Peter Parker

The heyday of the gay guardsmen

In 1943 the music critic Desmond Shawe-Taylor placed an advertisement in Exchange & Mart offering a pair of trooper’s breeches for sale. A number of men replied, one asking ‘Have they been worn by a trooper or just yourself?’, while another observed: ‘It is always good to see the boys pulling themselves into tight troopers

The frustrated life of John Singer Sargent

At Tate Britain this year, for the first time since 1926, nine of John Singer Sargent’s brilliantly painted and affectionately characterful portraits of the Wertheimer family have been displayed together in their own room. This was what the wealthy London art dealer Asher Wertheimer had always intended when he bequeathed these paintings to the nation.

Forgotten books worth rediscovering

Most readers have favourite books or authors they feel have been either forgotten or unjustly neglected. R.B. Russell, an assiduous book collector, did something practical about this when in 1990 he co-founded the Tartarus Press in order to bring the works of the once popular Arthur Machen back into print. Machen’s particular speciality was ‘weird

Gay and abandoned: A Previous Life, by Edmund White, reviewed

Edmund White’s new novel opens, somewhat improbably, in 2050. This imagined future, however, springs few surprises on the reader and is in fact almost identical to the present. Indeed, the leap forward in time is merely a narrative device, allowing a 70-year-old Sicilian aristocrat to reminisce about his affair 30 years earlier with the elderly

A reappraisal of James Courage

James Courage is one of those fine writers who, though he enjoyed considerable success in his lifetime, has now more or less slipped from view. None of the eight novels he published between 1933 and 1961 is in print and most of them are impossible to find secondhand. The same goes for a collection of

How two literary magazines boosted morale during the Blitz

William Loxley’s lively account of ‘Bloomsbury, the Blitz and Horizon magazine’ begins with W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood emigrating to the United States in January 1939 and ends with George Orwell dying in University College Hospital in January 1950. Between these two events Loxley explores the often interconnected professional and personal lives of a number

All good friends and jolly good company: life with the Crichel Boys

In the spring of 1945 three men pooled their resources in order to buy Long Crichel House, a former rectory built during the reign of Queen Anne in a secluded Dorset village. Desmond Shawe-Taylor and Edward Sackville-West were highly influential music critics, while Eardley Knollys, a former gallery owner, was now assistant secretary to the

Poise and wit: The Collected Stories of Shirley Hazzard reviewed

Shirley Hazzard was in her late twenties when, in 1959, somewhat diffidently, she submitted her first short story to the New Yorker. It was, William Maxwell remembered, ‘an astonishment to the editors, because it was the work of a finished literary artist about whom they knew nothing whatever’, and he immediately accepted it for publication.

The establishment was always covering up for Bob Boothby

Just after John Pearson finished writing The Profession of Violence, his celebrated biography of the Krays, both his and his agent’s officeswere broken into. Letters from Lord Boothby to Ronnie Kray had disappeared, as had a copy of the book’s manuscript. Pearson then received a telephone call from the high-powered lawyer Lord Goodman, who warned

Flower power: symbols of romance and revolution

Critics have argued over the meaning of the great golden flower head to which Van Dyck points in his ‘Self-Portrait with a Sunflower’. It probably symbolises the radiant majesty of the painter’s patron, Charles I, but for Van Gogh the sunflower ‘embodied and shouted out yellow, the colour of light, warmth and happiness’. In the

Was there some Freudian symbolism in Lucian’s botanical paintings?

In early paintings such as ‘Man with a Thistle’ (1946), ‘Still-life with Green Lemon’ (1946) and ‘Self-portrait with Hyacinth Pot’ (1947–8) Lucian Freud portrayed himself alongside striking plant forms, giving equal weight to the vegetable and the human. Similarly, his first wife, Kitty, was depicted in portraits from the same period more or less obscured

Feasts and flowers

Cedric Morris is often referred to as an artist-plantsman, and while as a breeder of plants, most particularly of irises, he has always been highly regarded in horticultural circles, his reputation as a painter has been subject to regular fluctuations. Last year, two excellent and complementary London exhibitions — Cedric Morris: Artist Plantsman at the

On a wing and a prayer | 27 June 2019

In 1979, despite the best efforts of scientists for more than a century, a butterfly called the British Large Blue became extinct. There is widespread concern about the more recent decline in butterfly populations, but the American ecologist Nick Haddad writes that the collective weight of the known populations of the five rarest butterflies he