Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Kim Wilde at The Sage, Gateshead

On Monday night I went to see Kim Wilde at her gig at The Sage in Gateshead. I've been to two of Kim's Christmas Party gigs in London so I know both she and band give good gig but I wanted to see her on tour with her new album, Here Come The Aliens' and I'm so pleased I did. And, luckily, the Aliens didn't choose that night to invade.

You could almost feel the excitement level rising as people took their seats and then the lights went down and on strode the band, taking their places and then there was Kim in her body-hugging PVC outfit with silver jacket with tassles - yes, tassles! All designed to ward off the Aliens, obviously. And what a fabulous sound came off that stage, high volume guitar and synth music with a pounding beat provided by two drummers and bass, synth/keytar, two guitars (including little brother Ricky, of course), niece Scarlett on vocals and Kim out front.

The set opened with 'Stereo Shot' from the new record before heading straight back to the early '80s with 'Water on Glass' and that set the pattern for the evening, new and old songs melding together into a great setlist, old favourites and new favourites working well together.

Early on we had 'Kandy Krush', the current single from the album and great raucous pop song with wailing guitars and relentless drums and Kim's vocals and trademarked woh-oh-ohs. It's one of my favourites from the new record so I was happy! Other favourites were the head-banger 'Birthday' - dance like it's your birthday! - and 'Rosetta' (sung with Scarlett).

There were plenty of Kim's classics to keep everybody happy and I particularly liked 'View From A Bridge' segueing into 'Chequered Love', 'Cambodia', 'If I Can't Have You' and 'You Keep Me Hangin' On'.  It was a great selection of songs, old and new but I don't think there were any from her last two albums - I'm not sure those records were even released in this country which probably explains why.  Songs like 'Perfect Girl' and 'Hey You!' would've fit right in to this set.

All too soon Kim and the band were waving goodbye and leaving the stage - what? but there are still a dozen songs I want to hear and then I realised that, of course, she hasn't sung *that* song yet so she's bound to come back for an encore. That's part of the problem of such a huge iconic hit and it's a nice problem to have. Back they came, this time with Kim wearing a sparkly cape and the synth led off on the introduction to 'Pop Don't Stop' the first single from the new record. Then the band gathered round one of the drum kits and started a blistering version of 'Kids In America' - of course! And the whole audience joined in. That song is 37 years old - older than some people in the audience - and still sounds fabulous live. And then that really was it, 1:40 hours of happy memories.

The band's been on the road for a couple of weeks already and they sounded in fine form and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives on that stage and everyone had a moment to shine. Kim was on top form despite mentioning that her voice was suffering - sounded fine to me Kim! - wreathed in smiles and giving her all, occasionally clowning with her baby brother Ricky. Please don't leave it another 30 years until the next tour - thanks for a fab evening Kim!  

 PS: and thanks for protecting us from the Aliens with your multi-coloured ray gun!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

'From Omega to Charleston' at Piano Nobile, Holland Park

'From Omega to Charleston' is a small exhibition of the works of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant between 1910 - 1934 in Piano Nobile, a small gallery in Holland Park. It's one of those places where you have to ring the door bell to be let in since it's really a small shop converted into a gallery than anything else but it was nicely laid out, even showing paintings around the office desks downstairs.

One of the main pieces on display is a set of 50 plates commissioned by Kenneth Clark that haven't been publicly displayed together forever. The plates show paintings of 48 'famous women' through the ages including the Queen of Sheba, Elizabeth Tudor, Greta Garbo, Virginia Woolf and, of course Vanessa and Duncan (so, technically, 49 famous women).

The works on show are mainly paintings but there's also a lovely painted cabinet and some vases that are worth scrutiny (I'd happily have that cabinet in my living room). There was a lovely self-portrait of Duncan Grant in pencil and a simple painting of his lover, 'David Garnett in Profile' - the lips are very voluptuous.

My favourite paintings were by Duncan Grant. I really like the way he uses colour such as in this painting of Lytton Strachey (with the inevitable book and beard of course). This reproduction doesn't really give a very good idea of the richness and warmth of the colours, the elegance of the crossed leg and foreshortened thigh and the creases and stretches in his jacket.

