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The Strange History of Marble Arch


© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Many Londoners and visitors to London are confused by Marble Arch that stands rather forlorn on a large traffic island at the junction of Oxford Street, Park Lane and Edgware Road. The 19th-century white marble-faced arch was built with quite grand intentions which never really were realised.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

John Nash was the favourite architect of the Prince Regent, later King George IV. Nash had successfully designed and planned such landmarks as Regent’s Park, Regent Street, Carlton House Terrace and parts of Buckingham Palace. Therefore Nash was the obvious choice to build a ‘Marble Arch’ which would be a gateway to Buckingham Palace and a celebration of British victories in the Napoleonic Wars.

Nash’s original design was based on the Arch of Constantine in Rome and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Nash had a model made which is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum that illustrates his design which was approved by George IV. The arch is faced with Carrara marble with other select marble extracted from quarries near Seravezza. The various sculptures and a equestrian statue of George IV that would crown the structure were commissioned in 1828.

However, after the death of the King George IV in 1830, Nash was sacked by the Prime Minister, the Duke of Wellington, for overspending on the project. The architect Edward Blore was commissioned to complete the works in less grandiose and more practical fashion.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Blore found himself with a collection of statues and panels, but decided to complete the Arch without using most of the sculpture. The Arch was completed in 1833, the central gates were added in 1837, just in time for Queen Victoria’s accession to the throne.

Blore used some of the friezes made for Nash’s arch in the central courtyard of Buckingham Palace. In 1835 many of the sculptures were given to William Wilkins to use in the construction of the new National Gallery. The Equestrian Statue of George IV, by Francis Chantrey that was due to be on top of the arch now stands on a plinth in Trafalgar Square.

Blore’s revised Marble Arch was erected as a formal gateway to Buckingham Palace in the 1830s but only lasted for seventeen years because when Buckingham Palace was enlarged, the arch seemed small and insignificant.

In 1850, the decision was taken to move the Arch to its current location of Cumberland Gate where it would create a grand entrance to Hyde Park in time for the Great Exhibition of 1851. The removal and reconstruction of the Arch was overseen by architect Thomas Cubitt who completed the complex process in only three months.

With vast crowds of people arriving for the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park, Marble Arch was considered a grand entrance to the park. Marble Arch became a familiar landmark and played its role as an entrance for more than 50 years. However this was to change in 1908 when a new road scheme cut through the park just south of the Arch leaving it separated from Hyde Park. In the 1960s, the roads were widened still further, leaving the Arch in its isolated position and effectively cut off from the park.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

In 1970, the Arch gained its Grade I listed status and small park created around the Arch. Since then there has been a number of ‘ideas’ to relocate the structure but it is still remains a familiar if unusual landmark near the busy roads of Central London.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Like many London structures, there has been a number of ‘urban myths’ related to the arch. It is often said that the Arch was removed from Buckingham Palace because it was too narrow to allow Queen Victoria’s State Coach through. In reality, Queen Victoria’s coronation procession and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation procession passed through the Arch with no problems. The second myth is that Marble Arch was a former Police Station. It was used by the police for accommodation and surveillance but was not a police station. Part of the myth can be traced to poet, Sir John Betjeman who filmed inside Marble Arch for a 1960s TV documentary and mentioned it was a police station.

© 2019 Visiting London Guide.com – Photograph by Alan Kean

Marble Arch is one of London’s landmarks and has led to the area around the Arch to be known as Marble Arch with its own tube station on the Central line. The location of the Arch has been a famous site for centuries, nearby was the former site of the Tyburn gallows, a place of public execution from 14th to 18th century.

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Book Review – Goya : The Portraits by Xavier Bray ( National Gallery )

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Goya: The Portraits by Xavier Bray, with contributions by Juliet Wilson-Bareau, Thomas Gayford, Manuela B. Mena Marques, Allison Goudie, is published by and copyright of National Gallery Company Limited, 2015.

Published to coincide with Goya: The Portraits exhibition at the National Gallery, this book explores the artist’s development in relation to portraits, from his first commissions to more intimate works. Both the exhibition and the book attempt to illustrate that it is through his portraits that we can better understand Francisco Goya y Lucientes, the man and artist.

