#11.
Piece: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Artist: Pablo Picasso
About: Perhaps the most famous example of cubism painting, dating back to 1907. All background detail has been removed to ensure nothing interferes with the impact of the subject, five naked women. In fact, it’s only through the name of the painting that we know it’s setting (on a street famous for its brothel in Barcelona). It’s a huge piece, eschewing traditional form and composition, instead favouring geometrical shapes to make up African masks.

Demoiselles 1

#12.
Piece: The Starry Night
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
About: Beautiful swirls and an intense colour palette have ensured this painting is famous across the globe. Van Gogh painted the scene from his window at Saint-Paul asylum, but you wouldn’t recognise the view; the village was invented to frame the scene and provide some (much needed) order for the swirling expression above. Gogh preferred the night as it was “much more alive and richly coloured than the day.”

Starry Night 1

#13.
Piece: The Dream
Artist: Henri Rousseau
About: This was Rousseau’s first painting to receive acclaim, but he didn’t have long to glory in it, as he passed a few months later. Rousseau wasn’t burdened by an understanding of art theory and he developed his own unique look, featuring highly stylised jungle scenes. Rousseau wrote a poem to accompany the piece, but it didn’t add much for me.

The Dream 1

#14.
Piece: The Lovers
Artist: Reni Magritte
About: This surrealist painting is almost as iconic as Dali’s clocks. Magritte has emulated the cinematic hero/heroine kiss, but he subverts the form by shrouding their entire faces with cloth. Frustrated desires are a common theme in his work, and the fabric barrier here is a perfect example.

The Lovers 1

#15.
Piece: Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
About: This one features on the front cover of my Gombrich’s Story of Art book, so it has been top of mind throughout this whole challenge. Vermeer aimed to paint the ideal woman, in an ideal home. The image is one of harmony, with balanced shapes and colours. It dates back to 1660 and is painted in oil on canvas.

Water pitcher 1

#16.
Piece: Campbell’s Soup Cans
Artist: Andy Warhol
About: When first exhibited, Warhol’s 32 soup cans were placed onto shelves installed into the gallery to look like a supermarket. Each one shows of a type of soup Campbell’s was making at the time. Warhol was positive about modern life, and whilst some people read it as a celebration (or even a slight) on consumerism, it’s not generally considered as one. In fact, people close to him state it was simply a product close to his heart.

Campbell 1

#6.
Piece: Dance (I)
Artist: Henri Matisse
About: Matisse received a commission in 1909 for two large decorative panels, Dance & Music. This is the first study of Dance, to assess its composition. The figure on the left appears to move purposefully, pulling the others around that are a little weightless. Matisse studied the patterns and colours of carpets and North African scenery – and whilst those influences aren’t overtly visible here, they informed his approach.

Dance 1

#7.
Piece: Broadway Boogie Woogie
Artist: Piet Mondrian
About: Piet Mondrian’s wanted to find an approach to art that was disciplined and structured, built up of the simplest elements – straight lines and pure colours. This is one of his more complex pictures; created when he left Europe for New York at the start of World War II. He loved the city’s architecture, and adored American jazz. This painting was his homage to both of those things: the grey banding suggests the city grid system, and the sharp staccato colour implies free jazz and improvisation along a theme.

Boogie Woogie 1

#8.
Piece: The Persistence of Memory
Artist: Salvador Dali
About: As Gombrich explains, people and objects often seem to merge and exchange places in our dreams. “Our cat may at the same time be our aunt and our garden Africa.” Dali attempted to make sense of this confusing dream life by painting similar dreamscapes. He mixed photorealistic fragments of the real world together – to imply apparent madness. In doing so he didn’t attempt to show what we see, but what we dream.

Persistence of memory 1

#9.
Piece: The Vision of St John
Artist: El Greco
About: El Greco (‘the greek’) fell in love with the work of Tintoretto when he moved from Crete to Venice. Tintoretto considered his painting complete when he had conveyed his vision for the scene, and it was that function over form approach that El Greco embraced. By ignoring traditional technique, he created this dramatic biblical scene full of blurred lines and sharp light. It shows a moment from the book Revelations, in which the fifth seal of heaven is broken and the saints (including Saint John on the left) are martyred.

Vision 1

#10.
Piece: Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies
Artist: Claude Monet
About: Monet urged his impressionist pals to abandon the indoors and create mobile studios outside, where they could place themselves in front of the ‘motif’. He fitted out a riverboat to act as a studio, and painted his river scenery. He wasn’t interested in the detail, but instead giving ‘an impression’ of the overall scene – the effect the light had on the water and the leaves, the depth of the shadows etc. Many critics at the time lambasted the impressionist movement (the term impressionist was originally a criticism, but the negative connotations were quickly forgotten). But Monet was an accomplished painted, and Gombrich tells us his tones and colours as deliberately as any landscape painter of the past.

