Requiems for the Fallen

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Two days after Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany on 30 January 1933, the Austrian-Jewish arch-modernist composer Arnold Schoenberg was forced to endure a speech in which Max von Schillings, the president of the Prussian Academy of Arts, endorsed the Führer’s ambition to ‘break the Jewish stranglehold on Western music’. Within three months, Schoenberg had […]

Not Worth a Can of Soup

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

These are two very different books, and each shines a light on different aspects of the art world. One focuses on a single case in which the author was tangentially involved from the beginning; it reveals much about the power of money in the art world, as well as its opacity and deceptions. The second […]

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Tower of Song

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

For those of us who still start the magazine by scanning the contents for David Remnick’s name, this collection of New Yorker essays on the later years of the great popular musicians may seem a redundant addition to the nightstand. However, the time-distorting accelerations of one’s own later years mean that the New Yorker now […]

The Allure of the Everyday

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A love affair took Benjamin Moser from New York to the Netherlands twenty years ago. He was twenty-six and an aspiring writer. Two well-received books followed: a biography of Clarice Lispector and Sontag: Her Life, which won the Pulitzer Prize. All the while he sought to understand the country he had made his home, which was […]

Bravo, Wolfgango!

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

To succeed in the musical world of the 18th century, you had to be ready to travel. The life led by composers, singers and instrumentalists was a kind of cultural nomadism, with nowhere counting as home for long and an existence dominated by continued journeying in rickety coaches over atrocious roads, with no firm guarantee […]

The Road to Giverny

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

You long for sublime artists to be sublime people. Or, if they’re bad, to be magnificently so. Possessing ‘a vanity born of supreme egoism’, Claude Monet ‘believed his art conferred a right to good living’ and that ‘his welfare must be … the immediate concern of others’, writes Jackie Wullschläger, chief art critic of the Financial Times. With great honesty, Wullschläger records her subject’s wearisome scrounging letters and his propensity for petty and often pointless mendacity. At the end of his life, when he was

While My Bamboo Buzzer Gently Weeps

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Three cheers for marginalisation! True, being cold-shouldered prevented the various female, minority ethnic and non-Western composers that feature in Kate Molleson’s new history of 20th-century music from fully accessing the fruits of the Western musical-industrial complex. But on the plus side, prohibiting them from accessing the fruits of the Western musical-industrial complex made most of […]

Kelmscott Revisited

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The lives of male artists’ wives and mistresses are invariably overshadowed, even if these individuals are creative in their own right. Yet attempts to recover the overlooked stories of their lives can be transformative. For example, the publication of Ida John’s letters, edited by her granddaughter Rebecca John and Augustus John’s biographer Michael Holroyd, enabled […]

Pioneering Paintresses

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In 1771 Johan Zoffany received a prestigious commission from King George III: to paint a group portrait, or conversation piece, of the artists elected to the newly formed Royal Academy. Zoffany chose to depict them in the life-drawing studio, gathered in a semicircle contemplating two nude male models. There were, as it happens, two women […]

Tripping Down Tin Pan Alley

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘From his earliest years,’ P G Wodehouse wrote of himself in his memoir, ‘America had been – to this pie-faced dreamer – the land of romance.’ And, as soon as he got a chance, Wodehouse booked his passage to the Promised Land, where he drew on his love of W S Gilbert to help shape […]

The Radicalism of a Watercolour

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Kierkegaard’s observation that life can only be understood backwards but must be lived forwards is pertinent to any attempt to understand art history. Artists move uncertainly, experimenting, growing, absorbing, discovering, forgetting, rediscovering. It is the difficult task of the art historian to piece a narrative together – and all art historians have their biases and […]

Last Hurrah

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Parsifal is Wagner’s last and greatest music drama. It is also his most mysterious work, a paradigm of ‘late period’ art to rank with Shakespeare’s late plays and Beethoven’s last quartets. In all of them there is a sense of urgency to convey some final vision, together with extreme difficulty for the listener or spectator […]

Viewing India on Acid

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Samuel Prout’s Rudiments of Landscape in Progressive Studies, first published in 1813, was effusive in praising the work of those ‘enlightened travellers and celebrated artists’ who brought views of distant places to the British public in the form of high-quality, visually alluring illustrated books of travel. As a result of their labours, Prout proclaimed, ‘we […]

Sex & Sculpture

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Hampstead: one of the few London districts to have become a national and international cliché. For many years, it was taken to be the natural habitat of the kind of people Michael Frayn affectionately spoke of as ‘herbivores’. To their admirers, such fuzzy creatures were tolerant, sceptical, humane, thoughtful and well informed. But to some […]

Paris Black and White

Posted on by Tom Fleming

If colour photography had been perfected earlier, we would now have a quite different notion of what Paris was like in the 1920s. The clothes, the decor, the make-up and street-life must have been a riot of brilliant fauve contrasts. When Josephine Baker stepped on the stage in Paris for the first time in 1925, […]

Not Small or Sweet

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Frances Borzello is firmly on the side of women, art, and, luckily for us, readers. As editor with A L Rees of The New Art History, she has a firm hold on available art scholarship but adds to this a joyous, assured conversational style. Thus she starts: I want to state that the situation of […]

Zadok Released

Posted on by Tom Fleming

To succeed as an 18th-century musician you needed to be ready to travel. Not just as far as the next town or across an adjacent frontier, but for hundreds of miles along miserable roads, staying at verminous inns, a prey to bandits or drunken soldiery, between extremes of heat and cold and never quite knowing […]

Hiroshige on His Mind

Posted on by Tom Fleming

Long before Vincent van Gogh was an artist, he was an art dealer. In 1869, young Vincent, aged sixteen and unsure of what he wanted to do in life, obtained an apprenticeship with the art dealer Goupil & Cie through his uncle, a major shareholder. In 1873, he was sent to work at the firm’s […]

Sick Notes

Posted on by Tom Fleming

In the most commonplace sense, Robert Schumann fits the Romantic stereotype: impatient of rules and conventions, a votary of liberal ideals, motivated by instincts, dreams and passions but beset by melancholy, he ended up in the madhouse and died an early death. He is Romantic in a more specific aesthetic sense too: standing between Beethoven […]

If Walls Could Talk

Posted on by Tom Fleming

I remember arriving at the National Trust’s head office in Queen Anne’s Gate a couple of decades ago to find senior management ashen-faced and frantically engaged in a damage limitation exercise. The previous day a visitor to Sissinghurst had tripped over two female gardeners in the shrubbery, partially clothed and in flagrante. My comment that […]

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