The main author, Xavier Bray in the chapter entitled The Making of a Portrait Painter explores the beginning of Goya’s portrait painting career and some of the major influences.  It was Goya’s move to Madrid in 1775 that set him on the path to gain the skills needed for his first portrait commission. The influence of artist Anton Raphael Mengs and the artistic legacy of Diego Velazquez gave Goya the structure to develop his own particular style and by the 1780s he was in position to receive his first portrait commission from the Count of Floridablanca. Determined to make a favourable impression, the portrait accentuated the Count’s status, Bray makes the important point that ‘ Goya’s main preoccupation at this stage of his career was more about context and social status than character or psychological analysis’. The portrait made a favourable impression and Goya was asked to paint portraits of the King of Spain’s younger brother and his family, the Infante Don Luis Antonio Jaime de Bourbon who was not a conventional member of the royal family and had led quite a dissolute life before settling down to married life. The various portraits of the family allowed Goya to gain the psychological insights that would find its greatest expression in the remarkable group portrait, The Family of the Infante Don Luis de Bourbon. The portrait offers an informal view of the family surrounded by servants and Goya himself in the corner. However this only tells part of the story, the various characters seem to be looking in various directions, some directly at the viewer. This portrait of the family led to people to consider that Goya may be a worthy successor to Velazquez and Goya began to receive portrait commissions from influential and aristocratic figures. Now in his late thirties, Goya began to paint portraits of politicians and aristocrats, most notably the powerful Altamira and Osuna famlies that further advanced his reputation.

The chapter on Portraying the Spanish Enlightenment considers how Goya’s connections with all sections of Spanish society was remarkable but not without its dangers, the death of Charles III and the French Revolution began to raise questions of Goya’s loyalty to the crown and to the liberal forces in the country. A self-portrait from 1792 shows a well dressed and alert Goya in shadow, for all of his ambition it seemed the safest place was in the shadows and not in the limelight. What he did not know was that his greatest danger was not external but internal, a serious illness in 1793 left him profoundly deaf for the rest of his life.  If anyone doubted that Goya could recover from this setback, two new and powerful patrons provided the evidence that the artist had lost none of his artistic power. The Duchess of Alba and Manual Godoy were two of the most charismatic members of the Spanish elite and Goya painted portraits that acknowledged their standing in Spanish society.  Goya’s portraits of the Duchess of Alba  have long been the subject of debate due to the unusual aspect of the pictures which has the Duchess pointing to the ground to a dedication by Goya. This has led many to suggest there was an amorous aspect to their relationship but there is no evidence to support this theory.

The next chapter First Court Painter to the King discusses Goya’s elevation to the post of First Court Painter to Charles IV which bought considerable financial advantage but provided its own challenges. His portrait The family of Charles IV in 1800 show the royal family in all their splendour with Goya featured in the background still in the darkness. Goya’s new position led a number of new major commissions before the outbreak of the Peninsular War and the book features a number of paintings from this period including the muse-like The Marchioness of Santa Cruz.

For all the insight of the painting of the elites, it is the chapter entitled Goya’s Friends, Colleagues and Family that introduce us to a set of portraits which the author considers are amongst ‘his most powerfully expressive and moving works’.   The contrast of these works with the society paintings are many, gone is the vanity and arrogance to be replaced mostly by honesty and good humour. This good humour did have its limits, his portrait of his son Javier hints a sense of disapproval of his young gentlemen status that relied on living off his father’s assets. In contrast the portrait of his grandson Mariano is full of the strong bond between Goya and the small boy.

For Goya, the events of 1808 when Charles IV abdicated and Napoleon’s brother was made King of Spain bought considerable changes. The chapter Liberals and Despots explores how Goya’s cautious nature and reputation allowed him to paint portraits that included Spanish, French and English officials and officers. One of the most celebrated was a portrait of Duke of Wellington in 1812 that shows the Duke looking tired and haunted by his campaigns. The return of the Spanish Monarchy with Ferdinand VII led to the suppression of the constitution and the return of absolute monarchy, Goya as first painter to the King was instructed to paint the new ruler. Goya produced one of the most unflattering portraits of a King, he may possess all the finery of kingship but Ferdinand is presented as a disturbed and unattractive individual.

The final chapter in the book Portraits in Goya’s Later Years ( 1815 – 1828 ) begins with a pair of self portraits that show Goya in 1815 nearly 70 years of age looking old and tired.  In 1819 he suffered a serious illness which is recorded in the remarkable self-portrait which shows him held up by his Doctor, Eugenio Garcia Arrietta. After this illness, visions of death and evil concerned Goya who between 1820 and 1823 produced the extraordinary Black Paintings. Although he painted his last aristocratic paintings in 1816, he did continue to paint portraits in Spain and in France where he went for a period of time to escape the political upheavals in Spain. Amongst the last portraits is a painfully honest drawing of his son Javier who had gone from young buck to slightly obese middle-aged man still living off his father’s wealth and a painting of his grandson Mariano who is now an attractive young man. This was to be one of his last portraits before he died in 1828.

