Laura Gascoigne

Laura Gascoigne is the chief art critic of The Spectator

Is there still life in British still life?

‘The tyrannical rule of nature morte is, at last, over,’ announced Paul Nash in the Listener in 1931. ‘Apples have had their day.’ Since Cézanne fulfilled his famous boast that he would astonish Paris with an apple, artists had been trying the same trick in London, with limited success. Astonishment, unfortunately, only works once. Nash

Suppress your groans: this women-only show is fascinating

In a Victorian art dealer’s shop a woman waits with her young son while the supercilious owner examines her work; behind her two top-hatted gents interrupt their inspection of a drawing of a dancer in a tutu to give her the once-over. The woman’s shabby umbrella, propped against the counter, awaits reopening in the rain

Beguiling: Yinka Shonibare, at the Serpentine Galleries, reviewed

More than seven centuries ago, the medieval cartographer Richard of Haldingham created Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi; I say ‘created’ because when he drew his map it was largely a work of the imagination. Its terra incognita is populated with bizarre creatures born of the fever dreams of early travel writers: his Africa is inhabited by

Fascinating insight into the mind of Michelangelo

You’re pushing 60 and an important patron asks you to repeat an artistic feat you accomplished in your thirties. There’s nothing more daunting than having to compete with your younger self, but the patron is the Pope. How can you say no? Besides, it’s an excuse to get away from Florence, where your work for

Kandinsky is the star of Tate’s expressionist show

‘We invented the name Blaue Reiter whilst sitting around a coffee table in Marc’s garden at Sindelsdorf… we both loved blue, Marc liked horses and I liked riders, so the name came of its own accord.’ Christened so casually by Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc in 1911, the Blue Rider was always more of an

How flabby our ideas of draughtsmanship have become

The term drawing is a broad umbrella, so in an exhibition of 120 works it helps to outline some distinctions. A good place to start is to ask what drawings are for, and that is what Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has done with its current show of sketches by Flemish masters – staged in collaboration with

The tumultuous story behind Caravaggio’s last painting

For centuries no one knew who it was by or even what it was of. The picture that had hung unnoticed in a succession of noble palazzi in the Italian province of Salerno, with its deep chiaroscuro and close-cropped composition, looked like a Caravaggio – but after Caravaggio almost every painting in Naples did. When

The ghostly charcoals of Frank Auerbach

‘In some curious way, the practice of art and the awareness of the imminence of death are connected,’ Frank Auerbach said in 2012. ‘Otherwise, we would not find it necessary to do the work art finally does – to pin something down and take it out of time.’ There’s no sense of the imminence of

The true inventor of the superhero comic? William Blake

Among the documents in the West Sussex Record Office is an indictment for sedition of a certain William Blake. During an altercation in a Felpham garden in August 1803, he is accused by one John Scofield, a soldier in the British army then at war with France, of having shouted: ‘Damn the King. The soldiers

The genius of Yoko Ono

The first I heard of Yoko Ono was when my sister’s boyfriend brought home a little book of hers called Grapefruit. It was 1970, four years after John Lennon took the bite out of an apple that led to the break-up of the Beatles. The apple had been on a plinth in Ono’s 1966 exhibition

Winning: When Forms Come Alive, at the Hayward, reviewed

In case you didn’t know, we live in a ‘post-minimalist’ age, sculpturally speaking. Not a maximalist age, though some of the works in the Hayward’s new sculpture show are huge – an age of revolution against neatness. Who’s to blame for this call to disorder? Women. The two prime movers of this movement, if you

Joyous chaos: Lucy Harwood, at Firstsite, reviewed

‘Welcome to England’s Most Misunderstood County’, reads an imitation road sign inside the entrance to Firstsite gallery. It’s part of ‘The Essex Way’ (2021), a monumental collage commissioned from local boy Michael Landy to mark the 10th anniversary of the Colchester gallery’s opening. With its discombobulating mix of illustrations of native birdlife and views of