Honor Clerk

The force of nature that drove Claude Monet

There have been some really good biographies of artists over recent years and what distinguishes the best of them is their sense of context and a lucid prose free from the jargon of the art historian. In the end, of course, any work of art has to be able to stand by itself, but for

Jim Ede and the glories of Kettle’s Yard

Jim Ede started early. At the age of 12 he used £8 of his hard-won savings to buy a Queen Anne desk. No bicycle, air pistol or football for him: this solid piece of old furniture was the thing, the first step in a long life of acquiring objects that lived, breathed and spoke to

Heavenly beauty: Doppelmayr’s Atlas Coelestis

It seems something of a disservice to a work of this seriousness to say how beautiful it is, but that is what will first strike the reader. Open this book and if you can prise yourself away from its wonderful marbled end papers, with their swirls and drifts of deepest blue, brilliant flashes of rusty

Pure and endless light

There has been extraordinarily little bright sunlight in the far northwest corner of Britain over the past year. Damp, drizzling summer, an endless sequence of howling autumnal gales and downpours, a muddy dismal winter. Then at the beginning of February, by some accounts traditionally a season for good weather in northern Scotland, a series of

From light into darkness: the genius of Goya

The great Spanish artist Francisco Goya was born in Zaragoza in 1746, the son of a gilder whose livelihood was doomed by the new fashion for marble. The young Goya first studied in his home town before graduating to Madrid, rising through academy and court circles and navigating his way through the reigns of three

How long is long enough to look at a work of art?

There is a vogue at the moment for books which use art as a vehicle for examining the writer’s wider life and interests. Toby Ferris will certainly not have seen this as in any way an autobiography, but what it essentially does is use a quest for the 42 surviving paintings by Pieter Bruegel the

Free of Lucian Freud — Celia Paul’s road to fulfilment

I was looking the other day at a video of the artist Celia Paul in conversation with the curator of her recent exhibition at the Huntington Library in California. The image projected there of a reserved and quietly-spoken woman, hesitant, diffident and patently ill at ease in the spotlight, left me very unprepared for the

Picturing paradise: the healing power of art

Some 35 years ago I visited the National Gallery of Sicily in Palermo on the hunt for the ‘Virgin Annunciate’ by Antonello da Messina, the painter of the beautiful ‘St Jerome in his Study’ in the National Gallery in London. It was hard enough to persuade anyone that the gallery was meant to be open,

Seas of ink-and-wash

Working in the Public Record Office some years ago, I ordered up the logbook of the badly damaged HMS Scylla on her return to Britain after D-Day. There was something very moving in seeing the bare navigational details noted in my uncle’s familiar hand. But then can anything be so immediate a point of contact

A short step from cradle to grave

Between 1300 and 1900 few things were more dangerous than giving birth. For poor and rich, the mortality rate was high. If the birth itself didn’t kill you, then puerperal fever very well might. Privacy was non-existent. If you were Marie de Medici, there was such a press of people in the lying-in chamber that

Obscure object of desire | 16 August 2018

It is always interesting to see what art historians get up to when none of the rest of us is looking. It is hard to know what the inspiration for The Mummy’s Foot and the Big Toe can possibly have been, but if this very short book offers the kind of approach that will go

The sorrow and the pity

In 1971 the late Linda Nochlin burst onto the public scene with her groundbreaking essay, ‘Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?’ Unlike other apologists, she made no claim that there were, in fact, great overlooked women artists but shifted the ground of the question to ask why circumstances made it impossible for women

Figures in a landscape | 25 January 2018

Martin Caiger-Smith’s huge monograph on Antony Gormley slides out of its slipcase appropriately enough like a block of cast iron. In its beautiful rust-coloured linen covers it looks a bit like a block of cast iron, too. Open it to the endpapers, ‘Bodies in Space’, and black splatters across a white ground. Turn a couple

August Auguste

In 1959 the formidable interviewer John Freeman took the Face to Face crew to the 81-year-old Augustus John’s studio. The beetling brow, piercing eye and a succession of roll-ups stuck to his lower lip offer almost a caricature of the undimmed rascality of the old devil. Like all the films in that remarkable series, it

Monet’s great war effort

Claude Monet wanted to be buried in a buoy. ‘This idea seemed to please him,’ his friend Gustave Geffroy wrote. ‘He laughed under his breath at the thought of being locked forever in this kind of invulnerable cork, dancing among the waves, braving storms, resting gently in the harmonious movements of calm weather, in the

The grit in the oyster

Richard Dorment doesn’t do whimsy. Or Stanley Spencer. He’s a fan of Cy Twombly and Brice Marden, Gilbert and George and Mark Wallinger, Rachel Whiteread and Susan Hiller. He loves writing about contemporary art. And he worked as art critic of the Daily Telegraph for 25 years. Like the grit in the oyster he irritated