Castle Coole + Heaton Park

Quite Wyatt

Castle Coole Lavender's © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s the Editor’s night off, the intern’s gone awol and Zelda’s asleep. Dinner at Fischer’s, Marylebone’s finest Austrian, calls, dropping the schnitzels and strudels for the vegetarian gröstl in the esteemed company of Astrid Bray newly appointed General Manager of Hyde Park Residence. So it’s the ideal time for a mega filler quote from our illustrious predecessor, the Lavender’s Blue of his day, Rev Francis Orpen Morris scribing in his voluminous volumes County Seats of Great Britain and Ireland 1850 or so. James Wyatt, never one to shy away from plundering his own portfolio, must have bet that the owners of Heaton Park in Great Britain and Castle Coole in Ireland weren’t likely to compare notes. Or elevations, to be precise. Spot the difference competition.

Heaton Park + Castle Coole © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

‘This mansion is situated in the midst of the beautiful demesne of the same name. It commands an extensive woodland view to the southwest, with a fine mountain background, while the back, or more correctly the northwest front, looks down upon a picturesque lake (Lough Coole) of some 40 acres of water. A flock of grey lag wild geese, which settled here, it is said, several generations ago, have become domesticated on the lake, never straying far from its shores. There are small four small wooded islands near the borders of the lough, which are possibly ancient Irish cranoges. The demesne contains two other lakes: one, Lough Yoan, of considerable size; the other, Breandrum Lake, much smaller.

The timber at Castle Coole is a noticeable feature in the landscape. There is a row of beech trees, some of which are about 125 feet in height, supposed to have been planted early in the last century; and another not so high, but containing some magnificent specimens, planted probably about 1750.

The present mansion house was erected towards the close of the last century, by the first Lord Belmore, from the plans of the celebrated James Wyatt, at a cost of towards £60,000. It is faced with Portland stone. It contains five handsome Reception Rooms. The Billiard Room to the right, and the Library to the left of the front Hall are 36 or 37 feet long, by 24 feet wide, and 18 feet high. The Drawing Room corresponds with the Library, and the Dining Room with the Billiard Room, on the back or northwest side of the house, and are divided by a very handsome oval Saloon. The Library and Drawing Room are divided by the inner Hall, containing a stone staircase with two branches. Above the Saloon is a large bow windowed sitting room, commanding an extensive and beautiful view, including Lough Coole; this room is divided from the state bedroom to the front by a lobby, lighted by skylights, and surrounded by a gallery from which open the bedrooms, etc, on the second storey.

The mouldings of some of the cornices and ceilings at Castle Coole are very elaborate, and were executed by Mr Joseph Rose of London, it is believed from the designs of Mr Wyatt. In the front Hall are two fine scagliola pillars, and two pilasters, by Mr Bartoli. There are some more in the inner Hall. The estate of Castle Coole came into the family of Lord Belmore by marriage. The residence of the Lowry family was previously at Ahenis, near Caledon, County Tyrone.

The original “Patentee”, or grantee, of the manor of Coole was Captain Roger Atkinson, temp. James I. This gentleman, who was for a time MP for Fermanagh, sold the property circa 1641. In 1655 it was resold to John Corry, of Belfast, who dying between it is supposed, 1680 and 1689, was succeeded by his son, James Corry, subsequently MP for Fermanagh and Colonel of the Militia.

The original house having been burnt by order of the Governor of Enniskillen in 1689, to prevent its being occupied by the Duke of Berwick’s army, a new house was erected about 1709, not far from the present mansion, the broad oak avenue leading up to which now forms an important feature of one of the approaches to the present house. This house was accidentally burnt down about the time the present one was completed.

Castle Coole Pediment © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Colonel Corry dying at an advanced aged in 1718, was succeeded by his son, Colonel John Corry, some time MP for Enniskillen, and subsequently for Fermanagh. This gentleman dying in 1726, aged 60, was succeeded by his son, Leslie Corry, then a minor, who died in 1741, and bequeathed this portion of his property to Margetson Armar, his cousin, and the husband of his third sister, Mary. Colonel Armar dying in 1773, left the estate to his wife for her life, and after her death to her second sister, Sarah. Mrs Armar dying the following year, was succeeded by her sister, Sarah Lowry Corry, widow of Galbraith Lowry, MP for Tyrone, who had assumed the name of Corry on succeeding, some years previously, to another portion of the Corry estates in the county of Longford. Mrs Lowry Corry died in 1779, and was succeeded at Castle Coole by her son, Armar Lowry Corry, MP for Tyrone, created, 1781, Baron Belmore, and advanced to the dignity of a Viscount in 1789, and of an Earl in 1797. Lord Belmore died in 1802, and was succeeded by his son, Somerset, second Earl, previously MP for Tyrone, and subsequently Governor of Jamaica and a representative Peer. He died in 1841, and was succeeded by his son, Armar, third Earl, some time MP for Fermanagh, who, dying in 1845, was succeeded by his son, Somerset Richard, present and 4th Earl, late Governor of New South Wales.’

