Chekhov – Smoking Is Bad For You – Superlative Short Play

Chekhov – Smoking Is Bad For You – Superlative Short Play

This masterly play in one Act has been amusing me greatly during isolation. I wanted to bring it to your attention as an option for short reading material during this interminable lockdown. Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) was a Russian playwright. He is considered the master of the modern short story. He probes beneath the surface of life with laconic precision. I recall seeing The Seagull at the Crescent Theatre (in the before time) with Louise and being moved to tears by how relevant it was.

Smoking is Bad For You (otherwise translated as The Dangers of Tobacco), tells the tale of a hen-pecked husband, Marcellus Nyukhin, whose wife keeps a music school and a girls’ boarding school. The version I am discussing is the 1903 version, not the earlier 1889 version which is slightly longer.

Please see a delightful performance by what appears to be a high school drama teacher below:

I love how insular this play is, how in such little time, Chekhov manages to paint a complete picture of this weary exhausted husband who is, in the end, frightened of his wife. Frightened so much that he submits to her will and puts himself in compromising positions (IE: on a stage talking on a subject which he has no knowledge of). This play, for me, is about more than subjugation, mind, it is, to paraphrase Graham Green, about ‘how one lives, constantly putting things off’. Nyukhin is all of us, his wife represents all of our problems. I have found, living in this country fifteen years now, that people allow themselves to be hounded by issues and instead of addressing them directly will follow in Nyukhin’s footsteps, audibly complaining about the consequence without trying or even wanting to remedy the source. This has never been truer than today. Nyukhin is, in a comedic way, Chekhov’s warning to us all.

I encourage you all to purchase a copy of Chekhov’s Short Plays. I have found mine immensely rewarding. I also understand Steve Coogan performed this play in BBC’s Chekhov Comedy Shorts series. This surely is a must watch if you can find it.

Tynemouth Market – Splendid Place to Spend Savings

Tynemouth Market – Splendid Place to Spend Savings

As you may or may not know, before the COVID-19 Lockdown, I was able to take a train to Newcastle and cycle in a group of three. These were the lofty long gone days, now superseded by endless isolation and just a little too much time to do the things we always wanted to do but will still neglect to do. In this period of national freedom mourning, it is important to have things to look forward to. One such place might be the Tynemouth Market, which I have most enjoyed on the occasions I’ve visited.

Tynemouth Market is a wonderfully diverse market with produce from CBD tea (which wasn’t as exciting as you’d think) to taxidermy foxes. Personally, I enjoy the vast collection of art on offer. I got one of my most treasured paintings there. A pallet brush colourful rendition of a ship at sea.

Gloriously restored to the former glory of its grand Victorian days, Tynemouth Station now offers a vast covered space for the famous markets each weekend. Visitors come from far and wide to join the crowds enjoying the huge variety of over 150 stalls and soaking up the huge atmosphere on both sides of the platforms. Tynemouth Markets

It should be noted that dogs are permitted within the market and are fairly amenable to being photographed with high quality cameras.

The market itself is split over two platforms as it is situated within a train station. The food stalls are usually at the right end of each platform if one is looking from the direction the above photograph was taken. I often go to the hog roast stall and have an absurdly cheap bap, pictured below, which works a treat. But there are also Greek places and fish and chip venues.

Overall Tynemouth market is a place of sheer joy and absolutely something to look forward to once this isolation is over. It is closed at the time of writing but should re-open when it is safe to do so.


Self-Portrait Marie-Gabrielle Capet – Composition in Isolation

Self-Portrait Marie-Gabrielle Capet – Composition in Isolation

COVID 19 has given us all a unique gift: time. This splendid isolation is forcing us all to ask ourselves ‘what would I do if I had more time?’. Now we have time we reflect further and refine the things we would have done into the things we want to do and are doing those things, or so one would hope. I for one had taken up running and long distance cycling as part of Lent. This crisis has only increased my vigour in pursuing both and increased by love for reading and the pursuit of deepening my knowledge of classical music. What has this crisis made you pursue?

