Saturday 24 April 2021

'Heracles' in the Drawing Room

'Heracles', oil and acrylic on canvas by Orr Máté

Some time ago, most likely before the end of 2019, although the actual date is of little importance, we found ourselves in the Budapest studio of the painter, Orr Máté [in Hungarian the surname always precedes the first name]. Over the years Máté has become a very close friend and so whilst visits to his studio are not infrequent, it is always exciting when there is new work to be seen on the easel or, as does occasionally happen, an opportunity to turn the pages of his most recent sketchbook.

A preliminary sketch for the painting 'Heracles'

And so it was that we happened upon the preliminary drawings for a painting, 'Heracles', featuring the centaur, Nessus, in conflict with the Nemean lion. Not only were we captivated by the drawings themselves but were, in discussion, intrigued by the mythology of the Ancient Greeks given a new relevance to the present day.

A sketch for 'Heracles' taken from Orr Máté's sketchbook 

Of course the fate of Heracles is well known. But in this instance, in portraying the centaur entangled with the lion, Máté chooses a pose for his subject matter that seemingly embodies violence in a most brutal form and yet, on the other hand, one that also suggests its opposite. Here, in the artist's own words, we see, "a wide range of conflicting intense emotions: aggression, passion, the feeling of vulnerability, the feeling of power." The intended ambiguity becomes consistent with the experience of life.

A first drawing of the Nemean lion for the painting 'Heracles'

Interestingly, in looking at the early sketches, Máté gives the centaur a beard, later to be replaced with a more Hellenistic head, reminiscent of the sons of Laocoon depicted in the sculpture 'Gruppo del Laocoonte' and said to represent the original icon of human suffering. However, in the final work the composition is both balanced and harmonious, framed by two columns appropriated from the 'Ara Pacis Augustae' altar in Rome which, in themselves, become an allegory of peace.

Orr Máté at work in his studio on the painting

A fitting subject for the drawing room? Many would suggest not but for us, in acquiring the painting through the Várfok Gallery in Budapest who represent Máté, we have not only what we believe to be an iconic work but one that connects a distant past with the challenging times in which we live. The masterful  trompe l'œil effect is undoubtedly chilling, the cold marble creates its own stillness, the subdued palette an austerity but, in contrast, there is an energy, a dynamic, an unstoppable force. The painting lives. Here is life. 

'Heracles' in the drawing room, Budapest

Saturday 13 March 2021

Worship From a Distance

A former glass warehouse, originally that of the Venezia-Murano Glass and Mosaic Company, and an outpost of Protestantism may strike one as something of an odd connection. Notwithstanding, those of a curious disposition who have ventured into the Campo San Vio, with its outlook to the Grand Canal in Venice, will have almost certainly been drawn to the imposing doors of St. George's Anglican Church which, consecrated in 1906, has occupied the building to this day.

Lance Hattatt waiting for the service to start

Indeed, the entrance is not without interest, having been designed by Luigi Marangoni in 1920 and which, in part, serves as a memorial to the British soldiers, sailors and airmen who died in Italy in the Great War of 1914 - 1918. A slightly later, 1926, bas-relief by Napoleone Martinuzzi above the doorway depicts St. George slaying the dragon and, together with the statue of St. Michael, alludes to the British military order of valour, the 'Order of St. Michael and St. George'.

Front door of St. George's Church, Venice [Wikipedia image]

It is to St. George's that, when in Venice, we make our way on a Sunday morning, successors to those who in previous times would have been transported to the Campo in a flotilla of gondolas, in time for the Service of the Eucharist where the interior is flooded in light from a series of stained glass window and where the eye is directed towards the altar piece, a C19 copy of 'The Redeemer with Saints George and Jerome' painted by the Venetian Renaissance artist, Giovanni Buonconsiglio.

Sunday in Venice: Going to the English Church [of St George in Campo San Vio]

Drawing by W. Logsdail published in The Graphic, 6 July 1895

The congregation is not large. Made up of a handful of English speaking residents of Venice, it is supplemented by regular visitors, such as ourselves, to which may be added the occasional tourist who finds himself or herself en route for, and in search of, the Peggy Guggenheim collection. But no-one should be disappointed for, regardless of faith or belief, the service is always uplifting and the Chaplain, the Reverend Canon Malcolm Bradshaw, assisted by Philip Gwynne Jones, will always engender much upon which to reflect.

