I was rooted staring at a virtual vertical rectangle into which the watchers stepped, stopped, turned and stood, looking at the heaving seas, smoke and broken boats that make up Manet’s canvas depicting the sinking of a famed confederate raider off the French coast. The constantly shifting traffic part obscuring the painting – individuals staring, pairs turning to each other to comment, a couple meeting there and nestling into each other – was accompanied by the soft rhythm of quiet foot steps and low voices from the surrounding gallery. I wanted to film this, but each time I took out my phone, the guard loomed threateningly.
I migrated from the Inventing Impressionism exhibition to another show, the Rubens legacy at the Royal Academy. Here I found a spot to sit facing a huge fantastical violent canvas, where I could draw people as they were captured to gape at the piece.
Birds, as subjects for drawing, are themselves continually watching, alert for threats and opportunities. Great created grebes, seemingly asleep with their heads tucked well back near the middle of their bodies, behind the broad prow formed by their white necks, in fact are moving purposefully, staying together as a pair, slowly rotating on the water.