Saturday 16 December 2023

Happy Blooming Christmas!

Looks like we may be spending a few days in Spain over Christmas. I've always wanted to see what they do at Christmastime there.  I'm told it involves a lot of pretty lights and singing of traditional songs in the village square, which sounds fine to me!    And the weather is very likely be better than the unrelenting grey gloom of London in the last few weeks.

I'm not  complaining about London's weather now, though, because we do need some rain and cold to make the plants grow later.  And we had a long and beautiful autumn with more colour than usual. Still, looking at the grey scene outside my window it's hard to believe that less than a month ago this was Regents Park as we cycled through...


We were on our way to the new and improved National Portrait Gallery, always one of my favourite art museums. It closed for three years for a major revamp, and only reopened this year.  I always felt it was fine as it was before, but I was blown away by how much better it seems now. 

They've kept the iconic and important pictures of course, such as the vast picture of King George V and his family below.  I looked at this for a long time. How lonely they all appeared in that grand echoing room, not really relating to each other, and clearly on display.  What a strange way to live.  I wonder what they would think about the people they are staring out at,  snapping them on their phones in a very different world from the one they knew.  

I'm not sorry for the Royals, but I don't envy them either. For some people a life of rigid routine with your time mapped out years in advance, may be fine. You could always enjoy the dressing up and being made to feel important, and I am sure that being extremely rich also isn't too much of a hardship!  But the lack of a private life, the relentless demands of other people, the sheer sense of confinement, would send some people crazy.  I think I'd be one of them. 

It seemed that many of the generals and admirals I'd seen in the past were missing - not to mention once-famous and now-unknown aristocrats.  Even I, as a history buff, had always hurried past the likes of Sir William Pulteney Pulteney, (below) portayed for his participation in so many colonial wars,  where he made so many bad decisions, yet still heaped with honours.  

I was also quite pleased not to have to stare at portraits of quite so many forgotten Mayfair socialites as before!

Instead, the rooms now offer context for the pictures on show.  People long ago were as diverse as today, although in different ways - and the artworks on display now help show how duchesses, paupers, acrobats, artists, artisans, tradesmen and common folk of all ages were shown and saw themselves in art.  

 There were more women and minorities than there were, too.  One of my favourite rooms contained only women's self portraits.   Far too many and far too much variety to show here but the one below stuck in my mind.   The photographer, Dorothy Wilding, looks so happy in her work, doesn't she? Not really bothered about what she looks like but what she feels like. All the best photography is like that, I think.   I think I'd have liked to meet Dorothy Wilding. 

And in contrast to the Royal Family in their dim, old palace,  this vast, bright painting of the film star Rita Hayworth seems to light up the room. 

There was a very good display on miniature paintings, showing how jawdroppingly skilled miniature painters were.  The part of the image shown below is less than two inches across,  and many were even smaller, having been painted with single-hair paintbrushes.  

I was also struck by an extremely lifelike sculpture of Tim Berners-Lee who thought up the idea of the World Wide Web.  It's quite incredibly realistic except that it is only about 1/2 human size.  At least, I think it is, unless he is a person of severely restricted growth.  It's a most compelling and engaging statue, and is placed just before a huge screen on which appear various portraits in the collection, offering a nice variety of backdrops for him.  

(Incidentally, I wonder why Tim Berners-Lee has not been knighted.  If a peerage was good enough for  Michelle Mone  and  some of the other controversial figures who have been ennobled recently, surely inventing the World Wide Web is worthy of some recognition? )

Below you see Lord Byron's screen, created in decoupage for him by his boxing tutor, of all people. I never knew Byron had a boxing tutor but he was apparently fascinated by prizefighting and prizefighters, and one side of the screen contains only pictures of these. The other side of the screen reflects Byron's other great passion - the theatre - and his favourite actor, Edmund Keen.  That is the side in my photograph. The engravings of famous actors are interspersed with reviews and comments cut out of newspapers. 

Byron was apparently short of money and sold the screen a few years later, which seems a bit ungrateful to his boxing tutor who had clearly spent so much time on making it as a gift.   But thankfully it was purchased by a publishers which treasured it for well over a century.  

There are several places to eat in the museum, but I it was getting dark so we just grabbed something at the simple little snack bar outside situated in what  I think used to be a ticket kiosk.  David Hockney helpfully shows the way. 

So now Christmas is rushing upon us!   We helped the twins decorate their tree last weekend  - the old tree has now grown out of its pot and needs planting out, so they got a nice new potted tree that's about one third of the old one's size.   The decorating had hardly started when it became clear that there was no way all the decorations would go on the new tree.    Some of the more robust ornaments had to be taken off and put on the old tree, still in its pot outside. They are now cheering up the front garden!

