Friday 29 June 2018

Jim, George, Walter and the RA

On Tuesday 1 December 1992 the diarist James Lees-Milne made one of his regular jaunts to London, where he visited Richard Shone's Walter Sickert exhibition at the Royal Academy. He had one or two things to say about the show, noting that the later paintings, done from photos, looked like photos, but were still fascinating - transient scenes immortalised - and liking the 'early stuff' -  'Whistlerish'. His main beef - he wouldn't be James Lees-Milne if he didn't have a complaint - was with the gallery lighting.

As I've explained before (see here), Anita Brookner's 1994 novel A Private View is set fairly precisely in late 1992. In chapter 4, one Sunday, the protagonist George Bland visits the Sickert exhibition at the RA. Bland's ruminations prove somewhat more extensive than Jim Lees-Milne's, though the gallery's lights aren't commented on.

If the visits to the RA of Lees-Milne and Brookner that winter had coincided, would the pair have acknowledged one another? Probably not. They weren't really acquainted, though Lees-Milne had heard Dr Brookner lecture in the 1980s. Much later, on the posthumous publication of a biography of Lees-Milne, Brookner indicated that she was a 'devotee' of his diaries.

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