Downhill Demesne

Yesterday we visited Downhill (or what’s left of it!), which is in County Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

Built by the bizarre English aristocrat Frederick, 4th Earl of Bristol and Lord Bishop of Derry – yes, he was both – the house is now a ruin, but the Mussenden Temple perched on the cliff at the edge of the estate survives. It is said he kept his mistress there.

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Happy 200th Birthday, Emily Brontë!

Emily_Brontë_by_Patrick_Branwell_Brontë_restored Emily Brontë, as painted by her brother Patrick Branwell Brontë (died 1848), from a portrait with her sisters.

The only undisputed portrait of Emily Brontë, painted by her brother.

English writer Emily Brontë, famous for her only novel, Wuthering Heights, was born on the 30th of July, 1818.

Her famous book was first published in 1847. Brontë died the following year, at only thirty years of age.

 

Cartier: The Exhibition

Cartier The Exhibition National Gallery of Australia Canberra

Just a little bit too much?!

Australia’s National Gallery, which is here in Canberra, has had some pretty amazing “blockbusters” recently (however I’m worried about the new director coming in soon).

The last big one I went to see was the Versailles exhibition, where So Much stuff from the Palace of Versailles, and so many historically significant pieces, were brought out from France for a few months.

Now, we have the Cartier exhibition – which is ending in a few days. We went to see it on Saturday.

And – wow. For starters I can’t believe that there was no security of any sort when there were billions of dollars of diamonds and other precious jewels on display.

They weren’t just any diamonds either; these were pieces from Britain’s royal collection, things the Queen wears, tiaras from royal weddings (e.g. the one Kate Middleton wore for hers), and crowns worn by Queen Victoria’s daughters. And these were pieces from Hollywood: jewels that belonged to Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly etc. There was even a clock belonging to a US President.

These heiresses were seriously rich!

It was also fascinating to see how much money was coming from Gilded Age New York. So many obscenely enormous sets of jewels belonged to the American heiresses who married into the British aristocracy – just like in shows like Downton Abbey, and in all those books I read.

There were also other things, like costumes from the Ballet Russes (the NGA bought most of the world-famous company’s costumes many years ago, before anybody else thought to), and pieces belonging to Victorian/Edwardian opera star Dame Nellie Melba.

I was told that two hours wasn’t long enough to see everything, and I thought that was ridiculous: after all how many diamonds could there possibly be?

It turns out two hours was nowhere near long enough.

DIamond Tiara Cartier The Exhibition National Gallery of Australia Canberra

I’ve seen crown jewel collections in a number of countries in Europe. I’ve been whisked past a handful of crowns at the Tower of London on a travellator a few times. Nothing I’ve seen anywhere else is close to what is on display in Canberra at the moment.

This is how close we got to things – even with a weekend crowd. This is Kate Middleton’s wedding tiara:

I’m really hoping the new director realises what an amazing gallery we have here. His “vision” for the gallery’s future sounds, frankly, like garbage. I want more Versailles and Cartier and Impressionists exhibitions, please. Not “homegrown modern art”!

On this day: free bread to honour the Queen

Canada honoured the Queen’s official birthday on the 21st of May this year. The British monarchs have celebrated an official birthday separate to their real birthday since the 1740s.

In 1859 this holiday occurred on the 24th of May, which was in fact Queen Victoria’s real birthday. To mark the occasion officials in Toronto handed out tickets for free loaves of bread.

1859-queens-birthday-vs As part of the celebrations surrounding Queen Victoria's birthday, the City of Toronto distributed free loaves of bread by way of tickets such as this one. Good f