Once More unto the Bard

Posted on by Zoe Guttenplan

This gallery contains 1 photo.

Oleksii Hnatkovskyi stands alone as Hamlet, spotlit and swathed in blue and yellow. The scene is from a Ukrainian-­language production of Hamlet, directed by Rostyslav Derzypilskyi, performed in the basement-turned-shelter of the Ivan Franko Theatre in Kyiv on the sixteenth day after Russia’s invasion. One week earlier, in his address to the British Parliament, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky had paraphrased Hamlet to sum up the existential threat faced by his people. ‘The question for us now’, he said, ‘is to be or not to be.’  There is no end to war

From Advertisement to Masterpiece

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It seems as if celebrities today are obsessed with showing the world that they read. Not only is there a bevy of book clubs helmed by A-list actresses, models and musicians but literature seems to have replaced the It bag as the accessory of the moment. A highbrow literary magazine rests on a perfectly toned […]

Winkle-pickers & Bum Freezers

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

The involvement of Jews in shmattes, or the ‘rag trade’, in London’s East End is well known. It’s familiar territory indeed for this reviewer, whose ancestors came from the East End and, before then, fun d’r’eim, ‘from the “Old Country”’, in eastern Europe. Great-Uncle Feivish (anglicised to Philip) was the first of my mother’s family […]

When Mauve Was the New Black

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

As the narrative of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando moves into the 19th century, the skies cloud over and ivy flourishes, choking the windows, shutting out such light as remains and ushering in a gloomy age of monochrome conformity and mourning. As the Victorian era progressed, Ruskin grew obsessed with what he called the ‘storm cloud of […]

Artists for Hire

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The term ‘Company painting’ has been widely used to describe works commissioned from Indian artists by members of the East India Company from the 1770s until 1857. There are all kinds of problems with this label, most notably that it gives priority to the patrons rather than the artists. Not only is this self-evidently


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

It is thirty-nine years since the historian and conservation-campaigner Hermione Hobhouse published her own epoch-marking Lost London. That was 1971, the moment when the destructive, let-us-build-a-brave-new-world forces of the postwar period were finally in retreat, rattled by a rising storm of protest at the obliteration of familiar townscapes. Now a still more hefty tome with […]

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The Classics

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Palladio can claim to be the most imitated architect in history, but there are, in fact, a number of different Palladios. This reviver of the pure architecture of antiquity, this disciple of Vitruvius, also wrote a popular guide to Rome which concentrated on miracle-working relics, shrines, saints, legends, and precise calculation of the varying number […]

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The Glory of Kingdoms

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Over the past few years, Neil MacGregor and his staff at the British Museum have displayed an almost eerie ability to hold up mirrors to the various convulsions of the age. No sooner did they lay on an exhibition devoted to Sudan, for instance, than the country promptly erupted into civil war, while the showcasing […]

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Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In Hammershøi’s very last painting, Interior, Strandgade 25, his wife Ida sits sewing at a table with coffeepot and cup to hand. The only other chair at the table is empty, standing at an angle suggesting it has been recently vacated. Beyond, white doors open one after another, with a sofa against a wall at […]

Being A Ruler Is Difficult

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Can there have been another emperor during the last 2,500 years of Chinese history who had himself painted ladling human manure onto a rice paddy? Yongzheng (1678–1735) did. Most royal portraits, like those in the Royal Academy’s exhibition ‘The Three Emperors’, were intended to awe. In more informal pictures the emperors pursued tigers, galloped horses […]

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Noticing Beauty

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

A Picture of Britain must have seemed like a good idea at the time: the pick of three hundred years’ worth of landscape painting in Britain; a tie-in with a major series of television programmes on the BBC; a celebrity presenter, the elder Dimbleby no less, to lend it all his genial authority. Could it […]

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The Face of Fame

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

We live, it cannot be doubted, in an age obsessed with celebrity. The very word now has the power of a charm. It can be added to any feeble project to give it the sparkle of glamour and excitement. Or so, at least, it is hoped. From the faltering beginnings of Celebrity Squares we have […]

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Furnishing A Utopia

Posted on by Tom Fleming

One of the problems that has dogged the Arts and Crafts Movement is the fact that hand craftwork is, inevitably, more time-consuming, and therefore more expensive, than machine-made work. Commercial firms like Liberty’s, witnessing the popularity of the products of such craft workshops as Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft, quickly worked out inexpensive methods of hand-finishing […]

Artist of the Archipelago

Posted on by Tom Fleming

‘Everything exists in everything,’ August Strindberg pronounced from the depths of his immersion in Eastern religion. He had come to see resemblances between the markings on the shell of a crab and the patterns made by salt crystals after he’d left them in solution on sheets of glass; in cliffs going down to the sea he’d […]

Rubble with a Cause

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Tate Britain’s exhibition ‘Ruin Lust’, which runs until 18 May, ends with Gerard Byrne’s film 1984 and Beyond, in which the artist restaged a Playboy article from 1963 that asked science-fiction writers to imagine a day in the life of an urban male of the future. Made between 2005 and 2007, it’s a brilliant piece […]

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