Castle Coole Stables © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Pierre Chapeau + The French Paradox

Taste of Dublin

Georgian Donnybrook © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A sign in the shape of a wine bottle outside The French Paradox seduces passersby with, “Contents include instant wit, love lotion, truth serum, problem solver, liquid courage, magic, happiness, pleasure.” Promises, promises. Today’s the first day of spring and Donnybrook in South Dublin is soaked in promising sunshine. “It’s Saturday – relax!” says gregarious owner Pierre Chapeau. He’s from outside Cognac where he worked for Hennessy. Tanya his glamorous Irish wife pulls up outside in her car. They live nearby with their children.

The French Paradox Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The French Paradox is a wine shop cum wine bar cum deli cum restaurant cum petit(e) piece of Paris. Tricoloured but not green, white and gold. Today it’s also a cumly alfresco café. Pierre effortlessly rustles up a couple of omelettes. “Simplicity is the key to our food. We prepare ‘chic picnics’ which you can eat indoors. Breads, tapenades, truffles, charcuteries – that short of thing.” “Red or white?” “Both thank you.” Pierre comes back outside carrying a taster tray of directly imported wines. Wine tasting à deux. Châteaux Franc Beausejour and Haut Bessac; Organic Marigny Neuf Cabernet and Chardonnay; Mas de Lavail Tradition and le Sud 11. Summer’s on its tray way.

The French Paradox Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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l’Écrivain Restaurant + Baggot Street Dublin

Did the echo quickly fade or do you recall as well | We used to meet on Baggot Street beside the old hotel

Baggot Street Arch @ Lavender's Blue Stuart  Blakley

A Michelin starred restaurant named after the French word for ‘The Writer’ is an appropriate choice to hook up with a widely published philosopher. Excuse us! This isn’t just a tête-à-tête à Terre à Terre. More like the geniuses of the place as a widely acclaimed architect joins us for lunch. Trois grand fromages. l’Écrivain has been on the go for 26 years which in hospitality terms isn’t so much a lifetime as multigenerational (pop ups are so last decade). We enter through an arch, darkly, past a mews bush, and into an oasis of light tranquillity off Baggot Street Lower.

The 16A would pull away and leave that diesel smell | And you’d be standing there by that Baggot Street hotel

Georgian Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

This street is a glorious survival of 18th century Dublin. It has a special architectural coherence. It is not a planned façade, yet is an architectural entity. It is not merely one damned house after another. Rhythm, proportion, balance, joy. These erections aren’t dripping in pearl necklace string courses; they’re grounded by crown jewel doorcases. Shorn of extravagance, the calm brick elevations contrast with the vitality exploding around each panelled entrance door. The grid is only broken by these regular interruptions of semi rotundity on the piano nobile above the areas. Georgian architecture. Has it been surpassed? No. Does it stand the developer’s value engineering test? Yes. Are we being didactic? Never.

And then that day we made our way down by the Liffeyside | In a bar we had a jar and watched the rain outside

Like London’s Chez Bruce, chef Derry Clarke is still the patron managing a team of chefs rather than a chain figurehead. That hasn’t stopped him penning two bestselling cookbooks and becoming a judge on Irish reality TV series Fáilte Towers (no, seriously). His wife Sallyanne manages front of house. After a sparkling (wine, conversation and sequins) reception in the ground floor bar we ascend to the first floor dining room. It’s a barn-like space for uncluttered minds to while away languid afternoons on banquettes and soft chairs. A Knuttel painting fills the gable end. Geometric glass panels – Mackintosh, Mondrian, Modigliani, Moholy-Nagy mash – diffuse the lavender glow of an early Celtic twilight.

