Versailles: the Palace, the Gardens, and the Town

If you’re visiting Versailles, give the town a chance too.

Camera: Fujifilm X100F

Location: Versailles, France

Behind me, ahead of me

It is something I’ve been reading on almost every blog and column in the past few weeks and something I’m afraid I too will have to write as I can only concur with it: writing ‘best-of’ or just ‘end-of’ year reviews becomes a sort of a race against time as who wouldn’t feel silly writing such a thing, let’s say, in March?

For the past two years I’ve looked back on the year that was ‘in art’, that is to say listing the places and the art exhibitions visited, but this time I feel I can’t leave out a couple of events that made the year truly memorable, such as my travelling to Italy in January to celebrate my dad's 80th birthday, and the guided tour of Castletown House I had the honour of giving in February to Italy’s President Sergio Mattarella and First Lady Laura Mattarella. Before the arrival of the second ‘Beast from the East’ that (again) blanketed Ireland in snow in March, I travelled to Madrid. I carried with me a film camera - the Horizon - I hadn’t used for a while, but managed to ruin the roll the moment I tried to rewind it.

In April I went for a long overdue hospital procedure and subsequently spent two weeks at home recovering and de-cluttering. Apart from filling bags with clothes and books for my local charity shop, I also went through a couple of bottomless drawers and recycled expired medicines and old pairs of glasses. Yeah, I am in the same league as Marie Kondo. As if that wasn’t enough, I de-cluttered my social life too and deleted almost all my social media accounts. I’d been thinking of doing that for a while as I had the inkling I could become more focused and productive, and I was right.

After visiting Emil Nolde: Colour is Life at the National Gallery of Ireland, I drafted a review. I wrote down my thoughts about almost all the exhibitions I visited last year, but never managed to edit and publish those reviews in-the-making on this blog. Somewhere on this laptop is a document with all those notes and I really should use them to stretch my writing skill. Still in declutter mode, I sold a couple of cameras I wasn't using anymore (the Canon EOS 550D and the Lomography Belair X 6-12 City Slicker) and bought a Fujifilm X100F. This is the camera I carried with me when at the end of June, to celebrate our first twenty years together, my husband and I spent a weekend in Northern Ireland. It was the beginning of a heatwave that seems lasted forever, and we re-visited Mount Stewart, had dinner and spent the night in Bangor and visited Castle Ward on our way back home. In July, longing as usual for art, I flew to London on one of my days off and visited Thomas Cole: Eden to Empire at the National Gallery and Rodin and the art of ancient Greece at the British Museum. July was made memorable also by a visit to Exhibiting Art in Georgian Ireland at the Irish Georgian Society and a week sailing course along the stunning coast of Southern Ireland. August went by waiting (im)patiently for the masons to finish the redecoration of our family bathroom, and re-organising bookcases and bookshelves. But wait, there’s more: I managed to see Roderic O’Conor and the Moderns. Between Paris and Pont-Aven at the NGI.

In September, I spent four days in heaven: two days in the Museo del Prado in Madrid (where I also visited the exhibition Lorenzo Lotto. Portraits, which I was thinking of seeing in London in October) and two days in Versailles. The rest of the time was spent reading about portraiture and viceroys as I was preparing a specialised tour titled Power Portraits.

At the end of November, I travelled to London for a two-day conference on Portraiture and Biography at the National Portrait Gallery. Although I truly enjoyed the first day of talks and the after-hours visit to the excellent Gainsborough’s Family Album exhibition, I didn’t go back the second day but instead, after an unforgettable breakfast in NOPI, popped into the Royal Academy to check its renovation and see their interesting The Making of an Artist exhibition. A truly feast for the eyes was also the Joshua Reynolds: The Creation of Celebrity exhibition at the Tate Britain. I also managed to lose two mobiles in the space of only ten days! The first one ‘leaped’ from my pocket into the toilet, whereas the second went missing thanks to the son of a ‘generous’ woman who picked my pocket. Because it was my phone for less than ten days, this second one is now known as the ‘rebound phone’. Finally, December was the usual mayhem of parties, gatherings, packing, flying to Italy, gatherings, parties, packing again and flying back.


