A friend of mine completed the Royal Parks Half Marathon today and what an enormously proud achievement that is, when one considers the hours of training, the discipline and the sacrifice that it takes to get in sufficiently good shape to make it round the course in a respectable fashion without potentially causing yourself serious harm.

With charity fundraising thus in mind, it has come to my attention that the time of year when men around the world put to one side their daily grooming regimen in favour of the moustache (or Mo’) has arrived… Movember is just a few weeks away and I for one am signing up to raise funds for research into men’s cancers, which receive an astonishingly tiny proportion of research funds.

I have done Movember before, back in 2008, and what a jolly jape it all was. I am going to try and recruit some “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” to use the official parlance… and see if I can’t muster a better effort on the top-lip front than I managed four years ago. Back then the results of my efforts on November 30th were deemed to be, and I quote not unlike a  “dashing World War II Fighter Pilot”, “Matinee Idol” “Cary Grant” and, rather unkindly “effeminate peasant”.

Let’s see what Movember 2o12 has in store…



RCA Photo

I had completely forgotten about the wonderful RCA Secret event at the Royal College of Art until 4pm yesterday. I rushed out into the late autumn chill to catch the closing hour of this now well-established annual fundraiser.

In a nutshell, around 1,000 artists, ranging from RCA grads to the likes of Grayson Perry and Sir Paul Smith, donate nearly 3,000 works of art, each exactly the same postcard-sized dimensions. The fun part is that the work is signed on the reverse, thereby rendering the identity of the artist a secret until the postcard is purchased and the artist’s identity revealed. The best part is that each postcard is just £45, and the money goes into the RCA Fine Art Student Award Fund coffers to help the next generation of artists hone their talents.

This year I wasn’t expecting to find anything I liked, arriving so late. Several years ago, I queued up with several hundred other keensters at 6am, braving the freezing cold, and remained in said queue until well after noon. I was fortunate to come away with my first choice of postcard, the wait therefore being rewarded, so this time I wasn’t expecting the same result. But much to my delight I have acquired this very interesting pencil drawing by RCA Grad Jonathan Whitehall.

Image RCA Secret 2011
RCA Secret 2011 took place yesterday, 26th November, but you can register for next year here

Royal Opera House Costume Sale

Dressing-up is something I don’t think we grown-ups do nearly enough… and now the perfect excuse to plan a period costume ball is upon us as on 24th & 25th September the Royal Opera House will host a fabulous costume sale at their production HQ in the Essex countryside. No, I don’t know where that is either but it is only 30 minutes from Fenchurch Street by train and affords one the perfect excuse to head out of town for a bit of lush greenery AND the opportunity to acquire an absolutely show-stopping outfit to stow away and bring out when the occasion calls for it.

There are around 1500 costumes for sale, reflecting varied periods in fashion history, and prices start at an achingly affordable £20 and go up to an investment-level £500.

There really are so few opportunities to get hold of such sumptuous garments as this. Theatrical costumes are known to be rigorously well-made to withstand heavy daily use, and many are handmade from scratch by highly skilled cutters, seamstresses and embroiderers. Rich brocades, fabulous colour and statement embellishments are par for the course and a visit here will make our daily wear seem positively monastic in its restraint.

The absolute best news is that all proceeds from the sale go to help support the Royal Opera House, helping them to reach new audiences and create even more lavish and inspiring productions.

Follow this link to all the information you need including how to get to the sale. Enjoy!

A note for diaries everywhere is the news from Christies New York that they will be hosting one of the most anticipated sales to come up for decades… the late Elizabeth Taylor’s jewels will be sold over two days; the most magnificent and important at a gala evening sale on 13th December and the main body of the collection on 14th December in two sessions.

The jewels comprise only part of a wider collection which is to be sold and events will run from 3rd – 16th December with sales in categories ranging from haute couture, memoribilia & costume, and the decorative arts. Christies will tour objects around the major capital cities, giving fans and collectors alike the opportunity to study and appreciate some of the wonderful objects which embellished her illustrious life.  Some proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, benefiting HIV&AIDS charities around the world.

Elizabeth Taylor’s love affair with jewellery is well documented and I am looking forward to learning more about the items which will come to market and the stories behind them. In a fitting tribute to a truly glittering career, this sale is sure to be an absolute blockbuster.

Photo of Elizabeth Taylor Courtesy MPTV Images / Christie’s

Last year I posted about art I would like to own (in a parallel and vastly richer universe) and this post is no exception, but excitingly this upcoming sale at Christies (again…!) contains a noteworthy Picasso which has been donated anonymously to the University of Sydney with specific instructions for the university to dispose of it and use the funds to invest in transformative healthcare research. Such a generous donation is newsworthy enough, but the painting in question is an exceptional piece not seen in public since being shown at MoMA in 1939. Jeune Fille Endormie (1935) was formerly owned by Walter P. Chrysler Jr, the American collector and philanthropist who knew Picasso personally and was a big collector of his work.