We finished up our pints and we paid the barman’s bill | Walked back up the Liffey in the silence and the chill

Two pan seared scallops with smoked celeriac and pickled samphire (€11.50). Hake with glazed parsnips, velouté of cep mushrooms and salted grapes (€22.50). St Tola goat’s cheese mousse with rye crostini, figs, candied macadamia nuts, aged red wine vinegar and honey dressing (€8.75). Dark chocolate violet and blueberry macaroons (prodigal). Form and content at one: looks good, tastes good. Franco Irish feel good factor on a plate. l’Écrivain – it’s somewhere to write home about.

But still at times when I lie down I’ll dream and start to dance | With the long-gone ghost of Baggot Street | And an echo of romance

l'Ecrivain Restaurant Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Henrietta Street Dublin + Lavender’s Blue

Writers’ Block

Henrietta Street Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lavender’s Blue, 2015, “It’s a permanent film set, a black and white photograph, a frozen moment in the decline of the Ascendancy – squares of cobwebbed glass blind to the 21st century.”

Henrietta Street Townhouse Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Christopher Hussey, 1979, “There can be few streets in any city in Europe of such surpassing quality in such a state of decrepitude.”

Maurice Craig, 1970, “Of so palatial a cast that one easily understands how it remained the most fashionable street in Dublin till the Union, long after many rival centres of social attraction had been created.”

Henrietta Street Doorcase Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

James Joyce, 1914, “The gaunt spectral mansions in which the old nobility of Dublin had roistered.”

Henrietta Street Railings Dublin © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lady Colefax + Belgrave Square

Social Twirl

Belgrave Square © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

More epicurean shenanigans. It’s barely midday in London – but it’s almost midnight in Shanghai. Cakewalk-o’clock. Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder, so we’re off to join fellow sophisticates for a G+T at the O+C. And maybe prawn starter, swordfish main and cold pudding from the trolley. Pall Mall is the new Vauxhall when it comes to clubbing, dress code not Bar Code (yesteryear’s utopia a distant dystopia), house white instead of house music, the dance floor now a marble floor. Eagle eyed viewers will have noticed Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack’s son The Travellers Club, a few mahogany doors down from the O+C, was the star of The Riot Club. Non sequitur alert perhaps, but George Orwell is forever spot on: “A duke is a duke, even in exile.” Another epiphanic afternoon imbued with meaning, as passionate as Conor Harrington’s Dance With the Devil, as poignant as Douglas Gordon’s BBW, as enigmatic as Miaz Brothers’ Master #6, as serene as Vespers at Brompton Oratory, as choreographed as The Bling Ring.

The day ain’t over yet. Like social moths fluttering below a dusty light, we’re off to Belgrave Square as guests of the Italian Embassy. To quote Lady Colefax, “We’ve of course slipped back into the ballet, opera, dining whirl which is very pleasant.” Seven-o-clock shadow. The Italians aren’t the only overseas residents to occupy Cubitt’s hallowed 1820s quadrilateral, a paean to pillared neoclassicism. International neighbours include Alderney bankers (Barclay bros), oligarchs (Oleg Deripaska), Qatari royals (Sheikh Jassim) and Dubai head honchos (Sheikh Mohammed). Having the coffers to cough up £60 million over a coffee (cold milk, coloured sugar crystals thanks) on a coffered terraced house is their one thing in common. Quick! Time to absquatulate. Dring dring, dring dring. What would Jacqueline Duncan think? Mrs Duncan to you. “I’m interested in taste,” says the founder of Inchbald. “My school is about philosophy.” At day’s end, before we close the wooden shutters on our stream of consciousness, we reflect on the ostensible realism and symbolist deployment of our structural patchwork. Thank goodness there’s only one shade of Grey Gardens. We twirl.

Belgrave Square Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley_edited-1

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Jamie Sinai + Mayfair Gallery

Making a Statement

Jamie Sinai Mayfair Gallery @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Most recent news stories about Mayfair focus on how it’s changing. Mount Street, once a commercial backwater, now hosts Britain’s chief fleet of fashion flagships and international designer powerhouses. Waves of overseas money are buying up former English aristocrats’ homes on Rex Place and Balfour Mews. “In the last 10 years the number of antique shops and galleries in Mayfair has fallen,” observes Jamie Sinai. “Nevertheless London as a whole remains a strong centre for antiques.” Indeed sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what fair is when. Bada, Battersea, Lapada, Olympia and best of all, Masterpiece. There are still a few art and antique galleries on Mayfair’s South Audley Street including Mayfair Gallery and Sinai and Sons. The former was started by Jamie’s Iranian born father; the latter, his uncle.