Interior of St. George's Church before removal of the wooden pews.
Image courtesy of Luisella Romeo of

And so, in these days of a global pandemic when to travel abroad is both restricted and unwise, we greatly miss our Sunday mornings at St. George's as they once were and will, most assuredly, be so again. Instead we 'Zoom'. Under the technical expertise of Philip, whose rôle as assistant curate now doubles with that of technician, and led by Father Malcolm from the Chaplaincy house, we are able to participate in an online service which, although different, reaches out to an ever growing number of participants.

Monument to Frederic Eden and his wife, Caroline,
who made a 'Garden of Eden'  in Venice 

Our Budapest drawing room may not contain a C19 classical frieze, is without an organ donated by the Dowager Duchess of Northumberland, cannot boast memorials and tablets to merchants, bankers and benefactors, contains not an echo of Browning or Ruskin, but each Sunday, accessing our computer screen, it serves to bring close to us a very real fellowship of people and a city that we know and love.  

Friday 5 March 2021

Bureaucracy and Brexit in Budapest

We are not for making political statements. At least not here. Suffice it to say that since January 1st., and the end of the so called Brexit 'transition period', life for us here in Hungary has taken on a new meaning.

The National Directorate General for Aliens Policing, Budapest

It began back in 2019 when, at what was described as a 'Town Hall' meeting, but in reality a gathering of hopeful ex patriots in the ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Budapest, we were informed by the then HM Ambassador that we would be required to exchange our current residency cards at some future point for new, post Brexit ones as we relinquished citizenship of the European Union to be classed instead as Third Country Nationals. It would, we were assured, be a simple, straightforward matter. How things have moved on. Today the British Embassy chooses to communicate through a Facebook page! But that is another story.

'Get Ready for Brexit', 'Town Hall' meeting, Marriott Hotel, Budapest

Nothing could be more misleading. Yesterday, at the National Directorate General for Aliens Policing, we presented ourselves for interview, submission of application, photographs and finger prints, thus complying with the current ruling.

Way In.

The National Directorate General for Aliens Policing is a force not to be reckoned with. Situated in a desolate, outlying suburb of Budapest it is housed in an isolated, heavily protected former villa with an armed guard in attendance. Indeed, the possibility did cross our minds that in former times it might well have been a centre for serious interrogation.

Car Park - we arrived by taxi.

But before ever reaching that point, it became necessary to engage the services of a company to assist us with, and take us through, the application process. The form, some ten pages in length, in Hungarian, once downloaded had, on completion, with attached photograph and an additional paper, signed separately, to be scanned and forwarded to the Directorate before an interview date could be considered. That we also were required to include some authorisation from a Hungarian lawyer is neither here nor there.

Top page of ten pages needed for the registration application.

The interview itself passed almost without a hitch. The photograph attached to the application form, which itself had of course been sent in advance, was deemed unsuitable on the hard copy. Happily we were prepared for all eventualities and, knowing from past experiences that the gas bill of some date in 2011 might have to be produced, we were well equipped with a selection of holiday snaps, so to speak, from which to choose. That we had failed to mention the date of our marriage and the precise place of issue of our most recent passports did not, in the event, prove an impediment.

So, retrieving masks and gloves in line with Covid-19 rules and regulations, we fled the photography and finger print booth and made our escape. As we left, the steel, electric gates silently closed behind us.

Gates firmly closed.

The new documents should arrive, courtesy of Magyar Posta, within 30 days!    


Monday 22 February 2021

Two of a Kind

Recently, whilst watching a dramatisation on YouTube of Henry James's splendid novel, 'The Spoils of Poynton', we rather delighted in Mrs. Gereth's somewhat disparaging remark, "Not a double door in sight."

Double doors leading from the Drawing Room

Now, we should not wish to boast, nor indeed resort to hyperbole, but the fact remains that we are, to paraphrase Mrs. Bennet and to continue in a literary frame, "in possession of" seven sets of double doors.

Such good fortune, if it can be seen as such, arises from the expansion of Budapest during the late C19 when, following The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 which re-established, albeit partially, the former sovereignty of the Kingdom of Hungary, the city fathers sought, through somewhat grandiose projects, to rival the street architecture of not only Vienna but also of Berlin and Paris.

