Tag Archives: Kensington Palace

The ladies and the gentlemen: figures in the landscape

Before the photograph came the engraved print: etchings, mezzotints, aquatints and all the rest. These were on the whole meant to be accurate views of their subjects, reliable likenesses of a person or a building. But it’s not quite the same as a photograph, is it? Looking at last week’s picture postcards I thought of the earlier, pre-photographic views of Kensington Gardens and of course Kensington Palace. Here’s a good example:

Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

As is often the case the architectural view was enlivened by the addition of some figures. We know that the ladies and gentlemen of 18th century society entertained themselves by walking around in fashionable places, taking a look at their friends and acquaintances and being seen by them in turn. So the view of this happy crowd, walking, talking and even sitting is not actually unlikely, there’s just something a little staged about it. These people are like extras milling around the star of the picture – the Palace. I imagine them biding their time, waiting to see if they could get a piece of the action for themselves.

Copy of Copy of Kensington Palace 1750s GS17AA

What is the persuasive looking gentleman in the group on the right saying to his companions? Is he asking them to join him on an expedition into the Palace? Are the seated group ready to watch them?

This is another view of the Palace:

East front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44a

Another idle group wave fans, greet each other or lounge on the ground which can’t have done much for their fine clothes. Compare them with this group:

Oblique perspective view of the east front of Kensington Palace with part of the Great Lawn 1744 CPic44d

The Palace and the trees across the lawn are almost identical. Another group of slightly better rendered visitors have wondered into shot. Remember etching is hard work. It’s not pen and paper, it’s scratching the image on a sheet of metal, in reverse. (I simplfy a complex and multifarious process – experts please forgive me) If the background is the same and you can enliven the view with a different cast so much the better.

I do find these people fascinating though especially the women sweeping across the grass in their strange wide skirts. The period is slightly wrong but it puts me in mind of the Draughtsman’s Contract where a mystery is suggested by drawings of a house and garden but never solved by its protagonist. The Draughtman in the film would have appreciated this view:

Distant view of Kensimgton Place with part of the Garden and the Queen's Temple as seen from the side of the Serpentine River CPic153a

Here the Palace is reduced to a feature in the distance with our attention occupied by a section of the Serpentine and the Queen’s Temple across the water. One of those follies loved by aristocrats and landscapers seen in many country estates, it would have been ideal for one of the Draughtman’s assignations.

Kensington Palace Cpic 0640 res600

In this one some actual gardening is going on at the right of the picture.  The strollers ignore the workers though, and we ignore them in favour of the frantic activity by the birds in the foreground. A fight on the left? An attempt to take off on the right?

If we pull out and take a wide view of the Palace we get something like this:

Kensington Palace print

The pattern of the ornamental garden is revealed and the picture looks more like a plan but it’s still full of those figures wandering around. Last year at Marienbad,anyone? (I’m taking a stab in the dark there – I’ve never actually seen the film but one of the famous images from it is a large ornamental garden). The feature that always strikes me is that the Palace is set in what appears to be an empty landscape with no sign of London. Those distant hills are the etcher’s equivalent of stock footage. Or maybe I’m missing some convention of this kind of picture.

One of the conventions is the idealised landscape. Here’s one:

the Pavilion south view CM2228

A solitary figure looks back at his house, his lake, his cattle and his picturesque crumbling “priory”, specially built as a ruin as was the custom of ambitious land owners. The Pavilion, the building in the distance was constructed by Henry Holland in 1789 and survived into the 19th century as Chelsea grew around it and the grounds had their final incarnation as a cricket ground. (That’s a story for another day if ever I heard one). But nothing could stop the growth of the Cadogan Estate. (To orientate yourself I think Sloane Street runs a little to the right of the Pavilion which gave its name of course to Pavilion Road)  I can’t help thinking that even before development the grounds were not as extensive as they appear in this view. (The Pavillion survived until 1874 when it was demolished to make way for Cadogan Square and its surrounding streets)

Further south we’re on safer ground. As Kensington has its Palace, Chelsea has the Royal Hospital:

Royal Hospital and Rotunda CM2184 no legend

Here too the landscape is crowded. The main focus of activity is the variety of craft going to and fr,o some speedy and some slow. In the distance people walk in the grounds, perhaps heading for that other fashionable rendezvous point the Rotunda.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570

Inside the ladies and the gentlemen parade around or take refreshment by the big fire. Look closely:

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (3)

More bowing and gesturing with fans. A sizeable group listens to the orchestra.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy (2)

There are a couple more instances of the fan gesture in this detail. In some ways these figures repeat themselves at the whim of the artist.  At other points they  show a life of their own. Look at the woman in the group of three between the child and the woman in green, how she leans back slightly to whisper in her  friend’s ear. A small number of lines suggest this recognizeable movement.

