Baroque Star

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Certain artists contrive not simply to be their own era’s perfect imagemakers but to embody its essence within their private lives. Such a one was Gian Lorenzo Bernini. To the crisis-ridden Italy of the 17th century, with its wars, famines, plagues and rebellions, his sculpture, in works like Apollo and Daphne or The Ecstasy of […]

Artist of the Night

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Joseph Wright was born in Derby in 1734 and died there in 1797. His father, a lawyer, was prosperous enough to send this singular child, who would draw, make models and build contraptions for play, to train in London with the fashionable portrait painter Thomas Hudson. Wright worked and exhibited in the capital, as well […]

The Complete Composer

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This book comes garlanded with praise. It certainly is impressive in several ways. The amount of reading that Ross has done for it, often summarising at length a wide variety of texts, is prodigious. But note the subtitle. Don’t expect it to be about music, whether Wagner’s or that of the innumerable composers who have […]

Spinning and Sorting the Yarn

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

There are many ways of writing biography and Angela Thirlwell has chosen an interesting approach. Into the Frame tells the stories of four very different women whose only point in common was their predilection for the Victorian painter, Ford Madox Brown. Naturally, his feelings for them varied according to their lights. While there is scant […]

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Egotism In C Major

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

In August 2003, a year or so before his death at the age of ninety-four, Artie Shaw was awarded the James Smithson Bicentennial Medal for his ‘lifetime achievement and contributions to American culture and music’. In return, Shaw donated to the Smithsonian two clarinets. One of these was the Selmer with which he had recorded […]

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The Maestro

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Norman Lebrecht’s writings repeatedly reveal a man-eating tiger and a fluffy pussycat. On the one hand is the fearless seeker after truth, armed cap-à-pe with finely honed but often harsh and wounding judgements. And then there’s the soft, loving, almost sentimental Norman whose prose, wreathed in literary smiles, will melt the hardest of hearts. His […]

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Brushes at Twenty Paces

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

France’s artists have never been ones to let their country’s fondness for revolution pass them by. Jacques-Louis David was not only a signatory to Louis XVI’s death warrant but forged Neoclassicism into the style of the 1789 Revolution; Antoine-Jean Gros’s daring proto-Romanticism was born alongside the gimcrack glamour of Napoleon’s rule; Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the […]

The Studio in the South

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Martin Gayford feels that biographies generally fail to convey ‘a sense of what it would be like to meet the subject face to face’. In his account of one of the most famous and intimately documented episodes in the history of art he attempts to put us ‘in the same room’ as his subjects – […]

Treasure Going Cheap

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Like anyone interested in seventeenth-century history and the origins of the English Civil War, I have been aware that there were cultural issues involved. It is well known that Van Dyck created a powerful iconography of kingship through his many portraits of Charles I. Art historians have studied as an aspect of provenance the many […]

A Quest For Truth

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Studies of the Wagner music dramas abound; but few of them explore, as Mark Berry does in this dense, difficult but rewarding book, the background of philosophical and political ideas from which the dramas emerged. Wagner was a man of universal intellect, who had been steeped in the Young Hegelian philosophy that shaped the ideas […]

International Herald Trombone

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Mike Zwerin’s new book is dedicated to, among others, ‘point men everywhere’. A point man is the soldier sent ahead of a patrol to spy out the land, and, by extension, a metaphor for pioneers and risk-takers in any field. Zwerin’s field is jazz and his lament is that there are no point men any […]

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The Lino of Beauty

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

1903 was an annus mirabilis for Britain, witnessing the birth of many of the artists and writers, ranging from Graham Sutherland to George Orwell, who were to dominate the interwar and immediate post-war years. Edward Bawden and his closest friend, Eric Ravilious, were of this vintage. Both were honoured with exhibitions during their centenary year, […]

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The Perfection Our Souls Long for

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

David Cairns – musicologist, conductor, critic, and an unsurpassed biographer of Berlioz – noses his new biography of Mozart out into the roaring traffic prevailing in this 250th anniversary of the brat’s birth (27 January is the day) with becoming hesitancy: ‘Another book on Mozart and his operas may not be needed. I can only […]

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Cast Master

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

FE McWilliam was as independently minded a man as he was a sculptor. Although surrealist imagery plays a large part in his visual vocabulary, he always insisted that he was never a Surrealist with a capital ‘S’. Eschewing labels, he declared on one occasion in my presence: ‘If you had been born in Northern Ireland […]

Key Changes

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

‘Sexual intercourse began’, according to Philip Larkin, ‘in nineteen sixty-three’. Modern music, suggests Hugh Macdonald, took off exactly 110 years earlier. Something seismic appears to have happened in 1853 which, however imperceptible at the time, would shake the European musical cosmos to its core. And before we jump to conclusions, this tectonic shift was due […]

Canvassing Opinions

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

One day in August 1831, John Constable wrote to his friend C R Leslie about a painting by Watteau in Dulwich Picture Gallery, ‘which looks as it should be painted in honey – so mellow – so tender – so soft & so delicious’. When artists discuss their predecessors in this way we get a […]

The Sopranos

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Despite a glut of guides to its plots and dictionaries of its characters, there’s an odd dearth of single-volume histories of opera. This fresh and combative attempt at a synthesis of a uniquely complex art form is brave, challenging and, above all, useful. Composed in apparently harmonious and unusually intimate collaboration by two prominent academics […]

Lines in the Sand

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The last time I picked up a survey of Israeli art it nearly made me miss my flight. The book, Ronald Fuhrer’s Israeli Painting: From Post-Impressionism to Post-Zionism, was intriguing, but not exactly scintillating. My mistake was admitting to a security guard at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport that it was a gift from a friend. […]

Painter & Decorator

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Of all the Old Masters, Leonardo and Caravaggio are the main media darlings, subject to a ceaseless tide of speculative claim and counterclaim. But that grumpy old man-mountain Michelangelo (1475–1564) continues to hold his own. Big scholarly tomes and popular biographies tumble with metronomic regularity off the presses, and the latest discoveries and theories remain […]

Man in Black

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If the Grand Canyon could sing, it would sound like Johnny Cash. And if Monument Valley had walked on two legs and, moreover, taken to dressing itself in head-to-toe black, it would probably look like him too. At the peak of his career, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was one of the […]

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