Andrássy út, Budapest, 1896, courtesy of Wikipedia

Today, living off Andrássy út, a principal boulevard set to equal the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, and lined with Neo-Renaissance mansions and townhouses, we are the beneficiaries of such early town planning and are able to enjoy ornate plasterwork, etched glass, shuttered casement windows, enfilade rooms and, of course, double doors! 

Original Victorian stove in the Dining Room

What attracted us to the apartment, some twenty years ago, was not, it has to be said, the disrepair, even wanton destruction of the Socialist years (as the Communist period is now referenced), the evidence of multiple occupancy by five families, but beneath the layers of crudely applied paint, the gas pipes hammered against the walls, the festoons of wires and cables, the broken panelling and patched parquet, something worthy of restoration could be detected for there, concealed in dust and detritus, were the splendours of a bygone age.

Pier glass and fitted furniture in the Main Hall

So, today we relish the detail to be found in solid brass window catches and door furniture, in carefully carved wood, in ceiling roses, in original pier glass, in fixtures and fittings, all now over 150 years old, and of soaring ceiling heights and, of course, double doors!

Architectural details around the apartment

However, this is not to disregard, or disrespect, those for whom this period, this style, remains anathema. Those who cherish the run down farmhouse, those who favour the Spanish hacienda, the convenience of the bungalow residence, the cosiness of the thatched cottage, the reassurance of Tudorbethan or the modernity of the converted loft apartment. Each to his or her own!

We, unlike Mrs. Gereth, are prepared to concede on every point. But we do have double doors!! 

Monday 15 February 2021

Making an Entrance

Views of The Arrow Cottage Garden, Herefordshire

We are often asked if we miss our garden. In short, the answer is no. Besides, it is now almost twenty years since we left Herefordshire for Budapest, exchanging some two acres of formal gardens for a single container of clipped box, Buxus sempervirens, on our walkway. Even that is work!

View of Box plant in The Budapest Garden

But the memories do, to use a well worn cliché, linger on. And no more so than in what we term the Front Hall. Lest there be any confusion, allow us to explain that the Front Hall opens off the main staircase of our C19 apartment building and, in turn, provides access to our Main Hall and principal rooms. However, linger we do not!

Front Hall viewed from the Entrance Door

To be absolutely truthful, in Winter, as of now, in terms of temperature, the thermometer is no stranger to several degrees below freezing whilst in Summer, with the windows thrown open to the courtyard below, the heat can prove insufferable. Not at all unlike the extremes of a gardening year that perhaps accounts for why we have chosen to paint the walls in Farrow and Ball's 'Breakfast Room Green' and furnish it with some of the items brought from our Herefordshire garden.

Front Hall looking from the Main Hall

Not least of these is the country style, farmhouse kitchen table which used to sit below The Tower, the accompanying schoolroom benches have found a place on the walkway, and which, in past times, played host to many a Summer supper party. 

Beneath The Tower, The Arrow Cottage Garden

Now, collected together, in a quasi-David Hicks' table-scape, are some mementoes of our gardening days. Prominent, as a centrepiece, is the grape entwined basket, a gift from dearest friends, Lesley and John Jenkins, whose garden, Wollerton Old Hall, ranks among the finest of all late C20 English gardens. 

'Table-scape' with ceramic basket and garden ephemera

Less noticeable, a small, hand painted finial serves to remind us of the gifted artist and gallery owner, Elizabeth Organ, who was so much a treasured part of our lives. Other items worthy of a place range from a miniature wooden trug, home to garden related ephemera, to galvanised flower vases and the head of a spade decorated by the Hungarian artist, Franyo Aatoth.

Miscellaneous objects in the Front Hall

The grey painted, metal chairs were originally purchased as a set of six for the White Garden, in name only resembling Vita Sackville West's masterpiece at Sissinghurst Castle. With the addition of swab cushions they are now far more in the way of decoration than for daily use.

White Garden, The Arrow Cottage Garden, Herefordshire

Now, with Spring around the corner, shall we decorate with daffodils, highlight with hyacinths, or place pelargoniums in pots? Let's not, and say we did!