On the theme of reflection, I receive each day an artwork from the App Daily Art. Last Sunday, the final Sunday of the app’s Women in Art History Month heralded this offering from French painter Marie-Gabrielle Capet. In this time of isolation, this reflective piece from the artist has a lot to offer all of us.

Marie-Gabrielle came from a modest background and her previous background and artistic training is unknown, but in 1781 she became the pupil of the French painter Adelaide Labille-Guiard in Paris. She excelled as a portrait painter, and her works include oil paintings, watercolours and miniatures. Wikipedia

Observe the delicacy with which she has illustrated her cascading locks of hair on the left shoulder. Note the extraordinary fineness of the fabric sleeve and the way the light and shadow has been captured on the same. Look at the delicacy with which her face is rendered and the perfection of the eye brows, the fixation of her gaze. The softness of the skin is also very well depicted. Personally, I love the way she is holding the brush, as though to remind us that she is an artist. Louise would certainly identify this aspect as self-referential, though not utter garbage, as in her original use of the term when witnessing a rather dreadful play we endured at the Crescent Theatre. Finally, I adore the ribbon in her hair and how expertly she depicts the light finding its way into the ribbon’s folds.

Marie-Gabrielle had evidently attracted the attention of one of the great ladies of French painting, Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, who accepted her as a student in her studio. Marie-Gabrielle soon took precedence over Adélaïde’s numerous other female protégés. There were nine of these in total, collectively referred to as “Les Demoiselles”, and they included the talented Marie-Victoire d’Avril and Marie-Marguerite Carreaux de Rosemond. Art In Society

Perhaps it is symptomatic of being French, but I cannot help but notice Capet has depicted herself in a resplendent light. Compare this to the below, “Study of a Seated Woman Seen from Behind (Marie-Gabrielle Capet)”, 1789 by Adélaïde Labille-Guiard, Capet’s teacher.

This was created using the trois crayons technique, using red, black and white chalk to create a portrait, which Labille-Guiard excelled in. Notice how, though she is now advanced in age compared to the first but the difference is still quite stark. Still, in spite of corporeal differences, the essential grace and composure remains intact. I am impressed by the rendering of fabric once again in the hair and below the shoulder blades.

In this time of isolation, it pays to reflect, as Capet has reflected herself for us the viewers. We can take a page from her book and show ourselves in a brighter light. The old adage says ‘never waste a good crisis’. This has never been more necessary and urgent than today. We have been given the golden gift of time to improve ourselves and use our resources and resourcefulness to assist those in need. Let us, like Capet, reflect ourselves in a better light and come out of this global crisis greater, stronger and healthier in all senses.

Wonderfully Scientific – Wellcome Collection, London

Wonderfully Scientific – Wellcome Collection, London

Whilst visiting London, Cedric wanted to find an art gallery near London Euston. He suggested the Wellcome Collection. Unbeknownst to him, the Wellcome Trust funds the Sanger Institute, one of the world’s leading centres for genomic science. I just so happened to forget to mention and (probably for the last time), was able to drag Cedric around a wonderful museum and library centered around Human Health.

Founded by Sir Henry Wellcome, the Wellcome Trust has aimed to improve health by investing in researchers who are focussing on the most prescient threats to global health. Whilst, simultaneously, educating the public on the importance of medical scientific research. The museum certainly reflected this. Although, the Play-Well Exhibition which is running until March 2020, was somewhat confusing and underwhelming. Seemingly showcasing the way in which children play and the media in which they do so has changed over time, with imagination seemingly fading and digital entertainment captivating the younger generations.

Most interesting, for me, was the permanent exhibition “Being Human.” Within, it showcased the ins and outs of human health. Including a transparent 3D anatomical model of a woman in which the organs would illuminate when you press the corresponding button, a valuable and engaging educational tool that all ages were interacting with, even if they don’t know what the cecum is…

An eye-opening piece within this exhibition demonstrated bacteria generating antibiotic resistance to exceedingly high doses within 11 days. An incredibly pressing matter as bacteria are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment due to the misuse of antibiotics, so it was refreshing to see an exhibition drawing attention to that.

