Insights • Inspirations • Destinations • Design

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Return of Paint, Colour & Art

One of the most noticeable things about London during this recent trip was the way art has come to the forefront of society. People seem to be passionate about painting again. And drawing. And watercolours. And even fabrics and craft. In fact, just about any form of art you care to name was being showcased not only in the major galleries but also in the store windows, hotel foyers, bookstores and boutiques and indeed many of the magazines. It was a full-blown celebration of colour and creativity.

Some friends simply dismissed it as an influence of the Royal Academy of Arts, which puts on its annual Summer Exhibition this time each year, but I think it's deeper than that. I think people are rediscovering the restorative power of art. In this high-tech society where everybody's had enough of technology and being connected, art offers a softer, gentler way to communicate and connect, and indeed create.


In later life, when Henri Matisse struggled with age and illness, he put down his paintbrushes and picked up scissors instead. This exhibition is a dazzling show of paper cuts – and just as wonderful as any of his canvases.

Tate Modern, Bankside, London.

I loved this YouTube video put together by the Tate Gallery in which the eternally stylish octogenarian Iris Apfel shares her love of Matisse and how her style has been inspired by his work. 
Link here – YouTube link

"Colour is one of the most important things in the world. I can't live without colour. The world is so grey that we need colour more than ever..." Iris Apfel


Virginia Woolf may be known more for her writings and her love affairs but this exhibition commemorates her life in paint. It includes several beautiful portraits of Woolf by her Bloomsbury Group contemporaries Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.

National Portrait Gallery, London.


Making Colour is the first exhibition of its kind in the UK, and an ambitious plan by the National Gallery to put together a history of bright hues. From sparkling minerals to crushed insects, the show reveals the surprising materials used to create pigments, and the incredible journeys made by artists in their pursuit of new shades. The colour-themed rooms are a joy to enter.


Even Jigsaw's stores were joining the paint brigade, with joyful window displays that were covered, quite literally, in paint. This was in the High Street Kensington store.


A beautiful feature story on Margaret Olley's reconstructed art studio and home in this month's Vogue Living.


If you love both art and architecture, then hop off at Baron's Court tube station next time you're travelling near Earl's Court in London. This incredible row of homes was built as art studios for bachelor artists, and their enormous studio windows still stand, as clear and as elegant as the day they were built, even with all the traffic howling past on the A4. 

It's a part of London that's very much lost in time. The Daily Mail did a great story on the street here. I hope London somehow manages to save this remarkable slice of artistic history. 


Even Herm├Ęs head perfumer Jean-Claude Ravello admitted he loves to watercolour in a recent issue of Sphere magazine. "When I was growing up I wanted to be a painter..."


If you've never seen Jeanne Lanvin's apartment in the Arts Decoratifs Museum in Paris, put it on The List. It's one of the most extraordinary spaces you'll ever see. From the leopard toilet seats to the elegant blue boudoir, it's an exquisite display of style, craftsmanship, creativity and colour.


British Vogue channels its inner Yves Klein in tribute to the National Gallery's exhibition.


A gorgeous new book on the history of blue, Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour, by Carol Mavor. (Reaktion Books.)


And lastly, while I was in Asia I was greatly saddened to hear of the death of one of my authors while I was a book editor, the legendary Massimo Vignelli. 

Massimo was not only one of the world's most talented designers, he was also one of the loveliest souls I've ever had the privilege of meeting. We worked on his biography, A–Z together, and when I was heading to New York for work I emailed to see if he was free for lunch? It would be my treat, I added. Of course, he said graciously, and gave me the directions to a famous restaurant called Jean-Georges, at 1 Central Park West. Well, I knew, looking up at Jean-Georges, that was going to cost more than my book editor's salary allowed. 

We lunched for three hours. I tried not to think of the cost. He told me hilarious stories of his life, including the day Jackie O came to see him, and how she tried to seduce him into designing a book for her. (He was nervous because his beautiful wife Leila also worked in their office, and if Jackie's hand kept moving the way it was going, well, he didn't want to be caught doing something he wasn't actually doing!) When mid-afternoon rolled around, he reluctantly made moves to leave. I gulped, thinking of the bill. "Unfortunately, I have to leave you," he said. "I'm being given the keys to New York City this evening." Not of word of this honour during lunch. Humble until the very end. Massimo and his assistant left and when I asked for the bill, the waiter told me he'd already paid.

On the way home, I picked up a copy of New York Magazine. Not surprisingly, Massimo's face was on the cover.

Massimo and Leila's studio in New York (above) was one of the most extraordinary spaces in the city; just as extraordinary as the design legacy he left. From the iconic New York Subway map (below) to logos and branding for Bloomingdale's (think of the famous bag), Benetton, American Airlines, Ducatti and countless others, Massimo Vignelli's designs will live on in our culture, showing that art really is an integral part of the fabric of our society.

Thank you Massimo. You were a joy to work with.


  1. What a stunning range of images in your new header! I absolutely love it. I have been enjoying your posts, so much new material to suit my every whim. Must track down a copy of the blue book. Thanks so much.

    1. You're very welcome Jenni. Do hope you find a copy of the blue book: it's a lovely ready. I'm so sorry it's taken a few days to reply: I'm still getting over a terrible flu picked up in Asia. Thanks for the kind comment. I'm so glad some of the posts have been helpful.

    2. Apologies, meant to write 'a lovely read'.

  2. Really love the new colours and images in your header, Janelle! Beautiful.

    1. Thank you Debbie. That's really kind of you to say. Apologies for the delay in replying: just getting back to normal after a bad flu. Thanks for taking the time to write; so lovely to hear from you.


Thank you for stopping by. It's always lovely hearing from The Library's readers.

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