Martin Gayford rss

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

Climate change, Bruegel-style

13 December 2014

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… Read more

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

The death of the life class

6 December 2014
John Wonnacott and John Lessore: The Life Room and the City Norwich Castle Museum
John Wonnacott and John Lessore: About Life NUA Gallery

‘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… Read more

David Hockney at work in his studio, c.1967

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

22 November 2014

‘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… Read more

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

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

15 November 2014
Giovanni Battista Moroni Royal Academy

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… Read more

‘Before the Mirror’, 1913, by Egon Schiele

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

8 November 2014
Egon Schiele: The Radical Nude Courtauld Gallery

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… Read more

Alan Beeton, ‘Reposing’, 1929

The secret world of the artist's mannequin

1 November 2014
Silent Partners: Artist & Mannequin from Function to Fetish Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

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 —… 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

25 October 2014

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,… Read more

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

Why everyone loves Rembrandt

27 September 2014
‘Rembrandt: The Late Works’ National Gallery

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,’… Read more

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

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

20 September 2014

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… Read more

‘La Guingette à Montmartre’ by Van Gogh (1886)

Exactly how much fun was it being an impoverished artist in Paris?

30 August 2014
In Montmartre: Picasso, Matisse and Modernism in Paris, 1900–1910 Sue Roe

Penguin/Fig Tree, pp.365, £20, ISBN: 9781905490868

What he really wanted, Picasso once remarked, was to live ‘like a pauper, but with plenty of money’. It sounds most appealing: the perfect recipe for a bohemian life, dreamed… Read more

‘Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces’ by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Reynolds produced some of the finest portraits of the 18th century – and a few of the silliest

9 August 2014
Reynolds: Portraiture in Action Mark Hallett

Yale, pp.488, £50, ISBN: 978030019699

On Monday 21 April 1760 Joshua Reynolds had a busy day. Through the morning and the afternoon he had a series of sitters. Each of these stayed for an hour… Read more

Wynton Marsalis: ‘The pressure of playing in public makes it all for real’

'They took me in like I was their son': Wynton Marsalis on jazz's great tradition

9 August 2014

At the end of his performance at the Barbican with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis made a little speech. The next piece, he announced, was a number… Read more

Gauguin’s Pacific Islanders owe as much to travel literature as to direct observation.

From the Elgin marbles to Carl Andre's bricks: the mistakes that have made great art

2 August 2014

One day in 1959, the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre was putting the finishing touches to an abstract sculpture in wood. The work, entitled ‘Last Ladder’, was carved on only one… Read more


Why the BBC will never match Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation

17 May 2014

One afternoon in 1942, Kenneth Clark and his wife Jane called on two young painters for tea. The artists were John Craxton and Lucian Freud, then both around 20 and… Read more

‘Portrait of a Bishop’, c.1541–2, by Jacopo Carrucci, known as Pontormo

The brilliant neurotics of the late Renaissance

17 May 2014
Pontormo and Rosso Fiorentino: Diverging Paths of Mannerism Palazzo Strozzi, Florence

In many respects the average art-lover remains a Victorian, and the Florentine Renaissance is one area in which that is decidedly so. Most of us, like Ruskin, love the works… Read more

Edgar Degas - Dancer slipping on her shoe (1874)

Ladies' hats were his waterlillies - the obsessive brilliance of Edgar Degas

19 April 2014
Edgar Degas: Drawings and Pastels Christopher Lloyd

Thames and Hudson, pp.320, £24.95, ISBN: 9780500093818

Lucian Freud once said that ‘being able to draw well is the hardest thing — far harder than painting, as one can easily see from the fact that there are… Read more

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

Francisco de Zurbarán had a Hollywood sense of drama

5 April 2014
Zurbarán: Master of Spain’s Golden Age Palais des Beaux Arts, Brussels

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,… Read more

Two gamblers: Freud and Bacon photographed by Harry Diamond

Friends, soulmates, rivals: the double life of Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud

14 December 2013

Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud are likely to go down together in art history. If the link had not already been set in cement, it certainly became so at Christie’s… Read more

‘Fourteen Sunflowers’, 
 the version 
in the Neue

The Sunflowers Are Mine, by Martin Bailey - review

5 October 2013
The Sunflowers Are Mine: The Story of Van Gogh’s Masterpiece Martin Bailey

Frances Lincoln, pp.240, £25, ISBN: 9780711232983

‘How could a man who has loved light and flowers so much and has rendered them so well, how could he have managed to be so unhappy?’ This was Claude… Read more

Rubens’s ‘Three Graces’ had a disturbingly powerful effect on the art historian Kenneth Clark

The Books that Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss, by Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard – review

16 March 2013
The Books that Shaped Art History: From Gombrich and Greenberg to Alpers and Krauss Richard Shone and John-Paul Stonard (eds)

Thames and Hudson, pp.264, £24.95, ISBN: 9780500238950

There is a feeling about this publication of the biter bit, or rather, the observer observed. It consists of 16 essays by leading art historians about the most significant books… Read more


Caspar David Friedrich, by Johannes Grave

25 August 2012
Caspar David Friedrich Johannes Grave

Prestel, pp.288, 80, ISBN: 9783791346281

In October 1810, the poet and dramatist Heinrich von Kleist substantially rewrote a review submitted to a publication he edited, the Berliner Abendblätter. Indeed, as few editors would dare —… Read more


Jerusalem Notebook

12 May 2012

Jerusalem is a wonderful city for hat-spotting. There are the black fedoras and other varieties worn  by Hassidic and ultra-orthodox Haredi Jews, sometimes magnificent in height and breadth, and there… Read more


Currents of imagery

17 December 2011
The Book of the Wind: The Representation of the Invisible Alessandro Nova

McGill-Queen’s University Press, pp.223, 50

In the first book of his scientific-cum-philosophical poem ‘De rerum Natura’ — or ‘On the Nature of Things’ — Lucretius draws the reader’s attention to the power of invisible forces.… Read more


21st-century pilgrims

14 August 2010

The tourists who flock to galleries in Paris, Florence and Rome are like medieval shrine-visitors, says Martin Gayford. Most don’t care about art, and are only there out of duty… Read more


Letter from Syria

9 June 2010

No question about it, the world is becoming increasingly homogenised — not only, indeed not so much, in big things such as democracy and free trade as in small. No… Read more