FOR CATHY COURTNEY
FOUR SQUARES EILEEN HOGAN
THE FINE ART SOCIETY 8–30 NOVEMBER 2006
148 New Bond Street London W1S 2JT Telephone 020 7629 5116 Fax 020 7491 9454 E-mail email@example.com www.faslondon.com
THE SETTING BY CHRISTOPHER GIBBS
At the junction of two Roman roads, today Oxford Street and Edgware Road, and two streams, now hidden, stood Tyburn tree, the ancient place of execution, since marked by Marble Arch; to the east was the Bone or Bourne brook, and at its northern limit, the old church of St Mary le bone, and a royal hunting lodge, from which good sport could be enjoyed in the rough and well watered farmland which fell into the hands of the west country Portman family in the mid-16th century. Heiress daughters married West Country Seymours and Berkeleys, labels alive still in local street names, but they kept and keep the Portman name for their estate. In the last forty years of the 18th century urban London pushed forward its frontiers, and the Portmans began to lay out a townscape, which remains, due to their guiding spirit, largely unaltered. Planned in a generous grid for a burgeoning bourgeoisie, and its trade and artisan supporters, built chiefly by developers on strictly drafted Portman leases, it’s a world of handsome streets, their sober and elegant facades of London stock brick lit and enlivened by the four Square gardens which Eileen Hogan evokes in these paintings. Each garden is a concealed world of which the outsider gets a green veiled glimpse, each has in common areas for maintenance, recreation and repose. These intriguing spaces, which Eileen’s paintings now share with us, have inside them atmospheres and characteristics which even the most incorrigible snoopers can never sense, and unique vantage points from which to contemplate the surrounding architecture, its joys and woes. Manchester Square and Portman Square rose first, the Manchester Square garden — a great oval with a southern vista into a bosky Mayfair distance, and an eastward glimpse of the yellow Hinde Street church — is dominated by the red palace that houses the Wallace Collection, and retains much handsome housing from its beginnings. In Portman Square, grandest and most mutilated of the four, there remain only two great houses on its north west corner to witness vanished glories, those built for Mr Locke of
Norbury, and for the Countess of Home, best preserved of Robert Adam’s London interiors, eloquent evidence of a spectacular series of great houses, which looked into a wilderness garden with an ambulant kiosk from which the Turkish Ambassador could contemplate the seasons or view the activities at Montagu House, home of Mrs Montagu, mother of all bluestockings, entertaining 700 to breakfast, fêting, ablaze with diamonds, each Mayday London’s boy chimney sweeps with roast beef and plum pudding. Wartime desecration and decades of vulgar development are echoed by unfortunate reordering within the Square garden. Bryanston and Montagu Squares, more modest, intimate, less torn by wars and traffic, are undisturbed parallel worlds, walled by tall terraces of Regency housing, now mostly converted into flats, but each, though sharing London planes and shrubby depths, is unlike the other. Bryanston looks south to Marble Arch, and north to Smirke’s church of St Mary’s, Wyndham Place, and at each corner, white stuccoed and pillared double fronted houses articulate the blander facades. Long and thin, this green space lights up in springtime with bulbs and flowering shrubs. Montagu Square garden is yet narrower, and many of the houses that look into it have bay windows to catch the light. It has a wasp-waist half way, and a curious black columnar pump from its Regency beginnings. Each has its ghosts — Bulwer Lytton, Trollope, Lord Shaftesbury, John Lennon, the Persian Ambassador (Moslem denizens are a continuing history), and, most alarming should he choose to manifest himself, the strutting, painted and corseted amateur thespian, Romeo (richboy) Coates. I’ve known this corner of London since boyhood, and this winter spent weeks walking it beside a stricken friend with an equal interest in the appearance of things — fanlights, lampholders, sudden visions through uncurtained windows, the new organic butcher, the deli from Apulia, all manner of friendly looking cafes and restaurants for the vivid Arab community,
what flourishes, what is dwindling, what is constant. Constants are the dignified elegant sobriety of the original Portman development and the glory of the Square gardens — the London planes, those soaring mottle trunked giants, some almost as old as the buildings they shade — and behind the well cast black painted spiky railings, the laurel, the bay, the fragrant privet, the ribes and the kerria, beneath the delicate tracery of branches against the sky. These green oases are havens to bird and frog and ancient toad, and also to the almost as rarely sighted key holders (are they very few, very busy, have they mastered the art of invisibility?). Through Eileen’s filtered, sun shafted, light dappled, sparkling paintings we glimpse their lovely well cherished private — nay, secret — world.
