The day and night job

I try not to think about work all the time, but I’ve given in and decided to write about it because often there is nothing else in my head. Luckily for me, my job is pretty special –it’s to give all sorts of nice people eyes of wonderment. I’m a House and Collections Manager at a National Trust country pile in West Yorkshire, called Nostell Priory. It’s a day and night job because I live here too, and just like the servants that passed before me, I have an obligation to answer whenever the bell rings. But in return for that I get to wake up to birdsong and fall asleep to a chorus of owls, I get eye-fulls of masterpieces everyday, and meet, work with and welcome lots of interesting, clever, curious and passionate people.

The ‘It’s just me’ caveat

I must do the expected thing here and make the statement that all my posts will be personal and my views only, and not the voice of the National Trust or its views. That said, here is at least one view that is both mine and the National Trust’s and therefore yours too, should you swing by to check out our crib.Nostell_mansion08_2014_002[1]taken by rpjeffers from the bottom of the estate.

Monks and Rock Stars caveat

Nostell is not the kind of priory with a) monks or b) rock stars detoxing as a prerequisite to earnest ‘my drug hell’ confessional interview TV appearances. It takes its name from the religious site that used to be here, which sometimes happened, just like that other place: Downton Abbey. It’s true that when some folk saunter up to our door they are sometimes a little crest-fallen to find us sans monks, but we have had some eventful music festivals, and we did once have a visit from rock band Paradise Lost. They came for a photo shoot – whoever planned it had clearly expected moody, ivy-festooned ruins (‘you had one job…’). We had fun anyway, and we got to see a massive python having a doze in our gorgeous historic library. If you want to indulge your inner goth, there is still something here for you – but think more of the 18th century bits in Interview with a Vampire. We’ve got some gorgeous rooms and they are not film sets- they are the real deal.

Some other stuff

If you phone us, we wont mind if you call us Nostril Priory, it makes us smile. We will however quietly shudder (or smirk ) if you frenchify us to Nost-elle. We’ll have none of that sort of thing Up North – it’s pronounced Nost-ull round here.

Here’s all the Nostell Priory stuff on the official website and all that:

I’d like to find out more about the music festivals at Nostell: very slim chance you are reading this + you were there = get in touch

Posted in The day and night job | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Car Boot Christie’s Lot no. 3

Glasgow docks; Liverpool Customs House, Looking South; Liverpool Docks and Customs House, by John Atkinson Grimshaw

Auction: £300,500 each

Car Boot £2.50 each

John Atkinson Grimshaw is one of those painters that teeters on the edge of taste.  His work is almost mesmerising, almost tacky. It’s almost beautiful and almost twee.

Born in Leeds (just a few miles from where I’m sitting now) in 1836, Atkinson Grimshaw was true Up North. For a start he had a proper Yorkshire name, and his mum and dad were mortified when he left his perfectly decent work on the railways to become an artist, because it wasn’t a proper job.  He was self taught and canny – utilizing that new-fangled photography to save him the bother of working outside in the grim. He was clearly industrious and knocked them out, taking what seems to be a factory-line approach to his pictures: twilight, streetlamp, looming edifice, glow from shopfront, silhouetted figure, perhaps with rolled umbrella, carriage rolling out of the mist. He was successful, particularly with other Yorkshiremen who’d made some brass, and knew what they liked. He also painted fairies – don’t know what his mum and dad thought about that.

I never saw his work ‘in the flesh’ until a few years back. Until then it always cropped up like this, in anodyne frames for grandpa’s room, or adorning the covers of gothic novels. But Grimshaw pictures really work for me. Partly it’s the documentary value. The places and many of the buildings still stand, and seeing such atmospheric depictions of life on the dark city streets is fascinating. But mostly its because they will always be tied up with opening the pages of a battered penguin classic and being lost in a murky Victorian world of shadow streets, dank green ports, and dark rails of trees before a single, slightly lighted window.

Anyroads, one of our John’s paintings sold this past week for £361,250, at Christie’s Olympiad-inspired ‘London’ themed sale. Not bad, some of us may even be able to afford to buy one- if we remortgage the house, sell the car, children and dog. Those of us that can’t, you can’t go far wrong from picking up these three at £2.50 each, though I’m sure the nice lady might let you have the set for six quid, maybe even five, if you can drive a hard Yorkshire bargain.

Posted in Car Boot Christie's | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

For the love of Gaudi

SalamanderI have a poor memory. But I always remember my first visit to Barcelona, 22 years ago, to visit my friend Meg. As soon as I dropped my rucksack in her surprisingly freezing flat, I was whisked out of the door into a golden, drunken night of autumn leaves, crowded tapas bars, and over-spilling glasses of cava. And I remember the moment she turned to me and said ‘You know why I love this place? Anywhere else in the world they wouldn’t have trusted Gaudi in a sand pit.’

