26 December 2010


Of the four main museums this time around, this is the only one I hadn't been to previously. It's not that I didn't want to go before, but there's only so much time, and its location looked so isolated on the map. I'm not against a little commuting, but I need some semblance of schedule!

I'm finding more and more that tube maps are deceiving. They make Pimlico seem further than it is. I decided to brave the supposed long commute, as I'd heard that Tate Britain's Pre-Raphaelite collection was outstanding. Bonnie came along for the ride, though at this point she was fading fast from the combination of a head cold and the temperature finally dropping to London's normal autumnal rates. She kept going with the promise of Wagamama directly after the museum.

First of all, the commute wasn't that long. The walk from the tube station was only slightly lengthy, and we got to see a section of London we'd never seen before.

Let's get the negative out of the way first. The section I'd wanted to see the most, with the majority of the Pre-Raphaelites, was closed for some repairs or Grand Scheme to Disappoint Catherine - take your pick. So it wasn't all grand for me, but there were quite a few unexpected surprises, and mild coincidences.

Beyond a cursory glance at a guidebook, I wasn't sure what was included in Tate's collection, so I was open to pleasant surprises. Here's the first one:


Okay, this painting is probably hard to get from the photograph (and I wasn't sure it photography was allowed, so I was covert all the way), but it's called The Fairy Feller's Master-Stroke, and was painted by Richard Dadd. Ironically, he was committed to Bedlam after confessing to the murder of his father. Apparently he was a paranoid schizophrenic, but also a recognized talent, and this painting was done while in the hospital.

Dadd's story and his work is interesting (and kind of disturbing) enough, but my connection to this work is that the band Queen named one of their songs after it; and the song is a bit erratic and odd, so now I see the connection. Dadd's poem about the painting seems to share similar lyric to Freddie Mercury's. I've also heard rumors that Mr. Dick of Dickens's David Copperfield is loosely based on Richard Dadd (his full name is similar, too.) Conversely, I read that the characters on the painting may have pictured people in the novel. Chicken or egg, it's still intriguing, considering the fact that it's one of the books of 2010! (Coming sooner or later, my 2010 Books Reviewed...)

Speaking of books, I know that I don't spend a lot of time reading while I'm away. Still, I can't help trying to match books with my trip, and exuberantly picking a few volumes, bravely fitting these inside my luggage. I might regret this when the trip's over and I've barely turned any pages, but I actually managed to make a dent in two books. One of them was Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd. It's not his most well known work, but I'd picked this book up not long after I'd posed for a photo in tribute to the painting 'The Death of Chatterton' by Henry Wallis. I know, it sounds kind of creepy, but hey, it worked for George Meredith, the model for the actual painting, who lived a long life as a writer.

The actual Thomas Chatterton, was rather fascinating. He produced what he called long lost writings from a medieval monk, and people were actually convinced for a bit. His body of work is impressive, especially considering the fact that he was only seventeen years old when he died. Some say he committed suicide, and others believe he accidentally overdosed. Either way, his life, death, and work inspired future poets like Keats and Coleridge, and even Oscar Wilde (wow, I almost burst out in a Smiths song there.) I mean when you get down to it, his death was highly romanticized, but I tend to fall prey to that sensibility here and there. So reading a novel based on this person, and those involved in the famous painting, and mostly took place in London, seemed to fit. And then, what do you know? Look what's in the Tate:



I think I must have read somewhere that the painting was here, but I was so concerned with painters like Turner, Rossetti, and Millais (whose famous Ophelia, also a death scene, I posed for on the same day as the Chatterton, and whose statue stands right outside Tate Britain), that I'd put this particular work to the back of my mind. Well, that's okay. I like little surprises.


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