Friday, 30 April 2010


Being Dutch and renowned for the Paris and Provencal scenes he depicted, people often don't realise Van Gogh lived and worked for a number of years in England. Before truly abandoning himself to his artistic destiny,
Vincent attempted to tame the Ravenous Straight World Beast by working in the Dutch art dealership Goupil & Cie's London office and bewilderingly, as a teacher down in the Kentish coastal outpost of Ramsgate. His preacherly religious aspirations - luckily - proved equally unsuccessful.

Visiting Van Gogh's plaque at 87 Hackford Rd, Stockwell, I was struck by the quiet beauty of the street and peaceful ambience he must have enjoyed there. Then, three attention-seeking-6-million-volt-I've-got-a-tiny-penis boom boxes drove past in quick succession, spewing out their earth-shattering music and I remembered it was south London, 2010, yes yes oh yay.

Other iconic London plaques include Oscar Wilde's fashionable residence at 34 Tite Street, Chelsea. The prominent aesthete lived in the townhouse for 11 years prior to his arrest. It was in this house he wrote a number of his finest literary works including The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Ernest. 

Alfred Hitchcock's four-storey gaff is on the Cromwell Road, number 153. Snaking through west London from glamorous Knightsbridge, this road must have been much prettier in the Lord of the Manor's time than the traffic-choked six-lane arterial nightmare it is today. The plaque is suitably Hitchcockian, surrounded by a sickly creeping vine and shifty-looking down at heel Earl's Court bohemians. 

The photographer and surrealist muse Lee Miller lived at 21 Downshire Hill, Hampstead with her English partner Roland Penrose. Living here at the outbreak of World War 2, Miller began photographing London during the Blitz, witnessing the horror of war which was to culminate in her stark series recording the liberation of the Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps. Miller settled in East Sussex at war's end, seeking solace in her new-found love of cooking and suffering from the post-traumatic stress and alcoholism caused by the extraordinary life she had led.

London's finest blue plaque however, has got to be Gavin Turk's. The artist's plaque does not actually exist (authentic plaquists must be dead for 20 years or have passed the centenary of their birth) but is in fact a piss-take commemorating his three years at art school and the final work submitted for his Royal College of Art degree. According to the V&A Turk's work 'questions the value and integrity of a coherent artistic identity' but the piece also quite simply takes the piss out of the stuffy, traditional institutions such as English Heritage and the Royal Collage of Art who refused to award the artist his degree upon submission of the work. Rule Britannia indeed.

Images 2, 4 and 5 courtesy of Google

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