Last Saturday, we chose to explore Kensington Palace with a couple of Belgian visitors. Since George I (1714-1727) spent most of his time in London here and in St-James' Palace (the latter being closed to the public), it was an inevitable monument to visit.
As most public architectural monuments of the period, it was first treated by sir Christopher Wren (who did St-Paul's Cathedral) under William III, and in the next century by William Kent.
(Mustafa & Mehemet)
Kensington is not very attractive from the outside. Thanks to a strong autumn sun and a blue sky, the pictures somewhat blur this feature. But a brown brick-building is not a match to the splendour of Versailles, Peterhof or Sans Souci, to name a couple of its contemporaries.
(Peter the Great, sir Godfrey Kneller)
However, the interior rooms offer more spectacle. The big staircase, portraying Mehemet and Mustafa, George's Turkish recruited courtiers while he was campaining against the Ottomans as duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, immediately flattens out the first series of ground floor apartments, dedicated to -horresco referens- Princess Diana's fashion style.
After a brief walk in Hyde Park, 19th Century pomp & circumstance tends to take the ordinary visitor away to the Victorian age. The Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College, Science Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum... Great Britain, after fighting Spanish and French Empires for centuries under the pretext of Universal Monarchy, wants suddenly to be regarded as one.
The Victoria & Albert Museum is particularly impressive. It reminded me of the contemporary Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Russian Museum in St-Petersburg and of the Berlin Museum Insel: bombastic industrial empires try to bluff eachother off. Neo-gothic interiors, plaster copies of foreign monuments (like the Santiago de Compostela-portal) for the benefit of talented British students unable to afford a trip abroad, treasures assembled from all overseas colonies and exploited territories.
(Triumph of Archduchess Isabella, Brussels, 1615)
(Sniffbox with the Elector Palatine)
(Emperor Trajan's thing)
After an afternoon tea in the magnificent Pointer Rooms, we continued to Harrods, Buckingham Palace (closed to tourists during the Winter; same goes for the Houses of Parliament) and Trafalgar Square.
(Poppy Day, 11.XI)
(Chez Al Fayed)
(Houses of Parliament)
On Tuesday, we discovered one of London's finest museums: the Courtauld Institute, harbouring a lot of masterpieces in a three store-building. Manet, Renoir Gauguin, Pissarro, Fra Angelico...
But, after all, this is a research stay in London. Undoubtedly, the mere sight of the 18th Century georgian court's political laboratory offers inspiration. But the hard core work remains in the National Archives and the British Library (where, unfortunately, researchers cannot take pictures of the manuscripts). So it's back to work...