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Posts tagged ‘Parliament’

Compendium // Budapest > The elegance of Pest

Our trip to Budapest was so fleeting that we never really had the opportunity to delve into the wealth of history which the city boats, and less still pour through the pages of a guidebook. Given that we were short of time, we preferred instead to wander around the city, taking in the sights without prior knowledge nor recommendation. In many ways, this made for the best type of sightseeing. Rather than miss so many details by focusing on a single destination, our aimless perambulations meant that we were able to take in the very many ravishing details which make the city of Budapest such a visual treat for the eyes.


Known as the Paris of Central Europe, Budapest bears a number of similarities to the elegant French capital. There are also many ways in which it is better – Budapest is cleaner for sure, and the customer service way exceeds the somewhat snooty attitude of many Paris restauranteurs. But as seasoned Daily Norm readers will know, Paris is one of my all time favourite cities, and in Budapest, I could really feel that same uninterrupted elegance pervade its grand boulevards and monumental squares. This is no more evident than in Pest, the younger half of the unified city, but an area still rich in historical magnificence as best evidenced in the great palaces and richly decorated government buildings which surround the area around the most iconic building of them all – the neo-gothic materpiece of Budapest’s Parliament.


Criss-crossed by tram cables, and with the yellow vehicles themselves routinely trundling across squares lined with pavement cafes, Pest feels like the archetypal European city, but unlike so many capitals, it has a relaxed feel which invites rather than repels. In Pest, long leafy avenues play host to glamourous fashion boutiques and grand cafes serving afternoon tea on marble tables and wicker chairs. This is Paris but with a further layer of grandiose sophistication, but lacking the pretension which so often accompanies the finer things in life.


In case it isn’t obvious, I am a significant Budapest fan. It is a city unhampered by the brutal architectural interruptions of the modern age, playing host to some of Europe’s finest examples of secessionist architecture, and glorious neo-classical facades. From above, it exhibits a skyline punctuated by turquoise church spires and silver rooftops. At ground level, sprawling boulevards are illuminated by golden street lamps and shiny tram tracks. This is the epitome of Europe’s glorious past, polished and preserved for the current generation.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Onwards to Vienna, Part 1: Imperial City

It felt like we had returned to the glory days of the 20s. Fresh from a cosseted beverage in Harry’s Bar, the venerable watering hole of Hemingway, and having headed along the Grand Canal by vaporetto to the Stazione Santa Lucia, we left Venice one foggy freezing night by night train. With our own little private compartment complete with bunk beds, complementary towels (and bubbles!), and even a tuck away sink and wardrobe, the only thing missing was the inevitable Agatha Christie-esk murder. And while things certainly did go bumpety-bump-bump in the night, we (and as far as I know, the other passengers) arrived early the following morning very much alive and vibrating. Our new destination: Vienna.

Vienna is synonymous with New Year thanks to its famous New Year’s Day concert from the grand Musikverein, and likewise with the festive season owing to its multitude of Christmas markets perfumed with the scent of mulled wine and spiced pastries. The city was therefore an obvious choice after our Christmas in Venice, and with our night-journey also doubling as a hotel, it was the most convenient of onward travels.

Vienna, first views


If Venice was remarkable for its decadent, fading grandeur, Vienna was notable for its utterly breathtaking majesty. While Venice’s palaces and piazzas were to be found nestled alongside a maze of tiny canals, and hidden in cosy corners, from our first steps within Vienna, it presented as a city on show. A city-spectacular, straight out of the gilded pages of its imperial past. A city built as a manifestation of an empire’s utmost power, spectacular riches and the very best of refined taste and unceasing elegance. It felt like a city almost untouched by the turbulence of past centuries, as its resplendent monuments and palatial public buildings glittered as though brand new.

This was no more evident than on the Ringstrasse, Vienna’s principal boulevard and main inner-ringroad, an avenue whose construction 150 years ago coincided with a race to build alongside it the most spectacular buildings the city had ever seen.

Our location in the comparatively village-like Josefstadt region led us directly onto the Ringstrasse, and our first encounter was with the phenomenal neo-gothic Neues Rathaus, the new city hall built by architect Friedrich von Schmidt and including an impressive 100m central tower topped by a 3m statue of a knight in shining armour.

The Neues Rathaus


Just a few metres onwards and we came face to face with the classical masterpiece of Theophil Hansen’s Parliament Building, a temple-like construction whose positioning up a gentle sloping hill and collection of grand mythological statues imbued the site with all the majesty and power which would be expected of such a key component of the state. Meanwhile, just opposite across many of the grassy gardens which also line the Ringstrasse, further majesty could be found in the form of the Hofburg Complex, the sprawling network of former imperial apartments and the Presidential offices; a cluster of palaces whose impressive scale is softened by the elegance of its green cupolas and gilded details.

The Parliament building and the Hofburg Complex


And so with each and every step we took along this impressive broad avenue, we encountered a new masterpiece of architectural prowess, from the twin places of the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum to the stunning State Opera House, one of the first of the grand Ringstrasse buildings to be completed, and of course the famous Musikverein, home of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. And these views only got better as night quickly fell, and the grandeur was aptly illuminated against a starry blue sky.

The Opera, and the Musikverein


As Sigmund Freud once noted, Schein über Sein – looking good is better than being good. And while Vienna struck us almost immediately as a veritable showpiece rather than a place of cosiness and homely welcome, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the show being laid out before us, a performance whose protagonist would continue to dazzle as this next leg of our winter journey moved onwards.