Mayfair Gallery @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“My dad set up Mayfair Gallery over 40 years ago,” explains Jamie. “Prior to that he gained a wealth of experience in the hustle and bustle of Jaffa. That’s where he first traded in collectibles and antiques before moving to London. Dad put his entrepreneurial spirit and international experience to good use by establishing Mayfair Gallery.” Jamie sees the core business as adding to the extensive inventory, providing professional art and design advice, maintaining a good shop front and attracting serious customers. It’s successful. “My dad has a great eye for new pieces. He looks for unique well made pieces showing quality artistry and craft.” Jamie oversees the day to day running of the Gallery alongside his younger brother. His English born mother also works in the family business. “We all muck in!” Stock is mainly 19th century with some earlier, some later pieces.

The internationalisation of world cities has affected business. “We do still have some UK buyers,” he says, “but the main interest is from overseas. We’re starting to see more Chinese and Indian customers. The US was strong at one point, in the Eighties and Nineties, but less so now. The Middle East continues to do well.” So far, so good. Jamie’s role at the Gallery, though, is to take it forward into the next decades of the 21st century, to move into new areas. Holding regular exhibitions – the most recent was on the Impressionists – is one innovation. Gallery as shop as gallery. The website features a 360 degree tour of the interior which is linked to the Google Street View of South Audley Street. Virtual shopping at its integrated best. “One of my challenges is to communicate to people yes we’re high end but we also sell smaller pieces at a medium price point.”

“It’s a slow changing industry compared to others,” Jamie reckons. “That’s not always a bad thing but it takes time to implement change. The auction houses have embraced change better.” His wider mission is to alter the way people view antiques, to make them more relevant, more appealing to the younger generation. “I like placing really fine antiques into very contemporary settings. Overly traditional interiors can be cluttered and overwhelming. On the other hand, minimalist rooms are often cold and lacking. Bringing the best of the two together you get a very nice harmony. I want to try and promote that style and look, to celebrate the vibrancy of antiques in a new context.”

Mayfair Gallery South Audley Street @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Jamie started working life as an auditor for PriceWaterhouseCoopers. It sounds a world away from art and antiques but he believes it equipped him with an outsider’s insight into the industry. “Clients ranged from small retailers right up to FTSE 100 companies. It was a real eye opener into how businesses are run.” He believes it will take time to change the public’s perception of antiques. “Taste is definitely cyclical. It’s driven by the media. Right now, everyone is being swept along by the big craze for technology. Look at the queues outside stores when a new smartphone is released! There’s not much individuality but that will come back.” He reckons people will get bored of spending money purely on functional items and will start looking for belongings with character. “For me, it is very exciting to continue to explore new ways of promoting antiques.” Jamie Sinai is a breath of fresh air in an industry in danger of becoming stale. It’s time to say goodbye to safe greige interiors and hello to statement antiques.

Mayfair Gallery London @ Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Art + Anne Davey Orr

Who Cares About The Environment

Anne Davey Orr @ Lavender's Blue

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Terre à Terre + VBites

Be Right On

Terre à Terre Brighton Fancy Nancy © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

There are knowns, known unknowns and unknown unknowns. Yes, but is it art? No. It’s Fancy Nancy. That is, coco cardamom fried spiced rice with spring onion and yuzu palm bean shoots served with a salad of lychee, coriander, mint and pickled lotus root and a pinda peanut laksa, finished with yuzu crème fraîche, panang pickled chilli sambal with a chilli flash fried egg, peanut cumin and onion seed crumble and tapioca sea salad cracker (£14.95). Best complemented by sizzle chips, truffle Mornay sauce and truffle with pickled quails’ egg mimosa (£7.65). Only in Brighton, would vegetarians be in the majority. And so, on a cold rainy afternoon, Terre à Terre, one of Clapham-on-Sea’s best meat free restaurants, is jammers. Red walls in a dining room stimulate conversation and appetite. So do great company and great food. Afterwards, it’s a dash across East Street, seagulls serenading overhead, for the best vegan coffee and orange brownies in Brighton. VBites, Heather Mills’ cosy café, proves she’s more than just a charity fundraiser, animal rights campaigner, TV personality, model and champion skier… Actually, Fancy Nancy? It is art. The edible kind.  

