Thursday, January 26, 2017


This is another picture that I really like from the gallery we visited the other day. It's a trompe l'oeil painting of a pinboard by Thomas Warrender, a Scottish artist. He lived from about 1650-1713. Other artists before and after him have painted similar pinboards, notably Evert Collier, a Dutch artist who died in 1708.

As you might imagine, Warrender doesn't seem to have chosen the items on his pinboard at random. The date 1708 is the latest date on the printed material on the board, so presumably the painting was completed at some time after that. 1707 saw the union of the Scottish and English parliaments,

and the booklet at the top right says, "The Dangers of Popery Discovered", while the one in the middle at the top says, "A Solemn League and Covenant". The Covenanters belonged to a Presbyterian movement.

According to Wikipedia, the overlapping playing cards symbolise the union of the two countries. But the dividers (if that's what they are)? the white feathers? the medallion?

And I'm not sure who this chap is. Queen Anne was on the throne in 1708, so it's not her. He looks more like James the Second (and Seventh of Scotland) but that doesn't seem likely. I wonder if it's Thomas Warrender himself? Isn't it fascinating? - a little message from long ago. (Not that it's an entirely clear message nowadays.)

If you'd like to see a better photo than my phone's camera could manage, then Google-image Still Life - Thomas Warrender.

Monday, January 23, 2017


So - what's the weather like here in January?

Well, on Saturday we set off to meet up with the walking group. This is what it was like near us - foggy.

In 20 minutes' time, when we reached the promenade at Joppa, an eastern suburb of Edinburgh, it was like this.

We walked along the coastal path, past Fisherrow harbour.

These fishermen had been yarnbombed. They're bollards, preventing people from inadvertently (or otherwise) driving on to the prom.

It was a perfect day: blue as forget-me-nots and without a ripple on the water. You can faintly see Edinburgh's city hill, Arthur's Seat, on the horizon. It was obviously still misty there.

We kept on till we got through Prestonpans and then a little further,

to Cockenzie, where we had lunch. We'd walked for six and a bit miles and we briefly considered walking back again. But then we got the bus instead.

Thursday, January 19, 2017


We went today to the Scottish National Gallery to see the January Turner exhibition. These watercolours were given to the gallery on condition that they were shown only in January each year, to preserve them. They were... very good. Very Turnerish. I'd have had a few as presents, if anyone had been offering. But on the whole, Turner is a bit wispy for me. A bit too Ola Gjeilo rather than Mozart. Each to his/her own.

After that, we wandered through the gallery. I do like this painting by Alexander Nasmyth, 1758-1840. It's of Princes Street and shows the beginning of the building of the Royal Scottish Academy, which is just in front of the gallery we were visiting. 

You can see the pillars going up.

This is what it looks like today, side on.

Here's a painting of Princes Street Gardens and the Castle in the 1860s by Samuel Bough (1822-1878). At this time, the gardens were privately owned by the owners of the houses in Princes Street, and were accessed by a subscription scheme - until 1876, only a few years before my older grandparents were born. This seems unbelievable now - the gardens are widely used by everyone. Queen Street Gardens, parallel and not far away, are still private. (When I'm dictator, I shall annexe them and open them to the public.)

Interestingly (to me, anyway) there's a path on the other side of the railings. Maybe it was artistic licence and the path wasn't really there, but if it was, then at some point it was removed, because now the ground banks steeply down and then there's a path.

And this is a painting by Velazquez (1599-1660) in the gallery. It's one of my favourites: An Old Woman Cooking Eggs. Not so sure about the "old" - in her 50s, maybe? But why is she looking at her grandson (if that's what he is) instead of the eggs? He's not looking at her. I reckon he's in trouble.

Isn't the onion exquisite? (Sorry about the reflection of my phone on the glass, and the poor quality of my photos.)

And aren't the jugs?

And the shadow of the knife on the bowl?

And the brass pan?

