diamond geezer

 Tuesday, November 22, 2022

One of the joys of living in London is that you can walk out of your house and shortly afterwards be standing in front of this.

This is Constable's actual Hay Wain and it's in London, in the National Gallery.

It's one of the country's best-loved works of art, harking back to a simpler time with top class brushwork. It was painted 201 years ago and depicts a pastoral scene in the heart of East Anglia - that's Suffolk on the left bank and Essex on the right. It's only proper it's in London, we are the capital city after all, plus John Constable lived here for many years, indeed I walked past his Hampstead home at the weekend. Given the reception the painting received in its day it might well have ended up in Paris, but instead if I fancy a shufti at this masterpiece all I have to do is head down to Trafalgar Square and I can see it any time I like.

This is Turner's actual Fighting Temeraire and it's in London, in the National Gallery.

It is the country's best-loved work of art, assuming you believe that national poll they did in 2005 which'll be why the Bank of England stuck in on the back of the £20 note. And sure you can always see it on there, assuming you still stuff cash in your pocket, but there's nothing quite like seeing it blazing and bobbing in a frame right in front of you. The Fighting Temeraire could easily have found its way to the artist's bespoke gallery, the Turner Contemporary in Margate, but ironically you have a better chance of seeing one of his works if you stay in London rather than trooping all the way down to the Kent coast.

This is Seurat's actual Bathers at Asnières and it's in London, in the National Gallery.

It's a renowned classic, a true post-Impressionist icon and an unparalleled example of pointillist chromoluminarism. I love how bright and modern it still looks, plus redheads don't always get the recognition they deserve in world class art. It depicts a hot day by the River Seine not far from the Pont de Clichy so you might expect it to hang in the Louvre, but instead we've got it in our national gallery and Seurat's other masterpiece hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago. Admittedly placing so many masterworks in so few places makes it much easier for climate protestors to hurl liquids at them, but the guards in Room 43 are well used to those tricks by now so best not even think of trying.

This is Frans Hals' actual The Laughing Cavalier and it's in London, at the Wallace Collection. Not every old master is at the National Gallery.

It's a much-loved portrait, one of the premier league, and nothing else in Hals' oeuvre comes close. He didn't name it, the title's a Victorian affection, and wildly inappropriate because the gentleman isn't a cavalier and isn't laughing. But what a smile, and what a moustache, and how did Frans get his eyes to follow you round the room? What really strikes you once you've seen it up close is the incredibly lifelike face, which is all the more impressive because it's nearly 400 years old. I suspect a minority of Londoners have seen it because it's in a gallery most haven't heard of, plus you have to walk to the rear upstairs gallery by the door to spot it. But if you're a Londoner who never has, at least you have a chance.

This is Marcel Duchamp's actual Fountain and it's in London, at Tate Modern.

This revolutionary piece marked a turning point in modern art as a Frenchman worked out you could make an earthenware copy of a porcelain urinal and call it art just by adding a signature. So much abstract weirdness stemmed from this century-old revelation. But for a change London doesn't have the genuine work of art, that's long been lost and this is simply one of 16 replicas authorised by Duchamp in 1964. I did walk round Tate Modern in search of something better known and more world-renowned than Fountain but the displayed selection is fairly lacklustre these days and a fake urinal was the best I could do. In this case the advantage of being a Londoner is that you don't have to waste an airfare to get here.

This is Van Gogh's actual Sunflowers and it's in London, in the National Gallery.

Now we're talking. This is a world class painting, probably Top Five in terms of global renown and familiarity, as you can tell if you head down to the National Gallery and observe the visitors massing in front of it. There's even one visitor in my photo wearing a jacket with Van Gogh's Sunflowers embroidered on the back, which is a level of devotion you'd never expect to see for an average canvas. Only perhaps the Mona Lisa gets mobbed more than this, again by people more intent on capture than observation. You could argue it's pointless to travel miles to photograph a painted rectangle when you could just look at a professionally captured image, but at least those of us who live in London have the best chance of seeing it unobstructed.

This is Van Gogh's actual A Wheatfield With Cypresses and it's in London, two canvases to the left of Sunflowers.

It's not quite in Sunflowers' league but it is embedded in my psyche because it's the painting that used to hang above my bed while I was growing up. I didn't have the real painting only a cheap print, which I think we got as a freebie from a garage, but my Dad stuck it in a frame and hung it on my bedroom wall and this makes it the work of art I've studied more than any other. I loved the bold bright colours, I admired how a farmscape could be conjured up with a few vibrant stripes and I enjoyed having my own private window into a distant land. And yesterday, because I now live in London, I went down and admired the real thing in reverent silence for a few glorious minutes. Experiencing world class art is incredibly easy here, we Londoners don't know how lucky we are.

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