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

Della Francesca’s ‘Resurrection’

The mathematical revolution behind ‘the greatest picture in the world’

19 April 2014

It seems odd to enter a room dominated by what Aldous Huxley famously called ‘the greatest picture in the world’ to find not another soul there. Looking down from an… Read more


This beautiful new history of Kew Gardens needs a bit of weeding

12 April 2014
Edward Bawden’s Kew Gardens Peyton Skipwith and Brian Webb

V and A Publishing, pp.112, £20, ISBN: 9781851777792

Edward Bawden’s Kew Gardens is a beautiful book. Lovers of early 20th-century British art will find it hard to stop gazing at the painted board cover under the dustjacket. It… Read more

American novelist Siri Hustvedt Photo: Getty

Caught between a New Age rock and a theory junkie hard place

22 March 2014
The Blazing World Siri Hustvedt

Sceptre, pp.379, £18.99, ISBN: 9781444779646

Siri Hustvedt’s new novel isn’t exactly an easy read — but the casual bookshop browser should be reassured that it’s nowhere near as punishing as the opening pages might suggest.… Read more

The Hunters in the Snow, 1565, by Pieter Brueghel Photo: De Agostini/Getty

A spirit to warm Bruegel’s ‘Hunters in the Snow’

15 February 2014

The ostensible subject matter is misleading, as is any conflation with his lesser relatives’ wassailing peasants and roistering village squares. But Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s work is profoundly serious. It… Read more


Clarissa Tan's Notebook: Why I stopped drinking petrol

25 January 2014

Florence was in fog the day I arrived. Its buildings were bathed in white cloud, its people moved as though through steam. The Arno river was a dense strip of… Read more

Saving Italy, by Robert M. Edsel - a review

20 July 2013
Saving Italy: the race to rescue a nation’s treasures from the Nazis Robert M. Edsel

W.W. Norton, pp.454, £20, ISBN: 9780393082418

During the civil war, the Puritan iconoclast William Dowsing recorded with satisfaction his destructive visit in 1644 to the parish church of Sudbury in Suffolk: ‘We brake down a picture… Read more


When a smartphone gallery is better than the real thing

20 July 2013

The best way to view some of the world’s greatest works of art is to go nowhere near them. Like other celebrities, the most famous paintings are hard to get… Read more

Christopher Sykes

6 July 2013

I began my week with a trip to Bridlington, the closest seaside town to my childhood home. ‘Brid’, as it’s known to the locals, has a special British charm, comprising… Read more

‘Artist’s Studio “Look Mickey”’, 1973, by Roy Lichtenstein

How Roy Lichtenstein became weighed down with superficiality

9 March 2013

On both sides of the Atlantic there are still heated debates about who invented Pop Art, the Americans or the British, but it seems much more probable that concurrently each… Read more


An enigma wrapped in a conundrum

26 May 2012
Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall Will Ellsworth-Jones

Aurum, pp.323, 20

What to make of Banksy? Artist or vandal? Tate Modern holds no Banksys and, other than a redundant phone box that he folded in half and pretended to have reconfigured… Read more


The picture of health

14 April 2012
The Healing Presence of Art: A History of Western Art in Hospitals Richard Cork

Yale, pp.460, 50

It must have been hard to settle on a title for this book; but then this is not the book that Richard Cork originally had in mind.  In his introduction… Read more


Bookends: Disarming but disingenuous

14 April 2012

At first glance, Be the Worst You Can Be (Booth-Clibborn Editions, £9.99) by Charles Saatchi (pictured above with his wife, Nigella Lawson) seems a rather distinguished book, with its gilt… Read more


Where dreams take shape

7 April 2012
Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and Their Studios edited by Hossein Amirsadeghi

Thames & Hudson, pp.600, 48

The question of what artists actually get up to in their studios has always intrigued the rest of us — that mysterious alchemical process of transforming base materials into gold,… Read more


A fine and private painter

31 March 2012
Prunella Clough: Regions Unmapped Frances Spalding

Lund Humphries, pp.240, 35

Prunella Clough was a modest and self-effacing artist who nevertheless produced some of the most consistently original and innovative British art of the second half of the 20th century. She… Read more


Portraits of an age

3 March 2012
Beaton in Vogue Josephine Ross

Thames & Hudson, pp.240, 28

By a fine coincidence, two legendary icons of British art were being feted in London on the same evening last month, and both are primarily famous, to the public at… 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


Oh brother!

17 December 2011
Van Gogh: The Life Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Profile Books, pp.953, 30

Long in the writing, deep in research, heavy to hold, this is the latest of umpteen biographies of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). But it should be said straightaway that it… Read more

Settling old scores

10 December 2011
Outsider: Almost Always, Never Quite Brian Sewell

Quartet, pp.343, 25

As a boy, Brian Sewell was unimpressed by opera but enraptured by pantomime which, he reveals in Outsider, sowed in him ‘an undying ambition, never fulfilled, to play the Widow… Read more


Lust for life

3 December 2011
Hockney: The Biography, Volume I, A Rake’s Progess Christopher Simon Sykes

Century, pp.363, 25

Seduced by the hayseed hair and the Yorkshire accent it’s tempting to see the young David Hockney as the Freddie Flintoff of the painting world: lovable, simple, brilliant, undoubtedly a… Read more


Art Books: A sumptuous tour

19 November 2011

In 1930 Evelyn Waugh, already at 27 a famous novelist, spent two days in Barcelona. He came upon one of the art nouveau houses designed by Antonio Gaudí, who had… Read more


William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings by Patricia Reed

5 November 2011
William Nicholson: Catalogue Raisonné of the Oil Paintings Patricia Reed

Modern Art Press/ Yale University Press,, pp.672, 95

A pleasingly tactile canvas-like cover adorns this heavy book and proclaims its purpose; the boldly brushed illustration is a detail from ‘Mauve Primulas on a Table’ painted in January 1928… Read more


A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney by Martin Gayford

29 October 2011
A Bigger Message: Conversations with David Hockney Martin Gayford

Thames & Hudson, pp.248, 18.95

Like his contemporary and fellow Yorkshireman, Alan Bennett, whom he slightly resembles physically, David Hockney has been loved and admired throughout his lifetime. He painted one of his greatest works,… Read more


Art for ransom

27 August 2011
Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Story of Notorious Art Heists Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg

Palgrave Macmillan, pp.272, 15.99

Art Theft and the Case of the Stolen Turners Sandy Nairne

Reaktion Books, pp.224, 20

These two books make mutually illuminating and surprisingly contrasting companions, given the similarity of their subjects. Both are written by those with hands-on experience in the field of art preservation… Read more


Poetry in paint

23 July 2011
Mysterious Wisdom: The Life and Work of Samuel Palmer Rachel Campbell-Johnston

Bloomsbury, pp.382, 25

At the age of just 21, Samuel Palmer produced one of British art’s greatest self-portraits. At the age of just 21, Samuel Palmer produced one of British art’s greatest self-portraits.… Read more