Ranelagh Rotunda interior B1570 - Copy - Copy

Inside the world of the print the inhabitants live their lives.

View of Chelsea Waterworks 1752 250B

Here a group of them pay a visit to the Chelsea Waterworks, enough of a technological marvel to warrant some early tourism.

Further down the river in Battersea others come and go at a jetty.

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B

In the distant background you can see Chelsea Old Church with its cupola. On the shore a woman, her son and their dog get ready to board, a servant carries their bag:

View taken near Battersea Church looking towards Chelsea 1752 96B - Copy

The group of three women and a man on the right meet up with a man who points their way out of the picture all together. Perhaps all these decorative figures in the idealised landscapes of the etching are looking for a way out.

Postscript

The Chelsea art collection was recently moved to Kensington Library making it easier for me to find pictures like the last two. During my search I came across an image I found quite startling which might form the basis of a future post if I can find some more like it. Watch out for that. If you’ve never seen the Draughtsman’s Contract it’s worth a look. Just don’t expect a solution to the mystery (if there was one).


The Kensington Painter – gardens where we feel secure

Kensington Gardens by Arthur Clay LW_KCLS_1724

The painters in our Kensington collection did not have a central feature like the river upon which  to focus their talents. But like many parts of London there are plenty of gardens amongst the houses, shops and churches, some of them grand, some almost hidden.This picture by Arthur Clay is a view of a late afternoon from Kensington Gardens. There’s a layer of mist on the ground, some dimly glowing street lights and a single illuminated window.

We need a view of Kensington Palace, so here is an unusual example.

Kensington Palace allotments by Arthur Clay LW_KCLS_1549

The picture shows part of the Gardens under cultivation during the Great War. It looks like another cool autumn day.

The picture below is closer to the usual idea of the Gardens, a bright summer scene which could be any time between the 30s and the 50s painted by an unknown artist.

Summer in Kensington Gardensby unknown artist  LW_KCLS_0656 maybe cpic1048

Below is another summer scene called “The Elms “by Beatrice Pedder.

It’s also set in that same indeterminate summer time.

The Elms Kensington Gardens by B S Pedder LW_KCLS_2922

On the border of the gardens the setting is more specific.

A rainy day in Kensington Gore in 1921 also by Arthur Clay. A pre-London Transport London General B-type bus with an open cab takes on passengers on a quiet day for traffic as perhaps they all were in those days. (I have someone who tells me this sort of thing)

Kensington Gore by Arthur Clay 1922  LW_KCLS_0647

On the edge of another park an artist called Kenneth Graham shows what he calls the Old Wall in Melbury Road.

the Old Wall Melbury Road by Kenneth Graham LW_KCLS_140

A dog investigates a tantalising smell while its owner, a young woman stands by. The date unrecorded in our records might be as late as the 1960s. It’s still a quiet summer day though.

Behind the walls and fences you can find many gardens like this one:

Gledhow Gardens by Patricia Willis LW_KCLS_2929

Gledhow Gardens by Patrica Willis.

Here is a garden seen from two interiors, in a pair of paintings by Estella Canziani.

Palace Green number 3 by Estella Canziani Cpic 0578 LW_KCLS_1461

Window by Estella Canziani LW_KCLS_545

Estella Canziani lived in a house in Palace Green. She also painted watercolours and sketches, several of which are in our collection, along with family photographs. We’ll come back to the Canzianis another day.

Further north is another large private garden, painted in 1919 by Dacres Adams.

The Lodge -garden Front of Bloomfield Lodge by Dacres Adams LW_KCLS_1479

The picture of Kensington Gardens in the mist is one of my favourites from the Kensington collection but I’m also fond of this picture, not strictly a garden view but another of someone passing by the wall of a garden. In the evening a lone figure carrying a case makes his way home.

Kensington Church Walk by Walker cpic 0529 LW_KCLS_1347 maybe

Perhaps he is heading for the shop out of which a welcoming light spills. Perhaps he is hurrying to catch the indistinct woman in the distance ( I should say it was a woman). This is Kensington Church Walk, an obscure byway if you don’t know Kensington, a little like Lord Dunsany’s Go-by Street if you remember that. The artist’s name is Walker. No relation.

Postscript

It was a long hard haul loading the post tonight. WordPress have improved the process and it took  some time to work it all out.

On another subject this Saturday we’re having an open afternoon at Kensington and Chelsea Local Studies. It will be more like Open Basement than Open House, as I will be leading a couple of tours through the archive rooms. I’ll be showing some of the actual pictures featured in the last couple of posts, along with some of the other prints and photographs featured on the blog. I know lots of you don’t live anywhere near Kensington but if you do and you fancy a look come along. Email me if you want to come so I can get some idea of numbers.

dave.walker@rbkc.gov.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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