It doesn't look like he took a lot of time with this portrait with very vigorous  brush strokes pulling an image of Lytton out of the background. The hat is floating somewhere on the top of his head a precise alignment doesn't really matter. And the feet are missing, something I'm all too familiar with from my own drawings, but that doesn't matter.

Another painting I fell in love with at first glance was 'The Juggler and Tightrope Walker' and that's exactly what you get in the painting. Again, the colours in this reproduction don't do it justice but it is a lovely painting.

 It's a small but really good exhibition and it made me realise while I was there that I need to know more about Duncan Grant. I keep seeing examples of his work in various exhibitions but I've never really investigated him properly. Maybe it's time for a proper retrospective at Tate Britain?

'Thoroughly Modern Millie' at Richmond Theatre

There's a new production of 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' on your at the moment and we caught it at it's first stop, at Richmond Theatre in class-war territory in west London. I've always liked the film since seeing it on Sunday afternoon telly in the 1970s with Julie Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore and Carole Channing. It's a rather silly romp of a story but I don't care, I like it. I wanted to see the Broadway stage version on a visit to New York but it came off a week before our visit; I didn't see the West End version (mainly because of the cast) so I wasn't going to miss this version. It's a 'star vehicle' show for Hayley Tamaddon who I don't know at all but I'm pleased she got this show on the road.

It's the tale of small-town girl, Millie, getting to New York and becoming all 'modern' by having her hair cut short and investing in short frocks while, all the time, trying to find a boss she can marry and become rich. As you do. We follow her trials and tribulations of job-hunting, falling for the wrong, i.e. poor, man and suffering the boss she longs to marry calling her Bob. Yes, there's probably something going on with that particular boss. Interweave a story of showgirls who've been adopted or are alone in the world vanishing into white slavery and you have the bones of a story. And that's all we get, the bare bones. There are various ins and outs but that's basically it. Until the mandatory happy ending but I won't tell you what it is since it's so long since I've seen the film that I'd forgotten the ending and you might have too.

I'm not a fan of the soaps so I've no idea who Hayley Tamaddon is but she was good as Millie, bright, loud and cheerful, endlessly energetic and definitely up for it. She had a good stage voice and brought a nice smiley spark to the stage whenever she was on (which was most of the time). It must be an exhausting role for her. I also liked Michael Colbourne, the big drip of a man who is penniless and  who Millie falls for only to find out that he's actually... but that would be telling. There's also Nicola Blackman playing the Carol Channing role of Muzzy and, as soon as she came on to sing her first song I couldn't help but think, 'ah a proper singer'. Not a belter but someone who knows how to use her voice. I've seen Nicola in various things over the years (last time as a Victorian matron) but this was the first time I've heard her sing and what a lovely surprise!

It's a small cast for the show but they clearly put their all into it and there's some great dancing and ensemble numbers in the show. I saw them on something like their third or fourth performance so, give them another week or two and they'll really gel and play off each other. Well done people and good luck for the rest of the tour!

'The Selfish Giant' at the Vaudeville Theatre

Last night we went to see a new production of 'The Selfish Giant' as part of the Oscar Wilde season ate the Vaudeville Theatre. It's described as a 'folk opera' by Guy Chambers with no dialogue but lots of songs to tell the story. It's a short show, only one hour and ten minutes, and there's only five shows so, as completists, we were lucky to see it. The Wilde season has announced al the main productions but the shorter 'entertainments' between the main plays seem to be announced only shortly before they're performed.

The story is quite straightforward and reasonably well known so it all comes down the telling to keep the attention and make it interesting. We have children playing in a garden with the best trees to climb, the brightest flowers and the most tasty fruits and the garden belongs to a giant. When the giant comes home from his extended visit to a friend he finds all the children in his garden and chases them off, then builds a wall to keep them out. That's when winter appears and doesn't go again until the children find a way back into the garden and the giant looks out to see that, finally, spring has arrived and he sees the error of his ways. When he goes into the garden the children run away but je finds one boy trying to climb into a tree and he helps him up before demolishing the wall and inviting the children into his garden which is now theirs. Many years later the boy returns with wounds in his hands and feet and the giant grows angry that someone dared to hurt the boy. The boy invites the giant to visit his own garden and, later that day, the giant is found dead in his garden. Cue big song.

