Richard Shone

Into the limelight

The online accessibility of British population censuses has resulted in an outpouring  of ‘who and how we were’, keeping amateur genealogists, local historians and social commentators extremely busy. Barry Anthony’s book relies heavily on the censuses of the late Victorian and Edwardian years, combined with a close reading of the astonishingly detailed stage magazines and

The sage of Aix

Like Mont St-Victoire itself, looming over the country to the north of Aix-en-Provence — seen unexpectedly, then just as suddenly hidden, now clear-cut against the sky, at other times a presence in the corner of the eye— the work of Paul Cézanne has been a landmark in the art of the century and more since

The past is another city

This absorbing book is — in both format and content — a much expanded follow-up to the same author’s very successful pictorial anthology Lost London of 2010. It replicates some of the photographs that appeared there and contains many new ones, all in captivating detail. The photographs are ones of record. There is little sense

Oh brother!

Long in the writing, deep in research, heavy to hold, this is the latest of umpteen biographies of Vincent van Gogh (1853-90). But it should be said straightaway that it is extremely readable, contains new material and is freshly, even startlingly re-interpretative of a life whose bare bones are very familiar. The more one reads,

A lightning tour

In her foreword to this short study of Virginia Woolf,  Alexandra Harris writes that ‘it is meant as a first port of call for those new to Woolf and as an enticement to read more’. There is some justification for such a book — a synthesis giving the outline of Woolf’s life with pertinent interpretative

Painting the town together

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 from Scottish working-class families, met in 1932 when they were students at the Glasgow School of Art. From then onwards they were personally and professionally

The optimism of a suicide

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 brother Theo but, in letter after letter in return, he poured out his thoughts and feelings, recorded his work in progress and conveyed his impressions

From worthless to priceless

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 Philip Hook’s hands, an engaging read. As a dealer and auctioneer, and the author of several thrillers, he has advantages not given to the general

Sinister levity of an all-seeing spider

As an an outstanding English painter and a delectable personality, Edward Burra deserves this entertaining biography. It should be admitted, however, that because Burra was a letter writer of great verve and individuality, half Jane Stevenson’s battle is won: the quotations flare up from the page. Luckily, they do not destroy the surrounding narrative, for

Richard Shone on Leonard Woolf

The large garden at Monk’s House, Rodmell, in Sussex, bounded on one side by the village street, and on the other by gently sloping ground towards the River Ouse, was locally famous for its summer brilliance. In August — the month in which I paid my first visit — when most gardens have a moment

The calm and solid Cubist

The personalities of only a handful of artists are known to the public at large. Most live on through their work with, perhaps, a ticket of biographical cliché attached to their reputation — Van Gogh’s ear, Lautrec’s legs, Turner lashed to the mast of a ship in a storm. A few are known through the

The painter properly portrayed

We are continually told that biography is the dominant literary expression of the age, that Britain, in particular, is a nation of biographers, and that the new Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is the massive climax of this protracted love affair. Even our fiction suppurates with real-life figures both past and present, from Mrs Thrale

The girl who played Ophelia

‘A truly extraordinary achievement,’ trumpets A. N. Wilson on the jacket of this book. In a sense, of course, he is right. Lucinda Hawksley deserves praise for making something substantial out of very little. With the addition of some original research, she has synthesised what is known of Elizabeth Siddal (1829-62), the long-suffering model for

Verdict as open as ever

Readers of the thrillers of the American writer Patricia Cornwell will find elements of her new book familiar but others oddly different. Her novels are fiction closely based on fact; Portrait of a Killer purports to be a work of fact but is founded on fiction. It supposedly unravels the mystery of Jack the Ripper,