Visit to Queens Gallery

The Roll Call

The Queen’s Gallery

20th  February 2019

The Queen’s Gallery very kindly extended ‘We are Ageing Better’ an invitation to a viewing and workshop. A group from the Living Centre led by Jess Grieve were encouraged to offer reflections on a number of paintings and objects. Several hundred years of collective Camden perspective were focused on a handful of art works, here are some of the observations.

‘The Roll Call’ Lady Elizabeth Butler (1874)

Painted two decades after the Battle of Inkerman fought in the Crimean War this depiction arrived upon an unexpecting England, it was like nothing seen before. It caused a sensation. It is the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Inkerman 5th November 1854, twenty years previous. The desolate snow scene shows ordinary guardsmen, tired and dishevelled, some visibly wounded. It is two roll calls. They  answer their names, whilst hearing the roll call of names not answered.

Inkerman Street Kentish Town is but one reminder of the Camden links to the painting. Another is the Prime Minister. In 1874 it was Benjamin Disraeli, his family homes were in today’s Camden and  he was born in Holborn. In 1874 he had just won an election and was heading his first government in his own right.

How might Queen Victoria and Dizzy have chatted observing the painting?

“Congratulations on becoming my Prime Minister and heading your first true administration. This extraordinary work by Lady Butler may soon be acquired. It has given me a rare pleasure yet twenty years on this painting reminds us Russia will loom large for you.”

“Maam, I’d wager it will 150 years from now. That Crimea fills an enormous canvas, and it has a knack of capturing public imagination. Do you know, just up the road from where I grew up, and elsewhere across your realm, whole neighbourhoods bear the names Inkerman, Alma and other battles too.”

written by Lester Hillman

More writing from some of the members:

I look at you and remember the days of my youth, where did it go, my memories are of fun and gaiety but my body says different.

The 16 year old would say to the 60 year old to remember how it was before you reach 60 years old. Life was fun, free, independent, no fear, life was great, no pain and no worries. So take these memories and let it lead you so that you can be happy. Feel free like the bird in the air.

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