Hunting for Messel

A couple of days of sunshine can make all the difference to work doesn’t it? Nonetheless it has been a busy week, with two days in Gloucestershire researching in the archives relating to the chapters I am writing for a new book on Oliver Messel, staying with relations of his, who mentioned only at breakfast that I was staying in the haunted bedroom (which explains why there was a book on haunted houses which I foolishly read before going to sleep). We also visited Flaxley Abbey where Messel decorated several rooms and helped remodel the house for the grandparents of the present owner, who has done a wonderful job restoring the house. On the way we caught sight of Westbury Court gardens, which Messel had seen being demolished in the 60s, and persuaded the National Trust to rescue the exquisite canal garden. Its quite a legacy to have been responsible for even one such “save” in life.

On Wednesday, I interviewed Nick Penny the Director of the National Gallery who is a most impressive person, and amusing too, he seemed to have just got off a plane from Italy where he had been doing whistle-stop tours of exhibitions to which the gallery had lent pictures, I was impressed how this famous scholar cared passionately about the gallery as a public institution whose duty is to be the guardian of an anthology of paintings for generations yet unborn, as well as for the present day. We can be too obsessed with the present, and need to think of the past and future at the same time. Also lunch in London with an old school friend, who has recently set up a prestigious Institute within the Said Business School at Oxford, amazing to catch up after 25 years.

I give my two evening lectures in London this week, at Clifford Street, on painted staircases, and one at the Georgian Group on Vanbrugh. Also down to Audley End to have a preview of the stables being restored there, built in the 17th century to impress hunting mad James I, and looking like a small palace really.

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