Saturday, 26 June 2010

Horace Walpole and Dr Dee

On Thursday I visited the Horace Walpole and Strawberry Hill exhibition at the V&A. Sparsely attended - I much prefer shows like this to the blockbusters that dominate so many galleries these days - it was very interesting for me to see pieces from his wonderful collections. One object in particular has a fascinating history: Dr Dee's 'scrying mirror', the smoothly polished obsidian tablet that he allegedly used in his conversations with angels. It did not appear in The Dark Monarch exhibition (on the influence of magic and folklore on modern art) that I was fortunate to catch at the new Towner Gallery in Eastbourne earlier this year, but would have been very appropriate (instead it featured in the Moctezuma show at the British Museum, its present home).

I wanted to buy the Dark Monarch catalogue but was told that it had sold out despite having been reprinted owing to heavy demand. Fortunately I found a copy at work and have been leafing through. There is a typical 'artbollocks' essay of obfuscating pretension albeit with a few stimulating insights - the box containing the oft-used words in this context 'palimpsest', 'ontology', and 'valenced' is duly ticked. I had to look up the word 'nyctophobic'- it means fear of the night or darkness. We are also amusingly informed that, 'Table wrapping [sic] of the nineteenth century was the most immediate yet controlled mode of non-rational communication, structured and visionary' - an early Christo no doubt. There's an extract from Morrissey's autobiography that publishers seem frantic to get their hands on at the moment, especially Faber & Faber: 'History demands it; destiny commands it' no less, according to Lee Brackstone. I'm sure Mozzer will eventually pocket a tidy six (or even seven) figure sum for his Herculean labours.

I did visit Strawberry Hill many years ago when it was being used as a school and was disappointed that many of the idiosyncratic features that Walpole had introduced had disappeared, although it was still impressive. According to a short film shown in the exhibition the house has been restored and will open to the public later this year - a return visit will be necessary.

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