Exhibitions

‘Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington’, 1829, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Wellington's PR machine

Exhibitions

The history of portraiture is festooned with images of sitters overwhelmed by dress, setting and the accoutrements of worldly success. Vanity, complacency and, frequently, insecurity have led men and women to commission or sit for likenesses in which an extra… Read more

Richard Diebenkorn 'Berkeley #5' (1953) . Copyright:
The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy reviewed: among the best visual evocations of LA there are

Exhibitions

It is true that, like wine, certain artists don’t travel. Richard Diebenkorn, subject of the spring exhibition in the Royal Academy’s Sackler Wing, is a case in point: an American painter who is revered in his native land, but of… Read more

Left: ‘Dream of a good witch’, c.1819–23, by Goya Right: ‘Bajan niñendo (They descend quarrelling)’, c.1819–23, by Goya

Flying witches, mad old men, cannibals: what was going on in Goya’s head?

Exhibitions

It is not impossible to create good art that makes a political point, just highly unusual. Goya’s ‘Third of May’ is the supreme example of how to pull it off. It is a great picture with a universal message —… Read more

Camille Pissarro
The Avenue, Sydenham, 1871.
© The National Gallery, London

Inventing Impressionism at the National Gallery reviewed: a mixed bag of sometimes magnificent paintings

Exhibitions

When it was suggested that a huge exhibition of Impressionist paintings should be held in London, Claude Monet had his doubts. Staging such an exhibition, he wrote to his dealer Paul Durand-Ruel, would be ‘unwise’ and only likely to baffle… Read more

Don’t mock the schlock: from left to right: Taking Care of Business Ring designed by Elvis and Priscilla Presley; presidential cufflinks; gold phone

We all live like Elvis now

Exhibitions

In the giftshop at the new Elvis exhibition at the Dome, you can buy your own version of his flared white jumpsuits. I can’t think of anyone who could wear one and not look ridiculous — particularly if they had… Read more

‘The Great Elm at Lacock’, 1843–45, by William Henry Fox Talbot

Sculpture Victorious at Tate Britain reviewed: entertainingly barmy

Exhibitions

In the centre of the new exhibition Sculpture Victorious at Tate Britain there is a huge white elephant. The beast is not, I should add, entirely colourless. On the contrary, it has a howdah richly decorated in gold and green,… Read more

‘Group with Parasols’, c.1904, by John Singer Sargent

Sargent, National Portrait Gallery, review: he was so good he should have been better

Exhibitions

The artist Malcolm Morley once fantasised about a magazine that would be devoted to the practice of painting just as some publications are to — say — cricket. It would be filled with articles extolling feats of the brush, rather… Read more

Sound and vision: spectators watch Polly Harvey in a glass box recording her new album

The future of the album lies in the gallery

Exhibitions

The album is not what it was. It still exists, in record collections, as part of the torrential streaming of everything, and in the sentimental memories of those who lament the loss of what once seemed a permanent fixture and… Read more

The Widow (2013) by Marlene Dumas. Photo: Peter Cox/Tate Modern.

Marlene Dumas at Tate Modern reviewed: 'remarkable'

Exhibitions

‘Whoever wishes to devote himself to painting,’ Henri Matisse once advised, ‘should begin by cutting out his own tongue.’ Marlene Dumas — whose work is the subject of a big new retrospective at Tate Modern — has not gone quite… Read more

Weight watching: ‘Three Bathers’, c.1875, by Paul Cézanne

Rubens and His Legacy at the Royal Academy reviewed: his imitators fall short of their master miserably

Exhibitions

The main spring offering at the Royal Academy, Rubens and His Legacy: Van Dyck to Cézanne, teaches two useful lessons. One — not much of a surprise — is that Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) was a protean giant of a… Read more

Helio Oiticica's Metaesquema (1958) and Kazimir Malevich Black and White Suprematist Composition (1915)

Geometry in the 20th and 21st centuries was adventurous - and apocalyptic

Exhibitions

Almost a decade ago, David Cameron informed Tony Blair, unkindly but accurately, ‘You were the future once.’ A visitor to the Whitechapel Gallery’s exhibition, Adventures of the Black Square, might mutter the same words in front of the first exhibits.… Read more

‘The Spectators’, 1947 and 'Woman with the birdcage' by Robert Colquhoun

The tragic tale of the Two Roberts is a story of two artists cut off in their prime

Exhibitions

In 1933, two new students met on their first day at Glasgow School of Art. From then on they were inseparable. They lived and worked together. They became lovers. They stayed together throughout their lives. They shone at art school,… Read more

‘The Life Room’, 1977–80, by John Wonnacott

The death of the life class

Exhibitions

‘Love of the human form’, writes the painter John Lessore, ‘must be the origin of that peculiar concept, the Life Room.’ Then he goes on to exclaim on the loveliness of that name. It is indeed a venerable institution with… Read more

‘North Cape’, probably 1840s, by Peder Balke

We must never again let this 19th century Norwegian master slip into oblivion

Exhibitions

You won’t have heard of Peder Balke. Yet this long-neglected painter from 19th-century Norway is now the subject of a solo show at the National Gallery. And it’s an absolute revelation. Walking around, I marvelled at the intensity of a… Read more

‘Chair’, 1969, by Allen Jones, which had acid thrown on it in 1986

Does Allen Jones deserve a retrospective at the Royal Academy?

