From Astrid Michelow 













Join Astrid Michelow on London Letter as Buckingham
Palace throws open its doors. See Modigliani and
his Models at the Royal Academy. View Kandinsky,
The Path to Abstraction at Tate Modern. Travel to
Hever Castle, childhood home of Anne Boleyn’s
and we pay a tribute to Robert Carrier…



(Above from Left to Right): Hever Castle on the Lake.
 "The Queen by Cecil Beaton. The White Drawing Room, Buckingham Palace, 1968"

Modigliani - Jeanne Hebuterne 1919 (Lent by Metropolitan Museum of Art - Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Nate B. Spingold) (Photo copyright 1985 The Metropolitan Museum of Art)


Can you imagine being ‘boiled alive’ in London - scorched by a searing, sweltering heat wave so intense that Lions in the London Zoo are being fed blood-flavoured ice blocks, judges in the courts go wigless, the guards at Buckingham Palace are ducking under trees, while some road surfaces are melting. It seems impossible to believe that this country which has a fearsome reputation for its cold and rain, can suddenly experience temperatures in the 80’s, 90’s and 100 and that far from being drenched in rain we are experiencing probably the worst drought in living memory. Yes, believe it or not, we are facing water shortages and our gardens have become frazzled in the heat, since we are forbidden to water them with hosepipes. No doubt global warming has arrived in this part the world and looks set to stay for a couple of hundred of millennia.


But is it all bad news? Probably not, (except for the likes of me who wither in the heat and seek shelter at every opportunity), the rest of the world revel in these extreme temperatures. They disport themselves on the streets, scantily clad, bearing their midriffs and the rest, and adorned with very little, other than their tattoos and piercings in every conceivable spot. In fact London I believe will very shortly rival Spain or the South of France as a summer destination and holiday resort.


But if you have tired of sea, sun and beaches and
are looking for interest and enthrallment (with plenty
of sunshine thrown in), then London is the place.


Buckingham Palace has once again thrown open its doors to the public and invited them in this year to participate in the celebration of the Queen’s 80th birthday. For the first time the public is being given a rare opportunity to see the largest-ever exhibition of The Queen’s most spectacular evening dresses and personal jewellery which she has worn at state banquets and formal occasions from the 1940’s to the present day for both official engagements and private family events.




The Queen has often been criticised by ‘fashionistas’ for turning ‘frumpiness into an art form’, but this exhibition includes some breathtaking gowns which are masterpieces of couture. Several of the dresses worn when the Queen was in her twenties, reveal her to have had a slim, indeed model figure, with what might be described as a ‘handspan’ waist. One dress in particular, in black velvet and duchesse satin, designed by Norman Hartnell in the 1940’s is model-perfect in its silhouette and impact and would not look out of place on the houte couture catwalk today.




Official portrait of the Queen by Baron, 1957




Throughout her reign, the Queen has relied on trusted couturiers to dress her correctly for every occasion. Most notably these were Norman Hartnell in the early years followed closely by Hardy Amies and later Ian Thomas and Stuart Parvin. Each of these early gowns is a breathtaking example of design, fabric, and cut, superbly fashioned and encrusted with pearls, sequins, and diamante. As one writer has observed Hartnell trod a fine line between the theatrical and the glamorous but always “managed to stop short of one bauble too many“. It is felt that he had the edge when it came to bringing out Her Majesty’s feminine side.




(Above from Left to Right): Duchesse satin & gold lame with diamante, pearls, sequins & beads - Hartnell, 1957
Duchesse satin with pearls, sequins, diamante & beads - Hartnell, 1957
Duchesse satin with pearls, sequins, diamante & beads - Hartnell, 1951



In Dress For The Occasion Her Majesty’s evening gowns “reveal more than just intricate beading” says Sarah Vine writing for the Times and here I do agree with her because there is something inescapably personal about a woman’s wardrobe. For one thing this exhibition demonstrates not only how the Monarchs figure has gone from wasp waisted princess to mature, dignified national icon, but in many ways it underlines the alteration that occurs with maturity, seriousness and responsibility.










The dresses are arranged in colour groups and not according to chronological order which creates a harmonious yet dazzling display. As one would expect white, cream and golds are the acceptable choice for state functions and provide the perfect background for the gaudy regimental sashes she is required to wear.






 Above from Left to Right): Silk embroidered with sequins, beads & pearls - Hartnell, 1956
Silk velvet & duchesse satin - Hartnell, late 1940’s


As for the bright pastel shades which she is known to favour - they are there to ensure her visibility. But the line up also illustrates that the Queen’s choice of outfit is not determined by ‘where hemlines are’ in any given season, but is governed instead by matters of decorum. Her neckline must not offend, nor should the colour she is wearing send the wrong political message.






(Above from left to right): The Rose of York Bracelet, c.1893. The Vladimir Tiara - Russia, c.1890.
The Flower Basket Brooch, c.1930. Gold, platinum, sapphire, diamond & ruby bracelet, Boucheron, London, 1952. The Delhi Durbar Necklace, Garrards, 1911. The Cullinan V brooch, probably Garrards, 1911.