The staging was very simple, with the band at the back of the stage and various ladders in the front half acting as trees. Different coloured balloons appeared now and then (only white balloons in winter), some white sheets to cover the ladders in winter and lots of cardboard storage boxes with yet more balloons inside. And a chair. I've seen ladders as trees a few too many times but it worked out ok.

The young cast were dressed as we've come to expect children to be dressed since 'Play Away' was on telly in the early '70s in bright colours and baggy ill-fitting clothes. It would be nice if someone could come up with a different way of dressing young adults as children some time.  They had nice enough stage voices but it was difficult for anyone to really stand out since most (or all?) of the songs involved several singers singing together. I did notice Izuka Hoyle as one of the narrators and her voice sounded nice and smooth.

The giant, on the other hand, couldn't be missed by using his bassest of bass voices. How can anyone sing that low and sustain over a whole series of songs? Well done Jeff Nicholson on sustaining that voice and managing those enormous platform shoes.

I enjoyed it well enough and I liked the little production touches such as giving random members of the audience little lights to switch on at two points in the show - I gave mine back at the end like a good little audience member. I suspect the show needs to play for a bit longer than this short run and then Guy Chambers can get out his editing pen to tighten it up a bit and get in some more hooks. Having said that, I'd be happy to see it again in future.

Friday, 6 April 2018

'Caroline, Or Change' at Hampstead Theatre

'Caroline, Or Change' is a strange show that was put on at Chichester last year with Sharon D Clarke in the lead role and it opened a month ago at Hampstead to a sold out run. It's transferring again the Playhouse in the West End later in the year so a wider audience will have a chance to see it. A strange show? Yes, it has singing washing machines and tumble driers, a trio of lovely singers perform as the radio and a young Jewish boy leaves small change in his pockets for the family servant to find. There's a lot going on in this play. Or, rather, musical.

It's about Caroline, the black maid to the middle class Jewish Gellman family in Louisiana. The mother has recently died and Mr Gellman has re-married to Rose but son Noah can't accept his new 'mother' and treats caroline as the replacement. Rose is also unsure of her role and, as a New Yorker, doesn't know how to react to having a black servant. Race is never far from the surface in this play and Caroline is very old school, keeping her head down and keeping quiet. Rose awkwardly tries to help Caroline by giving her food for her family, which Caroline declines, and then telling her to keep the change that Noah leaves in his pockets to teach him a lesson. Feeling uncomfortable about taking coins from a boy, Caroline eventually agrees and can now buy treats for her own children. Noah is, of course, deliberately leaving change in his trouser pockets for Caroline.

It all changes when Rose's father arrives from New York for a family get together and gives Noah a $20 note. The silly boy accidentally leaves it in his pocket and Caroline takes it as instructed. But it was an accident and Noah wants it back. No, you're not getting it and the confrontation between Caroline and Noah is really quite harrowing with Caroline's whispered words to the boy. Realising what she's done, she can't go back to her employers house and can't speak of it until she's been to church. And then, after a huge climactic, cathartic song, we see her again in the basement of the house doing the washing as usual.

There's a lot going on in this play and one thing I really enjoyed was hearing all the dialogue sung rather than speech followed by a song followed by speech. The thing is virtually all sung. Caroline's realm is the basement of the house, surrounded by a washing machine and dryer with only a radio for company but, in her world, all come to life to sing to her. I initially wondered 'what on earth is going on?' when the washing machine lady emerged, singing in her silver bubble costume and blowing bubbles. I was disappointed later in the play when the cooker didn't seem to have an alter-ego - that's discrimination, that is! I loved the washing machine but my favourite was the radio that took the form of a Sixties girl group slinking around in shiny dresses. That's what radios are really like, of course.

There's a lot of fun and energy in this play as well as the more serious messages. Something I really liked was being introduced to Caroline's children, particularly her eldest daughter who represents the future by not being satisfied with what she's got. She's a follower of Dr King and she wants more out of life and is not afraid to say so. Caroline is the old guard but her daughter is the new generation that wants more. This is really subtly done and very powerful without being over-stated.

