Dulwich Picture Gallery
This beauty’s not for everyone
blind windows like a prison
said a friend indifferent
to Soane’s genius
but I exult in it.
The honey-coloured bricks
and the harmonious outline
are earth and air.
It’s here that I come
to be grounded in a space
where sorrow and regret
can be felt but can’t annihilate
where hope can briefly soar.
The sheer heft lovely lines
are what I love
so the old photo was a shock.
Many bombs fell on south-east London
You can see the places still
where a modern house interrupts
a Victorian terrace.
Around Dulwich small plaques
give the date the names
and ages of the dead
and in July 44 the gallery took a hit
that reduced its heart to rubble.
In this picture no sweet geometry
The honey drips
a waterfall of chaos
a radical artwork depicting
the horror of war.
Today’s fine structure
bears few traces
but once seen never forgotten
The rebuilt harmonies become a hymn
to resilience and repair.
On the corner by the pub car-park is a new mural
after van Dyck’s Venetia Lady Digby on her Deathbed.
Let me count the ways this work based on a portrait
of a dead woman fills me with paradoxical happiness.
Huge and bright and apart from the rose mostly blue,
it’s by the German artist MadC – C is for Claudia,
a woman of bold vision and talent and about the age
Venetia Digby was when she died in her sleep in 1633.
The painting was the muralist’s choice: a clever project,
these “old master murals” by street artists talking back
to their chosen works in the gallery have flashed up
on blank walls and gable ends all over Dulwich, but
none has taken my breath, none makes me stop and
smile and ponder each time I see it the way this does –
a mistressful meeting of past and present, private and
public art, death and unrestrained but not unthinking life.