I had given myself over a day of free time in London to see Brilliant Women, a collection of portraits of 18th-Century Bluestockings. But I met so many people at Imperial College—and so enjoyed my time there—that I simply never got to the National Portait Gallery. The Imperial folks had also kept me from paying homage at Foyles, so my schedule was looking rather dire. Fortunately I had booked to fly on one of the new late-afternoon flights out of Heathrow (thank you, Open Skies!), so I had a little time in the morning. Foyles opens at 9:30, the NPG at 10:00, and the former is just up Charing Cross from the latter. Still, it was a close-run thing.
The exhibition (which runs for another week, as of this writing) was worth the manic tour of the Piccadilly Line, the second time The Economist's art critic (was it the same one?) has come through for me. The NPG has some of the best captions of art anywhere (well, at least if you read English), and this exhibition was in the same vein. But there were also letters and assorted memorabilia.
Two gems. There is Katherine Read's portrait of Elizabeth Carter, and it is praised as “quite unlike the common run of staring portraits”. And a young Mary Wollstonecraft, just a year or two shy of breaking out into the limelight, is sucking up to Catherine Macaulay in a letter on December 16, 1790:
I respect Mrs Macaulay Graham because she contends for laurels whilst most of her sex only seek for flowers.
If you find yourself in the vinicity, run.