The centre of the play is, of course, Caroline. In a short scene we see a young Caroline in love with her sailor husband who treats her badly when he comes home from war and beats her. The first time she takes it but the second time she throws him out and becomes a single parent bringing up her children in a safe household. I want to say there's so much repressed rage in this play but there isn't. Caroline accepts everything handed to her as her lot and that's why it's so refreshing to see her rebel daughter. And then we see her release it all in one magnificent song towards the end, on her way to church, and it is astonishing.

This is a powerhouse of a play that took my breath away. It was lovely to see (and hear) T'Shan Williams who was with Sharon in 'The Life' last year as one the Radio Girls and I was suitably impressed with Abiona Omonua as Caroline's daughter Emmie, the voice of the future and played with such energy. I also liked Me'sha Bryan as the Washing Machine but she needs to practice blowing better bubbles.

The show really focuses on Sharon D Clarke who was magnificent as Caroline. It must be a tiring role since she's on stage for most of the time. She was tense and serious throughout and it was joy to actually see her smile at the bows at the end of the show. I really need to know how she fits her locks under that tiny wig she wears in the show.

The show is transferring to the Playhouse in the West End with Sharon reprising the lead role at the end of the year so I'm looking forward to seeing it again.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

'Pippin' at the Southwark Playhouse

I went to see 'Pippin' at Southwark Playhouse a couple of weeks ago, the day after returning from snowy Boston, and it helped me to stave off the jet lag. I didn't realise I was seeing it in its last week until I tried to book tickets to see it again - yes, it was that good. I saw a computer game themed version of 'Pippin' full of lasers and rock guitar seven years ago at the Menier Chocolate Factory but had forgotten much of the story so this version was almost like seeing it anew.

The first hurdle to get over is that Pippin is the son of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor. As if the heir to the throne anywhere would be called Pippin. Yes, it's a problem for me. Then there's the daft story-line of Pippin trying to find himself and his role in life which was all very late '60s/early '70s, from joining one of his dad's wars to working on a farm. Then there's the conceit of the Lead Player talking to the audience and introducing scenes that she was also in as well as directing us towards and it's all very odd. But it somehow works and draws you in. Hippy-dippy at one level, rock musical at another and experimental theatre at yet another, all rolled up together to take us on a a very strange journey. It's very of its time and uses some trademarked Bob Fosse dance moves but it somehow works.

Some of the bits I loved were Charlemagne being played with a broad Welsh accent and his queen having a Glaswegian accent, Pippin's grandma encouraging him to have lots of girls, the Fosse moves, and the theme song of 'Corner of the Sky' (I have a great version by Petula Clark and Dusty Springfield). I also liked the simple staging that was very effective. Something I really did;t like was Pippin's wide-necked grey jumper with a few sequins that reminded me of something your grandma might buy from Marks and Sparks - a horrid affair.

This new version of the show was developed by Hope Mills Theatre in Manchester and first performed there before coming to Southwark Playhouse and good on 'em for this revival. Great staging, great lighting and fun costumes (other than Pippin's jumpa of course). I loved all the cleverness of the staging, like lifting the stars painted on the stage to reveal lights, lots of little tricks and turns kept me engaged. Of course, the work itself by Stephen Schwartz deserves mention even if it does sometimes seem to get lost in its own complexities (I'm still puzzling about Charlemagne coming back from the dead after Pippin kills his dad in a revolution and the ending when Pippin refuses to dive into a vat of fire that reminded me of The Beatles' "Mr Kite').

I thought the cast were all very good with special shout outs to Genevieve Nicole as the Lead Player, Jonathan Carlton as Pippin, Mairi Barclay as the queen/grandma and Tessa Cadler as the farmer's wife.Well done also to Jonathan O'Boyle as director, Maeve Black for costumes and set, Aaron J Dootson for lighting and William Whelton for the choreography. Thanks should go to lots of others, of course, for bringing this together in a great show that was a joy to see. I hope I don't have to wait another seven years to see this show. I think a big stage version is due next.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Harvard Art Museums, Boston

The third museum I went to in Boston was Harvard Art Museums, a new building bringing together three museums and their collections. Straight up the Red Line on the underground and you come to Harvard with its colleges and big library and, of course, it's art museum.

I found it to be a very odd place. Is it a public museum of a university exhibition area? It has a great collection but it had a feel of 'one of those, and one of those, and two of those please' in its choice of paintings. It didn't feel like a collection so much as a selection from a collection to put on display. If the latter is true then what's in the vaults? That's what I want to know.

