Friday, December 14, 2012

Apsley House, London

I am stunned that so many weeks have gone by since my last post, and there's no point in apologizing: everyone's busy, everyone has life maintenance, and no one is sitting around eating bons bons.  Certainly not here in New York anyway, where we are still coming to terms with Hurricane Sandy (and will be for a long time to come).  If we constantly apologized for being late, no conversations of substance would ever happen.  So, I'm returning to my last few posts about my trip to England without further ado:

"If you want to understand the history of England, there's no better way than to visit the homes of those who wrote it."  -- English Heritage 

Another highlight in London was Apsley House in London.  Known also as 'No. 1 London,' Apsley House [149 Piccadilly, Hyde Park Corner] was the home of the Duke of Wellington.  I admit my main reason for going there was to see a particular painting, 'The Waterseller of Seville,' painted by Diego Velazquez in 1620-22.  My Mom brought this painting to my attention after reading about it in The Wall Street Journal ('The Compassionate Scoundrel' by Mary Tompkins Lewis, 18 June, 2011).  The painting is magnificent, but Lewis's article really gives the work even more depth.  The painting was the last of Velazquez's bodegones, "an early series of genre scenes from Seville of humble figures engaged in the rituals of food and drink."  Lewis notes that a waterseller -- an aguador -- was a familiar and welcome sight on the dusty streets of 17th century Seville, and he was also "a stock character in picaresque Spanish literature, plays and popular imagery, routinely rendered as a scoundrel or pathetic peddler who operated on the fringes of urban society and hawked his often dubious wares to an unsuspecting public."  

This painting alone is worthy of a journey to Apsley House, but as it happens the mansion is filled with several hundred of the finest works in London (including military memorabilia, a statue of Napoleon by Italian sculptor Canova, a grand 'Battle of Waterloo' painted in 1843 by Sir William Allan, the Saxon Service and Prussian Service porcelain sets, an original pair of Wellington boots, and a pair of candelabra and a silver-gilt shield given to Wellington to celebrate the victory at Waterloo).  'The Waterseller of Seville' is from a group of canvases referred to as the Spanish Royal Collection, which were discovered after the Battle of Vitoria in 1813 in the abandoned baggage carriage of Joseph Bonaparte, who was at that time king of Spain.  The works were given to Wellington as rolled-up canvases by King Ferdinand VII of Spain in 1816.  Another stunning painting in the Collection is 'The Agony in the Garden' by Correggio -- according to the official guidebook, Benjamin West, President of the Royal Academy, thought this was "worth fighting a battle for, and that it should be framed in diamonds."

Wellington -- who became known as the Iron Duke -- passed away in 1852 as a national hero.  Some 200,000 people lined up to view his body lying in state, and he was buried at St. Paul's Cathedral.

The Statue of Achilles (raised in honor of Wellington and funded entirely by British women), Wellington Arch, and Wellington Statue are very near Apsley House in the Hyde Park Corner traffic island, making this a veritable Wellington neighborhood.  So I thought it was a little odd when, I was a little turned around after I came out of the Underground, I asked a few passersby where Apsley House was located.  "Come again?" and "What?" were the replies I received.  Even when I said, "Wellington's house" they didn't seem to know which way to direct me.   No matter -- it actually only took walking a few steps toward the giant Arch to find my way; but Aplsey House deserves to be better known, and I encourage visitors bound for London to find a place for it on their itineraries.

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