Imagine this being painted in Spain in 1630 or so and still being admired in Scotland (and in my blog...) nearly five hundred years later - and, no doubt, further into the future. Velazquez might have been surprised... or perhaps not. I wonder if he felt that his paintings were for all time - or if he expected to be forgotten.

(And Sarah, thanks so much for your comment. How interesting that you, too, have some of that flowery fabric!)

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Flowery dress

When Daughter 1 went to nursery at the age of 3 in 1982, parents had to supply a painting overall. I considered making one but then came across this brown one and bought it instead. Then I felt a bit guilty that it was such a boring colour, so I appliqued a dolly on the back.

I got the scraps of fabric from my mother-in-law, who was a wonderful seamstress and had made a dress for Daughter 1 out of the flowery material.

Fast forward to this afternoon. The grandchildren were here and wanted to paint, so I fished out the elderly painting overall to put on Granddaughter-the-Elder.

After this, we had some stories. I was reading this book (published 2010,  highly recommended) to the children.

And then I noticed Lola's dress.

I'd love to know how Lauren Child came to have this fabric.  And does anyone else recognise it?

Monday, January 09, 2017

Art. And traffic lights.

Daughter 1 and I took the children to the Portrait Gallery for the first time today. It's an amazing Neo-Gothic building and, rather to our surprise, the children found it interesting. There's a painted frieze around the main entrance hall, featuring lots of people from Scottish history, and the little ones gazed up at them and talked about them a bit.

They also looked at the various busts, such as this one of James Watt, the engineer. Granddaughter the Elder was particularly intrigued by Queen Victoria, who was wearing a crown as all good queens do. Grandson (surprise, surprise) was keen to know how many of the great and good immortalised here in marble had lived long enough to see traffic lights installed. Not many in this room, Daughter 1 and I decided.

The main purpose of our visit was to look at the BP Portrait Competition exhibition, which Mr Life and I had seen at the weekend. I had no idea whether it would hold the attention of a 5- and a 3-year-old but we thought it worth a try. And it did. They wandered round, looking at all the (amazing) portraits and each chose their favourite.

Outside the exhibition room, there was a little stand with mirrors, paper and pencils, and visitors were invited to try drawing their own self-portraits and to pin them to the wires encircling the space. Grandson was enthusiastic to try this and worked busily for some minutes.

Here he is with his finished portrait.

It hasn't quite captured his loveliness but he carefully gave himself eyelashes, eyebrows, ear whorls and a quilted sweatshirt - though no hands or legs.

It was lovely to see how much they enjoyed themselves.  We must do this again.

Afterwards, we went to the cafĂ©. Grandson looked at the pink tulip in a vase on our table and then saw a red one on another table. Then he saw a yellow one. "Do you get green tulips?" he enquired. Art may be one thing, but the possibility of making a traffic light arrangement in tulips is quite another.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

2017 commences

So: Happy New Year to all bloggy friends. Surely 2017 has got to be better than 2016. (Hasn't it?) Not that it's been particularly bad for our family - indeed, compared to so many people in the world, we're ridiculously lucky. But as for others... .

Anyway: in the final few days of the year, we walked in the Botanics with Daughter 2 before she (sigh) went back down south;

we visited Son and DIL with my brother and his wife and took Granddaughter the Younger out for a walk in the countryside where she lives (it was windy);

and after my brother and sister-in-law left this morning, I went into town on a bus, took this photo through the window, had a little wander around in the sunshine and thanked my lucky stars for living in a relatively beautiful and peaceful place. There were lots of people with suitcases who had presumably been here for the Hogmanay celebrations and were going home; and various other tourists who had for some unaccountable reason decided to come when the days are shortest and the flowers least abundant. It was sunny today and very pleasant, but if you were thinking of coming to Edinburgh I'd generally advise that you come in the summer or at least the spring or autumn.

And then I came home and began the slightly dispiriting task of taking down the Christmas decorations. But in a way it's nice to get the house back to normal: do a bit of dusting, shake one's feathers and look forward to spring.