Monday, 27 January 2020

'Rags' at the Park Theatre, Finsbury Park

'Rags' is a little performed musical with lyrics by Steven Schwartz ('Wicked' anyone?) so we headed up to Finsbury Park last week to see it. The Park Theatre is quite bijou and it was a surprise to see how large the cast is for this production. We were in the circle for the first time and you get a surprisingly good view from up there.

It's the tale of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe into New York in the 1900s, fresh off the boat and needing $20 to be allowed entry into the USA. We meet a young mother who has skills at lace-making and sewing, with her young son, who somehow get allowed entry and end up living and working in a family home making dresses for the rich German Jew who sells them at a profit. The young mother gradually influences the dress designs, takes on a private clientele and, at the end, opens her own shop. In the meantime we see the tensions between the different ethnic groups starting out their new lives in New York, the Italian community, the Irish community, all being looked down on by the 'established' American community wanting to end unrestricted immigration. There's a lot of current political messages in this play from the 1980s.

The book was rather relentless in it's emphasis on the Jewishness of the main characters, with every opportunity being taken to put the word 'Jew' in there somewhere. It was also a bit New York Jewish stereotypical with every character in there plus the young Jewish songwriter who wants to make music rather than work in a sewing sweatshop. Yes, we *know*.

That is all in the book and the songs but something at the end that really irritated me was down to the direction. At the end all the characters come on stage including the young girl who dies in a sweatshop fire but she mounts some risers and poses like the figure of Delacroix's 'Liberty' in the famous painting. Melodramatic nonsense or what? It struck me as rather cynically just looking for a nice image for people to leave with.

The show was OK but I can easily understand why it's rarely performed. The major problem for me was that at the end as we were leaving the theatre, I couldn't remember a single song. I remembered the dramatic scenes but the songs were gone. For a musical that's pretty damning. I have no problem with any of the cats, no-one was obviously poor but I think the material possibly wasn't worth giving your all for. I liked Carolyn Maitland as Rebecca, the young mother and dress-maker, who had a lovely voice and presence, and I loved the comic duet between Rachel Izen and Dave Willetts about maybe getting married or maybe not, or maybe ...? That pair knew what they doing.

If you're  fan of musicals then go and see it, it's really not that bad and it's unlikely to be staged again for quite a while. If you're a fan of 'Wicked' then no, don't go. I'm pleased I saw it.

Saturday, 18 January 2020

A Decade of Drama 2010-19

Looking back over the past ten years and I know I've seen many many dramas at the theatre in London and elsewhere, I've seen many plays by Shakespeare performed in lots of different ways and styles and I could easily come up with a top ten Shakespeare plays alone. But that wouldn't be representative of the range of plays I've seen over the decade. So here they are, the plays that have stuck in my head for one reason or another.

Shirley Valentine @ Menier Chocolate Factory 2010

I'd seen the film but not seen the play, which was in rep with 'Educating Rita', but it was Meera Syal I wanted to see and she was Shirley. Alone on the stage talking to the audience about her life and the little sadnesses, the ordinariness of it all, you could've heard a pin drop. There were lots of laughs too and, even though I'd seen Meera in lots of things before, this is the performance that told me she was a great actress as well as comedian and writer. Heartbreaking and joyful in turns, she brought Shirley to life in front of us.

Jerusalem @ the Apollo Theatre 2011

I didn't see 'Jerusalem' on it's first run so I was pleased to see it when it was revived for a short season in 2011. It's a small tale with huge themes, extremely well written with some beautiful poetry in there and the performance and production was excellent. Mark Rylance played Johnny Byron, a teller of tales and mischief maker, a petty drugs dealer and a trouble for the local community but I believed he met the giant who built Stone Henge and I believed the giant would come when Johnny got into trouble. Sadly, the curtain closed before the giant appeared but he was there. A great play demonstrating the magic and wonder that theatre can evoke.

Much Ado About Nothing 2012

That Meera Syal again, this time as Beatrice in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 'Much Ado'. Before seeing this production I'd have said Zoe Wanamaker was the best Beatrice (seen at the National a few years earlier) but Meera topped Zoe in the Beatrice chart. It was staged as an Indian play set in a typical Indian compound as part of the World Shakespeare Festival and the London 2012 Festival in support of the Olympics. This is the production that actually had me laughing at a Shakespeare play, at a comedy no less (and I never laugh at Shakespeare comedies). The colour, the movement, the use of the auditorium as an extension of the stage, the excellent and subtle lighting, it all worked. I loved it.

