Painting the town together

2 June 2010
The Last Bohemians Roger Bristow

Sansom, pp.416, 29.95

This book recounts a terrible story of self-destruction by two painters who, in their heyday, achieved considerable renown in Britain and abroad. Robert Colquhoun (1914-62) and Robert MacBryde (1913-66), both… Read more


Red faces in the galleries

21 April 2010
The Conman: How One Man Fooled the Modern Art Establishment Laney Salisbury and Aly Sujo

Gibson Square, pp.327, 14.99

Art fraudsters, especially forgers, have a popular appeal akin to Robin Hood. Their cock-a-snook cunning provides a twist on those money shots on the Antiques Roadshow when some dotty great… Read more


Our squandered national treasure

14 April 2010
The South Bank Show: Final Cut Melvyn Bragg

Hodder, pp.307, 20

Torn with grief, Melvyn Bragg has produced a condolence book for the South Bank Show (born 1978, died of neglect, 2010). These 25 vignettes, based on the best of his… Read more


Thoroughly hooked

14 April 2010
Blood Knots Luke Jennings

Atlantic Books, pp.227, 16.99

On the southern edge of Kensal Green cemetery, beneath the wall that separates the graves from the Grand Union Canal, is a memorial inscription that would stop a Duns Scotus… Read more


Fine artist, but a dirty old man

31 March 2010
Linley Sambourne: Illustrator and Punch Cartoonist Leonee Ormond

Paul Holberton, pp.312, 30

I have always been sceptical of those passages in the ‘Ancestry’ chapters of biographies that run something like this: Through his veins coursed the rebellious blood of the Vavasours, blended… Read more


Life beyond the canvas

24 February 2010
Into the Frame: The Four Loves of Ford Madox Brown Angela Thirlwell

Chatto, pp.328, 25

Angela Thirlwell’s previous book was a double biography of William Rossetti (brother to the more famous Dante Gabriel) and his wife Lucy (daughter of the more famous Ford Madox Brown).… Read more


A dramatic streak

10 February 2010
John Armstrong: The Paintings Andrew Lambirth

Philip Wilson Publishers, pp.240, 35

Late in the 19th century, archaeologists digging in the Roman Forum discovered a lime kiln. It had been built to incinerate marble into an aggregate for the mortar for the… Read more


A dream made concrete

6 January 2010
Sydney Opera House: A Tribute to J Katarina Stübe and Jan Utzon

Reveal Books, pp.183, 45

You are celebrated as the architect of one of the most famous buildings in the world, now in your late eighties and living quietly in your home outside Copenhagen. One… Read more

Master of accretion

30 December 2009
Frank Auerbach William Feaver

Rizzoli, pp.359, 100

Frank Auerbach (born 1931) is one of the most interesting artists working in Europe today, a philosophical painter of reality who works and re-works his pictures before he discovers something… Read more

The king of chiaroscuro

14 December 2009
Caravaggio: The Complete Works Sebastian Schütze

Taschen, pp.306, 100

These days, it is easy to take it for granted that Caravaggio (1571-1610) is the most popular of the old masters, yet it was not ever thus. In my Baedeker’s… Read more

Repeat that, repeat

9 December 2009
The Infinity of Lists Umberto Eco

Maclehose Press, pp.408, 35

When the Louvre invited me to organise for the whole of November 2009 a series of conferences, exhibitions, public readings, concerts, film projections and the like on the subject of… Read more

The optimism of a suicide

9 December 2009
Vincent Van Gogh: The Letters Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker

Thames & Hudson, 325

A postal strike would have been a disaster for Van Gogh. Letters were his lifeline and consolation. Not only did he receive through the mail his regular allowance from his… Read more

Romantic approaches

4 November 2009
John Hoyland: Scatter the Devils Andrew Lambirth

Unicorn Press, pp.160, 40

Spectator readers will know that Andrew Lambirth is a romantic, a force for the literary and poetic approach to art criticism, so he is an admirably empathetic guide to Hoyland:… Read more

Surprising literary ventures

9 September 2009
Miranda the Panda is on the Veranda Doris Sanders and Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith, as readers will know, was the author of the upmarket thrillers Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr Ripley, among others. She was also a keen artist,… Read more

Dilly-dallying romance

22 April 2009
Constable in Love Martin Gayford

Penguin/Fig Tree, pp.370, 20

Translated to Borsetshire, John Constable’s courtship of Maria Bicknell would provide more material than any script editor could handle without straining audience impatience beyond endurance. Nine years it took, from… Read more

From worthless to priceless

15 April 2009
The Ultimate Trophy: How Impressionist Painting Conquered the World Philip Hook

Prestel, pp.223, 17.99

A combination of art history ‘lite’ and the personal touch — a common yoking together these days, even in books supposedly of art history ‘full strength’ — makes for, in… Read more

Shrine of a connoisseur

7 April 2009
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London Tim Knox

Merrell, pp.160, 24.95

Sir John Soane’s Museum, London, by Tim Knox, photographs by Derry Moore Sir John Soane’s Museum is very nearly a folly — a mad grotto in the midst of Georgian… Read more


Red Star Over Russia

4 March 2009
Red Star Over Russia David King

Tate, pp.345, 25

Winston Churchill’s cousin, the sculptor Clare Sheridan, gazes up at her bust of Trotsky, made during a trip to Moscow in 1920. Her subjects were leading Bolsheviks including Felix Dzerzhinsky,… Read more

Horses decline, dogs advance

14 January 2009
The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art Tamsin Pickeral

Merrell, pp.287, 29.95

Dogs: History, Myth, Art Catherine Johns

British Museum Press, pp.208, 16.99

The Horse: A Celebration of Horses in Art Rachel and Simon Barnes

Quercus, pp.224, 25

The Dog: 5000 Years of the Dog in Art, by Tamsin Pickeral Dogs: History, Myth, Art, by Catherine Johns The Horse: A Celebration of Horses in Art, by Rachel and… Read more

The Leap from the Judas Tree

7 January 2009
Stephen Chambers Andrew Lambirth

Unicorn Press, pp.192, 40

Stephen Chambers, by Andrew Lambirth Of the same 1980s generation as Peter Doig and the Young British Artists (Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin et al), Stephen Chambers has always pursued a… Read more


12 December 2008
Photopoetry Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Thames & Hudson, pp.336, 42

Photopoetry, by Manuel Alvarez Bravo Manuel Alvarez Bravo, born in 1902, lived to be 100 and worked as a photographer in Mexico for eight decades. He was destined to spend… Read more

A grand overview

12 December 2008
Paintings in Proust Eric Karpeles

Thames & Hudson, pp.352, 25

This unassuming book is in fact a valuable addition to the Proust bibliography. The author, himself a painter, has had the apparently simple idea of extracting all references to works… Read more

The new look that never aged

12 December 2008
The Allure of Chanel Paul Morand

Pushkin Press, pp.181, 12

The Allure of Chanel, by Paul Morand, translated by Euan Cameron Should anyone ever ask me that daft magazine question about who you’d invite to your dream dinner-party (‘anyone in… Read more