Friday 5 February 2021

Richard Alexander Hattatt - A Reclusive Benefactor

Richard Alexander Hattatt, known to us as Uncle Dick, was a prodigious collector. An astute businessman, first running the family firm, 'The Hampshire Preserving Co. Ltd.', followed by a career in advertising where the company, Riggs and Hattatt, amongst other coups, secured the contract for promoting Heineken lager, his wealth was created through commerce, later to be redirected into amassing a notable collection of antiquities.

Richard Alexander Hattatt, Scotland, 1930

Never an Adonis, the apocryphal family story was that, at his birth, when presented with the new born baby, his mother exclaimed, "My God, he looks a hundred." Notwithstanding, he married twice, in each case to glamorous women, disavowing the adage of age wearing or the years condemning.

The Hampshire Preserving Co. Ltd., Romsey, Hampshire

Staff photograph, 1930s. RAH standing on far right.

He had a propensity for choosing cavernous, somewhat ugly houses and, in his later years, became something of a recluse, retiring to a rambling bungalow on the Hampshire coast where he reduced the extensive garden to a desert of concrete paving in the interests of ease of maintenance. Adopting a frugal lifestyle as a widower, water was boiled, not in a kettle, but in a small baked bean can to provide exactly the amount required for a cup of Instant Coffee. The weekly menu, mostly to be had from tinned food, never varied so that shopping was efficiently carried out and the smallest increase in price noted.

Tinned fruit, vegetables and jam, exported throughout the world

Those honoured with an invitation from Uncle Dick to visit were treated to a wonderful experience. Housed in legions of chests, cabinets, cupboards and cases was 'The Collection', pieces of museum quality, true treasures of the Ancient World. A frequent traveller with Sir Mortimer Wheeler on archeological digs, Uncle Dick established a collection of Greek and Roman artefacts, said to be one of the finest in private hands, and made a name for himself in writing what are now regarded as definitive works on the subject. Amongst his 200 or more Greek pots was a new Athenian black-figure artist on an Attic white-ground Amphora representing 'Dionysus and The Return of Hephaestos' which has been named Mr. Hattatt's painter.

Amphora decorated by the Hattatt Painter with RAH's books.

Roman brooches became a passion, and it was these which earned him academic recognition. Each one of his 1,600 examples were meticulously drawn, catalogued and mounted on uniform white blocks, each bearing type-written identification and bibliographical detail. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1983 and, for his generous donations to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, his name was placed amongst their 'Roll of Honour' on the Museum's main staircase.

The Roll of Honour, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

His funeral in 1992 was attended by a distinguished few, mainly representatives of the Devizes Museum, Ashmolean Museum and British Museum whose institutions were the main beneficiaries of his will. Prudent to the end, his philanthropic bequests may have avoided what would have been crippling inheritance taxes but served to enrich museum collections for the enjoyment of all.

Sunday 31 January 2021

Us, Ourselves and We

'Teddy, Jane and Lance At Home', Painting by Orr Máté

In this era of 'Me, Myself and I', when social media is littered with flattering images, mostly, one suspects, photoshopped to a greater or lesser degree, of beautiful people intent on recognition, self advertisement and/or self promotion, we hesitate, after an absence of almost six years, to appear to follow the same route. But lest we should be totally forgotten by those who have faithfully continued to follow, we felt a little reminder might not go amiss. And for this we ask your indulgence.

The painting, 'Teddy, Jane and Lance At Home', now hanging in our Budapest Drawing Room, was not a commission. We should hope that our arrogance does not extend that far. Rather the artist, Orr Máté, to write the name in the Hungarian way, thought, with a portrait competition in mind, that it might be fun to portray Teddy, who has not had a public outing for some considerable time, in this way. We are included to give balance to the composition! That said, we were, and are, delighted to have Teddy immortalised on canvas and, even more so, to count Máté as one of our closest friends here in Hungary. Represented by the Várfok Gallery in Budapest, he has established an international reputation and his work is now widely collected.

These are uncertain, difficult and challenging times when human contact, real and virtual, perhaps matters more than ever before. What better time to make a come back to the world of Blogger and to catch up with past friends and, hopefully, forge friendships anew. 

Drawing Room, Budapest

Teddy on the Regency sofa on this Winter afternoon

We much look forward to the times ahead.