Julius Caesar @ Shakespeare's Globe 2014

In 2014 the Globe put on Shakespeare's Roman plays over it's summer season - 'Titus Andronicus', 'Anthony & Cleopatra' and 'Julius Caesar' - what a great season that was. I'd never read the text or seen the play and I was astonished at how many phrases from it are still everyday sayings in the English language and his many speeches I knew. What a gift Shakespeare gave us with this play and what a great production this was, I sat watching as my jaw dropped time and again at the beauty and cleverness of the writing and the fantastic delivery by actors who knew how to speak in Shakespeare's verse. I left the theatre with the text in my hand, bought from the shop in the interval.

My Night With Reg @ Donmar Warehouse 2014

Ah yes, Reg, the man we never see but is rarely far from the thoughts and speech of the characters in the play. It's a serious comedy - serious themes about AIDS in the '80s and friends gradually dying through the play but with some enormous laugh out loud moments. There's love and lust, joy and tears, Julian Ovenden got naked and Geoffrey Streatfield went down on a tree (not really). It was great fun tinged with sadness and is rightly considered Elyot's best work. It transferred to the West End the following year and I saw it again on a bigger stage at the Apollo.

The Winter's Tale @ the Garrick Theatre 2015

Kenneth Branagh took over the Garrick for a year to put on a series of plays and the one that sticks in my memory was 'The Winter's Tale', yes, another Shakespeare play. I've seen a few productions of this play over the years, including the Royal Ballet's beautiful ballet of the play, but this is the one that sticks in my mind. It opens at Christmas time with a big tree and presents, which, given it's name, is quite right. Branagh gave himself the role of King Leontes and Judi Dench played brave Paulina and they worked really well together. It's not one of my favourite plays (why on earth would Hermione go back to Leontes?) but this was a worthy production.

Richard III @ the Almeida Theatre 2016

I'm not a great fan of Shakespeare's history plays about long-dead kings and family rivalries but this production of 'Richard III' stands out from the others. The last version of the play I'd seen had Kevin Spacey as some kind of steam punk Richard, but Ralph Fiennes Richard was far more chilling and scary, never knowing when he might explode in your face and that kept me on the edge of my seat. What's he going to do next? Vanessa Redgrave was also in the production but I kept worrying about how she'd manage the steps at her age ...  I think I can give 'Richard III' a break for a few years having seen this production.

Angels in America @ National Theatre 2017

'Angels' was an astonishing theatrical event in two parts over different nights, over six hours of the play and it never got dull. I'd never seen the film so didn't really know what it was about other than it's set in New York in the '80s when the AIDS crisis raged. We see hallucinations brought to life as a result of the disease and the drugs, we see an angel with astonishing wings and we see a group of friends just trying to live their lives and find love. The run quickly sold out but I was lucky enough to win a ballot to get extra tickets later in the run and got to see both parts a second time and it was no less powerful the second time around. Andrew Garfield and James McArdle were excellent, as were all the small ensemble cast.

The Ferryman @ The Gielgud Theatre 2017

Another great play from Jez Butterworth who wrote 'Jerusalem', this time set in a family farmhouse in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The play progresses and we learn about the extended family in the farmhouse, the little secrets all families have, then the wider links into the community and the links with the IRA. It's very well constructed and, as with 'Jerusalem' there are some moments of beautiful poetry. A great cast with some very sweary children led by Paddy Considine, a lovely set (I worried about characters falling down the steep stairs) and some clever lighting.

Anthony & Cleopatra @ National Theatre 2018

One of my favourite Shakespeare plays with some gorgeous poetry and I still regret not seeing Vanessa Redgrave play Cleopatra in the '80s. I've seen a few productions but none have been all that satisfying until this version. Anthony in loud Hawaiian shirts? Sun loungers around the pool in Cleopatra's palace? the National using the turntable under the Olivier stage every other scene. Um, OK, it had it's oddnesses but it's the acting that matters and that was fantastic. Sophie Okonedo was the best as Cleopatra, easily matching Ralph Fiennes as Anthony and Georgia Landers as the loyal Iras. And Sophie delivered Cleopatra's dying speech just right, a mighty queen to the end. I'd happily see this production again.

