National portrait gallery

The arts rely on the generosity of non-doms. We pursue them at our peril

This much we know. If Ed Miliband wins, he will reintroduce the 50p top rate of tax, impose a mansion tax on homes worth over £2 million and abolish rules enabling registered non-doms to cheerily reside in the UK and avoid tax on their overseas earnings. In other words, he’ll whack the rich. Whether the rich deserve to be whacked we have debated elsewhere. What hasn’t been discussed is whether our eagerness to whack the rich might not have an adverse impact on charitable giving, in particular donations to the arts? One non-dom to consider is Sir Christopher Ondaatje. He personally put forward £3 million toward the wing that now bears his name in the National Portrait Gallery and in 2002 helped

Wellington’s PR machine

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 swag of braid, another row of pearls, flounce of silk or plume topples the finished image from celebration to indictment. In such portraits, the artist hardly needs to essay psychological insights: luscious visual bombast betrays the chasm between appearance and truth. In images as diverse as Van Eyck’s ‘Arnolfini Portrait’ of 1434, Antoine-François Callet’s 1775 coronation portrait of Louis XVI and Sargent’s ‘Mrs Carl Meyer and her Children’ of 1896,

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

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 than the bat. ‘Well painted, sir!’ the contributors would exclaim at an especially brilliant display of visual agility. ‘Fine stroke!’ If such a periodical had existed in the late Victorian and Edwardian ages, no one would have been heaped with more praise than John Singer Sargent (1856–1925). Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends at the National Portrait Gallery is filled with mesmerising displays of his skills. There are so many,

The Taylor Wessing Prize has no future if it continues to be so insipidly PC

We know what to expect from the Taylor Wessing Portrait Prize. Africans in tribal dress. Flame-haired girls posing with animals. Nudes, generally grotesque: obese hanging bellies, a limb missing here or there. Wizened (but wise!) faces. Low-level child pornography. In 2012 the National Portrait Gallery was fortunate to avoid the wandering gaze of Operation Yewtree. Certain archetypes always seem to make the grade. Perhaps the judges have finally woken up to the clichés, because the choice of finalists this year is not predictable but baffling. The first prize was awarded to David Titlow for a photograph of his nine month-old son. Imagine The Creation of Adam, with a dog in

James Delingpole falls in love with Grayson Perry – and almost comes round to Chris Huhne

I love Grayson Perry. You might almost call him the anti-Russell Brand: a genuinely talented artist who also has some very interesting stuff to say — as he’s demonstrating yet again in his highly entertaining new series Who Are You? (C4, Wednesdays). It ought to be ghastly and it ought to be pretentious: a trendy ceramicist known at least as much for his transvestism as for his wackily decorated, hugely fashionable pots meets up with people from diverse backgrounds so that he can explore the theme of identity and then exhibit creations inspired by them at the National Portrait Gallery. When I tell you that one of those people is

The Bloomsbury painters bore me

Virginia Woolf (1882–1941) claimed that nothing has really happened until it has been recorded, so this new exhibition at the NPG devoted to her life can only now be said to have happened — for here I am recording it. Of course it is a truism that an exhibition only exists while it is on. Afterwards it remains in (some of) the memories of those people who visited it, and in photographic records or a catalogue of the exhibits. Among the items that will linger in my memory of this show are the portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron of Sir John Herschel, mathematician and astronomer, looking like a distraught French

The next head of the National Gallery will be…

Nick Penny announced that he is stepping down as head of the National Gallery. Next door, at the National Portrait Gallery, Sandy Nairne also announced that he is leaving. Could he be after the job at the NG? Nick Penny’s predecessor, Charles Saumarez Smith, came from the NPG but his lack of knowledge about the NG collection is said to have led to an internal curatorial mutiny. Sandy Nairne could also be said to lack the knowledge of the collection necessary to do the job well. Furthermore, he is not currently popular with lovers of the gallery, some of whom believe that his dogged pursuit of the overpriced Van Dyck self portrait – an attractive work of so-so

Marcus Wareing drops a name

In the ‘Chefs’ Last Supper’ in the National Portrait Gallery, Marcus Wareing is throwing a brie at Gordon Ramsay, who plays Jesus. They both have restaurants in the celebrity-chef triangle in Knightsbridge near Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner, which led Ramsay to fantasise about chefs’ fisticuffs at 4 a.m. in the street, as he does; but what was Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, which sounds very like a restaurant with in-built directions for the confused, has been rebranded to be less ‘formal’ and more ‘relaxed’. It is now just ‘Marcus at the Berkeley’. It’s gone the way of gay icons with a solitary name in lights: Judy. Barbra. Liza. Marcus. The Berkeley is

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 of hostilities. (Will there be as many celebrating the anniversary of their cessation, I wonder?) Although there is some film footage of the war, and detailed photographic documentation of its horrors, the best record we have of the human reality of those five years of conflict resides in the art made about it. When the contagion of battle has passed from the blood, the conscious mind may turn to better

Save our Van Dyck!

Why should a portrait of a Flemish painter by a Flemish painter be considered so important to Britain that the culture minister Ed Vaizey has slapped a three-month export delay on it, and the National Portrait Gallery has announced a £12.5 million campaign to keep it in the country? Moreover, why is it so important that after reading this article you should immediately go to and make a generous contribution to save it from going abroad? The answer lies in four words: Sir Anthony Van Dyck. No other single artist has had such an impact on British art as Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599–1641) not only in his own

Laura Knight was an artist skilled in the ways of the world

The popular conception of Dame Laura Knight is of an energetic woman piling on the paint in the back of a huge and antiquated Rolls-Royce at Epsom Derby, the door propped open to the view, or charging off in pursuit of gypsies, clowns or ballerinas. A widely popular and successful artist, she painted people in action in a robust, realistic style, and was able to compete with men on their own terms, managing to get herself elected to that hitherto almost entirely masculine preserve, the Royal Academy. But wasn’t there something slightly mannish about her? Her pal Alf Munnings made a joke about that, and certainly you see her kissing