However, the Wellcome Collection had other exhibitions such as “Medicine Man,” demonstrating medicine’s evolution throughout history. It was certainly worth a mooch, but not for the squeamish as there is a mummified body.

Cedric was most delighted with the library and reading room which sits at the top of this museum, it boasts hundreds of books all pertaining to human health and even has some exhibition pieces including a sliver of anatomist Dr. Gunther Von Hagen’s human dissection work, which demonstrated the complexity and beauty of the human body.

Overall, this was a brilliant museum which opens your eyes to the evolution of medicine, and how that had led to the research being conducted today. I would wholeheartedly recommend the Wellcome Collection if you’re ever around London Euston.

Wallace Collection Pt 2 – Extended Observations

Wallace Collection Pt 2 – Extended Observations

Having returned to London recently I had the joy of visiting the Wallace Collection again. Please find below a few pieces which struck me and are absolutely worth talking about.

The Annunciation, Philippe de Champaigne French – ca. 1644 

Now, I have already spoken about this in my Ferens Gallery post in Hull, but it is worth mentioning that this is possibly the painting which captivated me most out of all of the gallery. This is situated in the Great Gallery and had me in awe, as it did in Hull, for largely the same reasons.

The Acrobat, Barthélemy Prieur, ca. 1600

I remember from my first visit to the Wallace Collection how struck I was by this unusual sculpture. I had never before seen a sculpture where the depicted person or persons are not upright! Indeed, until Barthélemy Prieur, nobody else had either. Observe the musculature and the stretched skin around the arms. Observe the legs swinging to keep balance, there is wonderful depiction of motion here.

French sculptor Barthélemy Prieur was born in Berzieux (now in the Marne), into a family of farmers. He studied art in Italy and between 1564 and 1568 worked for the Duke of Savoie in Turin. On his return to France, he introduced Italian-style small bronzes into French art. His main output, though, consisted of large, bronze funerary monuments. His monument to Christophe de Thou is now in the Louvre, as is his monument to Anne de Montmorency. National Galleries

Polichinelle, Jean Louis Ernest Meissonier (1815–1891)


One of several whole-length figures of Punch by Meissonier, this was painted on a door panel in the Paris apartment of Apollonie Sabatier. The panel was cut from the door and retouched by the artist for the sale of Mme. Sabatier’s collection in 1861. The louche character of Punch was a not inappropriate decoration for the apartment of a celebrated courtesan.

I was amazed when I first saw this portrait. Look at the cheek in the facial expression, the delicate details in the hands and nails as well as the almost grotesque exaggerated stomach. I especially love the masterful depiction of felt in the trousers and the rich choice of colour. The shine on the clogs is also wonderful. this is such a delightful piece I would be at pains not to share it with you.

Miss Jane Bowles, Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792)

Jane Bowles (1772–1812) was the eldest child of Oldfield Bowles of North Aston, an amateur painter of some distinction. When deciding which painter to employ to paint his daughter, Bowles invited Reynolds to dinner to see how he got on with his potential subject. According to Reynolds’s nineteenth-century biographer, Leslie: ‘the little girl was placed next to Sir Joshua at the dessert, where he amused her so much with stories and tricks that she thought him the most charming man in the world. Art UK

My final offering is this sweet rendition of a young Jane Bowles with her lovely dog, which looks from the colouring to be either a Border Collie or Spaniel puppy. From the hair, most likely closer to a Spaniel but I may be, and most likely am, wrong. Ms Bowles is sitting in a forest clearing, hugging her dog and looking pleased with herself. Every aspect of this portrait is so twee and delightful, charming even, that it drew my attention. Of course, you’ll know I’m a sucker for beautifully rendered fabrics, which are present here. But I especially love the detail of the dog’s right leg pressed against her as though Ms Bowles is squeezing too tightly. This is just exquisite to me.

So overall, not a bad collection at all. The Wallace Collection is filled with treasures and lest we forget, the building itself is magnificent and absolutely worth visiting. Whats more, it’s free. No excuses.

