Banksy VS Constable

The Arts


So graffiti warrior Banksy has beaten Constable to the position of Britain’s favourite artist (even though it should be stressed that this is a fake-news poll created to flog us Samsungs). Still, the result seems likely. Should we be surprised? His art is accessible and addresses current concerns for the majority of the nation now living in cities or conurbations, and ‘The Hay Wain’ is of little relevance. In an era when the POTUS can blithely announce ‘The American dream is dead’, and follow it with a lecture on protecting the Second Amendment (guns) perhaps Banksy taps into what’s more on our minds.

My friend Jennifer teases me about ‘the London I know so well’ because a reviewer once used the phrase attaching me to my home town, but the problem is that I’m not sure I know it so well anymore either. The things that people really like have changed; recently, some friends’ children draw up a shortlist of things they wanted to do in London. Top of the list was to visit M&M World, then Camden Market, then Madame Tussauds, none of which I feel offer much of a real experience.

It’s not my place to tell them to go and look at ‘The Hay Wain’.

But the traditional sights – Westminster Abbey, Westminster Cathedral (not the same things), Trafalgar Square, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London, Hyde Park, the National Gallery, the Tates, the V&A, Whitehall, the South Bank, Regent Street and so on – are all being neglected by those of us who live here, partly because enjoying them has now become a battle against mass tourism. Sitting in quiet contemplation of a painting in the National Gallery is not as easy as it once was, so perhaps that influences our choice.

Is there a way to enjoy these places again? They’re popular all year round, so going in the winter months makes no difference. My track record on visiting actual national treasures is appalling; Westminster Abbey once, St Paul’s twice, the National Gallery, not once in the past five years. Do I want to visit Buckingham Palace and wander through the pink and gold brocade looking at paintings of historical figures I only dimly recall? Probably not.

In the coming weeks I’ll be attempting to refresh my viewpoint on traditional London sights by visiting them as soon as they open, in the hope that I’ll see them before the crowds.

Another ruse is to visit the second-tier attractions many overlook, like Eltham Palace, the London Transport Museum, the Imperial War Museum, the Household Cavalry Museum.

One thing is sure. I’ll be giving M&M World a swerve.


12 comments on “Banksy VS Constable”

  1. Chris Webb says:

    Banksy is the Gilray or Hogarth or Punch of our time. I suppose Constable was a bit of a reactionary, fighting against the early Industrial Revolution. That “fight” continued in art and culture in general throughout the 19th Century: Pre-Raphaelite art, Tennyson’s Arthurian poems, Gothic Revival architecture, the Arts ‘n’ Crafts Movement, all trying to create a rural or medieval fantasy for the benefit of those scared by Dark Satanic Mills.

    Few of the conventional London tourist attractions interest me at all. I occasionally pop in to the major galleries and museums but my main interest is just wandering the streets photographing what most people would consider boring and mundane. And I cringe every time I walk past M&M World. Now if there were a Smarties World I might be tempted 🙂

    There are a number of smaller and less known museums and galleries I really ought to visit – Dulwich Gallery, Horniman Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum etc., but as for The Tower of London, Shard, the Whatever-It’s-Called-This-Week London Eye: not even remotely interested.

    I have to admit I actually like Camden Market. I know it’s “pseudo” even though I expect most visitors think it goes back centuries, but it’s also a bit of a self-parody. Pity it burns down every few weeks. I recently watched a 1967 documentary called The London Nobody Knows presented by James Mason which included the old stables which now form part of Camden Market. Empty and derelict back then of course.

  2. brooke says:

    Interesting… I share your frustrations. There are three municipal agencies promoting tourism to Philadelphia; consequently, access to places like the Liberty Bell monument or the Barnes Foundation is problematic. All the attractions are easy walking distance from home but I never go–unless. I use my network of clients to go to “members only” and “pre-opening” events, where you can see what you want to see, usually with decent food and drink.

