Design by William Kent for a cascade at Chatsworth, c.1735–40; below, the Bute epergne, 1756, by Thomas Heming, designed by Kent

William Kent was an ideas man - the Damien Hirst of the 18th century


How important is William Kent (1685–1748)? He’s not exactly a household name and yet this English painter and architect, apprenticed to a Hull coach-painter before he was sent to Italy (as a kind of cultural finishing school) by a group… Read more

Mysteriously ravishing: ‘Santo Spirito’, 2013, by Arturo Di Stefano

It’s the whisper you’ve got to listen for in Arturo Di Stefano’s paintings


One of the paintings in Arturo Di Stefano’s impressive new show at Purdy Hicks Gallery is called ‘Santa Croce’ and it depicts the arcaded cloister of the church in Florence where Giotto painted a series of frescoes. Di Stefano has… Read more

Passive and bound: ‘Agnus Dei’, c.1635–40, by Zurbarán

Francisco de Zurbarán had a Hollywood sense of drama


It seems suitable that just round the corner from the Zurbarán exhibition at the Palais des Beaux Arts is the Musée Magritte. Surrealism was in the air of 20th-century Belgium, just as much as it was in the atmosphere of… Read more

Eric Kennington's Gassed and Wounded

The great and the good and the gassed and the dead


Last week, three exhibitions celebrating the art of Germany; this week, a show commemorating the first world war fought against that great nation. In this centenary year of the beginning of WW1, there will be numerous events marking the start… Read more

‘Overhang’ by Julian Cooper

Julian Cooper's rock profiles


Like most ambitious artists, Julian Cooper has been pulled this way and that by seemingly conflicting influences. The son and grandson of Lake District landscape painters — his mother was a sculptor — he fell among abstractionists at his London… Read more

‘Hercules Killing Cacus’, 1588, by Hendrik Goltzius

Upside down and right on top: the power of George Baselitz


It’s German Season in London, and revealingly the best of three new shows is the one dealing with the most modern period: the post-second world war era of East and West Germany and the potent art that came out of… Read more

Fernand Léger ‘s ‘The City’, 1919

The tubular joys of Fernand Léger


In 1914 Fernand Léger gave a lecture about modern art. By then recognised as a leading Cubist artist, he had the year before signed up with the dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, who already represented Picasso and Braque. ‘If pictorial expression has… Read more

'Fold’, 2012, by Richard Deacon

Richard Deacon – from Meccano into art


When I visited the Richard Deacon exhibition at Tate Millbank, there were quite a lot of single men of a certain age studying the exhibits with rapt attention — some even making notes. (I realise I’ve just described myself…) This… Read more

The Vale of York hoard, 900s.

The British Museum's Vikings: part provincial exhibit, part gripping drama


Exhibitions are made for two main reasons: education and entertainment. Although I recognise the importance of education I am, by nature, a devotee of pleasure and want people to enjoy what they see in museums — not just feel that… Read more

‘Untitled (From an Ethnographic Museum)’,
1930, by Hannah Höch

Hannah Höch – from Dada firebrand to poet of collage


I suspect I am not alone in finding it surprising to encounter at the close of this exhibition an unexpected Hannah Höch — a gently spoken elderly lady filmed wandering among the overgrown flowers in her garden, talking of beauty.… Read more

‘Le Port au chemin de fer à Honfleur’, 1866, by Johan Barthold Jongkind

Who knew that Cézanne had a sense of humour?


Tourists are attracted to queues, art lovers to quietude. So while the mass of Monet fans visiting Paris line up outside the Musée d’Orsay and the Orangerie, connoisseurs head to the Musée Marmottan, an institution so surprisingly little known that… Read more

Close to Heaven: Pezo von Ellrichshausen’s installation ‘Blue Pavilion’

The best exhibition of architecture I have ever experienced


Curtain walls, dreaming spires, crockets, finials, cantilevers, bush-hammered concrete, vermiculated rustication, heroic steel and delicate Cosmati work are all diverse parts of the architect’s vocabulary. But while Gothic, Classical, Baroque and Modern are well-thumbed volumes in his library of style,… Read more

‘French Window’ video still, 1973, by Ian Emes, whose show opens in April

The Ikon Gallery's greatest hits


In a crowded storeroom at Ikon, Birmingham’s contemporary art gallery, its director Jonathan Watkins is unwrapping the pictures for his latest show. His excitement is infectious. He’s like a big kid on Christmas day. This exhibition marks the start of… Read more

‘Rhianan’, 2009, by John Kiki

Four artists you ought to know — and a famous one you can know better


In this round-up of exhibitions in London’s commercial galleries, I feature three shows of little-known but mature contemporary British artists. There is a great deal of interesting and worthwhile art being made out there, but not enough of it comes… Read more