Exhibitions

It has been a vintage season for mannequins. At the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, an exhibition called Silent Partners looks at the relationship between artist and mannequin, from function to fetish. In London, the Royal Academy is hosting a retrospective… Read more

‘Sunrise’, 1938, by John Armstrong

The good, the polite and the ugly: British artistic responses to the Spanish civil war

Exhibitions

The Paris World’s Fair of 1937 was more than a testing ground for artistic innovation; it was a battleground for political ideologies. The Imperial eagle spread its wings over the German Pavilion; the Soviet hammer swung above the Russian Pavilion;… Read more

‘Gian Girolamo Albani’, c.1570, by Giovanni Battista Moroni

Without a model, Moroni could be stunningly dull. With one, he was peerless...

Exhibitions

Giovanni Battista Moroni, wrote Bernard Berenson, was ‘the only mere portrait painter that Italy has ever produced’. Indeed, Berenson continued, warming to his theme, ‘even in later times, and in periods of miserable decline, that country, Mother of the arts,… Read more

‘Before the Mirror’, 1913, by Egon Schiele

Egon Schiele at the Courtauld: a one-note samba of spindly limbs, nipples and pudenda

Exhibitions

One day, as a student — or so the story goes — Egon Schiele called on Gustav Klimt, a celebrated older artist, and showed him a portfolio of drawings with the abrupt query, ‘Do I have talent?’ Klimt looked at… Read more

Alan Beeton, ‘Reposing’, 1929

The secret world of the artist's mannequin

Exhibitions

A 19th-century London artists’ supplier named Charles Roberson offered imitation human beings for sale or rent, with papier-mâché heads, soft leather skin and flexible, jointed limbs. The top-of-the-range article — described in Roberson’s catalogue as ‘Parisian stuffed’ — was pricey.… Read more

Finding his feet: ‘Untitled (man and two women in a pastoral setting)’, 1940

How Rothko become the mythic superman of mystical abstraction

Exhibitions

Mark Rothko was an abstract artist who didn’t see himself as an abstract artist — or at least not in any ‘formalist’ sense. If a critic called him a ‘colourist’, he would bristle; if they admired his sense of composition,… Read more

Alexander Rodchenko’s costume design for Meyerhold masterwork, ‘The 
Bedbug’, 1929

Russians made the theatre space the most liberating imaginative device ever invented

Exhibitions

You have to hand it to the Russians. They beat us into space, beat us to sexual equality, and a small display of early Soviet avant-garde theatre and film design, tucked away in the V&A’s ‘Performance’ area, proves that they… Read more

'Supermarkets' (1976), by Sigmar Polke. Picture: The Estate of Sigmar Polke

Tate Modern’s latest show feels like it’s from another planet

Exhibitions

‘Some day we shall no longer need pictures: we shall just be happy.’ — Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter, 1966 Who says Germans have no sense of humour? OK, so their writers tend to be a pretty gloomy bunch —… Read more

‘Winter Landscape (Winterlandschaft)’, 1970, by Anselm Kiefer

All my doubts about Anselm Kiefer are blown away by his Royal Academy show

Exhibitions

In the Royal Academy’s courtyard are two large glass cases or vitrines containing model submarines. In one the sea has receded, dried up, and the tin fish are stranded on the cracked mud of the ocean floor. In the other,… Read more

‘Water-meadows near Salisbury’, 1829/30, by John Constable

Curator-driven ambitions mar this Constable show at the V&A

Exhibitions

The V&A has an unparalleled collection of hundreds of works by John Constable (1776–1837), but hardly anyone seems to know about them. This is perhaps because they’re usually kept on an upper floor of the Henry Cole Wing, rather off… Read more

‘Rain, Steam and Speed — The Great Western Railway’, 1844, by J.M.W. Turner

Tate Britain’s Turner show reveals an old master - though the Spectator didn’t think so at the time

Exhibitions

Juvenilia is the work produced during an artist’s youth. It would seem logical to think, therefore, that an artist’s output during their old age would be classified as ‘senilia’. Yet no such word exists. But how else to classify the… Read more

‘Modern Family’, 2014, byEd Fornieles,at Chisenhale Gallery

‘Likes’, lacquered cherry pies and Anselm Kiefer: the weird world of post-internet art

Exhibitions

In the mid-1990s the art world got excited about internet art (or ‘net.art’, as those involved styled it). This new way of making art would harness the world wide web, take the form of exciting online projects, bypass traditional galleries… Read more

Portrait of a couple as Isaac and Rebecca, known as ‘The Jewish Bride’, c.1665, by Rembrandt

Why everyone loves Rembrandt

Exhibitions

Talking of Rembrandt’s ‘The Jewish Bride’ to a friend, Vincent van Gogh went — characteristically — over the top. ‘I should be happy to give ten years of my life,’ he exclaimed, ‘if I could go on sitting here in… Read more

‘Moonrise and Pale Dancer’ by Derek Hyatt

The man who brought Cubism to New York

Exhibitions

The American Jewish artist Max Weber (1881–1961) was born in Belostok in Russia (now Bialystok in Poland), and although he visited this country twice (he came to London in 1906 and 1908), it was the experience of continental Europe —… Read more