This lavishly illustrated and authoritative book examines Goya’s remarkable skill at capturing the psychology of his sitters, many of the stunning portraits in the book show the works are not the idealised version of the sitter but shows a realism that is often unflattering. It illustrates the strength of Goya’s reputation to be able to get away with this unconventional approach painting the Spanish Aristocracy and other powerful figures of his day. However it is a sense of Goya trying to survive the social, political and cultural shifts of his homeland that shine through, for much of his career it was necessary to stay in the background of events. This important book brings Goya out of the shadows and rightly shines a new light on a remarkable career and shows how influential Goya became for later painters who pursued new levels of realism.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like to find out more or buy a copy of the book, visit the National Gallery website here

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and the latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in 2014, we have attracted thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
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Exhibition Review – Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions at the National Portrait Gallery from 12 March to 7 June 2015

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2015 represents the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo and the new exhibition entitled Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions at the National Portrait Gallery represents the first gallery exhibition devoted to the Duke of Wellington.

Drawn from museums and private collections, including that of the present Duke of Wellington, the exhibition of fifty-nine portraits  explores different aspects of  The Duke of Wellington’s long life (1769 –1852) which spanned the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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The first part of the exhibition looks at the Duke’s early life and  the early stages of his military career. Born into a minor aristocratic Anglo-Irish family,  he was an unremarkable student who joined the army in 1787. He fought against the French in Flanders and in 1796 went to India. It was in India that Wellesley made his name achieving  military success, taking part in the Mysore War against Tipu Sultan and achieving a remarkable victory at Assaye  in 1803. The portraits from this time portray  a  youthful  soldier making his mark but yet to be lionised as a great war hero.

When Wellesley returned to  England from India  he was knighted and became a member of parliament, however his political career came to an abrupt end when he returned to active service against the French. In 1808, he was given control of the British, Portuguese and Spanish forces in the Peninsular War (1808 – 1814).  In a series of bitter campaigns he eventually forced  the occupying French forces back to the French border.

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One of the  highlights of the exhibition is Goya’s portrait of Wellington started in 1812 after his entry into Madrid and later modified twice to recognise further battle honours and awards.

When Napoleon abdicated in 1814, Wellesley returned home a hero and was created Duke of Wellington. However the return of Napoleon from exile in 1815, set the scene for a final showdown between the old adversaries.

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Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at  Waterloo in 1815 was a defining moment in his career and he became a national hero feted everywhere he went and his portrait was reproduced on all sorts of materials and objects. The exhibition features Thomas Lawrence’s famous portrait depicting the Duke as a military victor and many other objects from this period.

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Although his political career started before the Peninsular Wars, it was after Waterloo in 1818 that he was given a post in the Tory government eventually leading to made prime minister in 1827. His belief in a strong, authoritative government and  opposition to parliamentary reform made him unpopular despite his hero status and he became often the victim of attacks in the satirical prints of the 1820s and 1830s.

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It was at this time that  he earned the nickname of the ‘Iron Duke’ when he erected iron shutters on the windows of his London home, Apsley House, to prevent them being smashed by angry crowds. After a series of political  highs and lows, he retired in 1846 and  died in 1852, when he was given a state funeral.

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The exhibition features the extraordinary Panoramic View of the Entire Funeral Procession of Arthur, Duke of Wellington. Although only eight panels are visible in the exhibition, on June 18, the whole 67 feet panorama will be shown in its entirety in the Victorian Galleries.

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This Free exhibition illustrates some of the issues related to portrayals of the Duke of Wellington, his hero status was often diminished by his unpopular political career.  The exhibition also explores the complex character behind the public façade, the family man playing with his grandchildren in the painting by Robert Thornton in 1852 indicates that the Iron Duke did have a softer side . One of the great surprises of the exhibition is that a photograph was taken of the Duke of Wellington in 1844 by Antoine Claudet, although difficult to make out the detail it is one of the most remarkable portraits of one of Britain’s most influential figures of the 19th century.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended

If you would like further information about the exhibition and related events, visit the National Portrait Gallery website here

Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions

12 March – 7 June 2015   Free

London Visitors is the official blog for the Visiting London Guide .com website. The website was developed to bring practical advice and latest up to date news and reviews of events in London.
Since our launch in January, we attract thousands of readers each month, the site is constantly updated.
We have sections on Museums and Art Galleries, Transport, Food and Drink, Places to Stay, Security, Music, Sport, Books and many more.
There are also hundreds of links to interesting articles on our blog.
To find out more visit the website
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