Vanitas’, mid-1650, by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione

'Castiglione: Lost Genius' loses his genius in a sea of brown


Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609–64) was, I must admit, unknown to me until I visited this show, the only Castiglione I was properly aware of being the one who wrote The Book of the Courtier published in 1528; clearly not the… Read more

Magnificent: ‘Ghetto Theatre’, 1920, by David Bomberg

'Uproar!' The Ben Uri gallery punches above its weight


Last year saw the centenary of the London Group, a broad-based exhibiting body set up in a time of stylistic ferment in the art world as an independent alternative to the closed shops of the academies. Formed from the amalgamation… Read more

‘Red and Yellow Landscape’, 1945, by John Craxton

John Craxton was more gifted than the Fitzwilliam show suggests


It is often said of John Craxton (1922–2009) that he knew how to live well and considered this more important than art. Perhaps there is a certain truth in this, but if he really believed it, did he have any… Read more

‘Untitled’, 2012, by Simon Ling

Painting Now doesn't represent painting now. Thank goodness


The death of painting has been so often foretold — almost as frequently as its renaissance — that any such prediction today is nothing short of foolhardy. Of course, painting is alive and well and living in London, but you… Read more

‘Processing the Catch, Wharf Scene, Iceland’, c.1935, by Alan Sorrell

Alan Sorrell, oddly original and shamefully neglected (till now)


Rediscovering the unduly neglected is one of the chief excitements of those who curate exhibitions and write books. And there’s nothing I enjoy more than saluting the achievement of those who bring back to our attention an artist who –… Read more

‘Map Reading’, by Stanley Spencer, at Sandham Memorial Chapel

When soldiers have golden helmets and the wounded have wings


‘If I go to war, I go on condition I can have Giotto, the Basilica of Assisi book, Fra Angelico in one pocket, and Masaccio, Masolino and Giorgione in the other,’ Stanley Spencer wrote to the artist Henry Lamb in… Read more

‘Hastings Fish Market on the Sands, Early Morning’, 1824, by J.M.W. Turner

Turner's seafaring ways — and his blazingly competitive art


Turner’s contemporaries regarded him primarily as a marine painter. This perception extended to his persona, with many who met him commenting on his nautical gait, manner of speaking and other salty characteristics. He frequented ports and coastal parts, relished sailing… Read more

‘Clown Playing a Drum’, c.1867, by Honoré Daumier

Daumier's paintings show he is at heart a sculptor


There hasn’t been a decent Daumier exhibition in this country for more than half a century, so art lovers have had to be content with the handful of pictures in national collections and books of reproductions. This works all right… Read more

‘King and Queen’, 1952–3, by Henry Moore and ‘Study from Portrait of Pope Innocent X’, 1965, by Francis Bacon

In the National Gallery's Vienna show, it's Oscar Kokoschka who's the real revelation


The current exhibition in the Sainsbury Wing claims to be a portrait of Vienna in 1900, but in fact offers rather an interesting survey of portraits made there from the 1830s to 1918. The gallery layout has been usefully adapted… Read more

Installationat ‘Pop Art Design’exhibition, showing Roy Lichtenstein’s ‘Yellow Brushstroke II’, 1965, plates by Eduardo Paolozzi (c.1972) and Ettore Sottsass (1958) and ‘Marshmallow’ sofa, 1956, by George Nelson Associates

Where's the fun, Barbican? 


Pop Art Design, curated by the Vitra Design Museum and currently at the Barbican, opens with Richard Hamilton’s 1956 ‘Just what makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’. Made as a poster for the Whitechapel show This is Tomorrow, it’s… Read more

Acting as turret gateway: ‘Minster’, 1987, by Tony Cragg

The Lisson show is so hermetic, sometimes we flounder for meaning


The title of the Lisson Gallery’s new show, Nostalgic for the Future, could sum up the gallery’s whole raison d’être. From its inception in 1967, the Lisson has championed the cutting edge, providing a British and European platform for the… Read more

‘The Deluge’, c.1840, by Francis Danby

'Squiggle, squiggle, ooh, good...' Tate St Ives shows how sexy the octopus can be


One of the more exotic attractions at the 1939–40 World’s Fair in New York was Salvador Dalí’s ‘Dream of Venus Pavilion’, which behind its surreal façade — an architectural marriage between Antoni Gaudí and a coral reef — catered to… Read more

‘Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge’, 1859–63, by James McNeill Whistler

The painter of poetry


The famous court case in which Ruskin accused Whistler of ‘flinging a pot of paint in the public’s face’ continues to rumble through the public response to art in this country. The man in the street, the man on the… Read more

Rowlett’s ‘Canaletto’s View, Grey Day, South Westerly Blowing the Clouds’, 2013

How China's Bayeux Tapestry differs from ours


The V&A’s remarkable survey of Chinese painting begins quietly with a beautiful scroll depicting ‘Court Ladies Preparing Newly Woven Silk’, from the early 12th century, which, with its bright colours, shallow space and lack of setting, invites comparison with a… Read more