When fully decorated the new little tree looked very cheerful in the corner, and we all watched the traditional Christmas animation "Father Christmas" by Raymond Briggs, and ate mince pies.   It's an amusing, gentle little movie which combines two books "Father Christmas" and "Father Christmas Goes on Holiday" which describes how the old fella delivers his presents worldwide, and spends his time enjoying himself off season.  His catchphrase is the slang word "blooming" which was widely used in Briggs' childhood (and mine) but isn't heard so much now.  It is a mild way of saying "goddam"  - a bit like "darned" I suppose, because he is a kindly and highly respectable old gent at heart. 


I hope your Christmas preparations are progressing well, and if I don't post again in the next few days please let me wish you a "Happy Blooming Christmas!" too! 


  1. Hello Jenny, I too liked the Portrait Gallery the way it was, but would be cautiously willing to consider innovations. I just hope that they didn't jump on trends that will seem dated in a few years. At least what they are doing should not harm the portraits, so they can be rearranged in the future if necessary.

  2. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas in Spain! I have friends who just returned from a visit there and they loved it.

  3. I remember the National Portrait Gallery from many years ago. I found it impressive then, and from your description it sounds like it has become even better.
    Regents Park in autumn is glorious!
    Love the Christmas tree; mine will probably come up from the basement on Monday, when I‘ll be back from a busy weekend at O.K.‘s.

    1. Jenny, last night I spoke to a young woman from the village who studies and lives in Paris, and I asked her whether she knows La Villette. She knows of it, but has not yet been. I told her I had read about it on a blog and it sounds like a place I would like if I were in Paris, and she said she‘ll make sure to go some time soon, weather permitting.

  4. I would go crazy as a royal also.
    The gallery looks like it is much more interesting now.
    Love the idea of a potted Christmas tree.
    Happy holidays, Jenny!! :)

  5. Have a good Spain trip. Yes, from what I see from there, it's a lot of lights and decorations.
    I like the idea of women's self portraits, better than the eternal, inevitable male gaze. Yay them for thinking it through.

  6. I would love to see the gallery now.. haven't been there since the 70s.
    Have a good trip..the thought of the possibility of warmer climes is inviting!!

  7. I love the idea of the Portrait gallery being more about real people and that photo of Dorothy Wilding is wonderful. Have a wonderful Christmas in Spain, Jenny!

  8. Loved The National Portrait when I was able to visit many years ago. Have a wonderful Christmastrip.

  9. In those royal families don't the kids get shipped off to boarding school as soon as they're able to walk and talk? When that top picture was painted, it may have been the first time those folks had seen each other in years!

  10. You'll love Spain at Christmas! I used to enjoy the National Portrait Gallery so would be keen to see it after the makeover...but doubt I'll see England again.

  11. Wishing you and your family a wonderful Christmas in Spain!

  12. The modernised National Portrait Gallery looks good, I must visit it when I'm next in London. You're right about King George V and his family, they all look very stiff and starchy. I love Rita Hayworth's wonderful (but quite impractical!) dress. And I agree that if totally undeserving types can be honoured, then surely Tim Berners-Lee should have been knighted by now.

  13. Have a wonderful holiday season with health.

  14. Unfortunately, we did not have enough time to visit the museums and galleries on our brief London visit this past Oct, so a return trip is needed! Thanks for this intro, Jenny , and how wonderful to read where you will be spending your holiday. You will have lots to blog about your Christmas. Wishing you and your family a very Merry 🎄and a Happy New Year🎉 See you in blog-land in 2024.

  15. Belated Happy Christmas to you Jenny. I am just catching up on blogs after a bit of a lull. It is good to hear the Portrait Gallery is back in business - I enjoyed it immensely during one of our visits to London. I don't remember the portrait of George V and some of the family - very formal and austere indeed. However, Rita Haywood is gorgeous, enhanced by that wonderful blue background. That is an interesting story about Lord Byron, and selling on such a special and thoughtful screen. I did seem to be a bit on the wild side. We have enjoyed three visits in four days from our little pair of twins, now three and into everything. Especially the Christmas Tree. Enjoy the season.

  16. Hello and a Happy New Year to you and loved ones! It's always a joy to pop in and see what your are doing, great photos and memory making moments! Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving a comment, it's great to keep up together! Take care!

  17. I hope you enjoyed Christmas in Spain and look forward to your photos! I love miniature art. It never fails to impress. I must make time to visit the National Portrait Gallery too


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