One last thing I can’t help mentioning here is that from May to September I went running three times per week early (very early) in the morning. I took the photo above during one of those runs in July. Yep, 2018 proved to be memorable indeed!

Enchanting Jacquemart-André Museum

With only a couple of hours to spend in Paris, as I was on my way to Versailles, and looking for an art gallery I hadn’t visited before I settled on the Musée Jacquemart-André. What was once the private home of banker Édouard André and artist Nélie Jacquemart is now a private museum where visitors can admire exquisite eighteenth century French and Italian paintings in the private apartments on the ground floor, and agreeable in their harmonious display Renaissance artworks in the so-called Italian Museum on the piano nobile.

The mansion is thoroughly charming and occasionally whimsical. It just so happens that visitors traversing the formal Music Room towards the secluded Winter Garden end up facing a spiral staircase which amazes not only for its unusual position at one extremity of the building but for its extraordinary design. Word has it that with such a remarkable structure the architect, Henri Parent, had his revenge on his rival Charles Garnier who had got the commission of the Opera.

While mounting the staircase, visitors can also glimpse at a fresco which is now mounted on canvas as it used to adorn the walls of Villa Contarini, near Venice but entered the Jacquemart-André collection at the end of the nineteenth century. This is part of a set of frescoes painted by the Italian artist Giambattista Tiepolo during the second half of the eighteenth century and now scattered around the mansion: the one seen in the photo below represents an Allegory of Justice and Peace and floats on the Boudoir’s ceiling, while another decorate the museum’s restaurant ceiling. As it’s not everyday that you get the chance of dining under a Tiepolo fresco, I planned to have lunch in the museum restaurant before starting my visit but … despite all my good intentions, by the time I got to Boulevard Haussmann (I’ll spare you the tale of my plane taking off late and my plodding through a more chaotic than usual Gare Du Nord) it was already afternoon when I got there and I was so famish and tired (the unseasonable warm weather wasn’t helping either) that I didn’t hesitate a moment when the waitress offered me a table outside.

The museum has also an area dedicated to temporary exhibitions and the afternoon I visited I happened to brush elbows with Italian curators and journalists as they were arriving for the opening of Caravaggio’s Roman Period. Later in the day, I was reading a publication I got from the bookshop about the formation of the Jacquemart-André art collection (truth be told, I was leafing through it as it is published only in French and I really need to brush up on it) when I found in my Inbox an invitation to the opening of the exhibition La Stanza di Mantegna. Capolavori dal Museo Jacquemart-André di Parigi at Palazzo Barberini in Rome. What a coincidence!

Jacquemart-Andre Museum Cafe.jpg
Jacquemart-Andre Museum Boudoir Tiepolo.jpg
Jacquemart-Andre Museum Sculpture Gallery.jpg

Camera: Fujifilm X100F

Location: Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris

Emo Court

I believe I need to brush up on the sunny f16 rule and, of course, get to know again my Hasselblad.

Film: Kodak Ektar 100

Camera: Hasselblad 500C/M

Location: Emo Court, Co Laois, Ireland

The edge of the sea

Early winter early afternoon light.

Film: Kodak Ektar 100

Camera: Hasselblad 500C/M

Location: Greystones, Co Wicklow, Ireland

Dublin Type - Part II

Camera: Canon EOS 550D

Location: Dublin, Ireland

Dublin Type

Once upon a time I used (... to have the time) to stroll around the streets of Dublin with a DSLR camera around my neck and a spare lens in my bag looking for attractive and unusual type fonts and styles. The town and its surroundings never failed to deliver and I had a dedicated blog on Tumblr, Dublin Type was its name, where I posted quite regularly between 2011 and 2013. Last week I sold my buddy camera and its three lenses (I have resolved to buy a compact one) and closed the aforementioned blog, so here is a taste of what it looked like.

I believe all of them are gone by now!