The Inheritance @ Noel Coward Theatre 2018

Only a year after 'Angels in America' we saw another two part play over two nights, another six hours plus telling a gay story but this time set right up to date with talk of the last USA presidential election, the death sentence of AIDS far behind them all but its shadow still falling heavily over a group of young friends in New York. There are similarities with 'Angels' but they are very different plays, both powerful in their own right. At one point, the older man is in an argument with the youngsters and angrily shouts out 'There are no gay men my age! Or not as many as there should be...' which totally shocked a silent audience with it's truthfulness and silenced the stage. The staging was minimal,a  lot suggested by the lighting and the ensemble coming and going contributing their tales and the story develops. We even get a cameo from Vanessa Redgrave late in the second part of the play. It was a very powerful play.

 Lady Windermere's Fan @ the Vaudeville Theatre 2018

The Vaudeville Theatre was taken over for a year to put on performances of work by Oscar Wilde, largely his plays but also a monologue of 'De Profundis' by Simon Callow and a new musical version of 'The Happy Prince'. My favourite was 'Lady Windermere's Fan' directed by Kathy Burke, the usual tale of mistaken identities, young love, bourgeoise morality and sheer daftness. Jennifer Saunders was excellent and did a special 'turn' at the end of the interval with the actors playing the servants in the play all playing musical instruments as she gave us a song standing in front of the curtain. Great fun and such a good idea to have a year of Wilde.

A German Life @ the Bridge Theatre 2019

Coming right up to date was a one-woman play starring Dame Maggie Smith. Brunhild is in an old folks home remembering her youth when she was a typist for the nazi party in Berlin in the '30s and during the war. She goes to great lengths to distance herself from the horrors - she didn't know anything, she was almost forced to go to rallies, yes she loved the Goebell's children, and so forth, but none of it was anything to do with her. Maggie Smith's performance was astonishing, a frail old lady remembering the the joys and sadnesses of her youth but set against such a backdrop. I'm so pleased I saw that performance.

I've found it interesting doing this bloggie and seeing which are the plays that have stood out for me. Two starring Meera Syal, two written by Jez Butterworth, five by Shakespeare, two six-hour gay plays,  two with Ralph Fiennes, two with Vanessa Redgrave... my, it's a small world. I wanted to include Glenda Jackson's 'King Lear' when she acted everyone else off the stage, a vicious Imelda Staunton in 'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf', Marlowe's 'Doctor Faustus' at the Globe with Arthur Darvil as Mephistopheles and Jenna Russell in 'Di and Viv and Rose' a show that ended prematurely in 2015 but I loved it. But no, you can't always include everything. It makes the above selection stand out even more.

All in all, that was a good decade for new plays and for revivals of old plays and classics. Wonder what the next decade will bring...?

Friday, 17 January 2020

Favourite Paintings: Drunken Silenus Supported By Satyrs by Anthony Van Dyck

Poor Mr Silenus is in his cups again. He was the tutor of Dionysus, god of wine and fertility, so it's hardly surprising. The Satyrs hung out with him so tended to look after Silenus as well, especially when he's had one too many. I can't help but smile when I see this painting in the National Gallery, the poor old man having to be helped home by the naughty satyrs - he'll have a sore head in the morning, I just know it.

The painting has a strange history, for years being attributed to Rubens, then to his pupil van Dyck, and now seems to be attributed to Rubens' studio but with the figures painted by the young van Dyck and the fruit being painted by another assistant, Frans Snijders. We'll probably never know the detail of who did the painting or who did what in the painting but it always amazes me that a pupil could be so good that his work is virtually indistinguishable from his master's work. Rubens was one of the early superstar artists who was in demand all over Europe so that can only have been good for the young van Dyck.

Look at the different flesh tones in the painting, the very pale nymph squeezing grass into Silenus's mouth, the ruddy outdoors satyr, the bloated cheeks of the pipe player and the vast expanse of the body of Mr Silenus who seems to have forgotten his clothes somewhere along the way. And look at Silenus's face, ruddy cheeks and nose, drunken smile and part-closed eyes, not very aware of what's going on but knowing he's enjoyed himself. That's how an old man can easily get into trouble - be warned!

