing, sadly. On the other hand, I still prefer the pink/purple colourway of this Home Alone II-inspired Talkgirl to the original silver/black of the Talkboy.

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Deluxe Talkgirl

How awesome was the Dear Diary? My brother and cousin once spent a whole afternoon trying to guess my password. They failed. HA!

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Dear Diary
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Inside the Dear Diary

Now that there is no analogue TV, this portable model is pretty useless.

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Casio Portable TV

Ordinary film cameras always confused me so this APS camera from Kodak was brilliant. Sadly it was soon superseded by digital photography, but I used this for a good few years.

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Kodak Advantix F600 Camera

Ah, the portable CD player. When you spent hours trying to work out which one album you wanted to listen to, then had to carry this bulky thing around.

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Goodmans Portable CD Player

Before I got a laptop I used to take this to sixth form and write all my essays on it. It came in very handy.

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Sharp Electronic Organiser
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Inside the Sharp Electronic Organiser

How cute is this Minidisc player? I think Minidiscs would have really taken off if the iPod hadn’t come out shortly afterwards.

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Panasonic Minidisc Player
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My collection of minidiscs

My first ever mp3 player, and my first foray into digital technology. This lasted me a good few years.

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Creative mp3 Player

I could probably start a museum with this lot, honestly…

2015 Reading Challenge – A book with a number in the title

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I became aware of Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel when I saw King Lear in Guildford and online commenters were comparing Brian Blessed’s on-stage collapse to the beginning of this novel, in which an actor playing Lear dies on stage. Thankfully life did not imitate art, and Blessed survived to continue the show – but my interest in the book was sparked. It’s a gripping and unusual tale of a post-apocalyptic world.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book your “mom” (mam!) loves

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When I was at home for a week at the beginning of May I took the opportunity to ask my mam if she could recommend me a book. This proved tricky as I’ve already read many of the books she likes: when I was living at home I would routinely read her books so that we could talk about them afterwards. However, Blue Man Falling by Frank Barnard was a relatively new acquisition, so she lent me this one for the train journey back to London.

This novel is set in France in the early months of World War II, when the RAF was stationed in France and engaged in early battles with the Luftwaffe. I knew about the Battle of Britain but not this, so it was interesting to learn about. It took me a while to get into the book but I did enjoy it, and I’ve reserved the sequel at the library.

2015 Reading Challenge – A book you can finish in a day

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I picked up Val McDermid’s new version of Northanger Abbey in the library. It wasn’t the best written book I’ve ever come across, but I enjoyed the updated setting: instead of Bath, the characters meet at the Edinburgh Festival and Catherine – “Cat” in this version – is obsessed with vampire stories.