Camera: Canon EOS 550D

Location: Dublin, Ireland

Roman ruin at Schönbrunn Palace

This artificial ruin, built in the Gardens of Schönbrunn Palace in 1778, is an example of a sub-genre that is having a strong effect on my imagination of late, that of the anticipated ruin. Parisian painter, Hubert Robert, probably invented it as a way of reflecting on the rise and fall of civilizations and empires. Modelled on the ancient Roman temple of Vespasian and Titus, the Viennese ruin features in the pool two figures representing the gods of the Rivers Danube and Enns.

Film: Fuji Provia 100F

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Schönbrunn Palace and Gardens, Vienna, Austria

Candid photos in art galleries

Although I do spend a lot of time in art galleries and museums looking at works of art and people looking at works of art, I am fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of taking photos of people who are not aware of being photographed. Having said that, here is a couple of recent candid shots.

Positive Vienna

Positive because I used a slide film, which makes a positive instead of a negative. Glittering Vienna here.

On my last day in Vienna, while strolling around the district of Leopoldstadt which is a little off the tourist trail, this gentleman unexpectedly appeared from the left and ... I'm so glad I captured him and his extraordinary hat!

Film: Fuji Provia 100F

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Vienna, Austria

Glittering Vienna

Oh, Vienna! One single late afternoon walk around the Innere Stadt had me smitten with the city! In no particular order these are the things I loved: the luminous red of the Austrian Airline's uniform; my very central hotel; getting around it on foot; coffee in all shapes and sizes; umpteen Italian gelato parlours; majestic caryatids and astonishing doorways; rococo interiors; Annatorte at Demel Chocolatiers; Sacher torte at the Café Sacher; the elliptical staircase with iron wrought rail I came across while looking for the restaurant's toilet (where is a camera when you need one?); the Imperial palaces and art galleries - it lashed down four out of five days so I got to spend a lot of time in the Hofburg Imperial Palace, Schönbrunn Palace, Albertina, The Kunsthistorisches Museum, Belvedere, The State Hall and St Charles Church.

I was amused by: waiters mixing tapping (my contact less card) up with tipping; an Italian gelato parlour translating chestnut into moron (the German word 'marone' for chestnut might have confused them) and cone (as in ice cream cone) into cornet; bird chirping played as background noise in restaurants' toilets.

I didn't like at all the widespread rudeness. Waiters were ill-mannered and unpleasant in too many occasions, with the Café Gloriette in the garden of Schönbrunn Palace really taking the biscuit! I also disliked the mushrooming of Starbucks - I am in no way a coffee snob, but I find that these and other chain outlets make no sense in the city which has elevated coffee culture to an art form!

Film: Fujicolor Natura 1600

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Vienna, Austria

The State Hall in Vienna

The State Hall of the Austrian National Library is one of the most beautiful historic libraries in the world. It was commissioned during the 1720s by Emperor Charles VI - represented as 'Hercules Musarum' in the larger-than-life marble statue you can see in the photo below right - for his Court library. The walnut bookcases lined along this 77m-long and 14m-wide library hold around 200.000 books from 1501 to 1850.

Film: Fujicolor Natura 1600

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: The State Hall, Vienna, Austria

A unique view at close range

If you find yourself around Karlsplatz in Vienna and don't suffer from heights, it is well worth entering St Charles Church and taking the lift to reach the top of a 32-metres-high scaffolding tower that was erected in 2002 for the renovation of the church's interior but is still there and open to the public. You will be asked to pay a ticket  - revenue from tickets sold is used to finance other renovation projects - but the close-ups you will get of the dome paintings are certainly unique. If you then feel adventurous and climb up just an extra few flights of steps, you will be rewarded with a view of the city as well.

As the church is dedicated to Saint Carlo Borromeo the huge frescos represent the glories of the Italian saint. They were painted by Johann Michael Rottmayr during the second half of the 1720s.

The church's interior, with its use of all the different lighting conditions, is a most spectacular example of the Baroque style. In one of the two large chapels on the sides of the central aisle it is possible to admire 'The Assumption of Mary' by Sebastiano Ricci. It is a pity I didn't manage to capture the brilliance of its blues and reds!