It looks like they're just leaving the dark forest into the morning light after a night of carousing. Maybe it was a special feast or ceremony that just continued long past the scheduled curfew? We'll never know. I assume the satyrs looked after him and he got home safely. He's probably still nursing his head after that night out...

A Decade of Musicals 2010-19

The end of the decade is a good time to look back at theatre trips over the last ten years and assess which were the best musicals I've seen. I saw a lot of musicals over the decade and many were good, very good indeed, but didn't have the certain something to get it into this list of favourites. So, in chronological order, here they are...

'Hair' @ The Gielgud Theatre 2010

I first saw 'Hair' in New York on the eve of Snowmageddon in February 2010 and, luckily, virtually the whole company transferred to London for a season at the Gielgud Theatre over the summer of 2010. I saw this joyous musical several times, getting up on the stage to dance with the hippies at the end. Gavin Creel, Caissie Levy, Will Swenson, Alison Case, Kacie Sheik and all those spaced out hippies singing and dancing their hearts out every night was fabulous. I still listen to the cast recording regularly.

'South Pacific' @ The Barbican 2011

I first saw 'South Pacific' on the evening of Snowmageddon in New York in February 2010 and remember floating down Broadway from Lincoln Centre on waves of a tropical love story between Nellie and Emile. I bought the cast recording with Kelli O'Hara singing (the original Nellie) and listen to it regularly. That production transferred to the Barbican for a short season before going on tour so I had to see it.

'The Color Purple' @ Menier Chocolate Factory 2013

This musical introduced me to the fabulous Cynthia Erivo as Celie, the central character in the play. Great acting and an astonishing voice coming out of Cynthia and a great cast generally - I thought their singing voices were so much better that the actors on the cast recording from America. I saw Cythia the following year in the all-woman 'Henry IV' at the Donmar and then in 'Songs For A New World' in 2015 and then she went off to reprise her role as Celie on Broadway and now she's been nominated for two Oscars...

'A Chorus Line' @ The London Palladium 2013

I slightly surprised myself by having 'A Chorus Line' in my top of the decade list but it was a great production. I've never liked the film (or seen it all the way through ) so I came to this production quite new since it's rarely performed - it needs a big stage and that's what the Palladium gives you. Scarlett Strallen played Cassie who utters the immortal line, 'God, I'm a dancer and dancers dance!'.

'Grand Hotel' @ Southwark Playhouse 2015

I first saw 'Grand Hotel' at the Donmar Warehouse in 2004 and fell in love with it's tale of 1930s Germany, Berlin, love and escape. Julian Overdone played the Baron, Daniel Evans as Mr Kringelein and Mary Elizabeth Mastranatonio as the ballerina. The Southwark production made me fall in love with the musical all over again. Scott Garnham was the Baron, Victoria Serra was Flaemmchen and Valerie Cutko as the maid.

'Kinky Boots' @ The Adelphi Theatre 2015

'Kinky Boots' is the musical of the film of the same name, a tale of friendship and understanding and how red is the colour of sex and you can never have too much heel. I first saw it in preview but had to go back to see it again, a feel-good show with a happy ending, ideal to see after a hard week at work and let your imagination loose.

'Xanadu' @ Southwark Playhouse 2015

Another play I first saw on Broadway before it eventually got a London premier at Southwark Playhouse, 'Xanadu' tells the tale of the 1980s film of the same name with Olivia Newton-John in the main role. The musical is so much better than the film since it's played entirely for laughs, poking affectionate fun at the film and at the '80s, great songs by ELO, sparkles and love (obviously) plus hundreds of disco glitter balls. What more could you ask for? I saw it multiple times.

'The Threepenny Opera' @ The National Theatre 2016

I never thought I'd have a Brecht show in a list of favourites but I loved this production of 'The Threepenny Opera' at the National Theatre, with it's tale of sex and violence, crime and love. It was a new translation by Simon Stephens set in an imaginary time in London at the time of the King's jubilee. Rory Kinnear played Mack the Knife, Haydn Gwynne as Mrs Peachum, Rosalie Craig as Polly (aka Pirate Jenny) and Nick Holder as a menacing Peachum. I loved the wooden rotating set and can't help wonder how much brown paper they got through.