Bridge 1

#1.
Piece: The Sistine Chapel Ceiling
Artist: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
About: High renaissance painting, in which nine scenes from the book of Genesis are shown. Michelangelo painted in a cramped position over four years, a position he became so used to that when he received a letter during this period he had to hold it over his head and bend backwards to read it.

Sistine Chapel

#2.
Piece: Ognissanti Madonna
Artist: Giotto di Bondone
About: The Italians were convinced that an entirely new epoch of art had begun with the appearance of Giotto: he rediscovered the illusion of depth on a flat surface, with the use of foreshortening, and shadows.

Madonna and child enthroned with angels and saints

#3.
Piece: The Birth of Venus
Artist: Sandro Botticelli
About: As soon as the idea of making a picture a mirror of reality was adopted, the rigid systems that had previously created such harmony in pictures were thrown out of the window. Botticelli managed to create an image that was balanced, harmonious, and beautiful without rigid symmetry. So much so, we don’t notice the liberties he took – look closely at Venus’ unusually long neck, and her curve dropped shoulders.

The Birth of Venus

#4.
Piece: David
Artist: Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni
About: The sheer scale of this statue amazed me, I’d always though it would be much smaller. Originally commissioned to stand on the Duomo cathedral roof, the Vestry board decided it was too beautiful to be put somewhere so out-of-sight and so a new site was found for it.

Statue of David

#5.
Piece: The Inspiration of St Matthew
Artist: Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio
About: Caravaggio’s intention was to copy nature faithfully, whether it be beautiful or ugly. His use of light is harsh and in your face, contrasting with dark shadows, to create a scene of uncompromising honesty. So this piece is interesting because it is in fact a compromise; Caravaggio created a previous version of the painting but it was rejected by the person paying the commission for being too gritty. This is what he created after that round of feedback…

The inspiration of St Matthew

So after much deliberation, I’ve decided on this year’s challenges.

This next year is going to be a bit of a rollercoaster, and keeping myself exploring is going to be harder than ever.

So here’s one I plan on doing at home… Cooking with 28 different herbs and spices, in an effort to train my tastebuds.

Secondly, I’m planning on hunting out 28 works of art over the next year, to try and improve my knowledge of the history of art. Some will be famous masters, some will be chosen because they speak to me, or move my education on.

And thirdly, I’m going to read 28 Roald Dahl books. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Roald Dahl, but its been years since I read him. So I’m planning on digging out both his adult collection and his children collection, and working my way through his catalogue.

So, there you have it.

Challenge 27 is complete.
I felt like I really hit a rhythm this year – all of the tasks were evenly spaced out throughout the year, and I didn’t have to rush any of them.

Japanese restaurants turned out to be expensive, but fantastic.
Here are my top five from the year:

Summary 27.001

The cocktails challenge was great fun – something I’m going to try and keep up. In fact, it helped me find my new go-to drink. The Aviation.

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A few of the Nairn’s buildings turned out to be difficult to track down, I was glad to see them all the same. This one really exposed just how little I know about architecture. But I’m glad I did it all the same – it has made me more interested in the subject than I was.
My top five highlights:

Summary 27.002

Like every year before, I’ve taken 27 photos that best sum up the year. They’re here on Flickr.

27 Summary

And with that, onto next year…

Restaurant: Nobu, Old Park Ln
Time: Friday evening
With: Wist
Stand-out dish: Hamachi with jalapeno
A strong finisher. Nobu is a Japanese icon in London – one of the most scene-y places of the nineties. You get the impression nothing has changed since then – the menu, the staff, the decor. The interior – all light wood, frosted glass and brushed metal – certainly feels dated. But the food is outstanding. We opted for the omakase – me classic, Wist vegetarian. Dish after dish of first-rate fare. My favourite was the hamachi with jalapeno, but it could have equally been the black cod with miso, the seared tuna sashimi salad, even the green tea icecream and chocolate fondant. Nobu probably isn’t the best Japanese meal of this challenge, but it’s certainly up there.

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#27. Wilton’s Music Hall, Graces Alley
One I’m particularly fond of to finish. Hidden behind a peeling pink door, in a Whitechapel side alley, sits the oldest surviving music hall in the world. Inside, the entire space has been gloriously preserved in a state of ruin. Cast iron solomonic columns support the creaking balcony overhead. Crumbling masonry for every wall. The building was rescued by Frances Mayhew, who managed to secure funding for its refurbishment and introduce a stellar arts programme. A couple of years ago, in front of the stage, I asked Wist to marry me. I love this place.

My London - photos far copy.001