Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Lola II's Birthday Extravaganza!

Hello, Lola II here. With the enormous amount of homework my lovely sister Lola I is having to do, she has asked me to update the blog with the latest news. In particular, the passing of my 40th birthday weekend celebrations.

I will spread my report into a couple of postings mainly because, after many years trying, I still seem incapable of describing any kind of excitement succinctly.

So the adventures began on Friday, my actual birthday. The National Gallery is my favourite place in London and I very much enjoy their free Friday night tours of the collection, often with our father. I have absorbed a little over the years and decided that, for my 40th, I would invite friends for drinks in the gallery restaurant, followed by a private guided tour of the collection, ending with a 3-course dinner back in the restaurant.

What I didn't tell anyone was that I was giving the tour myself. I had looked into getting someone from the gallery to lead it but the £200 charge for an hour seemed excessive. Besides, I enjoy public speaking and I love giving surprises, so it would be good fun.

Sadly Lola I and Mr A couldn't make it. Lola did her best to see if she could bunk off her Friday classes so that they could make it down to London in time. Unfortunately, being the conscientious student that she is, she decided that she couldn't miss the lectures. Though choosing her studies over me would ordinarily be viewed as a gross breach of loyalty, I forgave her instantly because a) she really does have a lot on her plate, b) she was still coming down late Friday night and staying until Sunday, and c) she really is terribly lovely.

Back to the gallery. To start, we had our own special cordoned off area in the restaurant. As my guests arrived a pattern emerged. Firstly they would walk past where we were and I'd go racing after them. Then there was relief that they had found me and their surprise that I was wearing quite a glamorous dress. And shoes with heels! Then I would comment in an excited fashion "I HAVE A CORDONED OFF AREA IN THE NATIONAL GALLERY!!" and then they would be allowed past the deep red velvet rope and squeezed in with others for wine and nibbles.

Finally the moment arrived to lead everyone to the start of the tour and I explained that I hadn't been entirely truthful; that I would, in fact, be giving the tour myself. I had chosen four paintings:

painting of The Exhumation of St Hubert#1: The Exhumation of Saint Hubert (late 1430's) by Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464)

St Hubert lived for 70 years until the year 727. He was the first Bishop of Liège and is the Patron Saint of hunters, mathematicians, opticians & metalworkers. He was invoked to cure rabies until the early twentieth century through the use of the traditional St Hubert's Key

I'll leave you to look up the story behind the picture but I chose this painting because van der Weyden does an incredible job in his depiction of emotion and grief. Take a close look at the expressions on faces, they're fantastic.

painting of Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan#2 Christina of Denmark, Duchess of Milan (1538) by Hans Holbein the Younger (1497/8-1543)

At the age of eleven Christina was married by proxy to the Duke of Milan, who later died. At 16, she was then one of the most eligible brides in Europe and that is when she came to the attention of Henry VIII. The latest of his wives, Jane Seymour, had died in childbirth so he was looking for a fourth...

In 1538, Thomas Cromwell sent Holbein to Brussels to draw the duchess for the King to see her likeness. It seems she was quite wary and said "if I had two heads, I would happily put one at the disposal of the King of England".

This is Holbein's only surviving full-length portrait of a woman and I love the fact that I am looking at something that Henry VIII also looked at.

painting of The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus')#3 The Toilet of Venus ('The Rokeby Venus') 1647-51 by Diego Velázquez (1599-1660)

I find this painting interesting because the reflection of Venus in the mirror (being held by Cupid) doesn't quite fit. The face itself doesn't match our view of the rest of her; the angle and size doesn't look right. Over the years the oil paint has become transparent and with the help of infra-red the original lines can be seen, suggesting that Venus was actually sitting up more with her face turned more to the left - this therefore may be the reason for the squiffy reflection.

painting of Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus#4 Ulysses Deriding Polyphemus (1829) by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)

Interestingly, we gathered a few ordinary visitors who thought that they were joining an official tour. Afterwards we wondered what they must have thought when I stood in front of this painting and said "I really don't like Turner, his paintings are just such a mess...".

However, as I told my audience, the more you look at this painting, the more you see - it appears like a story magically appearing from the fog.


Dinner was a three-course delight, complemented by an enormous shock when a waitress came up behind me with a candle in a cupcake, blasting out Happy Birthday. Then our sister, D, stood up to speak. It turns out that my friend, SR, had secretly gathered photos and comments from all my friends & family into an amazing beautiful album. Beautiful.

looking at my birthday album view of my guests at dinner

Home to Lola I & Mr A who were patiently waiting for us in a pub, and then on to Day 2 of the celebrations...

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