Jane Rye

A Picture in a Thousand Words

Hang-Ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly)

By

BBC Books 352pp £30 order from our bookshop

In one of these essays Simon Schama speaks of enthusiasm as ‘a peculiarly American condition’. It is certainly the characteristic of his adoptive country that most strikingly permeates this book. Schama can respond as energetically to Chuck Close or Ellsworth Kelly as to Dutch Old Masters; as sympathetically to Alex Katz as to Anselm Kiefer; as glowingly to Stanley Spencer as to Mondrian. Renaissance armour, the Glasgow tea-rooms of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, haute couture and the Irish Hunger Memorial all stimulate him to his own brand of erudite but bouncy eloquence. All but four of the thirty-one pieces collected in Hang-Ups first appeared in America, and most are reviews of exhibitions in American museums and galleries, only a handful of which were seen outside the United States. Though Schama credits John Gross for first encouraging him, a professional historian, to write about art in articles for the TLS in the late Seventies (two of which, on Thomas Lawrence and Thomas Rowlandson, are included here), two-thirds of this collection were written for the New Yorker after Schama became its art critic in 1995; and, perhaps because of the famously stringent New Yorker editing (enthusiastically acknowledged by the author), these are clearly distinguishable from the rest by being a good deal easier to follow.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Start your week with a dose of Russian Revolutionary zeal. Donald Rayfield reviews Tobie Mathew's 'Greetings From t… ,
    • A treat from the LR Archive: exactly 20 years ago, Malcolm Bradbury reviewed John Updike's 'Bech at Bay' ,
    • ‘When bullets come close, the noise they make as they go past changes from a zing to a crack’ John Lanchester's dy… ,
    • Man with a Bloody Paintbrush: Robin Simon on Lucian Freud ,
    • Jane Ridley reviews The Diaries of Kenneth Rose (ed. D R Thorpe) ,
    • ‘Look,’ says Trump. ‘The fact is I’m only human.’ On the evidence of this book that point is debatable. From the A… ,
    • From our December/January issue - here's John Banville's review of Colm Tóibín on the fathers of Wilde, Yeats and J… ,