Tag Archives: Onslow Gardens

Markino in daylight: the sights of London

“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.

At the Zoo COL

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.”

The monkey house Regents Park COL

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.

Tea on the Terrtace of the House of Commons COL

More formal wear is on show below in the busy streets of the City:

Mansion House crossing COL

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.

Winsley Street Oxford Street from Gilbey's Portico COL

And of course the parks. Here is that regular activity of park life, feeding the geese in St James’s Park:

Feeding the wildfowl in St James's Park COL

Moving  west to Hyde Park:

Early Autumn at Grosvenor Gate Hyde Park COL

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…

Early Autumn Hyde Park COL

.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.

On the step of the Albert Memorial COL

Markino is heading home towards Chelsea.

He enters Albertopolis. This monochrome view shows the grand entrance of the Imperial Institute.

Imperial Institute South Kensington COL

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

South Kensington Museum - RAR

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.”

Spring in Onslow Square COL (2)

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:

Chelsea Church - JAIL

Chelsea Old Church (the original, pre-war version) as  we have seen it in Hedderly’s photographs and a painting by Rush, surrounded by foliage. Markino joins the company of Chelsea artists.

Markino lived in London for more than forty years. He followed Londoners through dark nights, clear summer days and misty afternoons.

Spring Mist Westminster Bridge COL

“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.

Japanese liner in the Albert Docks COL

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.

Postscript

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.

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Return of the secret life of postcards

The unknown photographers who took this week’s pictures were working in the street like Ernest Milner who took the pictures in our Empty Street series. They were unlike Milner in two respects. They were working for themselves speculatively, taking photographs hoping to sell them later. And crucially they were working mostly during the daytime hours when the streets were no longer empty.

Notting Hill Gate PC929

This view is of Notting Hill Gate looking west. Postcard images vary enormously in quality. The best ones give you the opportunity to zoom in on the action and catch a flavour of the individual lives of the people in them.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 02

On the northern side of the street a man uses a hooked pole to pull out a shop awning. He keeps an eye on the approaching woman who won’t thank him if any water drips on her from the canvas. There are horse drawn carriages and in the distance a motor bus.

On the southern side of the street:

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 01

Henry Hobson Finch’s Hoop Tavern, William J Tame, fruiterer – his staff are loading a delivery wagon- and Matthew Pittman, stationer. This is the corner of Silver Street (then the name for the northern section of Kensington Church Street) about 1904. There’s a rather dejected looking girl standing next to the delivery wagon and in the foreground a woman with a pram.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 03

She’s looking at the display to her right; her arms are straight, pushing the front wheels of the pram off the ground possibly getting ready for moving it off the pavement. The sleeves of her dress are tight to the elbows and then much bigger – the so-called “leg of mutton” look, reaching its apogee in the early 1900s. We can almost see what will happen next as her routine day continues.

The postcard is a picture of the street as a whole. Perhaps we were never intended to look this close. But as I’m sure you know by now I can never resist the details which are often found at the edge of the picture. That’s where the secret lives are found.

Still in Notting Hill, just a little further west:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367

This picture shows the Central Line station which was on the other side of the road from the Metropolitan Line. The street on the right is Pembridge Gardens. On the left you can see the buildings on the west side of Pembridge Road – the angle is deceptive and made me puzzle over the maps for a while. Let’s go back to the first postcard.

Notting Hill Gate PC929 zoom 2a - Copy

There you can see the station, the same buildings on Pembridge Road, and the motor bus. My transport correspondent tells me that the starter arm is visible underneath the radiator and that the engine block is quite low slung which indicates that this is an early model – later models were higher off the ground to protect the undercarriage and give the driver a better view. Horlicks Malted Milk was not imported into the UK until 1890. Horse-drawn and motor buses co-existed for some years before the horse drawn versions were superseded in the early 1900s.

Look at the horse bus again:

Notting Hill Gate station PC 367 zoom 01

There are people waiting but the bus looks pretty full. That woman striding away from it has the air of a passenger who has just alighted and wants to get moving under her own steam again.

In contrast to the busy high street along the road in Holland Park Avenue things were quieter.

Holland Park Avenue PC883

During the day the quieter residential areas would be mostly given over to women and children with a few street workers and delivery boys.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details

At the portmanteau and umbrella warehouse some window shopping is going on. This picture is not as sharp as some so it’s difficult to be sure if the two women standing together are wearing some kind of uniform.

Holland Park Avenue PC883 details 2

Something about the hats, I think with a piece of material draped down on one side.

Here’s another quiet street a little further south:

Onslow Gardens PC519

Nothing much is happening but some of the locals are paying attention.

Onslow Gardens PC519 zoom

The two women ignore the photographer and go on their way but the children and the man on the delivery tricycle are taking a keen interest.

A little further west the stillness is almost palpable in this view of Gilston Road.

Gilston Road PC1481

The church in the background is St Mary the Boltons. Instead of terraces of houses there are what one architectural guide has called “crude Italianate villas”. A little sharp if you ask me. I would call them grand suburban villas and the two women who have paused for the photographers are respectable middle class ladies

Gilston Road PC1481a

It’s a quiet dusty summer’s day in the new suburbs.

But it wasn’t all quiet at this end of the old Borough (or Vestry, depending on the date ) of Kensington.

Old Brompton Road PC816

I’ve always found this particular picture of the Old Brompton Road looking towards South Kensington Station quite intriguing, mostly because of what’s happening on the right of the picture.

Old Brompton Road PC816 detail

What does the expression on that boy’s face mean? Or is he just dazzled by the flash? Or is it just one of those odd in between two states expressions which the camera sometimes captures? Something about the body language of the girl tells me that she’s playing some part in this. Has she just said something sharp to the boy? Are they related? Or is she just posing for the camera? There’s just not enough information here. I can’t help thinking that if we just knew a little more there would be a story.

Below Fulham Road, at the junction with Drayton Gardens. Fifty years or so before this scene would be fields, market gardens and cottages in the hinterland between Kensington and Chelsea.

Fulham Road PC815

But now this is another busy street.

Fulham Road PC815 detail (2)

A belligerent looking shopkeeper, three men just hanging around on a street corner, and that man in the centre, looking to see what’s coming before stepping off the pavement. He looks like a man with places to go and people to see, not a man you want to trifle with. And of course unlike the women in these images if he was to stride out of the picture onto today’s Fulham Road we might not give him a second glance.

We’ve moved quite a short distance from one part of Kensington to the edge. Let’s go back for one more picture. This is a slightly unpromising view of Pembridge Gardens, a little discoloured with age and not particularly sharp.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335

But on the left you can see a woman and her maid.

Pembridge Gardens PC 335 zoom

It’s unusual to see a household servant on the street. Perhaps the delivery man has something which the lady didn’t want to carry in herself. Make your own story out of this one. Sometimes the past is just too out of focus for us to tell exactly what is happening.


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