On show are some of Her Majesty’s favourite jewels. Many of these have been inherited by The Queen from her grandmother Queen Mary, in 1953. These include the magnificent Vladimir tiara, bought by Queen Mary from the renowned collection of the Duchess Vladimir, aunt of Tsar Nicholas 11. The tiara is often worn with the Delhi Durbar necklace, which was made for Queen Mary and was first worn at Delhi Durbar in 1911. Another of the Queen’s favourites is the gold, sapphire, diamond and ruby bracelet made by Bucheron to Prince Phillip’s design. It was given to The Queen on her fifth wedding anniversary and incorporates the initials ’E’ and ’P’.


This exhibition is not only fascinating, it is unique. The sartorial biography aside, to see these 80 dresses glittering and shimmering on their pedestals allows you to inhabit the world of the Monarch in a way which you could never have imagined.





If you decide to visit, allow at least two and a half hours and don’t forgo the audio guide which is included, because as it guides you along it brings the palace to life.


The Summer opening of the State Rooms of Buckingham Palace is from the 26th July to the 24th September 2006. Open daily 09h45 - 18h00. Admission prices are £14 Adult and £12.50 for students and over 60’s. Advance tickets are available on +44(0) 207766 7300.

Another must see while you are in London is the immensely moving exhibition of Modigliani and his Models, currently being held at the Royal Academy until the 15th October 2006. Modigliani (1884-1920) is one of the best known but equally misunderstood artists of the 20th Century. Today his graceful portraits and sensuous nudes at once evoke his name. But during his brief career (he died at age 35 from a combination of ill health, alcohol and drug abuse) he was relatively unknown or appreciated, except by his fellow artists.




(Above from left to right): Amedeo Modigliani - Draped Nude 1917.
(Koninklijk Museum Voor Schone Kunsten - Antwerp, Belgium)
Amedeo Modigliani  - Beatrice Hastings in front of a door 1915.
 (Photo copyright Christies Images Ltd. 2002) (Private Collection Ivor Braka Ltd.)
Amedeo Modigliani  - Nude 1917.
(Gift of R. Guggenheim, New York)






He invented an instantly recognisable style which becomes very evident as one walks through this exhibition. Although there are several of his very famous nude studies, demonstrating his fascination with the human form, I was particularly drawn to his portraits- those of the artists milieu of Montparnasses, where he was very much at home and where he did portrait studies of Picasso, Juan Gris and Jean Cocteau. 


Amedeo Modigliani - Anna Zborowska 1917.
 (Museum of Modern Art - New York) (Lillie P. Bliss collection 1934) (Photo copyright Digital Image 2006) (The Museum of Modern Art/Scala, Florence)




But mainly I enjoyed the ones of the significant women in his life - all with their long necks, oval faces, almond shaped eyes and small pursed lips. What comes across very forcefully is a man who was fiercely individual and idiosyncratic, who remained independent of any movement or style but was able to capture likenesses, character, and personalities with very simple lines and mask like faces. We are told that he may have been influenced by European figurative painting, Egyptian classical and African sculpture.


The story of Amedeo Modigliani is a sad one. He came from a middleclass cultured Jewish home in Livorno Italy. After studying in Venice and Florence he went to Paris in 1906, but his good looks, astonishing talent and self-destructive nature led him into a dissolute bohemian life. He was irresistible to women and had many lovers and mistresses. The tempestuous South African born British poet and critic Beatrice Hastings tried to save him from disaster, but after two stormy years could no longer bear his violence. Finally a Parisian teenager Jeanne Hebuterne took up with him and worshipped him. She was too grief stricken to call a doctor when he was ill, so watched him die and then killed herself and her unborn baby. Much of the tragedy of his life is etched into the portraits of these women and the exhibition leaves one feeling strangely moved.


No discussion of the art scene in London would
be complete without referring to the much talked
about and highly acclaimed Kandinsky: The
Path to Abstraction, currently being held at
the Tate Modern until the 1st of October 2006.







WHITE CENTRE 1921 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.  Hilla Rebay Collection 1971.  Copyright ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2006


This Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) is widely acknowledged as being one of the founders of abstract art and yet this is the first time that his paintings have been the subject of a major exhibition in this country. 






No wonder that there is so much interest…and even if abstract art is not your particular thing, this exhibition is extremely rewarding and interesting to view. Somehow it is deeply satisfying, which could be explained by the fact that during the first two decades of the twentieth century Kandinsky moved beyond pure figurative or observational work towards images generated by an inner vision. It is suggested “that his early abstractions contain not only intimations of disaster, but premonitions of the First World War”.



What is slightly less well known, is the fact that Kandinsky claimed to experience snyaesthesia, the rare ability to ‘hear’ colours and ‘see’ sounds. This appears to have been a lifelong preoccupation for the artist, since he recalled that as a child he heard a strange ‘hissing’ noise when mixing colours in his paint box, and later when he became an accomplished cello player he reported that cello music represented the ‘deepest blue’. 