The auction house writes:

“Pablo Picasso’s lyrical portraits of Marie-Thèrése Walter from the first half of the 1930s are considered one of the greatest pinnacles of his career, and by extension, of modern art. Completed and signed on 3 February 1935, Jeune fille endormie shows Marie-Thèrése sleeping, the theme of the most intimate and lyrical of these portraits. That intimacy is driven home by the composition, which is tightly focussed on the sleeper’s head: it dominates the canvas, appearing only slightly larger than life size, giving a sense of the artist’s highly subjective perspective while gazing upon his sleeping lover. Picasso plunges his viewer into his own charmed world. The swooping, sinuous curves convey a rich sensuality, with the artist himself vicariously enjoying the curves of her body by extension, through the proxy of his paintbrush. This is lent all the more impact by the rich, glowing colours that suffuse this canvas, an incandescent palette that is itself celebratory.

If I were fortunate enough to be bidding in this sale, I would go for broke on this one knowing that the money I had spent was going to be used for such important and possibly revolutionary work in the field of healthcare. Who knows what discoveries await as a result of this funding.

However, I would be torn as for the money spent on the Picasso (£9m-£12m) I could easily get two absolute beauties by another favourite artist of mine, Fernand Leger. Both these paintings put me in mind of my all-time favourite painting, Le Moteur, which was included in the Rene Gaffe sale in 2001 to benefit UNICEF.

The first, Composition, was painted in 1928 and has been privately owned by a French collector since 1976. Coming to market with an estimate of £600,000-£900,000 it seems a bargain.

The second, Le Drapeau, dates from 1919, just after the first world war in which Leger fought. I especially love this work for its mechanical elegance and the colours of the tricolore. Estimated at £2.8m-£4m, this painting is going into my fantasy gallery for sure.

Christies Impressionist / Modern Evening Sale
21st June 2011

All images from Christies.com

Those renegade Royals Edward & Wallis lived a life of luxury-in-exile and this version of their monogram is my favourite. W and E are both angular letters and therefore work brilliantly together as modified regular hexagons. I have seen this monogram applied to a clutch bag belonging to the Duchess in the catalogue of their belongings… I am trying to find an image of it. In the meantime, I noted that the Duchess had her own stationery engraved with this same W by itself…

W Monogram with Crown, Wallis Duchess of Windsor

Whilst mentioning the Windsors it is worth noting that the Duke & Duchess’s French country house, Le Moulin de la Tuilerie, has been bought by The Landmark Trust and is now available to be enjoyed by everyone as a holiday let. Located 35km south west of Paris,  the house and several guest cottages provided the backdrop for weekends attended by such luminaries as Cecil Beaton, Maria Callas, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Taylor, who no doubt talked jewellery with her hostess during cocktail hour. The gardens are said to be charming and were tended by the Duke himself, who loved to potter about in the flower beds. The main house, Le Moulin, is actually the beautiful converted 18th Century grey stone mill house pictured below and looks perfect for a holiday with friends.

The Landmark Trust was founded in 1965 to rescue and restore noteworthy buildings and, once returned to their former glory, to let them out for holidays, thereby making the buildings pay their way. In this respect it is a really fantastic charity and if you are planning a holiday in the UK or France this year, do have a look on their website. They might have the perfect place.

The Landmark Trust

Few women in the world are as renowned for their joie de vivre and fabulousness as the late Princess Margaret. One of the most photographed women in the world in her day, she was the ideal fantasy princess brought to life in stunning couture and wonderful jewels, attending magnificent parties and living a glamorous, jet-set life. But she was also a sister, wife and mother and I was recently reminded how easy it is to forget that those were the important facets of a life lived on what seemed a wonderfully lavish scale.

Several years ago, following the Princess’s death at the relatively young age of 71, Christie’s held a sale of objects and jewellery from her estate. Included in the sale was the magnificent Poltimore Tiara (which the Princess wore at her wedding) which sold for nearly a million pounds, as well as a magnificent multi-strand pearl necklace, a staggering diamond riviere necklace and a Faberge enamel clock which alone went for £1.2m. Some of the funds raised from the sale went on to establish the Princess Margaret Fund at the Stroke Association, set up by her son, the furniture maker Viscount Linley to fund research in to stroke, the cause of her early death.

I was astonished to learn at a fundraiser for the fund last night that despite being the UK’s third most prevalent cause of death, for every £100 donors give to cancer research (incidently the second most prevalent cause, the first being heart disease), the equivalent of just 70p is given to stroke-related research. Alarmingly, 10,000 people under 30 have a stroke in the UK every year, often resulting in chronic disability which can impair their lives forever.

With so many pressing causes to give to these days, I can think of fewer charitable goals which resonate more profoundly than funding research into causes of early and untimely disability or death such as stroke. Please give if you can.

The Princess Margaret Fund at the Stroke Association

Photo – Lord Snowdon