Back in 1990 it seemed it was just arty folks who knew about Gaudi.  But we have just got back from Barcelona and Gaudi is a big thing, he is everywhere and for everyone. On Sunday we set off early to Park Guell, and there was already a thick crowd by the famous ceramic salamander. It looked like a feverish religious gathering around a beloved icon. Everyone was reaching out to touch it, to photograph it. I started taking photos of the photographers, and my husband turned to me and said, ‘Are you Martinparring?’ Martin Parr takes interesting pictures of people, being tourists,  amongst other things.

When I got home I wondered if I could find the other folks’ photos taken at the moment I was taking mine. I didn’t – but who should Google up, but Martin Parr and his blog, mentioning the same spot. He asks if people don’t see anymore, because they are so busy taking photographs of themselves ‘being there’.

It’s a fair comment: if the only thing we want out of an experience is a photo opportunity, we loose out on richer connections. But looking down the steps at the swell of photographers I could feel a great wave of mass enjoyment. Every clutch of camera wielding tourists I pushed into (and became part of) was full of good humour, even though it was as packed as a rush-hour tube train.

Gaudi has accidentally made a perfect playground location for holiday snaps,  and if you don’t live in a Gaudi building what else is there to do but take a picture of it. Perhaps the camera has replaced the bucket-and-spade, something to actually ‘do’, and share doing, when we get there.

Martin Parr suggests Gaudi would be turning in his grave at all this. He probably would be. He was a deeply religious man and, by most accounts, a cantankerous old git. I don’t think any of this secular jollity would have gone down at all well.  People were doing a lot of smiling and, from time to time, they had eyes of wonderment.

Not a bad result for a giant concrete lizard covered in broken tiles.




But if you really want eyes of wonderment in Barcelona just have a few drinks in the square, you may see a dog on skateboard

Posted in Wonderment | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Car Boot Christie’s Lot no.2

The Hay Wain by John Constable, 1821

Auction valuation estimate minimum $50,000,000

Car Boot £5

The Hay WagonHere is one of those images so reproduced that we don’t really see it anymore, which is a shame. Constable was a ground-breaking artist, with big Suffolk skyfulls of talent.

It shows a pleasant spot: clouds, cottage, stream, hay wagon, little dog. The cottage is now owned by the National Trust. There is a tearoom and shop with (I like to imagine) a small lightless room at the back where a some charming floppy-sleeved rural urchins are gainfully employed maintaining the world stocks of Hay Wain tea towels, jigsaws, coasters, mugs and those vinyl shoppers that ladies of a certain age are so fond of.

The first price offered for this work was 70 quid – without the frame – to Constable himself. The record price paid for a Constable to date is $22 million for The Lock, in 1990. The Hay Wain is owned by the National Gallery now, so we get to hang on to it.  But the equally famous, privately owned Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows could conceivably be sold, and the online art magazine theArtWolf estimates it at $50-£75 M.  Its current owner is Lord Ashton who has lent it to the National Gallery for us all to enjoy. So while he is well-off so, culturally speaking, are we.

But back at the car boot, buyer beware. The overall condition of this example is rather disappointing, it is somewhat yellowed and the surface losses across the top third are lamentable.  It’s definitely over-priced at a fiver. A quid, for the frame, take it or leave it.

Posted in Car Boot Christie's | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The day I discovered Che Guevara in the lift

This gallery contains 2 photos.

Mrs Gibson was my art teacher.  The art rooms were on the top floor of a tower block in the middle of the school. Half of the tower block was the boy’s side, with its own doors and staircase, the … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment

‘That’s not Art – that’s Michelle Réage!’

The Tepidarium by Lawrence Alma-Tadema

As an 8 or 9 year old kid I couldn’t read big words on tiny labels, so I called this painting ‘Intrepidarium’. I was also mistaken in thinking that it was of Cleopatra because she looked like she was having a staring match with a snake.  But it’s not a snake it is a strigel, a tool used for scraping skin off, after a good soap. This is apt. This picture was acquired by Lord Leverhume who owned Port Sunlight factory. He made soap, a substance that was pretty alien to me at the time.

I always made an innocent bee-line for this painting,  fascinated by the pretty fairy-tale lady. But now I am older, and have had the benefit of some desultory, obligatory (but easily skive-able) art history lectures. If you look up the artist, Alma-Tadema, on Wikipedia he is described as ‘the world’s foremost painter of marble and variegated granite’. This is too demure, he is the foremost painter of noody ladies for the delectation of the Victorian male gaze.

Even now she seems very real, her face has a slightly discomforting pink sheen of sweat on it. The fan acts like some kind of mauve merkin. She’s on a skin rug would probably smell a bit and give you a nasty itch. She has hairstyle that comes into fashion in the 1980’s.

