Monday, May 15, 2006
Americans in Paris Take a Hit in London
Following on from our visit to the Ben Franklin Museum here in London, the doppelganger and I decided (jointly, of course) to take a look at the “Americans in Paris 1860 - 1900” exhibition at the National Gallery which runs until 21 May. I don’t generally like shows in the basement of the wonderful Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery. Like the Grand Palais in Paris, the space is always hot, crowded and claustrophobic but since the reviews had been so bad - “a fourth-rate show of second-rate art by some third-rate painters” - we hoped it would have discouraged the crowds.
Anyway, how bad can a show be that has Whistler’s Portrait of the Artists Mother and Sargent’s Madame X and the Daughters of Edward Darley Boit? Since when were Whistler or Sargent or Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt, Frederick Childe Hassam or Maurice Prendergast, for that matter, considered third rate??? It didn’t make sense.
For the record, we found the show interesting and we enjoyed learning more about the impact of Paris on American artists in the late 19th century. I’m no art critic but I just can’t help thinking that the reviews were as much about the dreary state of Anglo-American relations as they were about art. Even artists who have been dead for a hundred years are coming under fire. In any event, thanks to the lousy reviews, the exhibit was not crowded.
After the exhibition, and since it was pissing down rain the likes of which London rarely sees, we decided to have lunch at the new National Dining Rooms, a proper sit down restaurant on Level 1 of the Sainsbury Wing. The menu consists of regional and seasonal offerings which fall under the heading of “Modern British”. I had mackerel with rhubarb which was first class. Main courses will set you back around £15 – 20. There is a children’s menu in the range of £6.50 and a less formal cafe where they serve things like Pork and Shepherd’s Pie also for about £6.50. They serve a full-on tea starting at 3:00 for £12.
The room has a view out over Trafalgar Square which is inspiring although the space is somehow too cool for its own good. All that glass and white walls left me feeling chilly. Still, the service was good and even though the crowd waiting for tables was starting to back up, we were left happily to linger and gossip. My biggest issue with the place is that it just seems too expensive for lunch and I expect the tourists and gentile ladies who are the logical audience for this place would agree with me.
Come to think about it, London has surprisingly good food in many of its galleries. The restaurants in the Tate Britain, the Tate Modern, the Wallace Collection and the Dulwich Picture Gallery are to be recommended. The National Dining Rooms are a welcome addition to this club but be forewarned that you will be spending full blown restaurant prices.
The National Gallery
National Gallery Information: 020 7747 2885
The National Dining Rooms
First level of the Sainsbury Wing of the National Gallery
Open 10am – 5:30 pm (Wednesday late until 8:30pm)