Culture notes


Alexander Pope, inventor of celebrity

Culture notes

‘The Picture of the Prime Minister hangs above the Chimney of his own Closet, but I have seen that of Mr Pope in twenty Noblemen’s Houses,’ wrote Voltaire in 1733. Alexander Pope’s start in life was not promising. A crippled… Read more


A celebration of Scottish artistic success over the past 25 years

Culture notes

Since spring this year, art venues across Scotland have been dedicating themselves to a gigantic project called Generation. Involving more than 100 artists and 60 venues, the programme is a celebration of Scottish artistic success over the past 25 years,… Read more


Ryedale Festival: a beacon of survival without subsidy

Culture notes

There are festivals of everything, everywhere. So why get excited about the Ryedale Festival (11–27 July) apart from the fact that it happens on my Yorkshire home ground — and I used to be its chairman? Every summer music festival… Read more


Seeing London afresh, one bridge at a time

Culture notes

Bridges aren’t necessarily something you think of as being beautiful, particularly if you consider them primarily as the means to cross a river, rather than as works of art. London, however, has always been famous for its bridges, many of… Read more


Has the rake progressed?

Culture notes

Hogarth’s A Rake’s Progress has been a rich resource for artists. Film-makers recognise his modern moral subjects as an ancestor to the storyboard. But in this age of mass media can the format still hold its own and tell us… Read more


The song that fought apartheid

Culture notes

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Mannenberg, the seminal album by the Cape Townian jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (formerly known as Dollar Brand). Recorded against a backdrop of forced removals as the apartheid government evicted Coloured… Read more

The London Library

New wonders among old shelves at the London Library

Culture notes

The Royal Court Theatre, the Young Vic Theatre and the London Library (above) are buildings of varied character and rich history. What they have in common is that each has been unpicked and reassembled by the architects Haworth Tompkins, recently… Read more


Uncovering a Royal treasure trove

Culture notes

It’s rare for the public to be given access to the Royal Archives. They are housed in the forbidding Round Tower at Windsor Castle, and direct contact with them is normally reserved for erudite academics adept at buttering up the… Read more


When Van Gogh lived in London

Culture notes

Eighty-seven Hackford Road, SW9, is unremarkable but for a blue plaque telling the world that Vincent van Gogh once lived there. The building has been empty since 2012 but now the Dutch artist Saskia Olde Wolbers has filled it with… Read more


Norman Thelwell: much more than a one-trick pony

Culture notes

‘The natural aids to horsemanship are the hands, the legs, the body and the voice.’ But a Thelwell pony sometimes required some, er, additional aids. Norman Thelwell’s first pony cartoon was published in Punch magazine in 1953 and struck a… Read more


The general who scribbled and doodled his way around the British empire

Culture notes

Soldier scribes are rare, soldier artists rarer still, and soldiers who can write and draw rarest of all. General Henry Hope Crealock (1831–1891) was one such polymath. He scribbled and doodled as he fought his way around Victoria’s empire. He… Read more


Fifties domestic harmony

Culture notes

Our love affair with the 1950s has been going on for years and shows no sign of abating. Pangolin London, the city arm of the Gloucestershire foundry, has cleverly used the visceral appeal of Fifties design — if ever a… Read more


John Deakin is no genius – and he has not been forgotten

Culture notes

Every so often, John Deakin, jug-eared chronicler of Soho and hanger-on at the Colony Rooms, is breathlessly rediscovered as the unknown giant behind Bacon and the forgotten man from Soho’s  generation of genius. All that is so much tosh: Deakin… Read more


Exploring the world of Jean Paul Gaultier

Culture notes

‘London,’ says Jean Paul Gaultier, ‘was my vitamin. I love the freedom of London…The energy, the character, all the people that are different.’ It was perhaps inevitable, then, that the first major exhibition of his work should come to the… Read more


Brains on a lithographic slab

Culture notes

The Blyth Gallery is situated in the Sherfield Building, deep in the South Kensington campus of Imperial College London. The Sherfield Building is a labyrinth of concrete, linoleum and glass. Its atmosphere is oppressively institutional. You walk around to the… Read more


From egg, to caterpillar, to chrysalis, to butterfly

Culture notes

South Kensington is teeming with butterflies at the moment, or at least the specially constructed tropical enclosure at the Natural History Museum is. Sensational Butterflies (until 14 September) takes you on a journey through the life cycle of, you guessed… Read more


Michael Craig-Martin pokes a giant yellow pitchfork at the ordinary

Culture notes

Visitors to Chatsworth House this spring might wonder if they have stumbled through the looking-glass. The estate’s rolling parkland has been invaded by an army of vibrantly coloured, outsized garden tools, whose outlines seem to hover, mirage-like, over the landscape.… Read more


The art of data

Culture notes

When you’re next waiting for a train at King’s Cross, don’t waste time window shopping on the concourse. Instead, pop round the corner to the British Library to see Beautiful Science: Picturing Data, Inspiring Insight (until 26 May). It’s not… Read more


Jeremy Deller is lost in Walthamstow

Culture notes

At the Venice Biennale last year, Jeremy Deller presented English Magic in the British Pavilion. It was an aggressive look at contemporary Britain and featured protest art based on socialist politics. It’s fitting, then, that the show has transferred to… Read more


Rome, Open City still shocks

Culture notes

Roberto Rossellini shot his neorealist landmark Rome, Open City while the war still raged and rubble littered the freshly liberated capital. Based on real experiences from the ten-month German occupation, the film follows ordinary Romans, some active dissenters, some just… Read more


Behind the scenes at Spitting Image

Culture notes

If Margaret Thatcher is remembered by many more as a caricature than as her actual self, then blame Spitting Image. The show, which ran from 1984 to 1996, portrayed her variously as a cross-dresser, a fascist and a bully but,… Read more


Do critics make good artists? Come and judge ours

Culture notes

Artists make good critics, but do critics make good artists? It’s hard to tell, when most are too chicken to try. For over 20 years, Spectator critic Andrew Lambirth has been making collages. He caught the habit from the British… Read more


Tutus, loo rolls and a roomful of balloons

Culture notes

A tip: go see Martin Creed’s retrospective at the Hayward in the company of a child. I didn’t, but I tagged on to a merry gaggle of five-year-olds being guided round by their mums. I watched as they pointed at… Read more


Take a look at John Maynard Keynes's armchair

Culture notes

Discoveries: Art, Science and Exploration at Two Temple Place (until 27 April) is like a giant cabinet of curiosities. Maps, gizmos and memorabilia are spread across two floors of this glorious high-Victorian building on the Embankment. There are drawings from… Read more


How to fight back when 'public art' is not for the public

Culture notes

In recent years contemporary art and regeneration have gone hand in hand. Works such as Antony Gormley’s ‘Angel of the North’ have been visible and celebrated examples of regeneration. So when, last year, Southwark Council decided to sell Elephant and… Read more

‘Study of Reclining Knights’ by Edward Burne-Jones; ‘Smell of Plums’ by Chiara Fersini

All the fun of the fair

Culture notes

The Works on Paper annual fair runs from 6 to 9 February at the Science Museum. Its name is a bit of a giveaway: all art must be on paper. There is a huge range of work on display: early,… Read more


Would you have been let in to an '80s club? 

Culture notes

People will go to extraordinary lengths to get into a nightclub. Nowadays you must wear something tight, and look slinky. But, as Club to Catwalk: London Fashion in the 1980s at the V&A shows (until 16 February), a handful of… Read more


Why is there no God in the British Library's latest exhibition?   

Culture notes

Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain at the British Library (until 11 March) would have you believe that the religious life was not a feature of Georgian Britain. God is an invisible force in this exhibition… Read more