    Now that I think about it, that was also how I got to know London. I visited Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s because my partner knew the deans and rectors; and other places to meet friends who worked there. So get out your contact list–it would be great to have insiders’ views about these institutions–other than Ray Kirkpatrick’s view of the BL

    Btw, Philadelphia Art Museum has several Constable paintings and, as we do not attract an art literate crowd, you can sit quietly and view to your heart’s content. Closed on Mondays.

  3. Jan says:

    Oooh Chris Webb you’re right I ‘d never thought about Banksy like that but thinking on it you are absolutely spot on.
    Where’s M+M world then? I went to Cadburys Chocolate World in Bournville (Brum) once. Only for an afternoon which was a great pity I could have easily stayed for about a fortnight. Which reminds me to let your readers know if you go into Thorntons chocolate shops at the moment they are giving samples of their summer fruit centred chocolates away for free. There’s a box on the counter. I was forcibly evicted after half a tray but was well worth it. Other lovely chocolates are available. Not advertising

  4. Jan says:

    That film you mention Chris “The London nobody knows” is based on a series of books written from the mid 1950s onwards. Are they Geoffrey Fletchers work or is his another series? I can’t quite remember. For years there was a daily article in the Evening Standard about London curiosities and then the Metro took up the theme with a daily column this was the 1990s into the 2000s much later on. Now that the Metro has gone practically nationwide the series has been dropped.

    The John Soane museum is worth an afternoon out of your life. If I had to point a visitor toward three places to visit in London without too much queuing think I would go for a stroll through the inns of court starting up at Grays Inn Road and ending by the river. Although it’s a bit off the tourist trail a visit to the Brill round the back of Kings,Cross on the Kentish town side one of the oldest Christian churches in the country the church is interesting but have a look at the Hardy tree in the churchyard and the monument in the churchyard that Gilbert Scott based the K2 telephone kiosk on thats the old fashioned classic telephone box you’ll recognise it from the monument straight away. It tickles me Thomas Hardy so embedded in people’s thoughts as a countryman, a man of Dorset, arguing with the residents of what became Agar Town over the siting of headstones of their forefathers’ graves in the churchyard when the Kings X to Edinburgh route was being enlarged.

    The third trips got to be on the river. Travel west to see little St. Paul’s on the water at Vauxhall Bridge or away to the east to the barrier and Greenwich.

    Empty really now the river compared to how it must have been in the past. The first national ship building took place at various place to the east of the city as far out as Tilbury. The Thames wasn’t a good river for ship launches and there were a few really serious accidents so shipbuilding for the navy and liners went up to Carlisle, Newcastle and the Clyde. The river must have been a great place though the water taxis, lightermen, the docks must have been a right old place in its heyday.

  5. Chris Webb says:

    Jan, M&M is in Leicester Square. According to Google “Vast store dedicated to M&M’s chocolates and related merchandise, including homewares and clothing”. Hmm . . . . !

    Yes, the film The London Nobody Knows is based on the book. It came as part of a box set called The London Collection I picked up at the BFI shop. I think it was supposed to be in the style of London in the Raw and Primitive London, made in ’64 and ’65, but is actually rather inferior to those, and James Mason frankly isn’t a very good presenter, rather charismaless if there is such a word. Still worth spending 45mins watching though. I’m going to have to track down the book now – there’s a used hardback on Amazon for £8.95 or a new paperback for £2,289.53. What!?

    I walked from King’s Cross along the canal to Camden a while ago. Was quite impressed by Gasholder Park, a new development of flats retaining the skeletons of the old Victorian gas holders.

    You’ve reminded me another museum I need to go to is the Docklands Museum (or Museum of London Docklands as it’s properly called.) My Grandfather worked for the PLA (Port of London Authority) all his life and I think he ended up as superintended of the Royal Docks or West India Docks, something like that. He died in 1968 so I have no memory of him, but I can’t imagine what he would make of the Docklands as they are now. Also, I can’t imagine what he would make of the vast automated container ports like Felixstowe.

