It's been a dodgy time here at Woolf Villas,to tell you the truth, but we have had some light relief. We had an entertaining visit from a Japanese friend from Tokyo, who re-ignited my desire to go to Japan. Since the book translation is late, etc. etc., the idea of Japan had slipped from my mind, but talking to Yoshi I suddenly remembered. So I've added "Find a way to go to Japan" onto my list of things to do. Well, writing it down is a start!
As part of T's Christmas present I had promised him a fancy lunch at the Tate Britain Restaurant, and so we finally went. The restaurant is known for its amazing murals, painted in the 1920s by artist Rex Whistler, who was just a 20 year old student when he began them. He became one a famous book illustrator and muralist, and was sadly killed in battle in 1944.
Both T and I remembered being taken by our mums for tea in this refreshment room when we were kids. In those days you had jam tarts and rissoles and the place had a slight air of NAAFI Canteen.
(Photo: National Army Museum)
Eventually it became too out of date, or something, and I think it closed down. But then they did a fabulous restoration of the Tate and lo, the room is back, in a new role as an expensive restaurant.
The murals tell of a fanciful expedition through a magical world in search of fine food, by the inhabitants of a castle. Sick of eating only biscuits made in the factory of the called "Duke of Epicuranea," they set off in a cart, on horseback and on bicycle, to remote lands. Here are just a few small bits of the mural. (Forgive the odd perspective, but that's what happens when you try to photograph a really huge art work that spreads all round the room.)
Here we see a farewell from one of the stay-at-homes and her dog.... and she's looking up the steps to....
....the scene where the food hunting party, dressed in a variety of elegant outfits, set off from their imaginary city.
Across the bridge they go, into lands unknown.
I love this colouring in this scene of a lady picnicking in her evening dress. So characteristic of the period, with that golden light, those dusky greens and pinks.
And here are two fairies flying along to see what is happening - look how one is dark and one is light, and the tones of the picture are so cleverly handled
I couldn't even see most of the mural, let alone photograph it, since I was just too polite to lean over the diners at their tables and snap away with my camera. But the staff said I could go back one morning, or late one afternoon, and take as many photos as I wanted. So I will. I think it's going to be hard to photograph the way that the artwork engulfs the doors and windows of the room, as if they are caves or hollows in which strange creatures live. I haven't been able to find any really good photos - the best ones are here and they're not great. Really, Whistler's Tate Mural is one of those things you have to visit for yourself.
Anyway, to finish, here is the party returning home in triumph - I suppose. The mural has no beginning and no end since it goes completely around the room, but the bouquet and the red carpets do suggest that something important has happened, even though there doesn't actually seem to be anyone in the cart!
And the food? It's very good, in the French style, and some of the dishes have unexpected little stories attached to them. My meal included goose breast with hazelnuts, not a dish I had ever tried before. The menu note about it read: "In 1940, "They Can't Ration These" was published as a reaction to wartime rationing. It featured a collection of recipes based around little used herbs, edible weeds, berries, and wild fowl such as goose that were readily available during wartime".
Somehow I don't think my meal really tasted like wartime rationing, whatever they say. It was far too elegant!
I then read a book that Rex's younger brother, Lawrence, wrote about him. Rex sounds charming and light hearted, and you can tell Lawrence idolised him. In fact, Lawrence became a famous glass engraver and he created a most uncommon glass memorial to Rex. It stands in Salisbury cathedral in Wiltshire. It's impossible to photograph, and once more, you really need to be there to appreciate it, but this Youtube video gives an idea of what it looks like. I stared at the real thing for ages. It is quite large, and really quite hypnotic as you walk around the prism and look into it. A good tribute to a man who gave happiness to many, and brightened the life of many a rissole eater.