When I go to art galleries, and afterwards pop into the gift shop, I can never find postcards of the pictures I really liked. So I carry a ghost gallery in my head: Ed and Melody by Robert Mapplethorpe (1988); Stanley Spencer’s The Dustman (1934)…
At the Lowry in Salford, I twisted the postcard display in vain – because the images I liked weren’t the ‘matchstalk men’ that come to mind when we think of L. S. Lowry:
We’re lucky, in Oxford, to have the Ashmolean Museum. It’s free, it’s beautiful; it runs amazing events; its collections are stunning. And last Friday, the museum very kindly allowed me to run a peripatetic class on Victorian literature, as we walked around its galleries.
In her essay ‘Art’, Smith follows a nun and her school-group round the National Gallery. ‘How do people see pictures?’ she wonders. ‘It was such a hot afternoon, the question is such a lazy one’. Smith eavesdrops; she lolls; she daydreams. She pores over the catalogue:
Catalogues, as you see, have a language of their own, terse and evocative: “S. John, centre, facing right, wearing a lavender-grey dress. Left: S. Francis, profile right, S. Lawrence, in grey, with rose orange collar… All seated full-length on a marble seat…along the bottom of the picture a little hedge of herbs…” (‘Art’ in London Guyed (London, 1938), p. 159)