 

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Pont Street + No.11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel

Beautiful as a Story

Pont Street Architecture © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Architectural fashion is often a reaction to what went immediately before. There’s even a perceptible difference between Pugin the father and Pugin the son’s work. The second generation architect’s designs are more rationalised,” observes artist and architectural publisher Anne Davey Orr. “The use of concrete in the 20th century would issue in a much more open expression of materials and structure.” In between trying not to butcher quotations (it was a late night chat) it’s worth noting the penultimate decades of the last two centuries both stuck to something of a “more is more mantra”, a sort of turn of the century syndrome. Eclecticism gone wild. Competent chaos. Not without honour and slightly mad. Pont Street for the 1880s and 90s; postmodernism for the 1980s and 90s. Out went conformity and goodbye to context; in came variety and hello to contrast. Many a dazed and disorientated architectural historian has spent sleepless nights defining and redefining the late 19th century style or rather style hybrid. North German Revival? Queen Anne? Flemish Renaissance? Hans Town? Or simply Cadogan? Osbert Lancaster, never short of a catchy phrase, opted for Pont Street Dutch. John Betjeman shortened it to Pont Street which if nothing else is certainly geographically specific. He calls it the “new built red as hard as the morning gaslight” in his poem The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel. These days the arresting SW postcodes are as golden as they’re terracotta.

11 Cadogan Gardens © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Equally contentious is who invented it? John James Stevenson claimed “Queen Anne” as his baby; the 21st century artists sounding George and Peto produced some of the most overblown examples in Harrington Gardens SW7 but the style was to become synonymous with the domineering work of Norman Shaw. Whoever dreamt up Pont Street, and in reality it was the usual hotchpotch of talent and self publicity, the style spelt the death knell, the writing on the rendered wall, of regular terraces, issuing in an asymmetric age of individualism. “Look at me, look at me, look at me!” screams each and every house as the roofline tipsily whooshes and swooshes along more Dutch gables than Keizersgracht. Against the navy blue canvas of a sun drenched winter’s morning, the red brick and terracotta dressed with whitish stone renders Pont Street a patriotic tricolour. If walls could speak: “We may look Dutch or German or kinda Belgian (although certainly not anaemic Italian) but We Are Proud To Be British!” Its strength of character allows 20th century blips such as the picture window spanning the penthouse of 41 Lennox Gardens to be immersed into the wider picture of Pont Street. The houses (age unconsciously) celebrate their birthdays. “1884” shouts 25 Lennox Gardens in two foot tall letters from its third floor. A few doors up 43 Lennox Gardens tells the world it’s a year younger.

11 Cadogan Gardens Hotel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

While unsettling for minimalists or purists, a wander in wonder along the wonderful streets of SW1 and SW3, the blessed boulevards of the hallowed Cadogan Estate, throws up a maximalist and impure visual feast, an aesthetic eyeful, for the devil and angels are in the detail. At a glance, here are just some of the hyperactive highlights. Keyhole silhouette broken pediment copper dormers in Sloane Gardens. Double decker dormers in Culford Gardens. Witch’s hat copper turrets where Draycott Place meets Blacklands Terrace. Quoined porthole windows peering out of 54 to 58 Draycott Place. A neo Elizabethan fretwork loggia hugging 3 Cadogan Gardens. Pierless Brighton balconies clinging on to 85 to 87 Cadogan Gardens. A French château mansard atop 89 Cadogan Gardens. Twin Queen Anne fanlights surmounting the doorcase of 105 Cadogan Gardens. Stumpy Ionic pilasters with egg and dart capitals framing the porch of 60 Cadogan Square. A pair of ballsy busty bulbous oriel windows bursting out from 84 Cadogan Square. A crowd of Georgian, gothic, plate glass, lead paned, stained glass, dormer and gabled windows on the side elevation of 63 Cadogan Square. Oh, and a lonely half oriel window for good measure. Pont Street itself bisects Cadogan Place Gardens under the watchful eyes of Jumeirah Carlton Tower. But the great swathe of red is mostly found between Sloane Street and Lennox Gardens. The extremities of Pont Street dive back into stuccoland.