'Follies' @ The National Theatre 2017

There are m,any ways to do a show and this was a monster of a show, with a huge cast and set, glamour and glitz and the plain awfulness of the 1970s costumes, led by stellar performances by Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee. I loved the simple storytelling and having the young characters on stage whenever their older counterparts took the lead. Failed marriages, disappointing lives, happy lives, depression and almost madness, such a cheerful show with some very powerful songs.

'Hamilton' @ The Victoria Palace Theatre 2018

'Hamilton' was laden with so much hype from it's Broadway run when it finally landed in Victoria that it couldn't possibly live up to it but you know what? It did. I avoided all reviews and avoided hearing the cast recording so I could experience it with fresh eyes and ears and was rightly rewarded for my efforts. The thing that really impressed me was the pace and movement in the show - it was never still. Well done people.

'Caroline. or Change' @ Hampstead Theatre 2018

A show I saw purely because Sharon D Clarke was in it, first up at Hampstead and then again when it transferred to the Playhouse. The story of a maid in the south of the USA in the '60s with civil rights going on in the background but Caroline's life revolves around the washing machine, the transistor radio, her children and the white Jewish family she works for. I've seen Sharon in various things over the years and you always get a great performance from her but her big song at the end of this play is truly a show-stopper, a masterclass in how to deliver a song. I'll remember that for a long time.

'Fiddler on the Roof' @ The Playhouse Theatre 2019

I've seen the film (an early '70's Sunday afternoon staple) and a version with Harvey Fierstein as the lead on Broadway years ago but this new production brought the show right up to date. It's a tale of minorities trying to blend in without losing their culture, of forced migration, of what happens to families forced apart. It felt so right for the times. The set spilled off into the audience which was probably much more powerful in the small surroundings of the Menier Chocolate Factory where it was first performed before transferring to the Playhouse.

'The Bridges of Madison County' @ Menier Chocolate Factory 2019

I've never seen the film this musical is based on so I was seeing it afresh when I took my seat at the Choccy Factory in the summer of 2019 - I'd booked it to see Jenna Russell in the lead role. It's the story of Francesca, a war bride who raises her family in small town America and then, out of nowhere, she meets the love of her life but it can't be. It's a tale of joy and sadness, of accepting, of memories, and Jenna was great as our heroine. I loved it.

There could have been so many other entries into this list but these are the stand-outs for me. I couldn't limit it to a top ten since they all deserve a mention. I wonder what joys the 2020s will bring?

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

A Decade of Exhibitions 2010-2019

At the end of the decade I thought I'd look back at exhibitions I saw over that time and see if I could come up with a top ten. I couldn't so I've listed my top 14 exhibitions. The criteria are really quite broad, not simply those I've personally liked but also those I've learned from, exhibitions that have brought together the widest range of paintings rather than going for the obvious exhibits, a whole host of things.

They're in chronological order rather than a countdown to the top exhibition - that's a step too far into the impossible. So here they are, the best exhibitions I've seen in the last decade.

Fra Angelico and the Masters of Light - Musee Jacquemart-Andre, Paris (2011)

The first exhibition about Fra Angelico I ever attended was at the Musee Jacquemart-Andre in Paris in 2011 and that was the first time I'd seen the widest range of his works outside of San Marco in Florence. The exhibition was made up of 20-odd paintings by Fra Angelico and about the same number by contemporary artists he influenced or was influenced by. I still remember standing in the middle of a small room being surrounded by paintings of the Virgin & Child by Fra Angelico, the vivid colours, the serenity, the different compositions - definitely a wow moment.

Paul Klee: Making Visible - Tate Modern, London (2014)

I've liked works by Paul Klee since I first came across him in school in about 1978. He's not one of the most famous artists of the 20th Century but he's one of the most influential, being a member of various art movements in the first half of the century including Der Blaue Reiter in Munich. I remember this exhibition as being very big, and it was, but largely because his paintings are mainly relatively small so more fit onto the walls. There was so much colour in those galleries, shapes and textures, mesmerising paintings to gaze at and decide what they're about - is that a house in the hills? a human figure? or just a mass of colours? It doesn't matter really, the beauty emanates out of the paintings. I went back several times to be in rooms surrounded by those amazing paintings.