The first floor (or Level Two in American) is where the early European paintings begin so that's where I headed and, almost immediately, stumbled across a gorgeous triptych by Bernardo Daddi. There are five scenes in this triptych which makes it rather unusual, with paintings of saints rather than scenes from the life of Christ. It's a lovely little altarpiece that would've been used by a travelling priest or merchant who could open it up at the end of the day in their lodgings for evening prayers. It's a lovely, delicate thing.

A painting that grabbed my eye was in a glass case and labelled as 'After Jan van Eyck (?)' from the 16th Century. The date is much later than van Eyck but the composition is very similar.  If you've ever seen 'The Arnolfini Portrait' in the National Gallery in London then this composition will jump out at you as being incredibly similar. The dating of the work means it's not a van Eyck but is a later copy of a work or is inspired by an original, But wow!

Of course, there are many more things to go 'wow' about in the Harvard Art Museums. There's a  Fra Anegico panel for a start (mentioned in another blog) and paintings by Botticelli and his school, There's a bit of everything in there really.

Downstairs on the ground floor is the cafe and the shop and, of course, more galleries, this time for 'modern' works. It still feels like a 'one of those and one of those' collection but there's a nice range of paintings.

One of my favourites was a Picasso painting from 1901 in which he painted both sides of the canvas in different styles. One side is his emerging style and the other is his take on a 'traditional' Nineteenth Century style. These were really quite stunning to see back-to back and was a new idea to me. I haven't seen any like these before - traditional versus his own style. If the 'traditional' painting hadn't been labelled I'd never guess it was a Picasso. These were on display in a glass case next to a large, more recognisable, blue period painting of a mother and child.

Something that really surprised me was finding a corner with loads of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, particularly by Rossetti. I don't know why, but I always think of the Pre-Raphaelites as a peculiarly British movement that wouldn't necessarily resonate with collectors away from this island but it appears that they were collected and appreciated in New England. Perhaps one of the curators is a particular fan which might explain the number of them on show.

Of greater interest were paintings by Seurat, Klee, Gaugin and van Gogh and, of course, the inevitable Impressionists. I loved this painting by Monet, 'Red Boats, Argenteuil 1875'. Just look at those gorgeous colours. I want to drift in a rowing boat on the river at Argenteuil in the summer and absorb the sunshine and colour.

A final painting I want to mention is 'Summer Scene (Bathers)' by Frederic Bazille from 1869-70. I've never really noticed Bazille before but this really caught my eye, in particular - with my drawers hat on - the figure of the lad being helped to leave the pond. It struck me as a great pose for drawing, with the tension in the lead arm and leg. Then you notice the shadows and the couple towards the back in the sun and the whole laziness of the scene in the painting, a perfect summers afternoon.

I enjoyed the museums and there's a lot there to keep me interested despite it feeling a bit over-curated and forced with the choice of paintings on show. I can't help but wonder what might be in storage. Typically, of course, the shop didn't have anything remotely resembling a catalogue or a range of postcards, but had lots of children's toys and ladies scarves. I had expected more from a Harvard museum, with learned works on the collection or even individual artists from formed PhD students, but it wasn't to be. O well. Definitely worth a visit if you're in Boston.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

John Singer Sargent in Boston

There is a lot of John Singer Sargent in Boston. He's one of those artists that most people know the name but probably not a lot of his work. That was certainly me until  few years ago when I went to the great exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in London when I saw a much wider range of his works. One of his paintings is even the object of a ballet performed by the Royal Ballet. Then I saw a range of his watercolours at Dulwich Picture Gallery last year so I was ready to have my horizons expanded beyond society portraiture and that's what you get in Boston. He's all over the place.

The first painting of his that I saw i Boston was his portrait of Isabella Stewart Gardner that hangs in the museum of her name. Apparently she knew Sargent socially so is graced with her own portrait. The painting is in her 'gothic' room in her museum and looks out over a small panel by Giotto so she's in good company and is still keeping an eye on her treasures.