NOTES BY EILEEN HOGAN
My first engagement with these private-public London garden Squares â€” Bryanston, Montagu, Portman and Manchester â€” was from the outside, peering through cast iron railings into their stillness amid the clogged arteries of Oxford Street and Edgware Road and the bustle of Marylebone. In 1998 I moved into a small mews house (a former brothel, in fact) just north of Marble Arch. At around the same time I was given the use of a studio in the London College of Fashion building in Barrett Street, near to Selfridges. My daily walk between home and studio took me past the Squares and they began to seep into my consciousness. Intimacy with the places which are my source material is crucial. It became urgent to gain entry and pass from the outside to the inside, both to experience the enclosed space beneath the towering tree canopies and to find out what it was like to view the surrounding streets from the perspective of the gardens. I obtained keys, taking at least some time to draw in one or other of the gardens most days. The luminosity of an unexpected burst of sunshine and rain might seduce me to take longer out of the studio, charting the transient movement of light filtering through trees across the terraces of houses. The period architecture was not initially important but the dusty umber brickwork and geometry gradually crept into my vocabulary. The time of day and the weather often created astonishing effects, changing the mood dramatically. Gradually I found I had made a commitment to painting in the Squares.
Things I particularly associate with Bryanston Square: stalking light as it flits over the surface of one particular house in the terrace; watching St Maryâ€™s church appear as layers of foliage disappear with the shifting season.
I usually return to the same spot in each Square, perhaps absorbed by shadows creeping up a particular tree or the fluctuating colours of a rhododendron as it moves through its cycle. Inadvertently the paintings have documented alterations in the environment â€” flower beds coming and going in Montagu Square, Christmas trees arriving on the balconies of Home House, scaffolding blanketing the Wallace Collection inside Hertford House. Annual garden parties pepper Bryanston and Montagu Squares with colour. Nothing is constant; events such as the sudden purity of the heavy snowfall in 2003 or the hosepipe ban of 2006 transform the territory.
Portman Square was the first Square that I painted. It is the busiest and has a more obviously international community than any of the others. If there are no recongnisable people visible in my paintings, there may be an echo or a trace of someone — a bench just vacated, a man in a hat disappearing at the edge, shadows of Home House guests breakfasting in the first floor dining room. The Square might be populated by a memory of my own — Iona Opie hugging one of the huge, ancient tree trunks — or by a fictional encounter from Sarah Water’s novel, Night Watch.
HIP TO BE SQUARE BY ROBIN DUTT PRESIDENT, HOME HOUSE ARTS SOCIETY What is a square? It is an enclave. A select and sanctioned haven, which boasts by turns, emerald green trees in summer, transformed to amber alveoli in autumn. Somehow removed, quiet, prescribed, most London squares typify and characterize a specific identity within the immediate area. They portray grandeur, proportion, elegance. They somehow even manage to change the very moment itself â€” shielded from the humdrum melee of hustle and bustle only moments away, in every direction. Portman Square, with Home House as its queen, is one such enclave. It little seems to matter that these essentially 18th century spaces are now fringed by an almost surreal combination of architectural designs and styles. In fact in some ways, this adds to their charm. The Square itself seems sacrosanct. You enter a tangible zone. Even the air seems different there. The Square.
I was in the privileged position of drawing the Wallace Collection from the square and the square from the Wallace Collection’s generous windows in the first floor gallery — a bird’s eye view of the sweeping green lawn.
THE ARTIST IN THE SQUARE FOR EILEEN ON HER BIRTHDAY BY MONIZA ALVI, 2006 The artist in the Square sets up her easel, or perhaps she paints from photographs, or memory — but look, she’s there, under the laburnum, or turning the corner, observing the dappled light on sixty’s deepest red front door. She’s entering the private garden as surely as a key-holder. Fine shadows note her movements. Nothing more.