Film: Fujicolor Natura 1600

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: St Charles Church, Vienna, Austria

Winter sun streaming in

Winter sun streaming in like a notable guest and lighting up the Shaw Room's elegant staircase.

Film: Fuji Provia 100F

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland

Kindlestown Wood

Leave only footprints. Take only memories.

Film: Fuji Provia 100F

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Kindlestown Wood, Delgany, Co Wicklow, Ireland

Looking back at 2017 - My Year in Art

It's that time of the year again, and as I have a bit of time on my hands and hundreds of digital photos to organise, I thought that list-making might make it more fun. The following list is not a 'best of' but an all-inclusive (read: boring) roll of the exhibitions I visited in 2017, whereas the photos are the ones worth sharing.

Emily Jacir: Europa, IMMA, Dublin

Tales from Ovid's Metamorphoses, The Wallace Collection, London

Beyond Caravaggio, NGI, Dublin

Margaret Clarke: An Independent Spirit, NGI, Dublin

Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting: Inspiration and Rivalry, NGI, Dublin

The Hot Press Covers, National Photographic Archive, Dublin

Women of Fashion, Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare

Grace: Photographs, 1955–1969, Castletown House, Celbridge, Co. Kildare

Maria Theresa and the Arts, Belvedere Museum, Vienna

Klimt and Antiquity, Belvedere Museum, Vienna

Medieval Treasury. Study Collection in the Palace Stables, Belvedere Museum, Vienna

Robert Adam: Total Design, Total Obsession, Osterley House, London

Alma-Tadema: At Home in Antiquity, Leighton House, London



The 'twin' lights

Two lighthouses were first built on Wicklow Head in 1781 to prevent mariners from confusing it with Howth Head and Hook Head, both of which had only a single light. Both were then rebuilt in 1816 at a lower level.

The upper lighthouse is in the care of the Irish Landmark Trust, which rent it as a self-catering holiday accommodation. I visited it at the end of August, on a special open day during National Heritage Week. There are 6 octagonal rooms, 109 winding steps, and 27 deep windows from where to enjoy plenty of views.

To reach this collection of lighthouses you need to leave your car in the public car park and walk a two kilometers quiet farm road.

Film: Ilford Pan F+ 50

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Dunbur Head, Co. Wicklow, Ireland

A truly one of a kind lighthouse

Hook Lighthouse is situated at the tip of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford, only a couple of hours drive from Dublin. It is one of the oldest lighthouses in the world, as it was built eight hundred years ago, and is accessible only by guided tour.

Film: Ilford Pan F+ 50

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Hook Peninsula, Co. Wexford, Ireland

A roll of film a month | June [...]

Let's not beat around the bush and admit from the beginning that my photography project for 2017, the one of shooting at least one roll of film a month, hit bottom this summer so, yes, a more correct title for this post would be 'A roll of film a month | June, July, and August'. It started to go wrong when, only a few days before the end of June, I ruined my last T-Max 400 while loading it in my too long neglected Zero 2000 pinhole camera. Fast-forwarding to the first Sunday in July, just before going out to see the Dun Laoghaire Regatta, I reached for an ISO 50 film because the day was luminous enough for it. It tuned out I should have given less thought to the weather and more to the fact that the film was a 35mm as it took me all summer to shoot all its 36 poses!

Film: Ilford Pan F+ 50

Camera: Canon EOS 300

Location: Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, Ireland

When the shutter counter says nine

The confusion of discovering my Voigtländer Vitoret DR camera had already a film loaded in it; the thrill of noticing the shutter counter said nine but I had no recollection of when and where I took those photos; the constant questioning myself while shooting the remaining frames; the anticipation while waiting for the roll to be processed and, finally, the sheer delight of realizing I came back from last-year visit to Garnish Island in southwest Ireland with a couple of more pics. These are the things I wouldn't have experienced if I hadn't gone back to shooting film.

Film: Kodak T-Max 400 B&W

Camera: Voigtländer Vitoret DR

Location: Garnish Island, Glengarriff, West Cork, Ireland