I next encountered Sargent in the Museum of Fine Art a bit further up the road from the Gardner Museum when I spotted a drawing that drew my attention. The pose reminded me of a model I'd drawn a few weeks earlier on one of my life drawing classes so I walked closer to have a look and saw it was by Sargent. I don't think I've seen a nude by Sargent before so that was a surprise but, I suppose, he's actually drawn all sorts of pictures.  He painted the dome and ceiling of the museum and there's an exhibition of his sketches in the space underneath the dome. I suspect this model was Thomas E McKeller of whom there is is an excellent portrait in the Sargent room upstairs.

This is an excellent portrait on so many levels. I'd never associated Sargent with nude paintings but, of course, he must have made many as all artists do to get the hang of the human figure. This is such a direct pose, so vulnerable and strong at the same time. I just stood there for a moment thinking 'Good grief, this is Sargent?'. Apparently he used Thomas as a regular model and he's the basis for many of the Sargent murals in the MFA. This is a great painting. The other paintings in the Sargent room are more like you'd expect from him, formal portraits and paintings with children but this powerful painting of a naked man is the one that will stay with me. It's very impressive.

There are more paintings by Sargent in Boston Public Library. It's a big old Victorian mausoleum of a building with big murals on the walls, grand staircases and lifts with the names of benefactors. Sargent's murals about religion are on the second floor (or Level Three in American) and are free to access. A few of the sketches at the MFA are sketches for these murals so it was nice to see them. I found it particularly strange to see a sketch of Christ on show - definitely not your standard Sargent drawing!

We see ancient Egyptian gods and demons at one end of the hall and Christ crucified at the other end. It's all very strange and painted in deep, rich colours. It's not entirely clear to me what Sargent was trying to say through these paintings even though he spent a long time working on them. It's a really odd collection of strangely religious, strangely mystical paintings that need an explanation but that's exactly what Sargent doesn't give us. He seems to be saying 'make your own minds up'.

I'm really pleased to have seen these drawings and paintings by Sargent that broaden my understanding of his work. Yes, he was a society painter but he was so much more. I've never understood why there were so many books about him but now I do. There's an angle to Sargent that can please almost everyone, you just need to find that angle. Boston is a good place to start.

The Museum of Fine Art, Boston

If you're in Boston then a trip to the Museum of Fine Art is a must and I walked there in the snow. I actually went twice since I didn't see enough on my first visit and the beauty of ticketing at the MFA is that you buy a ticket but can visit a second time free provided it's within ten days of the first visit. That means you don't have to cram everything into your visit because, if you've got the time, you can always go back again. What a good idea.

It's a bit of a monster of a building with the majority of works on the Ground and First floors but with some works in it s Americas collection on the Lower Ground and Level Three (remembering that Level Three is actually the second floor to British people). You need to pick up a free map to try to understand the place and how the galleries are organised with its art and artefacts from all around the world and, in particular it's huge Art of the Americas collection. And don't forget to look around you at the building itself since the dome and surrounding corridors were painted by John Singer Sargent and there was an exhibition of his sketches on the ground floor underneath the dome. I always associate Sargent with society portraits so it was interesting to see these sketches on a range of subjects way beyond his portraiture.

I wanted to see it's European collection spread over Level 1 & 2 so I headed to the Fenway side of the building. On Level 2 you enter that wing of the building through  large room hung with loads of 16th and 17th Century paintings by the likes of El Greco, but I kept going through to find the real gems in the collection from the early Renaissance. 

One of the earliest works in the painting collection (if not the earliest) is a lovely little triptych by Duccio from the early 1300s. The main scene is the crucifixion with saints Nicholas and Gregory on the wings. This is a really high status work that was probably commissioned as a travelling altarpiece by a prince or rich merchant. It's quite small and the detail is gorgeous and is one of the many works I'd love to see lit only by flickering candlelight to see it the way that Duccio would have done when he handed over the work to its first owner. 

There's also a lovely painting by Roger van der Weyden of 'Saint Luke Drawing the Virigin' which is a composition I can't recall seeing before in a gallery but I know that some artists used similar compositions. It's sort of the artist saying 'look, my art goes back to one of the Saviour's followers drawing the Saviour himself' and increasing its status from being a mere craft. It uses the Italian device of having a window and landscape at the centre of the painting but van der Weyden goes one step further by including people outside the window looking at the landscape. He's almost telling those Italians that Netherlanders can use all that artistic trickery too and go one better. It's a lovely little painting, full of the detail you'd expect from early Northern Renaissance works.

