Bria and I thoroughly enjoyed having a day to sleep in, as we didn’t leave for church until 10:15am, and breakfast was about 9:15. It was wonderful to get all that sleep after our long day of walking in Bath! Benjamin obliged by sleeping in himself, which is a rarity for him. Hurrah! The day started out sunny, though still quite chilly and windy. We enjoyed going to church at the Metropolitan Tabernacle (the late Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s church) with our host family, then came home for a delicious, thoroughly English lunch. Afterwards, an immense thunderstorm blew in, bringing driving sleet and amazing thunder and lightning. What a turn the weather can take! During the storm, I took a brief nap until Benjamin woke up fussy. After feeding him and getting him settled back down to sleep, I decided to brave the outdoors and walk to the Dulwich Picture Gallery, down the Common and across beautiful Dulwich Park (which is what you see in this photograph). Our hostess walked with me through some fitful rain, showing me the right path to take through the extensive park.
The Picture Gallery was the first public art gallery established in England. The history of the gallery is a fascinating one, as is the origin of its collection (you can read about it here). It contains some very famous works of art by artists like Thomas Gainsborough, all beautifully displayed. The interior is flooded with natural light from the domed skylights of the roof above, and the rich red coloring of the main walls makes it feel like you’re walking through a jewelry box. It’s just luscious. I was surprised to see one of my favorite works of art on display–Rembrandt’s “Girl in a Window”–as I’d thought it was in a larger museum collection elsewhere (“Girl with a Broom” is in the National Gallery of Art in D.C., for example). So it was a treat to see it here. The painting just leaps off the wall and overshadows everything around it due to Rembrandt’s deft use of color. It really was a “gasp” moment to see it framed in a doorway as I walked past! My photos can’t do it justice, but I had to take some:
The gallery contains many wonderful portraits from the 17th and 18th centuries, rich with detail. I especially enjoyed all the amazing details of the ladies’ gowns. Below is a portrait with an interesting story. Titled “Mrs. Elizabeth Moody and her Two Sons,” the portrait originally only included Mrs. Moody. She died when her sons were much closer to infancy, and they were painted in later (one in her arms, and one holding her hand). She never lived to see them at the age they are depicted on canvas, sadly.
Across the doorway from this portrait is one of the Linley sisters from the 1780s:
Seeing these up close is amazing, as the details of fabric and trimming are just eye-popping. Every wall contains amazing portraits. I loved the one below of a 17th-century gent in his gilded armor:
The detail level is unbelievable. 1550-1870 was the height of English portraiture when it comes to realism. I like the impressionists, but you lose the photo-realistic detailing that all of us who love historical costuming prize. In these portraits, it is possible to see the exact pattern of the lace on a cuff or the embroidery on a lady’s gown. It’s breathtaking. Here’s another wonderful portrait of a lady from the 1770s (very high up on the wall):
To the left you see a tiny portrait of Queen Victoria at four years old. This portrait was extremely popular after Victoria became queen and prints of it found their way to many parlor walls across the kingdom. It really is darling and looks very much like the older Victoria. What is interesting is that a copy of this portrait is used in the film, “The Young Victoria,” which just opened in England. However, the portrait used in the film is about three feet by four feet, and this original (not including the frame) is about nine inches by twelve inches! It’s quite tiny. I remember the first time I saw some of Vermeer’s portraits in the National Gallery, shocked at how tiny they were. Things look a lot bigger in coffee table art books than they often are in real life! For such a tiny portrait, this one is nevertheless filled with amazing details. I believe the princess is wearing an ermine tippet crossed in front, with cuffs to match. So cute!
Below is one more beautiful piece that I enjoyed. It is actually just a small section of a much larger canvas that was, unfortunately, destroyed at some point. The detail of two women’s heads is lovely–the front lady’s hairstyle is wonderful:
After enjoying an hour and a half in the gallery, I walked outside into glorious sunshine and snapped this photo of the grounds that surround Dulwich Picture Gallery:
I rounded the corner and headed back through Dulwich Park toward the house. Below is a picture of an adorable Tudor-style cottage within the park grounds. It has been boarded up and is not inhabited. My hostess tells me they wish the park would fix them up for tenants rather than letting them just sit to deteriorate. I couldn’t agree more. Anyone for a darling English cottage in an extensive park?
Next time I’ll tell you about our day in Kensington!