Manchester: Sappho and Mary Greg
If you are ever in Manchester you must go to the city gallery. Not only does it house my favourite portrait of Sappho, there are some amazing collections, it's free to get in and they let you take photographs if you ask for a pass. Having lived in Manchester for a spell when working for BBC Radio 4 as a freelance Broadcast Assistant, I went back a few weeks ago and seeing this Mengin was like visiting an old friend. We'd spent a good few hours together. Me, sat on the green cushioned seat, her looking out, all intense.
There's a lot to like about this portrait. For a start, it is near life size. From her head to her toes on the cold cliff top, the slack dropped lyre, the curve of her hip and those eyes, I am sold. So smart and dark. This is a dominant piece in the gallery and the only thing better than looking at the painting itself is to step back and watch other people stand stock still when they first meet her gaze. My poem documents my experience of this meeting: Then there's Mary Greg, a compulsive collector of the curious who tried to preserve examples of traditional work, favouring handmade craft over mass production. The best are the stuffed frogs. In a doll's house they sit at a table for tea, play pool or lounge together playing cards. Unclothed, they are taut, shiny skinned and green. Seeing animals playing out these human roles is strange. The doll's house dissected, the dissected frogs stuffed and posed. Another Greg item I adore is the miniature French theatre. At the turn of a key two small dancers twirl and a tight rope artist swings. Quaint and beautiful plaything yes, but the automaton tells us so much about Victorian society. What's on display isn't half of what she collected, there's much more in stores. If you get chance to, go.