    Another film in the box set is Pool of London, made in 1952 which you (Jan) would like if you’re interested in the river as it used to be.

  6. Helen Martin says:

    When I was first planning a trip to Britain a friend who had spent all his holidays in London gave me a list of places I should go and Soane’s museum was at the head of his list. I still haven’t seen it but am resurrecting the list in case I get a third chance at the place. We did go to the Tower and the National Gallery and St. Paul’s because you have to do that if you have any interest in English history, but my husband went to the Transport Museum and I would go back to St. Paul’s for the services any time, although the really big churches like that are a different experience to my regular life. The September festival along the Thames was fun (and I was sorry to miss the ladies quartets’ concert) as was the V&A (mostly for the conversations because the members only event barred us from most of the museum). I still haven’t seen the Hardy Tree but I have a nice composite photo of the Sir John Betjeman statue.
    What I think I’m saying is that there are things you “have” to do and then you pick up all the wonderful things that you find out about in places like this blog. This is where I learned about the model railway club that has been meeting in London since 1910 (I think) and enabled Ken to visit some like minded men one evening. Couldn’t persuade him to go to the Wellcome Institute, though, more’s the pity.

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    The Hay Wain is not one of my favourite paintings. I much prefer Constable’s water colours to his oils or drawings. But is the painting relevant today?

    The Hay Wain is a cart in the middle of a river that sets a boundary between counties. Although the cart has three powerful horses, it is going in no particular direction and the drivers’ minds seem to be elsewhere. It all looks very relevant to the UK today.

  8. Jan says:

    Cheers Chris think I might have seen that Pool of London film or part of it at least.

    Fancy your grandad being a guvnor on the docks he must have been a hard man not an easy life round the docks at whatever level you worked. The river is at the centre of London’s constant reinvention of itself. St. Kathryn’s dock recreated through the ’60s and into to ’70s as the massive hotel, conference centre and marina complex largely cos there was no way forward with the docks considering changing commerce and WW2 damage this area has undergone massive change. There was a medieval hospital and a lot of other medieval buildings that survived until the Victorian period along with a convent or monastry. The Victorians demolished the whole lot to create the docks, warehousing and railway stations and track. The history that was swept away ….anyway they relocated the religious building up toward Baker street I think. About a hundred and twenty years and two world wars later commerce forced a total reinvention of the area and it became the hotel/leisure/conference complex we know now. Madly enough the religious premises were pushed back into east London just a mile or so easy of the original site. I think by development of the Met and Bakerloo lines. I’ll have to refer to my London notes to find the name of the place I know there are some wonderful treasures and memorabilia stored there.

  9. Jan says:

    Sorry if the above reads a bit jaberwocky I was watching telly whilst tapping away. Big error.

    Helen next time you come over you should take your beloved out to the L.T. depot at Acton west London that’s a really interesting still working depot as well as display area. Dunno if the Covent garden transport museum is still open but doubt it could measure up to Acton anyroad. Only opens,at certain times of year I think.

    Another really interesting day is when they open up some of the ghost tube stations like the one at Down Street where they sheltered Churchill for a few nights during the war. Down Street is in Mayfair. There’s a few of these ghost stations, one at British museum. Think they are thinking about or might already have opened a ghost station up near where Chris lives at the back of the Cross. Because of Arsenals football ground relocating the Emirates stadium.

    Which reminds me Chris Webb so they finally redeveloped the gas holders I spent far too much time. around there. At one point Nigella Lawson was supposed to have been having a place built for her and her hubby there. Then they had their domestic which probably put paid to that scheme.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    Making a definite note on Acton, Jan. The whole idea of ghost stations fascinates me but they make sense when you think of the incredible cost of removing them. Much cheaper to seal off the top access and not have trains stop.

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  12. John Howard says:

    I do get the point, honest. But i would bet it’s still easier to see a Constable than it is to see a Banksy. ( No pun intended there )
    P.S: is it me, or is the previous comment completely out of context here.?

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