Week 123 - Pallant House, Lobster, Party rules.

 


Pallant house in Chichester is terrific. It has stone ostriches above the gate posts and is a beautiful and restrained example of early 18th century classicism. It is a gallery, a temple to what art dealers call 'Mod Brit', essentially that means British 20th century art but by dead or nearly dead artists - nothing contemporary. These are spread around the house which is also larded with some beautiful 18th century furniture. Next door and joined through is a severe multiple award winning contemporary structure by the British library architect Sir Colin Alexander St John Wilson. ( impressively both a 'Sir' and a 'St', though that bit is pronounced - 'sinjun', but thankfully and simply known as Sandy Wilson - but not to be confused with the composer of the "Boyfriend") and Long and Kentish. The new building opened in 2006, the year before his death. Within these walls are now housed - Wilson's own collection together with that of a local property developer Charles Kearley, but it was founded on the legacy of pioneering collector and the lynchpin of the Chichester arts scene - Walter Hussey - the Dean of the cathedral for 22 years from 1955 to 1977. His contribution to the music and art of the city cannot be understated, for so many creations he was both the catalyst and instrument. The gallery therefore combines architecture from 1720 to 2006 with furniture and - of course - great, but exclusively, 20th century British art in a way that is both sympathetic and challenging. Today we are visiting the show focussing on John Piper's textile designs. They are bold and strong and a real revelation to enjoy. It was also apparent how brave, determined and tolerant of criticism Hussey was to commission the work that he did for the cathedral. One curious aspect of the show was counterpointing work done using the same motifs but carried out decades apart. I was fascinated to see a painting done in the 1930s beside a textile from the 1950s. They were both clearly the same in terms of colours and motifs but managed to be both simultaneously different to each other and representative of their own decade of creation.

 John Piper at Pallant House - on the left 1935, on the right 1955.

John Piper at Pallant House - on the left 1935, on the right 1955.

 A John Piper Tapestry, bold, bright and a challenge to weave.

A John Piper Tapestry, bold, bright and a challenge to weave.

Heading home to Selsey bill and crab for lunch we took a detour to East Beach to greedily buy more to take back to London later, we spotted some freshly boiled lobster and swept them up without hesitation. Julie's Hut has been in situ since my puberty and it was established back then by a pretty red-haired freckle-faced girl of little more than 16. She had an entrepreneurial zeal and set out her stall in a business dominated by both men and adults. I never got to know her personally but I shyly enjoyed being sent there to buy crab and fish. It survives and seems to flourish and though she is no longer to be seen it warms my heart to see it. My stepfather Peter loves lobster and he dresses it with great care and attention. He cracks the shell and gingerly levers out each delicate morsel of succulent red edged white flesh, and creates a still life on the platter. This takes time and we are all ravenous and a little tense by the time he brings it forth but it is a great joy to both behold and consume - soft, a hint of chew and that soft salty taste of the sea that gives it its divinity. The crab is not overlooked but works with the lobster to make the tastes ever more delightful. Talk of lobster takes me back to Mayfair and I remember the Chalet in Maddox St. When I started out in the antiques business at Mallett in 1985, when the caretaker was away I had to go in and unlock the building. On parade at 8 am but then nothing to do until 9.30 when the shop opened. I used to fill the gap and my tummy by eating a hearty cardiac arrest inducing breakfast there. The ladies were jolly and welcoming and I learned to love the higgledy piggledy interior and its panelling. From then until its closure in around 2014 it was my favourite haunt in the area. Once in a while their daily special was Lobster Thermidor. A legendary dish created by one of the greatest chefs - Auguste Escoffier and named after a play written about the Thermidorian Reaction that ended the Terror of Robespierre during the French Revolution. Thermidor - the word - was the name given to the summer month by the revolutionaries. At the Chalet it was both surprisingly reasonably priced and delicious; a throwback food and it seemed transgressive to be given access to this impossible luxury. As a boy of 10 or so my father always used to say whenever we went out to eat - ' have what you like but not the Lobster Thermidor! ' The dish acquired mythic status. Once in a while the Chalet was silent at lunchtime whilst the patrons delighted themselves with the daily special. Eating Peter's carefully prepared lobster I felt nostalgic for the restaurant and the memories from those times.

 Lobster Thermidor - in this case made by my mother.

Lobster Thermidor - in this case made by my mother.

 

Midweek we discussed whether to drive to Oxford for the opening of Pat Albeck's show of cutout collage still lives. My rule is that the journey to and from an event should not be greater than the time spent at the event. In other words driving for 4 hours for an hour long drinks party breaks the rule. On the other side of the argument is whether the host would appreciate the effort so much that it 'trumps' the rule. We drove to Oxford. The show was all but sold out by the time we arrived - only one left - and that was only 30 minutes after it opened. There had been a feeding frenzy and they were all consumed. Pat was delighted and excited by her success but she was keen to do more and she promised she would make two big ones for me to show at Olympia. Having admired the work and chatted to some of her rapt audience the pictures were all gathered up and carefully tucked away; on came chairs, tables and huge bowls of salad and chilli and the drinks party morphed into a dinner. finally heading home towards midnight we reflected that the rule had actually hardly been broken at all, and the trump card had definitely proved both effective and correct.

 Some of the sold items from Pat's show. I could have bought them all.

Some of the sold items from Pat's show. I could have bought them all.