The Ringstrasse at night


All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2016 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Painting Parliament: Turner, Monet and Me

It’s not only an icon of London, recognisable around the world twice over, but it’s also one which I pass every working day. The Houses of Parliament in London is at the beating heart of the city. We set our clocks by the familiar chime of it’s big ben bell, we pass souvenir stalls packed full of paraphernalia containing the image of building, and we can see the soaring bell tower, now named Elizabeth Tower, from far across London. Yet we are all guilty of taking the Palace of Westminster, a.k.a. the Houses of Parliament for granted. When I emerge from the tube every morning, I do so directly opposite the great gothic palace, but never stop to take in its majesty, despite the hundreds of tourists who are always collecting before it with their cameras ready.

The Houses of Parliament from Millbank, David Roberts (1861) © Museum of London

The Houses of Parliament from Millbank, David Roberts (1861) © Museum of London

However all this changed when yesterday I headed up Elizabeth Tower to meet the great Big Ben first hand. Suddenly I have found myself looking at Parliament afresh. I even went into the Parliament bookshop and bought myself a souvenir or two (including a chocolate Big Ben – every visitor needs one). And all this had me thinking, the Palace of Westminster is such an impressive, iconic building, a masterpiece of architecture which is all the more perfect for its purposeful lack of symmetry, its miscellany of towers, spires and gothic ornamentation – no wonder then that the building has proved such an inspiration to artists over the years. And we’re not just talking any artists, but two of the greats. British favourite JMW Turner, and someone who, in a way, could be called Turner’s protege or disciple, father of the Impressionists, Claude Monet.

Both artist’s depictions of the Palace of Westminster have become iconic images of Parliament, but are also invaluable depictions of the building’s chequered history. For when Turner painted Parliament, he did so at a crucial point in its history – the day when Parliament was destroyed by fire: 16 October 1834. The fire, which ravaged the palace, gutting almost everything but Westminster Hall, proved inspirational to Turner. Already renowned for capturing the effect of light and smoke, almost impregnable foggy landscapes and turbulent great storms, Turner, who witnessed the great fire raging first hand, was evidently captivated by the gigantic inferno, pouring billowing smoke and red-hot flames high into the sky above the Thames.

J M W Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 (1835)

J M W Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 (1835)

J M W Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 (1834-5)

J M W Turner, The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, 16th October, 1834 (1834-5)

The canvases which result (the first held by the Cleveland Museum of Art, and the second by the Philadelphia Museum of Art) are brilliant, dramatic depictions of the fire, demonstrating the devastating extent of the inferno as it climbed high into the sky contrasted with the small shocked witnesses in the lower foreground. I love, in the second, the subtle silhouette of Westminster Cathedral glowing before the flames of its now burning neighbouring palace, and the huge column of fire rising dangerously high in the first.

Turner was evidently more than inspired. A series of watercolour sketches (pictured below), which appear to have been sketched roughly at the scene or shortly afterwards, are a striking record of the almost undefinable power of the fire, as the light and heat of the inferno blurs and tempers the city surroundings. These watercolours, which were bequeathed to London’s National Gallery and are now held at Tate, are so instantaneous in their quick creation that they start to look almost abstract in their composition while retaining a powerful contrast between glowing super-hot heat and the foggy smokey surrounds. It’s an effect which is brilliantly executed for such a loose and uncontrollable painting medium as watercolour.

But perhaps the most famous paintings of the Houses of Parliament are those depictions by impressionist master, Claude Monet. Monet, too, was evidently inspired by the elegant gothic structure which, by the time he visited London twice, once seeking safe haven during the Franco-Prussian war in the early 1870s and again at the beginning of the 20th century, had been rebuilt into the structure we know and love today.

Claude Monet, The Thames at Westminster (1871)

Claude Monet, The Thames at Westminster (1871)

But for Monet, who was, by his own admission, greatly inspired by Turner’s expression of light and changing weather, the real inspiration appears to be not so much the Parliament building itself, but the varying effects of weather, light and city smog upon the building. While his first depiction of Parliament (above) is a fairly detailed depiction of the Thames at Westminster, showing the intricacy of the Palace of Westminster, albeit somewhat faded into a smoggy urban background, his later series of Parliament paintings concentrate far more on the changing light of London than on the landscape itself.

The results are a stunning series of works. The quick application of paint, no doubt painted in a great rush to capture the changing light as was Monet’s obsession, is so energetic and alive that the Palace appears to quiver before our very eyes, the effect of the smog and river mist undulating and turning over the surface of the canvas, capturing in turn the light as it filters through the layers of cloud and vapour. It’s hard to choose between these depictions, all of which are equally evocative of another stage in Parliament’s history, when London was almost chocked with poisonous noxious gases and a horrible river stench. But oh what a beautiful effect it had once captured by Monet’s hand.

Finally, we turn to the modern day. The Houses of Parliament continues to delight Londoners and tourists alike, stood proudly adjacent to the River Thames, and surrounded not by city smog, but by a thriving bustling capital city and, every 31 December, a firework display to rival all others across the world. Yet still, the character of the building changes, and its mood metamorphoses, as weather and light cast transformative moods upon this spectacular structure.

On one such day, when menacing clouds began to break apart, and blue sky and a winter sun peeked out from behind the cover of cloud directly above the great gothic structure, I, like Monet and Turner before me, was captivated by the stunning view before me, and all the more so for the doubling of the image thanks to the reflective image in the river below it. Some time later, I took out my brushes, oil paints and a canvas and painted that view I had seen – it was in fact one of the first oils I had ever attempted. And here it is. It’s no Turner or Monet admittedly, but it is my own painted homage to the power and glory of London’s Houses of Parliament.

Cityscape I: London (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)

Cityscape I: London (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas)