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Arts feature

‘The Census at Bethlehem’, 1566, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Climate change, Bruegel-style

Arts feature

It is cold, but not in a cheery, robin-redbreast kind of way. The sky is slate blue; the sun, a red ball, is slipping below the horizon, figures carrying heavy burdens trudge across the frozen water. Yet this far- from-festive… Read more

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The Nazi origins of the Vienna Phil’s New Year’s Day concert

Arts feature

It may be the last water-cooler moment in world television. On the first morning of the year, at 11.15 Central European Time, in a place that considers itself the epicentre of Europe, a group of men in formal dress mount… Read more

‘Melting Snow at Wormingford’, 1962, by John Nash

Snow - art’s biggest challenge

Arts feature

In owning a flock of artificial sheep, Joseph Farquharson must have been unusual among Highland lairds a century ago. His Aberdeenshire estate covered 20,000 acres — surely enough to support the modest local ovine needs. But Farquharson was a painter,… Read more

Outsize origami: Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton

Le French bashing has spread to France. Are things really that bad?

Arts feature

The French for French-bashing is le French bashing. This verbally costive nation is at it once again, torpidly borrowing an approximately English expression rather than coining its own. Such bashing is not an exclusively Anglo-Saxon practice. There is indigenous bashing.… Read more

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Fortune tellers, pound shops and Orville: why I love Blackpool

Arts feature

‘Jesus is the light of the world,’ reads the sign outside Blackpool’s Central Methodist Church, but all along the promenade the lights are going out. I’d returned to my favourite seaside resort to catch the end of the Illuminations, an… Read more

The serried ranks of an El Sistema youth orchestra in Caracas, 2012 — a ‘miracle’ that’s turned very sour

Classical music’s dirty little secret

Arts feature

The two trendiest words in classical music are ‘El Sistema’. That’s the name for the high-intensity programme of instrumental coaching that turned kids from the slums of Venezuela into the thrilling Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra (SBYO), conducted by hot young… Read more

Jack O’Connell in ‘Unbroken’ — out next month — one of the few films today with a star writing team, the Coen brothers

How Hollywood is killing the art of screenwriting

Arts feature

Writing is dead. Long live writing. What do I mean when I say writing is dead? That’s a whole other article, but in brief: cinema killed the novel, email killed the letter, CGI killed cinema and Twitter killed email. The… Read more

David Hockney at work in his studio, c.1967

David Hockney interview: ‘The avant-garde have lost their authority’

Arts feature

‘I just stay here and do my thing,’ David Hockney told me soon after I arrived at his house and studio in Los Angeles this August. ‘I’m not that interested in what happens outside. I live the same way as… Read more

‘Portrait of Juan de Pareja’ by Velázquez

The story of the first painting to sell for over a million pounds

Arts feature

Nothing could have prepared the art world for the astounding moment in 1970 when, at a Christie’s sale on 27 November, the world auction record for a painting smashed through the million-pound barrier for the very first time. It was… Read more

The erotic Mary, left, by Gregor Erhart (c.1515–20) and the penitent Mary, right, by El Greco (c.1577)

No one in the Bible has been as elaborately misrepresented as Mary Magdalene

Arts feature

How would the real Mary Magdalene have reacted to her posthumous reputation? Not very kindly, one suspects. Our only historical source, the New Testament, does not even hint that she was a prostitute, and she’s unlikely to have been placated… Read more

‘This era’s supreme objet d’art’: Sylvie Guillem in 1985, aged 19, in her Paris Opera dressing-room

Sylvie Guillem interview: ‘A lot of people hate me. Bon. You can’t please everybody’

Arts feature

If you follow dance or music closely, make them part of your life, you look on certain performers as your daemon. These are the artists who become part of your inner landscape. They act as a tuning fork for your… Read more

Proposal for Convoys Wharf, Deptford: a new commuter enclave with a nice view

How Londoners can reclaim the River Thames

Arts feature

Last week, 539 apartments designed by Frank Gehry and Norman Foster were made available for off-plan purchase. This was heralded by simultaneous launches in London and Kuala Lumpur and a press release announcing Sting and Trudie Styler as early buyers.… Read more

‘Hat Stand’, 1969, one of a group of three sculptures that caused controversy early on in the artist’s career

The pop artist whose transgressions went too far – for the PC art world

Arts feature

Allen Jones (born 1937) has been demonised. In 1969 he made a group of three sculptures of scantily-clad female figures. They were slightly larger than life and arranged in positions that enabled them (with the addition of a glass top… Read more

Left: The Apostle Simon, 1661. Right: Portrait of a Lady with an Ostrich-Feather Fan, 1658–60

Rembrandt at the National Gallery: the greatest show on earth

Arts feature

At the opening of Rembrandt: The Late Works at the National Gallery (until 18 January), I met a painter friend of mine in the final room. This was, he said, one of the most magnificent exhibitions he had seen in… Read more

Plisetskaya in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, 1964. She was one of the supreme trophies in the Soviet display case, the most garlanded, the most suspected

Maya Plisetskaya and Rodion Shchedrin: ‘The KGB put a microphone in our marriage bed'

Arts feature

‘People in the West don’t understand nothing. Even the new Russian generation don’t understand anything at all. You don’t know, and it’s better you don’t.’ Maya Plisetskaya scrutinises me with her beautiful, kohl-rimmed, 88-year-old eyes, a gaze made wary in… Read more

Frieze Art Fair - VIP Preview

Frieze Art Fair: where great refinement meets harrowing vulgarity

Arts feature

If you wanted to find a middle-aged man in a bright orange suit, matching tie and sneakers, Frieze is a good place to start looking. I found one. Or maybe he was a limited edition existing in several reproductions. Certainly,… Read more

Timothy Spall as the eponymous painter in Mike Leigh’s new film ‘Mr Turner’

Mike Leigh interview: 'A guy in the Guardian wants to sue me for defamation of Ruskin!'

Arts feature

Mike Leigh is in a cheerfully bullish mood when I meet him at the Soho Hotel. ‘Have you read today’s Guardian?’ Dammit — I should have seen that coming. ‘A guy in G2 would like to sue me for defamation… Read more

Brian Blessed as Prince Vultan and Sam J. Jones as Flash in ‘Flash Gordon’, part of the BFI ‘Sci-Fi: Days of Fear and Wonder’ season

Without sci-fi, there would be no cinema

Arts feature

Do you know what’s hateful? The snobbery that film fans have to contend with. There’s the ‘it’s only a movie’ snobbery, by which cinema is suitable only for wastrels and dogs. And there’s the ‘if it ain’t Danish and silent,… Read more

Space odyssey: Ed White walking in space over New Mexico, Gemini 4, June 1965 Image: James McDivitt

The images from the Apollo missions will reduce you to tears

Arts feature

When people ask why I’m obsessed with the Apollo moon missions, I always want to reply using the same phrase: ‘Because they were out of this world.’ I never do, because it happens to sound like a very bad joke.… Read more

Composer Franz Schubert at work Photo: Getty

My Schubert marathon

Arts feature

On 10 October, the Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford will host the first concert in ‘the biggest ever celebration of the life and work of Franz Schubert’. Over three weeks, all 650 songs (or thereabouts) will be performed, most of them… Read more

Julius Shulman: Case Study House #22, 1959 (architect: Pierre Koenig)

The camera always lies

Arts feature

Everyone knows about architecture being frozen music. The source of that conceit may be debated, but its validity is timeless and certain. For all its weightiness, architecture plays with ethereal proportion, harmony, resonance and delight: the stuff of music. But… Read more

‘14.11.65’ by John Hoyland

Is John Hoyland the new Turner?

Arts feature

What happens to an artist’s reputation when he dies? Traditionally, there was a period of cooling off when the reputation, established during a lifetime, lost momentum and frequently collapsed, quite often presaging a long fallow period before reassessment could take… Read more

‘Interior (Innenraum)’, 1981, by Anselm Kiefer

'I like vanished things': Anselm Kiefer on art, alchemy and his childhood

Arts feature

At the entrance to Anselm Kiefer’s forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy visitors will encounter a typically paradoxical Kiefer object: a giant pile of lead books, sprouting wings. When I asked Kiefer to explain this strange object, he immediately —… Read more

‘Portrait of Andrea Quaratesi’, c.1532, by Michelangelo

Michelangelo had a bigger vision than Shakespeare – and the ego to match

Arts feature

It is 450 years since the birth of William Shakespeare. The anniversary has been hard to avoid in this country, which is entirely appropriate. Shakespeare helped to shape not only our language but also our conception of character and our… Read more

Ellie Harrison’s cannons — poised to usher in a ‘Socialist Republic of Scotland’

How independence will impoverish Scottish culture

Arts feature

An explosion of confetti will greet the announcement of Scottish independence. This isn’t another one of Alex Salmond’s fanciful promises, but an installation by a visual artist named Ellie Harrison. She wants Scotland to become a socialist republic. She has… Read more

‘Self-portrait’, c.1513, by Leonardo da Vinci

Pizza, choc-ice and Leonardos – the treasures of Turin

Arts feature

To most non-Italians Turin spells Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino (Fiat). But this subalpine city has a longer history than the internal combustion engine. It may be twinned with Detroit, but its cavalcade of equestrian monuments testifies to an older sort… Read more

Herculean feat: hauling a steamship over a mountain for ‘Fitzcarraldo’

The enigma of Werner Herzog

Arts feature

Strange things happen to Werner Herzog — almost as strange as the things that happen in his haunting, hypnotic films. In 1971, while making a movie in Peru, he was bumped off a flight that subsequently crashed into the jungle.… Read more

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Alex Salmond has already lost — if the Edinburgh Festival is anything to go by

Arts feature

Scotland’s on a knife-edge. Like all referendum-watchers at the Edinburgh Festival I grabbed a ticket for The Pitiless Storm, a drama about independence, which attracts big crowds every lunchtime at the Assembly Rooms. The play draws its inspiration from the… Read more