Here Come The Men in Red Coats
“Almost 75 percent of Kensington and Chelsea is covered by conservation areas,” Rock Feilding-Mellen duly told us over dinner at Clarke’s Restaurant on Kensington Church Street. He’s Deputy Leader of the Borough. “We’re very very proud of our built environment and the legacy we have inherited. The Royal Borough is held in high esteem here and around the world.” Sir Christopher Wren’s Royal Hospital Chelsea is one of the jewels in the prestigious Borough’s tiara. It’s fast becoming as renowned for an annual temporary replica in its grounds as the original 17th century quadrangular forerunner.
Another year, another masterpiece. Another year, another Masterpiece. Only in its seventh year, whatever did we do before this gaping lacuna in the social calendar was filled? Mind you, the Victorians managed just one Great Exhibition. It’s time to mingle with the well addressed sort of people who live in a house with no number (we’ll allow Number One London or at a push One Kensington Gardens as exceptions). Hey big spenders: there are no pockets in shrouds. Superprimers at play. From the Occident to the Orient, Venice to Little Venice, Dalston Cumbria to Dalston Dalston, the Gael to the Pale, Sally Gap to Sally Park or Sallynoggin, Masterpiece is like living between inverted commas. Among this year’s prestigious sponsors are Sir John Soane’s Museum and The Wallace Collection. That familiar conundrum: Scott’s or Le Caprice? Best doing both. Home of tofu foam Sinabro would approve. It’s not like we’ve hit the skids ourselves, as they say. The choice of champagne is even less of a dilemma: it’s Claridge’s favourite Perrier-Jouët on (gold) tap.
The Bantry House Siena Marble Tables, each spanning two metres, take pride of place at Ronald Phillips. This princely pair was purchased by the 2nd Earl of Bantry in the 1820s for the tapestry crammed entrance hall of his West Cork country house. The black marble supporting columns retain the original paint used to simulate the Siena marble tops. Thomas Lange of Ronald Phillips describes Siena marble as “the Rolls Royce of marbles”. Dating from George III times, they are priced £100,000 plus. Another Anglo Irish masterpiece is The Hamilton Tray. Commissioned by the 1st Marquess of Abercorn, this priceless piece of silver dates from 1791.
Symmetry and the art of the perpendicular abound in the Masterpiece salons (displays being much too modest a term). Lady Rosemary “I hate furniture on the slant” Spencer-Churchill would approve. Tinged with temporality, touched by ephemerality, the rooms are nonetheless paragons of authenticity. Exhibitors’ choice of wall covering is all defining. At Wallace Chan, velvety black is not so much a negation as a celebration of the totality of all colours. The kaleidoscopic crystallinity of a heist’s worth of gems is a welcome foil to the solidity of the backdrop. Jewellery designer and artist Wallace tells us, “I am always very curious. I like to study the sky and the earth. I seek to capture the emotions of the universe in my works.” Pre-Raphaelite stained glass windows by Henry Holiday cast an atmospheric rainbow over Sinai and Sons. Such a whirl of interiors – Min Hogg would approve. Purveyors of Exquisite Mind Bombs, Quiet Storm, add to the glamour. An exchange of fabulosity with Linda Oliver occurs. Moving on…
This year’s theme of women is encapsulated by a masterpiece painted by a female of a female courtesy of Stair Sainty Gallery. “Why Vigée Le Brun is regarded as one of the finest and most gifted of all c18th female portrait artists” the gallery succinctly tweeted. Stair Sainty do though deservedly devote 3,290 words on their website to Louise Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s oil portrait of Yekaterina Vassilievna Skavronskaia (Countess Litta to you), a member of the Russian Court. A favourite of nobility and royalty, Madame Lebrun was tasked with softening the French Queen Marie Antoinette’s image through a series of family portraits. Despite the artist’s outstanding talent, this PR attempt was about as successful as Edina Monsoon recruiting Kate Moss (incidentally the model pops up in Chris Levine’s laser tryptych She’s Light priced £25,000) as a client in Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie. The premiere clashes with the Masterpiece Preview but we’ll stick to one red carpet at a time…
The late great Zaha Hadid, a regular visitor up to last year at Masterpiece, is now the subject of a commemorative salon. Interior designer Francis Sultana has curated an exhibition revealing Zaha wasn’t just the world’s greatest female architect – she was a dab hand at painting, jewellery and crockery design. Undisputed queen of Suprematism, curvature is her signature whatever the scale. Francis remarks, “Zaha never really believed in straight lines as such.” Across the boulevard, a moving arrangement by the Factum Foundation centred round a life-size crucifix is a reminder amidst this earthly wealth and glamour of the importance of faith and preservation. “Art is intention, not materials,” believes Adam Lowe of the Factum Foundation.
Montaged onto a bright blue sky, it’s time the red and white multidimensional Masterpiece marquee was designated as a listed building. Seasonal of course. Talking of the (changing) Season, whatever next? Proms in Peckham? Disney at Montalto? We’ll settle for tomorrow afternoon’s London Art Week Preview, a jolly round the galleries of St James’s with The Wallace Collection’s architect John O’Connell.