Another early painting I want to mention is 'Virgin & Child with Four Angels' by Neri di Bicci from Florence, a new name for me and you can probably guess why I'm including it here. It's quite a nice composition but just look at the faces of those angels... 

It's a good Renaissance collection and includes other paintings by people like Bosch with a version of 'Ecce Homo', a lovely Crivelli and a small hexagonal panel by Fra Angelo.

The collection moves forward in time and there are lots of other paintings to gaze at and muse over  with the mandatory Delacroix and, surprisingly, a smallish John Martin. Jumping forward to the late Nineteenth Century and we have a Monet room and a Sargent room and lots of Impressionist paintings and post Impressionists with Gauguin and van Gogh. Americans invested in these paintings long before we did in Britain (other than the Courtauld collection) which is why their collections can be astonishing. One of the lass colourful paintings in these rooms was 'Man at his Bath' by Gustave Caillebotte which shows a pastey-skinned man drying himself off after a bath. This is as far from the Classical ideal of a naked man as it's possible to get but is the everyday reality for all of us.

A far more colourful painting that caught my eye was 'Women of Paris: The Circus Lover' by James Jacques Joseph Tissot. I'm not a great fan of Tissot who was contemporary with the Impressionists but whose style is more realistic, but this is a grand painting and, if you remove the women in what we now think of as as period costume, that circus scene could easily be played out in Wonderground on the Southband in London today. I particularly like the slightly belligerent bloke in the Union Jack shirt walking towards the women. You just know that the bloke bottom-left has just told the ladies that the acrobats aren't all that really and he can do some of the tricks - bet you can't matey!

Two of my favourites were in the same room and by van Gogh. They would probably benefit from being hung in less ornate frames but they are both gorgeous. 'Houses at Auvers' with it's thick paint that made me want to touch it to feel the textures and the mysterious 'Ravine'. Both are superb quality and would command wall-space in any gallery in the world. But did the MFA shop have postcards of either? You can guess the answer.

One of the benefits of American museums is that once you've paid your entrance fee then everything is free to see inside, including the temporary exhibitions. The exhibitions at the MFA were small but worth popping in to see. I saw the Escher exhibition which was so-so but missed the Rothko exhibition. I did, however, visit the exhibition about the drawings from Vienna by Klimt and Schiele that is coming to London later in the year to celebrate the centenary of their deaths. The drawings are in various media and at a relatively small size and it was interesting to see the similarities in their styles as well as the differences. I'm in two minds as to whether to see it again in London but, with my new-found interest in drawing, I probably will, if only to see if there are any tips I can steal from them.

Another exhibition - the main one for the museum that featured on all the posters but has now closed - was an exhibition by Takashi Murakami, a Japanese artist I've never heard of before but will watch out for. The exhibition was full of mainly big pieces and was full of light and colour and fun. In one of the exhibits the flooring that you walked on ran up to and onto the wall making it part of the work and, for some reason that just tickled me. Big pieces with smiley flower-heads and brash colours, encouraging the kids to run around making a noise and it all seemed so right. It was actually quite wonderful to be surrounded by these works in a very different way to the wonders of the Renaissance upstairs. I liked it.

There were also galleries of Greek and Roman statues, a huge collection of the Art of the Americas, furniture, craftwork and all sorts of stuff. It's a massive collection and you probably need more than two visits to do it justice but I was pleased with what I'd seen in the European painting collection. That was enough for this visit.

One thing that did irritate me was finding my way around to see the rooms i wanted to see. The visitor map is laid out by room number but the galleries are labeled with the name of the sponsor of that room or corridor. You have to really look for the room numbers which seem to be on small plaques near the door that, all too often, are blinded by the art inside the room. It's all very confusing which is another reason for setting aside plenty of time to see the place. I suspect it probably works better for locals than for visitors. I'd recommend the American Cafe in the courtyard of the museum for lovely food, excellent service and a great view of a Dale Chihuly work in glass and steel that kept me focused on it and wondering how it didn't fall over. I loved it! 

If you're in Boston and have a few hours to spare you could do a lot worse than pop along to the Museum of Fine Art. There's something there for everyone but don't expect it to be laid out for you - do some research first so you know what you really want to see before you arrive.