A Modern Rubens

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Books on David Hockney, ranging from the classic David Hockney by David Hockney of 1976 to countless Hockney catalogues, are frequent reminders that he commands attention. What a one he is for switching focus and skewing perspectives – widescreen one year, iPad the next. What a demon he is for addictions such as smoking and […]

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Painting in Marble

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Of all the great and still celebrated seventeenth-century artists, Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680) is the only one to induce both a sporadic smirk and a shudder. Bernini’s best-known work, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1645–52), provokes interest not so much because it is the prototype for overwhelming multimedia ‘total artworks’, but because the implausibly glamorous […]

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All About Vincent

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Vincent Van Gogh is the biographer’s dream. The hauntingly expressive paintings and the tragic life from which they grew are illuminated throughout by the hundreds of vivid letters the artist wrote, describing in poignant detail the miseries, spiritual quest and occasional splendour of his footloose existence. Small wonder then that Van Gogh has attracted a […]


Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Literary biographers like to make large claims for the importance of their genre. If we are to understand a writer’s work, they tell us (with varying degrees of hysteria), we must first arrive at an understanding of the writer’s life, of what the writer is ‘really like’. Quests such as these are nearly always futile […]

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No Don Juan

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

Among the treasures in the British Library, one of the most unexpected is a collection of autographed manuscript scores that includes Mozart’s thematic catalogue of his own works. Donated in 1986, these formed part of the incredible hoard accumulated by Stefan Zweig throughout his life.

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On New Grub Street

Posted on by Jonathan Beckman

And how long, I asked myself, as the first volume of Professor Pierre Coustillas’s monumental life of George Gissing tumbled out of its Jiffy bag and fell with a smack upon the kitchen table, have I been waiting for this book? Twenty years? Twenty-five? In fact, it was first advertised in a Harvester Press catalogue […]

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