Matisse: The Cut-Outs - Tate Modern, London (2014)

The follow-up exhibition to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern in 2014 was about Matisse and his cut-outs. The cut-outs are just that, coloured paper cut up and torn into different shapes and pasted  onto a background, so simple and yet so effective. Monsieur Matisse was an old man when he started creating his cut-outs and it was great seeing early film of him working as part of the exhibition. As he grew older he needed to use his assistants to place the coloured papers just right to fit his vision. How can so much beauty come from cut up bits of paper? It was an astonishing exhibition that I re-visited several times.

Inventing Impressionism - National Gallery, London (2015)

There were many Impressionist exhibitions over the decade and I attended quite a few but the Inventing Impressionism was rather special. It was based on the collection of the art dealer Paul Durant-Ruel who championed the Impressionist painters in the early days and virtually all of the paintings in the exhibition went through his hands at some stage. The exhibition contained some astonishing works that were completely new to me, a high quality exhibition without any filler at all. There was a quote on the wall of the final room of the exhibition from Durant-Ruel, 'At last the Impressionist masters triumphed...'. I loved that quote, naming the impressionist painters as 'masters', equal to the Old Masters we're familiar with.

Elisabeth Louise Vigee Le Brun - Le Grand Palais, Paris (2015)

I'd never heard of Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun until I went to the exhibition of her portraits in Paris in 2015 and I'm so pleased I went. Madame Vigee Le Brun had an astonish life, being the favourite portraitist of Marie Antoinette, going into exile during the French Revolution due to her connection to royalty, travelling around Europe with her daughter making her living by painting portraits in country after country before eventually returning to France and dying in her own bed when in her 80s after attending a party that evening. Her legacy was on display in that huge exhibition that seemed to go on and on, with portrait after portrait, so lifelike and alive in expressions and colours, a true master of portraiture. The poster for the exhibition was one of her own self-portraits.

Sonia Delaunay - Tate Modern, London (2015)

I've known of the Delaunay's for quite a while but mainly Robert, Sonia's husband, so I looked forward to seeing this exhibition of Sonia's work. They worked together in the early years developing radical colour theories and putting them into practice in similar but subtly different ways. From the minutes I walked into the exhibition I was surrounded by colour, by Sonia's sketches and paintings, illustrations for Dadaist poetry, designs for clothes and samples of her work, so much variety and colour everywhere. It was great to learn about her life and work, about how she's quoted as saying she discovered black when in her 60s, about how she continued painting and experimenting into her old age in Paris. I was mightily impressed by this exhibition and, more so, by the variety of her work, always inventing, always creative.

Painting the Modern Garden: From Monet to Matisse - Royal Academy, London (2016)

Another great exhibition was all about paintings of gardens in all their variety, all the colour and shapes and textures of flowers and trees and shrubs, gardens with people in them, with country cottages, with walls and just flowers. Lots of flowers. I loved it. As well as paintings it included information about the gardening habits of some of the artists, who swapped seedlings with who and who liked to paint someone else's garden. There was a  great photo of Kandinsky in his garden with a shovel, wearing shorts and with a cigarette in his mouth. I wanted to jump into some of the paintings and wallow in the flowers colours. The only poor thing about the exhibition was the rather dull poster featuring a detail of a Monet.

A Thyssen Never Seen - CaixaForum, Barcelona (2016)

I went to Barcelona to see this exhibition, mainly to see a beautiful Virgin & Child by Fra Angelico, one of my favourite paintings of his, but got caught by the sheer range of paintings in the exhibition which was showing off the Thyssen collection from Madrid. From early Renaissance paintings to modern works from the mid-20th Century, there was something there for everyone. Whoever curated the exhibition and managed to get so many masterpieces from the Thyssen-Bornamisza Museum in Madrid must've been a good negotiator since it was an amazing variety of paintings from across the centuries, all first rate and no filler.