MANCHESTER SQUARE BY ROSALIND SAVILL, DIRECTOR, THE WALLACE COLLECTION
I love Manchester Square. While it gives me a frisson to know that Madame du Barry probably dined on the south side at the home of her agent Nathanial Parker Forth just before returning to Paris to face the guillotine, it is Hertford House on the north side that really captures my heart. Large and looming, it was built in the 1770s partly because of the excellent duck shooting behind. It then became the Spanish Embassy and, since the 1790s, has been home to the Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace and their incomparable family collection. The 2nd Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford hosted the most wonderful Waterloo Ball here in 1815, when she was at the height of her special (though comparatively innocent) relationship with the Prince Regent, and a colourful cartoon shows his yellow carriage dashing round Manchester Square with her leaning voluminously out of her new Sitting Room window on the first floor. In the mid-19th century it was the French embassy and in the 1870s Sir Richard and Lady Wallace made huge alterations so that they could best display the magnificent works of art that on her death in 1897 were bequeathed to the British nation as ‘The Wallace Collection’. Today the Square and the Collection are an oasis from the fervour of Oxford Street, and I look from my office window across the monumental plane trees and think how lucky we are to have such a verdant centre to our daily lives. Eileen Hogan’s visual excitement for this Square brings history and memories flooding back while at the same time capturing the real life of this very special space today. I walk through the Square each morning, and entering Hertford House and seeing the Hertfords stupendous French eighteenth-century paintings, furniture, porcelain and metalwork is for me one of the wonders of the world. Many of the works of art came from the court at Versailles, having belonged to Louis XV, to Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, to Madame de Pompadour and even to Madame du Barry herself. I hope it would please her to know that some of her treasures are now loved and admired just across the Square from where she dined in style all those years ago.
A PERSONAL VIEW BY LORD PORTMAN
The first time I remember coming to London I was eight years old. We were going to a family party on what I was told was the family estate. I thought London was it and was very impressed. A lifetime later, aged sixteen, I was invited to spend half term with a friend who lived in Knightsbridge. I had managed to get over the disappointment that the family estates were a little more modest than I had initially thought and the first thing we did was to walk across Hyde Park to see if these places I’d been told about really existed. I spent most of that long weekend wandering amongst familiar names attached to strange places. And so began a lifelong fascination and friendship with Marylebone. Leaving a long gap and a sad farewell to my Father, during which Marylebone shrank from gigantic metropolis to something much closer to the village of my childhood, I found myself able to take part in the reconstruction and regeneration of large parts of the Portman Estate that had become tired. The principal benefit of this from my point of view was the opportunity to meet many of the amazing people who live on and around the estate. Most of them know a great deal more about the history of the area than I do and in a few instances a lot more about my own family. What has struck me most about everybody I have met is how much tangible pleasure they appear to derive from living in this particular place. I may be biased, but there really is something special about it. I don’t think it’s just the pretty and slightly mysterious gardens or the proportions of the Squares; it’s certainly not the traffic on Gloucester Place nor is it the architecture of almost everything built in the fifties, sixties and seventies. Obviously it’s the inhabitants who make somewhere a nice place to live and those who dwell in this part of Marylebone have given the place a cultural tinge that is truly global. Connected. Everyone seems to be represented here, to use just one letter; artist, ambassador, accountant,
actor, arborealist, administrator, anthropologist, architect, athlete, of which I know. There seems to be a particular concentration, a density, of talented people in a small area which manages to have the cosy feel of a village about it that is truly rare despite the frequency with which that word is used in London. Living alongside people like Eileen Hogan, meeting them and being able to enjoy the beauty they create and share with us is the greatest pleasure, in this life, for me.
END NOTES EILEEN HOGAN
The majority of the smaller paintings had their origins as I worked outdoors within the Squares although many were completed in the studio. They were pocket sized, studies I made on my walks to work, and I had no idea at first that they would turn out to be a series, spread over a number of years. I had not previously worked on this small size and I began to respond to the intensity of the scale itself. In the larger paintings, considerations of mark making and other painterly concerns tend to override subject matter and the rhythm of the work takes on its own momentum. Tiny, stray details may point the way to important steps and sometimes circumstantial marks from smaller pieces have enormous structural significance for the larger compositions. As often as not, it wonâ€™t be the mark I think is important that turns out to be significant. Very recently, I have begun taking liberties, transporting elements from one Square into another, permitting the vocabulary of the paintings to become more fluid yet retaining the geometry and discipline of the combined four spaces.
Moniza Alvi Michael Conroy Robin Dutt Christopher Gibbs Mary Hicks Angus Hyland Felicity Owen Lord Portman The Portman Estate Kerrie Powell Rosalind Savill Hugh Seaborn Wallace Collection
Print: ISBN: Published by The Fine Art Society © 2006 Text and images: Eileen Hogan © 2006 The Setting: Christopher Gibbs © Robin Dutt: Hip to be Square © 2006 Manchester Square: Roasalind Savill © 2006 The Artist in the Square: Moniza Alvi © 2006 A Personal View: Lord Portman
Published on Apr 3, 2014