My intrepid  good-time girl seems to get around. She pops up in odd places. Hollywood loves Alma-Tadama, and used his work to inform the sets of Ben Hur, Cleopatra and the Ten Commandments and, more recently, Gladiator. And here is our lass popping up as a giant mural in Al Capone’s gaff, in the Untouchables in 1987.

She has also turned up in an episode of Inspector Morse. It was the episode were an upper class Oxford couple are up to no good. The baronet’s favourite painting is stolen, only to be returned by a dashing college drop-out gardener who rows it across the Isis in a little wooden boat.

But the baronet was up to shenanigans in a home-made ultra-soft porn photo studio in the mansion attic, using the pretty french au pair as a model. The shocking discovery leads Lewis to exclaim  ‘That’s not art – it’s Michelle Réage!’ Lewis is in agreement with many critics. John Ruskin didn’t think much of Alma-Tadema, and called him the worst painter of the 19th century.

I don’t like his work either, and I’m a tad annoyed that this picture is the one that filled me with wonderment at an early age. It’s like admitting to seeing Donovan for your first ever gig, not Dylan.   But I’m fond of it all the same.

Where to see… The Tepiderium is in the wonderful Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight on the Wirral. The Morse episode is Ghost in the Machine, keep your eyes glued to ITV3, it’ll come round. That and The Untouchables are out on on DVD

Posted in Things can remind you of other things, whether they're supposed to or not., Wonderment | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Car Boot Christie’s Lot no.1

The Birth of Venus

By Alessandro di Mariano di Vanni Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli

Auction valuation: £ Squillions.
Car Boot:  £4   o.n.o. (inc frame.)

Botticelli’s work is rare and exceedingly beautiful, and mostly in national museums. Museums don’t sell their art. So it’s hard to value this painting as similar works are so rarely offered for sale, making it difficult to find a comparitive price. Paintings from his studio (staff) crop up, but not ones by the man himself. Even so the most recent big sale of a Botticelli was a ‘Madonna and Child’, at Christies in 2006, the painting went for a mere £3,816,000 , and no-one was still dead sure the painting was actually by him.

But at the car boot, you can be sure you get what you pay for.  This little treasure , peers modestly from behind the wafting tablecloth, glad she is at least not in the 50p box.

The real thing, painted in 1486,  is in the Uffizi museum. It’s smashing- and MASSIVE – just shy of 7ft x 9ft, thats 63 sq. ft (4.8 sq.metres)  of  wonderment-inducing masterpeice, so they definitely got their money’s worth.

Posted in Car Boot Christie's, Wonderment | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Stars in their skies

Things can remind you of other things, whether they’re supposed to or not.

The Origin of the Milky Way, by Tintoretto, 1575
Lady GaGa, by Lady Ga Ga, 2010
Super Mario Galaxy, by Shigeru Miyamoto, 2006

Just to start with I don’t right like this painting, but look, she has STARS shooting OUT OF HER NIPPLES! Lady GaGa couldn’t compete. Or could she?

In Greek myth, milk from the breast of the goddess Hera (aka Juno to the Romans) wafted up to the sky to become the milky way, and the ancient Greek word for milky is Galaxias. So there you have it: the creation of the universe. Brian Cox, you may step down.

Tintoretto’s bold, swirling image of a confidently naked,  larger-then-life woman,  with a god,  superhero baby and adoring cherubs whirling around her seems over the top,  dizzying and irrelevent to me.




But what have we here?

A swirling world,  in it’s centre a confident , sexual, woman, a goddess,  in a mass of bodies, arms reaching out in support and worship, with stars on her nipples.




But my Eyes of Wonderment come not from Tintoretto’s masterpiece or Lady GaGa’s enviable abandonment, but from another artist, and from another galaxy. When I look at this painting and its energetic whirls and ultra-blue sky of bursting stars, it makes me think of the colour saturated worlds of Super Mario, created by geek-adored Shigeru Miyamoto. I have no intention to back this up with any academic thesis, it’s just a personal thing, that’s all. Many pleasant hours of my unemployed youth were spent forgetting how hungry I was by playing Super Mario on the ill-fated Nintendo 64, owned by my friend and landlord, Pete.

Can a crowd-surfing diva be art? Can a computer game be art?  It’s up for debate, but to get anywhere with that you’d need to decide what art is, and good luck with that.

If it works for you, go with it. Here’s a pared-down Miyamoto quote:  ‘You either dismiss it, or you accept that there is much more to the world than you think’.

Where to see... the Tintoretto – in the National Gallery, for free; Lady GaGa –  all over the show; Super Mario – round Pete’s house.



Posted in Things can remind you of other things, whether they're supposed to or not., Wonderment | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A man who could be so good for you…

This gallery contains 9 photos.

First post, nervous, where to begin? I think I’ll start at the top with… The Greatest Artist Who Ever Lived The greatest artist who ever lived was Hans Holbein. Arty friends, I welcome alternative suggestions; I can think of at … Continue reading

More Galleries | Leave a comment