A morning of architectural investigation deserves an afternoon of pure indulgence. Historically, afternoon tea was the outcome of dinner hour slipping to after 7pm in the early 19th century. Hiccupping ladies at first surreptitiously downed tea and gobbled cakes in their boudoirs after midday. Certainly, trailblazing trendsetting taboo busting zeitgeisty gal-about-castle Duchess of Rutland was bolshily dispensing tea in her boudoir by 1842. By Pont Street times, both sexes were merrily letting rip into scones and clotted cream in the drawing room or on the lawn. Where better then to indulge than No.11 Cadogan Gardens, the hotel bought by the synonymous Estate in 2012? It’s a thoroughly sophisticated member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

11 Cadogan Gardens Interior © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A maze of lacquered cloistered sequestered panelled hallways and passageways leads into the consciously picturesque opalescent drawing room. Linen at the ready, afternoon tea awaits, designed to instil a divine inertia into the remainder of a blurred and stimulating day. Decked and bedecked, trellised and jardinièred, the terrace is tucked between the townhouses and the mews to the rear. A flashback in paradise, evanescent and alive with remote anticipation, it’s a place to dwell on the meaningfulness of life. Another surprising space, full of heavenly glamour, is the Versailles inspired mirrored hall. Oil paintings of aristos line the ascending staircase to the 54 bedrooms. Monochromatic photos of models Christie, Linda and Kate line the descending staircase to the basement. Souls of different ages, the universe in process of consummation. No.11 has a distinct and dynamic personality, warm and sensuous, functioning outward from within.

11 Cadogan Gardens Sandwiches © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Over to the father of town planning Manning Robertson for some contrariness: “Definitions of architecture are as unsatisfactory as any other expositions of the aim and meaning of the arts; but if architecture is to be alive at all it must clearly involve the erection of buildings to suit the demands of the period, and the embellishment of those buildings according to the dictates of the materials in use, the treatment being a direct reflection of the outlook of the epoch, based of course upon past work, insofar as it is applicable. We cannot say that the 19th century, which produced principally a dead copying of the past, did not reflect itself truly; it was, on the contrary, amazingly accurate in illustrating that the worship of material prosperity is not consistent with a high level of art. Public attention was absorbed elsewhere; architecture had to look after itself; what more natural than that men living in such a period should turn round and, as a sop to the aesthetic, attempt to reconstruct periods long since dead? The Victorian era was an age of immense scientific achievements, but it was also unique as an age that produced no living and typical architecture, unless one calls an indiscriminate repetition of past styles ‘typical’.”

11 Cadogan Gardens Afternoon Tea © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Li Ying + The British Premiere of Yasukuni

Live by the Sword Die by the Sword | The Chrysanthemum Throne

BAFTA Piccadilly Circus © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Piccadilly is more than a neon lit circus. Teetering on its edge of illuminated glory bang next door to the svelte Maison Assouline is BAFTA, the red carpeted venue welcoming the UK premiere of Chinese director Li Ying’s antimilitarist documentary on the controversial Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo. The two sided theatrical tragicomic BAFTA mask keeps sentinel over the staircase and security is tight. This film was banned from many Japanese cinemas. Cinéma vérité, touché.

The Yasukuni Shrine memorialises more than two million Japanese war dead, among them convicted war criminals. Visits by successive Japanese prime ministers, including Shinzo Abe who is recorded praying at the shrine, have enraged China and Korea. These two countries argue Japan has never properly apologised for the invasion and occupation of its neighbours in the Second World War.

Li also shoots Naoji Kariya a 90 year old swordsmith forging the last of a style of sword made at the Yasukuni workshop. People making a living, people losing their head. Fashioned for war: such aesthetic beauty, such macabre use. In the absence of a narrator, everyone has a voice – Japanese worshippers, Chinese protestors, Japanese protestors, American nutters – yet nothing is black and white, not even the vintage clips. The voice of the chisel featured director is all the louder for its knowing silence. The duality and complexity of war resonates throughout.

“A propaganda kind of film pushes people to accept an opinion but my documentary is an invitation to think on their own about what’s shown in the film,” says Li. War and peace, revolution and evolution, absolutism and dichotomy, fallacy and legacy. Just when motion and emotion and devotion are coming to a head, the cacophony of violent voices gunning for it ceases for the final remaining moments. In their place, the haunting lament of Henryk Górecki’s Second Movement of the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs, written to commemorate the Holocaust, accompanies stills on the screen. Then slowly the curtain falls, the silence is deadening, Li Ying takes a bow, the audience rises, hands collide unending, in ovation.

Director Li Young © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

 

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