1910 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York


Kandinsky discovered his synaesthesia at a performance of one of Wagner’s operas when he reports “I saw all my colours in spirit before my eyes. Wild almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me”. In his path to abstraction Kandinsky replaced the castles and hill top towers of his early landscapes with stabs of paint, or as he saw them musical notes and chords that would ‘visually sing’ together.


As this has been such a challenging show some art critics
have suggested that you “stop thinking” and “go!”



TWO GIRLS (ZWEI MADCHEN) 1918 Private collection.  
Copyright ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2006


While others have suggested that although “the jump to abstraction seems inevitable….it was not that at all, Kandinsky’s journey was slow, laborious and deliberate”. His work it is claimed spoke very often of deep and dark currents that emerge from his engagement with a world in political and artistic flux.


But having said all that I found it compelling and visually most exciting. I would nevertheless again encourage any visitor to take the audio guide, which is not only explanatory, but also helpful in allowing you to access aspects of this highly intellectual and passionate artist’s life.









COSSACKS 1910 - 1911 Tate. 
Copyright ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2006




Tate Modern’s opening hours are Sunday - Thursday
10h00 - 18h00 
Friday and Saturday 
10h00 - 22h00.

Nearest Tube stations are:
Black Friars and walk across the Millennium Bridge or Southwark.




BLUE SEGMENT 1921 Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
Copyright ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2006

If by now you are feeling that you would
love a day out in the country, why not
take the train and experience a host
of new and different delights.


You can be whisked off to the picturesque countryside, or you could settle for action and adventure. The magazine Time Out lists 30 great destinations all accessible from either rail or road travel.




One of my favourite places to visit is Hever Castle, near Edenbridge, in Kent. This 13th Century wonderfully authentic Castle was once the childhood home of Anne Boleyn, the tragic wife of Henry VIII and Mother of Elizabeth I. It is brimming with historical treasures, including Tudor portraits, artefacts and furniture, as well as Anne Boleyn’s illuminated Book of Hours (her personal prayer book). 




The castle itself is of enormous historical interest and one should certainly leave time to go on a guided tour through the many rooms and galleries. But the gardens are a real delight and the 35 acre lake at the end of the Italian Garden is breathtaking, particularly when used as a backdrop for open air theatre performances and concerts that are held during the summer months.





You can take your own picnic and enjoy it in amongst the trees and rolling landscape of the beautiful grounds, or you can lunch at one of the castle’s own restaurants, after which enjoy the new water maze and jousting competitions which are guaranteed to be winners with the younger set. 


Check the website for dates and events www.hevercastle.co.uk.








How do you get there? Catch the train (Southern Railway) from Victoria Station and go to Edenbridge from where it is a short taxi ride to the castle. Phone number for Southern Rail 0845 1272920. Or go by road M25 exit junction 5 or 6 and follow the brown tourist signs to Hever Castle.

Tribute to Robert Carrier who epitomised
fine dining, style and glamour, and made
entertaining at home fashionable!


Showcook mourns the passing of Robert Carrier a friend, a great chef and a brilliant writer who died on the 27th June 2006. He was aged 82. His wonderfully flamboyant personality endeared him to all who worked with him and knew him and he was truly an inspiration and a breath of fresh air to the industry. After all he was famous long before the term ‘celebrity chef’ was coined as he epitomised fine dining and a new love of food as early as the 1970’s in Britain.


Born Robert McMahon in New York of Irish/French descent, he adopted the French surname of his grandmother, whom he adored and who first taught him to cook. During the War he served in Europe with the U.S. Army and later went to Italy where he added Italian dishes to his already growing repertoire. He arrived in Britain in 1953 and for 30 years spread the message that “good cooking was simple but took time and in fact anyone could do it”.


Carrier always had a passion for food and loved entertaining. On the strength of one magnificent and elaborate meal he was offered the job as food editor and writer for Harpers Bazaar. He also wrote for Vogue and had a column in the Sunday Times. During this most prolific period of his life he published more than 20 titles, including Great Dishes of the World (1967), which was to sell more than 10 million copies and The Robert Carrier Cookbook (1965). In all of his books, recipe cards, television broadcasts and cookery classes, he sought to make food fashionable and home cooking a pleasure.


But Carrier wanted a restaurant of his own so he opened one in Camden Passage Islington and it soon became a meeting place for American and English celebrities. Spurred on by this success in 1971 Carrier indulged his true entrepreneurial side and bought a grade - 11 listed building in Suffolk called Hintlesham Hall, which he converted into a home, hotel, cookery school and three restaurants. Although he ran this establishment with great elegance and flair, the costs involved in the refurbishments ultimately took their toll and he finally bowed out of these ventures and retired to Morocco where he continued to write books, A Taste of Morocco (1987) and Feasts of Provence (1993). In 1994 he returned to London to proclaim the virtues of economical and vegetarian eating.


It is said of him that “his was the cooking that launched a thousand dinner parties; the great engine of British social change during the 1960’s. He died in the South of France on the 27 June 2006. He will be sadly missed by all who knew him, respected him and loved him.


Special thanks Public Relations and Marketing,
 the Royal Collection – 020 7839 1377 
The Royal Collection © 2006, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

© Astrid Michelow 2006


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