Thursday, 18 August 2011

Traipsing Around the U.K.: Manchester

Manchester has a wonderful energy about it. The historical buildings are tall and red and majestic. Piccadilly Gardens, a public downtown square, is brimming with people enjoying the summer sunshine. There is a very good Waterstones (one of the ways I always judge a bookstore is by its staff picks) on Deansgate, and a beautiful university library - the John Rylands Library - which the public can pop into for a look. And in the Manchester Art Gallery, I was arrested by the painting pictured above - Umbrellas by Dorothy Brett, painted in 1917. There in the center is Ottoline Morrel with Lytton Strachey sitting on her left and Brett herself on Ottoline's right. And is that Carrington, bending her head on the left edge of the painting? I bought the postcard. It was quite a large work and very beautiful. The whole gallery is well worth a visit, particularly if you like decorative arts.

Then it was off on a short tram ride to Salford Quays and The Lowry, a complex that has a theatre and a gallery with a continuous exhibition of the paintings and drawings of L.S. Lowry, a painter I've encountered in books numerous times (my mum has a framed reproduction in her living room), but whose actual work I'd never seen before. It's a great collection and I particularly liked his simple but moving sea paintings, so different in style and subject from his better known depictions of urban and factory life in the English north.

Across from The Lowry is the Imperial War Museum North, a unique building designed by Daniel Libeskind to represent shards of the earth, shattered and then put back together. Inside, it's a very large, open space, with various side pods hosting themed exhibitions. I spent some time wandering through their War Correspondents display that featured among others, the work of Martha Gellhorn. I also went up the observation tower, and here's a warning to those who suffer from vertigo - the platform is made up of a steel walkway that is see-through. Even though the staff warned me not to look down, of course I did (it's actually hard not to) and got quite giddy. There's a good view of the city though.

Last stop was at the museum's gift shop where I bought Art From the First World War. It features many of the works and artists I was already familiar with - Paul Nash, William Orphen, Wyndham Lewis, CRW Nevinson - but introduced me to some paintings I had not seen before, such as Henry Lamb's "Irish Troops in the Judean Hills Surprised by a Turkish Bombardment, 1919", which is painted from the perspective of looking down at the ground from quite high up, and Walter Bayes' "The Underworld: Taking Cover in a Tube Station During a London Air Raid, 1918". There are also entries by women war artists Anna Airy and Flora Lion, who painted women doing war work in factories and canteens. A nice addition to my growing collection of books on the First World War.

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