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – Suggestive Highlights (Part 2 of 2)

Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery – Suggestive Highlights (Part 2 of 2)

As anticipated, Part 2 of the suggestive highlights is here. Now I will confess to you that I clear out all the photographs on my mobile every few weeks and had quite lost the ones from my January visit to the museum. So I took it upon myself to visit the museum anew and bring you fresh out of the oven insight into my other highlights from this museum & art gallery.

Autumn, Joos de Momper the Younger (1564–1635)

This series of paintings represented the four seasons, this one being Autumn, shock horror. This is featured as one of the Lost Masterpieces, a 2019 television programme. I think it is safe to say that at least one has been found now. As this painting depicts an autumnal scene in an idyllic village, during the time where cider is being made, it must feature here. Observe the slant in the thatched roof in the centre, the motion in the trees and the hustle and bustle among the people. It is also worth noting how lovely the water to the right has been rendered and the detail of the dead falling branches. Equally wonderful is the lighting in this piece, showing clearly which trees have been obscured by the surrounding forest. A true delight of a painting.

The Pont Boieldieu, Rouen, Sunset Camille Pissarro, 1896

Pissarro was a Danish-French Impressionist painter. His importance resides in his contributions to both Impressionism and Post-Impressionism. Pissarro studied from great forerunners, including Gustave Courbet and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. He later studied and worked alongside Georges Seurat and Paul Signac when he took on the Neo-Impressionist style at the age of 54 (Wikipedia).

What struck me about this painting was that the further away you walk from it the more cohesive it seems. The closer you get the more you are able to see each individual brush stroke and their contribution to the painting as a whole. The vision Pissarro must have had when painting this astonishes me. To know how beautifully the sunset, the reflection on the water and the shade case from the bridge would come through in the finished product. Even the motion in the water and the hubbub of people is done beautifully. I was struck also by the complexity of the smoke and the simplicity of the sky above as contrasted with what is occurring below. This was really quite spectacular to witness in person and I highly recommend going to the venue itself just to see it.

An Athlete Wrestling with a Python, Frederic, Lord Leighton, 1877

Lord Frederic Leighton (1830-1896), was one of the most famous British artists of the nineteenth century. The recipient of many national and international awards and honours, he was well acquainted with members of the royal family and with most of the great artists, writers and politicians of the late Victorian era. Frederic Leighton

I thought I would mix up my highlights with a sculpture. This is, as the name suggests, depicting an athlete fighting with a python. I’m sure we have all experienced this in our time. It was intended as a challenge to the story of Laocoön. His grisly fate was told by Quintus Smyrnaeus in Posthomerica, where the Goddess Athena (or in later versions Poseidon) sends two giant servants to punish Laocoön and his two sons. This sculpture is so masterfully rendered that it had to be a highlight. The photograph above and that below showcase some of the most sticking features of the sculpture, namely the extraordinary detail of the python’s scales, the vascularity of the protagonist’s arms and the protrusion of the knuckles against the skin where he is struggling against the python.

You can’t see it from these pictures, but the python’s tongue is actually on the athlete’s arm. Look at the veins in the neck bulging too! The anger in the eyes is so palpable. However, one criticism I would make is that if I were fighting a python, I should think to put on at least a pair of trousers before doing so.

The English Ship, Hampton Court in a Gale, Willem van de Velde II (1633-1707)

I have spoke  previously, in my review of the Wallace Collection Highlights, of my admiration for the Van De Veldes. This is another masterpiece by the Van de Velde son. This is a piece in constant motion, everything here is moving and yet captured as a still in the most remarkable way. The ship is veering to the left, while fighting against the waves and , presumably, an imminent attack from the other ship in the distance. All the while, the wind has almost taken control of the sails. And finally, as represented by the close up photograph below, every crew member is in motion doing their bit to stabilise the ship. I was especially drawn to the three crew at the front of the ship wrestling with the ropes to get the sail under control. Look also at the way the flags move in the wind. This is a truly spectacular painting to see in person, where the colours are far more expressive.

This concludes Part 2 of my highlights from the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery but I do not think I am quite finished in extolling its virtues. Please do go and visit this free museum and enjoy its many treasures, you won’t be disappointed.