Things have changed in London as everywhere.
You did not need so much money when I was young to live in London. I went to the theater often and paid one pound sterling to sit in the gods.
Nocturne, 1875-1880; oil on canvas.
James McNeil Whistler, 1834-1903, American. Philadelphia Museum of Art
Opportunities for a large diversity of people were certainly not as available as they are now because the country was in economic doldrums; and paralyzed by the silences around class/race.
There remains deep poverty in Britain and class remains a killer of souls and black and brown skin still a reason to discriminate; and Islam the latest complicated battleground for race war.
While my emotional education took place in the safe circle created and maintained by my Ethiopian parents who retained an absolute fidelity to Ethiopia, her history and traditions; and faith in her future, as do I,
London was the place of my political, intellectual and aesthetic education.
Vast histories became available to me particularly of the multi-century movement of the English towards their freedom and to equality of access to the goodies; and of the Irish towards their political independence.
Towards, I say because these remain incomplete.
The detailed history of the movement of British colonies to their independence and of British slavery was not available to us until many years later; and remain incomplete.
Waterloo Bridge, Morning Fog, oil on canvas.
Claude Monet, 1840-1926, French. Philadelphia Art Museum
The Baltimore Museum of Art says that Monet concentrated only on the Thames in three separate painting campaigns between 1899 and 1901. He worked on many canvases simultaneously to capture the effect of light.
The Stones, the Beatles, the Kinks, Procol Harum, David Bowie and Queen were young with us then. So was the Prince of Wales, still in waiting.
I miss London. Equally, though, it would not matter to me if I never saw her again because I recall without effort everything I knew of her.
Houses of Parliament, London, Sunset; 1903, oil on canvas;
Claude Monet, 1840-1926; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
Nor, as with any great city, is she a passive or inactive entity.
She acts on you and she can be very demanding. I hold her partially responsible – partially only and not the greatest part – for the death of one of my oldest friends, a Londoner. She was a meticulous keeper of our joint memory.
Helen Louise Waygood when she was about 50.
Born 1947, Wilmslow, Cheshire, England, died London, 2014, British. Buried with her people in Prestbury, Cheshire. With love.
London overwhelmed her heart with the longing for things and people who, in the end, scrambled and defeated her will to live.
Demanding or not and perhaps partly because she is demanding, London is a portal of paradise to me.
Such invite you through a portal onto a plain covered with treasures, some of them partially buried or disguised. Some of them have to be treated with care for fear you become giddy and fall down and are trampled upon.
I suppose this is based on my experiences there.
Charing Cross Bridge, 1905-06, oil on canvas.
Andre Derain, 1880-1954, French. MOMA, NY
I was never afraid in London, even at Waterloo at one in the morning.
Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
William Wordsworth, 1770-1850, British
Waterloo Bridge, Sunlight Effect with Smoke, 1903, oil on canvas.
Claude Monet, 1840-1926, French. Baltimore Museum of Art
I miss Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Hungerford Bridge (1845) where I crossed the Thames as a ritual of arrival whenever I reached London. It crosses the river between Charing Cross and Waterloo Stations.
The painters of these paintings would have known this bridge.
Cremorne Gardens #2, oil on canvas, c. 1870-1880.
James McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903, American. Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY
Cremorne Gardens was a popular pleasure garden fronting the River Thames between Chelsea Harbour and the end of the King’s Road between 1845 and 1977.
Low Tide, Cannon Street Bridge, c. 1901-03, oil on canvas.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, American active France, 1859-1937
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Perhaps I wrote this piece only for the pleasure of rolling this capacious name around my mind. The German and Norman are coiled tightly within ‘British’ in his name. All three displaying their genius in London.
Like Claude Monet, a Norman, of course, by adoption.
Charing Cross Bridge, London, oil on canvas, 1890.
Camille Pissarro, 1830-1903, French. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Waterloo Bridge, Gray Day, 1903, oil on canvas.
Claude Monet, 1840-1926; National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Grey and Silver: Chelsea Wharf, oil on canvas, 1864-68.
James McNeill Whistler, 1834-1903, American. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
Charing Cross Bridge, London, 1906, oil on canvas.
Andre Derain, French, 1880-1954. National Gallery, Washington, DC