Saturday, 7 January 2012

A king's, an earl's and a pauper's library.

Over the past couple of weeks the Brimstone Butterfly has flitted between three very different libraries. 

Being in close proximity to my beloved Kenwood House I could not resist paying a visit to the 18th century mansion designed by Robert Adam and I am very glad that I did so too. Rather like me Kenwood House is beginning to fall apart at the edges. Unlike me, it is undergoing a comprehensive renovation to restore it to its former glory. 
Work has started on the service block and only the Brewery House restaurant, the scene of my encounter with a former Spice Girl and erstwhile neighbour, was open, the rest of the block being shrouded in scaffolding. The photographs above were taken in 2010. I realised I had inadvertently taken a picture of a rotting pillar. It aptly demonstrates why Kenwood House was so in need of major restoration.  Unfortunately the main house itself is scheduled to close for renovation in April 2012 and not reopen until September 2013, a veritable life time away for the bereft Brimstone Butterfly. 

Other parts of the house are currently closed including the upper gallery containing both the intriguing Suffolk Collection of 17th century portraits and the rather temperamental resident ghost. But I was able to view the other paintings on display including works by Rembrandt and Vermeer and the rather touching double portrait of the 19th century dandy Beau Brummell as a small child with his brother. The portrait if the Beau is rather sad if one knows how his life ended: as a raving lunatic in a French asylum, the fastidious man of fashion reduced by the ravages of syphilis to a doubly incontinent shadow of his former self. One of the “new” books on display recently at my local library was Ian Kelly’s excellent biography of Beau Brummell, which I first mentioned on here in April 2010.

Last year, I visited Syon House which, like Kenwood House, had also been designed by Robert Adam. The elegant Dining Room at Syon is graced with a screen of Corinthian columns at either end, placed behind apsidal recesses. (The latter simply describes a semi-dome like effect). The Dining Room was finished in 1763. Robert Adam added similar Corinthian screens and apsidal recesses to the Earl of Mansfield’s Library at Kenwood a few years later. However, whereas the Dining Room at Syon has a gold and cream colour scheme, the Library at Kenwood used a much more colourful palette. In addition, it included wall paintings based on those found at Pompeii. By contrast the wall paintings of Ancient Rome at Syon are monochromatic.
To my great disappointment I could only step a few paces into the Earl’s library the rest of my way      being roped off, whereas in the past I have been able to venture right inside. Consequently, I had to     make to make do with taking a photograph of my reflection in one of the ornate gilt wall mirrors          designed by Robert Adam, as I stood outside.                                                                                                                                                   

It was also from this terrace that the famous portrait of the enigmatic Dido Belle and her cousin, Elizabeth Murray was painted. In 2010 the weather was so bad at Christmas visitors were not allowed to step out onto the terrace. This year I was able to do so and took a photograph of the mock stone bridge, seen in the distance in the double portrait. The bridge is a mere facade and cannot be traversed. Before I left Kenwood House I made my way to my favourite room: the shop with its cream ceramic stove and elegant and cosy proportions. And thus I bid adieu to my beloved Kenwood House for what 
will seem like forever.                                                                                                                                
 It has been a while since I last made my way to the King’s Library within the British Museum. This originally formed the nucleus of the British Library and consisted of a large collection of books once owned by King George III. The Library played an even more important part in my personal history as it was the first place I worked at after graduating. I always found walking through the empty gallery first thing in the morning uplifting, the more so if it were sunny outside and light flooded through the windows of the elegant room built in 1827, with its graceful ornate plasterwork, granite columns and gilded balcony. 
To get to my office, I had to unlock a concealed door in one of the bookcases. If I left the office in the afternoon before the public galleries had closed, I would wait until I could hear voices close by and then cause a minor stir by suddenly stepping out. The British Library has long since decamped to a purpose built building and to my mind rather ugly building by St Pancras station, the latter recently restored to its Victorian splendour. On a previous visit the King’s Library had been denuded of most of its books. Now it hosts a collection of exhibits from the British Museum. I had popped into the museum after an appointment elsewhere and so had little time to linger to establish the general theme before the building closed for the day. But I was determined to see if I could find the concealed door which had provided me with so much merriment all those years ago. It was still there. I refrained from ringing the bell to see if anyone answered as I wanted to visit the Reading Room.

Many a night was spent by me in the past doing overtime in the famous round Reading Room. The 1957 classic horror film, The Night of the Demon, filmed a key sequence here. Whenever I see this chilling depiction of devil worship, violent death and general mayhem on late night television it instantly brings back fond memories of my time in the British Library. Unfortunately I could not gain access to the Reading Room’s interior as it was hosting an exhibition.  In my era, the exterior of the Reading Room could not be seen by the general public. Now the courtyard has been covered over with a glass roof and the refaced Reading Room exterior can be seen in all its magnificence.
The Pauper’s Library is of course my own local one at Wimbledon. In the IT room there is a series of naive paintings produced by students at the Wimbledon School of Art in the 1950s. They depict scenes of a bucolic and fanciful English country life but bear little resemblance to Wimbledon itself in the latter half of the 20th century. The paintings were meant for the children’s library but have remained behind as the children’s section has been moved elsewhere. Their loss is my gain. I rather think I would have been drummed out of the building if I had been seen taking a lot of pictures in the vicinity of small children. Luckily there were just adults huddled over their pcs. Even so, I had to be circumspect lest any complain that I was disturbing them or start to think I was trying to capture images of their computer screens.The paintings possess a singular charm and although might not be quite in keeping with the Georgian grandeur of Kenwood House or the King's Library in the British Museum, I am sure they have delighted many a little prince and princess over the years.