Bristling with Rage

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

I knew Gilbert Spencer during the last decade of his life and had the pleasure (mixed with some pain) of curating his only London retrospective, at The Fine Art Society in Bond Street, five years before he died in 1979. I can’t say I embarked on it in all innocence, as I was well aware that […]

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Yours Abstractly

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

By any standard, Wassily Kandinsky lived an unusual and dramatic life. He was born in Moscow in 1866. His father was a prosperous merchant from eastern Siberia who imported tea from China via the border town of Kyakhta, while his mother came from a genteel family of Baltic German ancestry. Due to his father’s poor […]

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In the Frame

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

The jet-setting, apparently highly successful American art dealer Inigo Philbrick suddenly vanished from Miami in late 2019, leaving at least $86 million of debt. Accusations of fraud, double-dealing, forgery and inventing fictitious buyers for works he didn’t even own had begun to swirl around him. With lawsuits piling up, this ‘Bernie Madoff of the art […]

Ballad of a Thin Man

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

If not always reliable as a historian, Gertrude Stein did get it right in her 1940 memoir, Paris France. The reason the city she had moved to in 1903 had suddenly taken off as a hotbed of modernism thirty years earlier lay in France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. After 1871, looking backwards meant revisiting […]

Shopping & Plucking

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Last month, the Taliban government in Afghanistan indulged in a particularly malicious act towards women, passing a law closing all beauty salons. Having run a truck through all other freedoms, it attacked the one remaining place where women could still find employment and meet and mingle outside the home. Did those heroic religious warriors really see such

Oil, Resin, Vinegar & Paint

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528) was fortunate in his initials. The stylised ‘AD’ that he routinely inserted into his paintings and engravings, and even the preparatory drawings, seemed to imbue his productions with an almost divine stamp of approval. Most German painters of the era did not sign their work, but Dürer was […]

Weird Sisters

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When Lauren Elkin’s Art Monsters: Unruly Bodies in Feminist Art reaches bookshops, it will, undoubtedly, be placed on a table between Katy Hessel’s The Story of Art without Men (which came out last summer) and Claire Dederer’s Monsters: A Fan’s Dilemma (published in May this year). Hessel’s book does what it says on the tin, […]

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Blast from the Past

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As a teenager with an interest in art, growing up on London’s Old Kent Road with a father whose mantra was ‘God gave you legs to walk’ (he didn’t believe in God but he did believe in walking), I often found myself on Sunday afternoons walking to the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. I remember distinctly the day I discovered the Dutch painters. It wasn’t Rembrandt or Vermeer who caught my eye, but Hendrick Avercamp and, especially, Pieter de Hooch. I was startled that a simple painting of a backyard with red-brick and white-plastered walls, an outside tap and a broom could be so compelling. I don’t remember noticing the little view of Delft by Carel Fabritius that meant so much to Laura Cumming, or Fabritius’s

Gaudier-Brzeska for the Masses

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Laura Freeman’s book opens with a fictional account of an undergraduate visiting Kettle’s Yard for the first time. It chimes with all the stories of going there I have heard from Cambridge students of a certain age. Between 1958 and 1973, its creator, Jim Ede, offered an informal artistic induction to his young visitors, in […]

Painting Her Own Way

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Gwen John’s first achievement as a painter was not a picture but a departure. Alicia Foster’s Gwen John: Art and Life in London and Paris – which is being published to coincide with a major exhibition of the artist’s work at the Pallant House Gallery in Chichester – opens not with her birth but with […]

Anatomist of the Night

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, that dark and stormy painter, died in 1610, aged thirty-eight. Five months later another painter fascinated by light passed away at an even younger age: Adam Elsheimer was just thirty-two. A Frankfurter by birth, Elsheimer expired in Rome, the city from which Caravaggio had been exiled. The two men also had shared friends – not least Orazio Gentileschi – and patrons, such as Cardinal

Stairways to Heaven

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Between October 2018 and April 2019, the Guggenheim in New York gave over its entire Frank Lloyd Wright-designed interior to the abstract paintings of the Swedish artist and medium Hilma af Klint, who died in 1944. The choice of location, with its spiralling structure, was a realisation of this artist’s unfulfilled dream of exhibiting her […]

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Oils and Water

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The outward modesty of this book is deceptive. Cool in appearance, quietly elegant in its design and layout, it offers a hint of intimacy, but certainly no swagger. Each of the ten chapters focuses on a single artwork, its title and the artist’s name forming the chapter heading. The book covers a period from 1912 […]

Artist Before a Mirror

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

When we think of Picasso, formal self-portraiture is not a genre that immediately springs to mind. There’s an early flurry starting with the earnest diabolism of Yo Picasso (1901) and ending with the blankly primitivising Self-Portrait with Palette (1906). But beyond that one has to scratch around. Art historians have busied themselves truffling out so-called […]

Prince of Caricatura

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Children do not tend to feature prominently in the satirical works of the ‘Prince of Caricatura’, James Gillray. As someone professionally committed to excoriating the politicians and celebrities of his day, he was paid to train his eye on the grown-ups. One exception to this rule comes in A March to the Bank, a vast, elaborate print of 1787. It was published in the wake of the anti-Catholic Gordon Riots in London and reflects the city’s outrage at the subsequent military crackdown on public disorder. Gillray blends straight portraiture with lurid exaggeration in his etching: an absurdly dandified, impossibly skinny officer goosesteps over a mob of Londoners, who lie crushed and abandoned in various states of disarray. At the centre of the picture, with the officer’s foot daintily poised

Life Study

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

John Wonnacott, Charles Saumarez Smith tells us, is ‘currently totally out of fashion’, but his past successes are notable. For some years he was represented by two of London’s top dealers, Marlborough Fine Art and then Agnew’s. He has also attracted major commissions as a topographer and portrait painter. His sitters include a former prime […]

Love & Lustre

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Mary Evelyn Pickering De Morgan (1855–1919) was something unique: a post Pre-Raphaelite painter. She was born seven years after the founding of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and died eight years after Roger Fry’s ‘Manet and the Post Impressionists’ exhibition and five years after the publication of Wyndham Lewis’s revolutionary manifesto BLAST. Following her death, her estate, […]

Making Modernism

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Fans of T J Clark will be fascinated by this latest stop on his sometimes unexpected intellectual journey. A pioneer of the ‘new art history’ in the 1970s, his studies of Courbet and Impressionism electrified by anti-capitalist critique, Clark has in the past two decades revealed himself as a master of patient, attentive looking. His […]

Capitalist Realism Comes to Russia

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In September 1988, I found myself in the back of a Moscow taxi with a gallery owner from London, now dead. ‘Taxi’, in those days, was a contingent term in the Soviet Union. Ours was a private Lada, the gallerist having done a deal with its driver. He was good at deals. Handsomely coiffed (he had been a hairdresser in a former life), the gallerist was known for spotting early gaps in the market and making money from them. Now he was on the scent of Soviet art. ‘I went to see the widow Tatlin this morning,’ he said, in a patrician drawl not his own. ‘She’s been hiding her husband’s work

Where’s Your Jasper Johns?

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Seen an Ai Weiwei in your local Lidl lately? Perhaps not, but you might one day. Right now in Shanghai and Beirut, there are shopping malls that sport pricey contemporary art. It’s a way, they say, for art to grow and reach new audiences who don’t really fancy the whole white cube thing. It’s all about ‘dwell time’. Look at the pictures, the vids, the objects. And shop. And then shop a bit more. This is art the way private collectors want us to see it, according to art market

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