The Goldfinch has taken a pre-Christmas perch at The National Gallery of Scotland. Apparently Carel Fabritius' masterpiece doesn't leave its home in The Netherlands very often, and during its last outing - to the Frick in 2014 - 200,000 people saw it, many of them queuing in sub-zero temperatures. Here in Edinburgh it was a bit nippy this morning, but there were no queues whatsoever at the gallery and only two or three people viewing the painting at any one time while we were there, so going early was a good move.
The painting featured in Friday's edition of Front Row, and if you fast forward to the 8.17 mark there you can hear it discussed along with Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring, the novels they both inspired, and "narrative mystery".
According to the catalogue of the National Museum of Scotland here in Edinburgh where the garment is on display in the Fashion & Style gallery, it dates from 1910, but Cursiter painted his picture in 1923. Did he borrow it from the collection for the purpose? I'd like to know more about the painting's backstory (and I love the blue scarf).
On the subject of Fair Isle knitting, I recommend the Fruity Knitting podcast presented by Andrew and Andrea. While Andrew is fairly new to the needles, his wife Andrea is a highly accomplished knitter, and her Alice Starmore colourwork in particular is awe-inspiring.
At The Queen's Hall this morning, Stephen Hough gave a breathtaking performance of pieces by Schubert, Franck, and Liszt, and a sonata of his own (the only work, interestingly, for which he used a score). The recital - minus the encores which included Mr. Hough's own sparkling arrangement of 'Waltzing Matilda' - was broadcast live on Radio 3, but you can hear it here for the next four weeks or so.
Mr. Hough is quoted here talking about possible changes to the typical concert format in order to attract younger audiences. We remarked yet again today on the high average age of the audience at concerts we've been to in recent years. Admittedly for many, work would have precluded attending this morning's event (11.00 - 1.00 on a weekday), but there was a similar preponderance of snowy-headed concert goers at Saturday evening's Matthew Passion. Where are all their younger counterparts?
At the other end of the scale, we have noticed some children in the audience. If you listen to today's broadcast you'll hear Donald Macleod refer at the end to a little Chinese girl who sat "motionless and totally attentive throughout" (she did indeed), while on Saturday there were some equally well-behaved under 10s at the Bach. Neither programme seems an obvious choice for youngsters, but I hope they all found these concerts memorable, and for the right reasons.
Back to Stephen Hough himself for a moment: world-renowned pianist, composer, writer, artist .... there's a nice interview with him here in which he talks in passing of the musician as a bringer of joy; he played that role to perfection today.
In lieu of taking you all with me to last night's majestic performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion at the Usher Hall, here is a shot of Sir John Eliot Gardiner acknowledging the ovation for his principal soloists, James Gilchrist and Stephan Loges, the Monteverdi Choir, and the English Baroque Soloists.
To give you a flavour of it, here are two excerpts from an earlier occasion, firstly the very dramatic Sind Blitze, sind Donner:
and then the sorrowful Können Trännen meiner Wangen:
Sir John Eliot writes, "Give me a bare stage (not a picture frame) peopled with choristers freed from their scores and soloists interacting with the obbligato players and, I believe, the audience's imagination can fill it with images far more vivid than any scene painter or stage director can provide. For it is the intense concentration of drama within the music and the colossal imaginative force that Bach brings to bear in his Passions that make them the equal of the greatest staged dramas: their power lies in what they leave unspoken. We ignore that at our peril."
Still on the subject of music, if you're in the mood for something joyful, may I offer you the above performed by Edinburgh's own Dunedin Consort conducted by John Butt (and I suggest listening closely to Matthew Brook's bass part). For the significance to the piece of the number three, click here.
For more from the Dunedin Consort have a look at these videos - we had the benefit of John Butt's erudition at an excellent evening a couple of years ago so I can tell you he is well worth listening to.
My thanks again to Rosie for flagging up Eric Whitacre's Cloudburst, a piece I hadn't come across before; to hear it, follow the link in Rosie's comment here.
To quote from curator Alice Strang's introduction to the catalogue: "In 1885 Sir William Fettes Douglas, President of the Royal Scottish Academy (RSA), declared that the work of a woman artist was 'like a man's only weaker and poorer'. In the same year, Fra Newbery was appointed Director of the Glasgow School of Art. Newbery turned the institution into the most advanced of its kind in Britain, not least for the employment and participation of female staff and students. The death in 1965 of Anne Redpath, who in 1952 had been the first female painter to be elected a full member of the RSA, was marked with a major touring memorial exhibition organised by the Arts Council of Great Britain. The eighty years which lay between these events saw an unprecedented number of Scottish women train and practise as artists: this period is the focus of [...] the exhibition."
In between are artists virtually unknown today, but painters and sculptors of great quality and vision, and it's to be hoped that this exhibition will not only bring these women out of the shadows but inspire further research into and collection of their work.
Above is a striking portrait, Anne Finlay, 1920, by Dorothy Johnstone. Anne Finlay, or 'Spook' as she was nicknamed, was herself an artist and a painting of hers is included in the exhibition, but this portrait is by her tutor at Edinburgh College of Art whose work is also represented by this picture.
The piece is by Gertrude Alice Meredith Williams (1877-1934), and the four infantryman flanking the horse are based on sketches made by Alice's husband, the artist Morris Meredith Williams, while serving in France from 1916-1919.
Here's the view from Edinburgh Castle today, the Scott Monument on the left, the clock tower of the Balmoral hotel on the right, Calton Hill behind it, and beyond, the Firth of Forth and the sea. Glorious weather!
We were up at the castle on the Battery to watch the 21 gun salute in honour of HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh's birthday, as it was commanded by Son-of-Cornflower (that's him with the red sash and the sword).
Every step of the procedure was carried out with typical precision, and special guests and tourists alike enjoyed the spectacle which included a military band and inspection of the firing party in addition to the salute itself.
Will's sisters were not there to hear him addressed as 'Sir', but there will no doubt be some gentle ribbing when they see him later, and though it's not obvious from the pictures, that sword was subject to hours of polishing.
Here in Edinburgh the other day I heard Joanna Trollope at the National Gallery of Scotland talk on a novelist's view of portraiture. "Our faces are our shop window to the world," she says, and a portrait is "the ultimate tribute, the final monument ... having a majesty a photograph can seldom achieve." As a judge of the BP Portrait Award last year she has studied and appraised more 'likenesses' than most of us, and as a contributor to the Imagined Lives exhibition at the NPG in 2011/12 she created fictional biographical material for the unknown sitters of 16th- and 17th-century portraits.
As a novelist, she has always looked at faces very intently - people are her stock-in-trade - and she works with a strong (mental) visual image of her characters, although she has never created a character based on a portrait, as Tracy Chevalier has so successfully done. In her lecture she looked at four famous portraits*, discussed the faces their sitters are presenting to the world, the eloquence of their expression as captured by the artist, and the messages - implicit or overt - they convey.
I went to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival this morning. It's the first wool extravaganza I've ever attended so I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I was as prepared as I could be with a list of shops I especially wanted to visit and yarn requirements for specific projects in mind.
Here's my haul:
Whistlebare Yeavering Bell 4ply (Fine Kid Mohair/Wensleydale), All's Shipshape.
I've written about Helen's shoes before as I've been a customer of hers for many years, though my taste runs to the more understated end of the range, but above you'll see some of her striking designs worn by violinist Alice Rickards and cellist Sonia Cromarty as they play a piece from Transplanted, "a celebration of the rich diversity of Scotland's plant life and its music". The sonata is Primrose by Scottish baroque composer James Oswald.