Wednesday, June 18, 2008

A day out in Piccadilly

Robyn of Have Dogs, Will Travel is in town and on Monday we spent a day seeing exhibitions, eating and buying books - but most of all talking. Those of you who have met up with other 'cyber buddies' face to face after a long time talking online will know all about what that's like.

My Fortnum and Masons cheeseboard
11" x 8", pencil and coloured pencils

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

We started with the Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts, at Burlington House in Piccadilly. We then crossed the road and had lunch at Fortnum and Masons directly opposite. The St James Restaurant supplied the 'still life' for my sketching! Followed by a short walk to Ryder Street and a visit to the Summer Show at the Chris Beetles Gallery and then a quick trip to the shelves and shelves of art books at Waterstones in Piccadilly - Europe's largest bookshop!

We parted just about 6pm and I walked over to the National Portrait Gallery for the Awards Reception for the BP Portrait Award (see Craig Wylie wins BP Portrait Award 2008).

The Royal Academy

My day got off to a bad start. George Bush had arrived in town the previous day and my tube journey was difficult (a big understatement!). So by the time I got to the Royal Academy 25 minutes late, Robyn had already done her first sketch in the vast courtyard outside the entrance to Burlington House! I was in need of a cup of tea so we went to the Friends Room - and now Robyn knows what it looks like from seeing it for real besides seeing it in my sketches (see Interior landscapes with food - a Sketchbook. for links)

The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy

I like to get value from my annual Friends of the RA subscription and it's always really nice to take a cyber chum to an exhibition at the RA - as they get in for free!

This was my second visit to this year's Summer Exhibition and Robyn's first ever visit. I gather that while there are lots of opportunities to look at great art from the past in Tuscany, there aren't a lot of opportunities to view contemporary art.

I'd forgotten what it's like for somebody new to the Summer Exhibition and just the sheer size and quantity of the number and size of the rooms and the number of exhibits. Now in its 240th year, the exhibition includes around 1,200 works and the majority of works are for sale. Robyn was completely bowled over by the number of small paintings and how they were hung in the Small Weston Room - always a real jaw-dropper! ;)

It was also really nice going round with somebody who is experimenting and trying to find their way with media and style in drawing and painting. I've found, from experience, that people are always unconsciously drawn to the styles of artists whose work they wished they could emulate. Sometimes it's just about an aspect of the work. In the past, after I noticed this happening in other people, I gave myself a 'mental work-out' and sat myself down to think about the sort of work and the sort of artists that I was really drawn to. From that I could work out what they had in common and was then able to identify all the things I really wanted to be able to do - which in turn created the plan for addressing this!

An exhibition which has a lot of different pieces and styles presents a really great opportunity to see if my theory works. Personally I think it's very easy to spot what sorts of characteristics turn up the visual volume for a viewer just by watching which pieces somebody picks out or stops at. With Robyn by the time we left the exhibition I was very clear about what she really, really liked. :)

Lunch in the St James Restaurant in Fortnum and Masons

OK - this is for 'the Gardener' back home in Tuscany and also for Robyn and me as a record of our delightful and delicious long lunch! Readers can decide what they would have chosen from the June menu for the St James Restaurant(pdf).

Robyn decided to focus on fish and had Tian of Cromer Crab with Pink Grapefruit Dressing, followed by Brioche Crumbed Plaice Fillets with Homemade Tartare Sauce (see right) and Coconut & Lime Chiffon Pie

Robyn's Fish Dish
8" x 10"pen and sepia ink and coloured pencils in Moleskine

copyright Katherine Tyrrell

Of course, the penalty of eating with me is I can sometimes make you wait two minutes before eating! I did a very quick pen and ink sketch of her plaice dish before Robyn was allowed to dig in - and then added some colour which I reinforced when I got home.

I had the Salt & Pepper Squid, Pickled Cucumber and Sweet Chilli Syrup, followed by Sirloin of Highgrove Beef, Chantenay Carrots, Watercress Purée and Horseradish Cream and finished with St James’s Cheese Plate with Chefs’ Oat Cookies & Pear Chutney (see above right). We both did a sketch of my cheeseboard as it looked so nice. Pretty nice to eat too!

Beside munching, other activities included much discussion and, of course, we also had a look at each other's sketchbooks so we could see for real the sketches we only ever see on screen.

The Chris Beetles Gallery - and a second summer exhibition

The Chris Beetles Gallery is situated in Ryder Street opposite the rear entrance to Christies. It mainly specialises in watercolours, but also has a great stock of work by Illustrators and Cartoonists and is a world leading gallery in this respect. (You can see the 2nd Annual Cartoon Show online)

We were there to see the Chris Beetles Summer Show (you can see a selection of the pictures online by clicking the link). I think we were both rather taken with the lovely loose washy watercolours by Hercules Brabazon Brabazon (1821-1906). As always, it's amazing how little detail has been painted and how much such pictures are about simple shapes, simple colours and accurate values.

I also admired the oil paintings and one watercolour by Geraldine Girvan - a great favourite of mine - and I bought a catalogue for one of her recent exhibitions. I'm very happy looking at the paintings of people whose work I like. Her work is so colourful and rather more rich and vibrant than the online images suggest.


It was 5.30pm before we left Chris Beetles and walked up Jermyn Street and cut through to Piccadilly and Waterstones. Then up to the top floor to show Robyn just how many art books they can actually get into one shop. (The floor and shelf space devopted to art books is the size of a typical book shop in its entirety!) The plan was that Robyn would come back and browse at her leisure but somehow a couple of books managed to find their way to the till before we got out the door! It's that sort of place. I have to ration my visiting!

I had a lovely day out in Piccadilly with Robyn. Lots of lovely things to do and see, exceptionally good company and a whole treasure trove of topics of mutual interest to talk about. I enjoyed myself immensely - and look forward to doing it again - maybe in Italy!

You can see more of my sketches done in restaurants, cafes and bars in Interior landscapes with food - a Sketchbook.

This week I'm going to transfer two more sketches involving Fortnum and Masons which were first posted on my other blog - and by the end of the week I'll have a brand new section for the Interior Landscapes post!


  1. I'm so envious!!! I know it's not right because I've had more than my share of the kind of day that you and Robyn had, but I don't care---I WISH I'd been there with you two! Lucky each of you to have spent the day with the other. And, Katherine, it makes me so happy to see your sketches again. I love and appreciate your articles and essays, but your sketches have a charm and immediacy and personality that I find totally irresistible. Wonderful post and, in spite of being chartreuse (and/or sap green) with envy, I'm thrilled for you both!

  2. I'm back home in Tuscany, reliving every delightful moment of our day, Katherine. You left out one of my highlights, which was watching you sketch my lunch. I left totally inspired by seeing you lay down those beautiful loosely hatched fields of colour. The whole day was such a rich diet, and I'm not just talking about the gorgeous food.

    I'll never forget the wonderful guided tour you treated me to through the Summer Exhibition. Unforgettable and enviable - I'd walk over broken glass to do it all again! THANK YOU!!!!!

  3. Yeah yeah, and the words "doggy bag" never once crossed their consciousness.

  4. I have a big smile on my face - what wonderful comments by two friends and fellow bloggers.

    Robyn - I think we need to make this a regular date and you can get your contemporary art 'fix'. Here's hoping we can pull off a return fixture!

  5. Maybe I need to sketch one of the famous F&M turquoise bags for Dermott?

  6. A sketch of a massive T-bone would be more useful on the basis that a virtual feed is better than no feed at all.


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