“A few years ago there appeared in the doorway of my room a young Japanese with a portfolio under his arm.He looked tired and pale, but as he smiled and bowed, with difficulty keeping his hands from his knees in Japanese salutation, I was struck with his quiet dignity, his air of self-respect, his lustrous intelligent eyes. Would I look at his drawings of London? Of London?-yes, willingly.” – M H Spielmann, 1907
As promised a few weeks ago, this week we’re returning to Yoshio Markino to look at some of his daytime pictures. We’ve already established his credentials as a confirmed London explorer. His love of the city included some of the traditional tourist sights such as the Zoological Gardens in Regent’s Park. Below is that old feature of a day at the zoo – the ride on an elephant.
Markino was obviously impressed by the elephant but in the Monkey House he was more interested in his fellow visitors. ” I went to the zoo and finished the people first; when I wanted to put in monkeys, I forgot their shapes and colours. I went to the Natural History Museum, which is only five minutes walk. They are dead. They don’t give any movement at all. So I had to journey to the Zoo and study them from life again.”
He was always just as interested in the people of London as the buildings. For him they were as exotic as each other.
In the picture below of the terrace at the Houses of Parliament the tower and the bridge are a background for the well dressed diners.Uniformed maids and waiters dressed in black and white move through the grandly dressed throng.
More formal wear is on show below in the busy streets of the City:
Markino said:”When I see the bus drivers, I always recollect Washington Irving’s Sketch Book which I read in Japan when quite young. He has described those coachmen so vividly that when I see those bis drivers I feel they are old acquaintances of mine.”
The shopping streets of the West End where the dresses were more colourful were also on Markino’s rounds as in this view off Oxford Street.
And of course the parks. Here is that regular activity of park life, feeding the geese in St James’s Park:
Moving west to Hyde Park:
These park scenes are all set in autumn, Markino’s second favourite time of the year (December was his favourite month as we know)
“Early autumn, Hyde Park”. M H Spielmann, Markino’s friend and patron says: “it is not the young lady who has interested him most…
….although she holds her skirt – what Japanese drawing in that skirt -in the way, presumably, which he tells us stirs his admiration so deeply; it is the mist, rather, which floats among the trees in red and russet autumn and heightens by contrast the leaves as they lie upon the ground and throws into strong relief the branches that hang across the top.”
“London without mists would be like a bride without a trousseau” The weather continued to fascinate the Artist of Fog. But also the young woman.
At the Albert Memorial more visitors including more of those voluminously clad young women seem to ascend and descend the steps with some urgency.
Markino is heading home towards Chelsea.
He enters Albertopolis. This monochrome view shows the grand entrance of the Imperial Institute.
Below the mist-shrouded tower of the Victoria and Albert Museum (then called the South Kensington Museum) looms like Gormenghast Castle over the houses in nearby South Kensington
More museum towers (the Natural History Museum) are visible in this view of Onslow Square. Spielmann, who wrote the introduction to Markino and Loftie’s book the Colour of London was particularly impressed with this view: “Markino shows us Onslow Square and the beauty of an architecture which we have pronounced..most unromantic and uninspired. Yet he has seen colour into it and made a pleasant picture out of repeated porticos and commonplace facades felicitously enlivened by the western sun.”
South Kensington Station can be seen at the centre of the picture, dwarfed by the towers of Waterhouse’s terracotta masterpiece.
Home again in Chelsea he returns to a much smaller tower by the river:
Markino lived in London for more than forty years. He followed Londoners through dark nights, clear summer days and misty afternoons.
“I am London’s devoted lover and I want to present her with my brush.”
He wanted to stay with his lover for the rest of his life but in the end events caught up with him. During the Second World War he moved into a small apartment in the Japanese Embassy where he had friends. He sailed for Japan in 1943. This picture of a Japanese ship at the Albert Docks is a kind of foreshadowing of that journey.
As I’ve noted before he was never able to return. So this is an appropriate picture for us too as this is probably our last encounter with the outsider who brought his own unique vision to London.
I’ve become a big fan of the diffident Japanese artist since the time I rediscovered him in the Library’s biographies collection while looking for a contrast with Mortimer Menpes. I’m going to miss writing about him and reading his slightly eccentric memoirs. But you’ve seen the best we have now so it’s farewell to another unique Chelsea character until I find something else by him.
We might have another look at Menpes in the weeks to come, or get back on the river, or explore some of the fictional worlds of Kensington and Chelsea. And I’ve just found some photos of the Lots Road Power Station you haven’t seen before. So I’m not sure what’s coming next. But for the moment, goodbye to Yoshio Markino, the artist in the mirror world.