Out of Chaos - Laing Gallery, Newcastle (2017)

The 'Out of Chaos' exhibition in Newcastle was in partnership with the Ben Uri collection in London, a collection of works telling the tale of migration and escape from persecution in the first half of the 20th Century. Of course, not everyone escaped and some of the works shown were poignant in that the artists were killed or died before they could reach safety and their potential forever lost. I can still remember some of the terrible images in those paintings. I was pleased to see a couple of small works by Sonia Delaunay since she and her husband fled persecution and war. It was a powerful exhibition with some very powerful tales to tell.

Raphael: The Drawings - Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (2017)

This exhibition at the Ashmolean in Oxford consisted of drawings, big and small, by Raphael, all of which I'd never seen before but some of which were sketches for elements of paintings and I'd seen a couple of those finished paintings (such as Disco Jesus in the Vatican). To say that Raphael was a good drawer is an understatement. It was particularly good to see him practicing his compositions, having a character face this way and then that way as he experimented with what might be the most effective or dramatic. It's good to get a glimpse of how an artist of his stature worked.

Picasso 1932 - Tate Modern, London (2018)

This was  an odd exhibition in many ways - not everything in it was first rate Picasso but everything was authentic. It showed us his works from a very experimental year when he was already rich and famous but wasn't sure where to go next artistically. There was also one large room put aside to show us the works in one of his one-man exhibitions he curated that year. I loved how each exhibition was labeled with the day and date the work was done - so many works completed in less than a day before he moved on to something else. The sheer creativity of the man is astounding.

Florence - Alte Pinakothek, Munich (2019)

This was a truly great exhibition on so many levels, with great paintings from about 1300 - 1500 by painters associated with Florence. Giotto, Gaddi, Fra Angelico, Fra Filippo Lippo, Ghirlandaio, Leonardo, Fra Bartolomeo, Botticelli and a host of others. Altarpieces were re-imagined using available predella panels and side panels, early portraits showing the development of portraiture - so much stuff to marvel at. The museum had started work on this exhibition five years ago and it must have been a joy to see it come to fruition and see it constantly packed with visitors, both local and international to enjoy the wealth of glorious art gathered together in the same place for the first time. Well done Alte Pinakothek!

Fra Angelico and the Rise of the Florentine Renaissance - Prado, Madrid (2019)

A large exhibition of works by Fra Angelico from all over the world to help celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Prado, all centred on the newly restored 'Annunciation' by Angelico that is one of the prides of the Prado's collection. It really was a stunning collection of paintings from major, large collections and obscure small pieces from small collections in towns around Europe and the USA. It was startling to see all these paintings by Fra Angelico in the same place, see his art develop, his story-telling improving, the subjects he chose to paint and the colours he used. The ficus was on one decade of 1420-30 when Angelico reached his peak with his glorious Virgin & Child paintings and the masterpiece of the 'Annunciation'. So much care went into the detail of this exhibition and chosing Adam and Eve from the 'Annunciation' to front the exhibition was inspired. Well done Prado!

Keith Haring - Tate Liverpool (2019)

The final highlight exhibition for me was the recent exhibition of works by Keith Haring at Tate Liverpool. I suspect we can all recognise his cartoon-like works but I didn't know much about him before this exhibition, his activism and his untimely early death. He would've been just a few years older than me if he hadn't died and I can't help but wonder what he'd be producing these days. It was a very big exhibition with loads of his stuff on paper, vinyl and canvas, big pieces and small, some as stand0alone works, others were for posters and his activism. His early works about AIDS were particularly powerful and his later works reflected this except they were bigger, more complicated and more painful to see. Tate Liverpool obviously understood this and the final image, just as you left the gallery, was a blown up photo of Keith with his top off and wearing parched jeans having a bit of a dance and a giggle, reminding us of the fun he enjoyed and his indomitable spirit manifest in his art.

So there you have it, a decade of exhibitions. There were many more over the decade, well over 100 or more, but these are my favourites, the ones I think back to and enjoy, even the painful ones. I'm quite pleased that so many were outside London and outside the country - you don't have to be in London to see great art, it's happening everywhere!

There were many more that weren't about painting as well, exhibitions of sculpture, folk crafts, ancient artefacts, Buddhist scriptures, manuscripts, punk memorabilia, all sorts of stuff really. Take a look at what's happening in your local gallery or museum - or maybe your local coffee house or pub even - since amazing things happen everywhere. The important thing is to open your eyes and your mind - you never know what you might find.