Earlier today I dropped in on the National Gallery to have a look at the Corot to Monet exhibition. The magic name of Monet certainly seems to be drawing the crowds, so it's not exactly an intimate or contemplative experience, and it's downstairs in the gloom of those artificially lit galleries, which is never a good idea. It's also rather on the large side - four quite densely hung rooms - whereas these 'fresh look' exhibitions often work best on a small scale. This one is, in fact, an extension of last year's lovely little one-roomer called, I think, the Landscape Oil Sketch, and includes several of the same pictures, including an extraordinarily spare and luminous sketch of a (mostly sky and water) landscape near Haarlem by Andreas Schelfhout, and Thomas Jones's masterly A Wall in Naples. From Corot to Monet follows a line of mostly French plein-air painting from early days on the Campagna and around Naples, back to Barbizon, Fontainebleau and the artistic discovery of the French land(and river and sea)scape. It's certainly a must for Corot fans, with work from every period of his career, including a wonderful early view of Avignon and The Four Times of Day, a set of large painted panels which were a treasured possession of Lord Leighton. There's a monumental Millet, The Winnower, quite out of kilter with the rest of the Barbizon stuff, and a grand big Turner, The Evening Star. A powerful Beach Scene by Courbet (a throng of clouds, a streak of light, a turbid Lake Geneva) stands out, and there's a breezy, luminous Bonington, three interchangeable Boudins, and, yes, at the end, the Monets - four of them, including a fine early beachscape, La Pointe de la Heve, remarkably accomplished and hinting at things to come. And so it ends - with the Bathers at La Grenouilliere, a long way from the careful views on the Campagna with which the exhibition opens. The point is made.
Meanwhile, outside on the fourth plinth, a woman was sitting down on the edge, reading a book, when I went in. Nobody was taking any notice. When I came out, she'd been replaced by a grey-haired fellow with a placard reading 'Hello Park Road Year 6'. He was waving hopefully from time to time, but still nobody was taking any notice. How much longer is this going on?