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Nora Barnacle: Pictor Ignotus

Sean O’Faolain, 2 August 1984

... up my old friend Bob Smylie, the editor of the Irish Times, to tell him of the death of this great painter. Now, Bob is a very fat man with a very thin skin and to adapt the remark of the old priest in a sermon on the Holy Ghost, ‘the one thing, dear brethren, that the Holy Ghost can’t stand is fornication,’ the one thing Smylie can’t stand is fame ...

Let’s to billiards

Stephen Walsh: Constant Lambert, 22 January 2015

Constant Lambert: Beyond the Rio Grande 
by Stephen Lloyd.
Boydell, 584 pp., £45, March 2014, 978 1 84383 898 2
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... most of the music – as a bon vivant, propping up, or being propped up by, the bar of the George in Great Portland Street (the Gluepot, as it was known), keeping its regulars up till dawn with his brilliant conversation. There was a lot more to him than one-liners and limericks; and if one thing emerges from the thickets of Stephen Lloyd’s ...

Robbing banks

George Melly, 25 June 1992

by David Sylvester.
Thames and Hudson, 352 pp., £45, May 1992, 0 500 09227 3
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by Sarah Whitfield.
South Bank Centre, 322 pp., £18.95, May 1992, 1 85332 087 0
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... they followed these and came to the bridge over the Sambre, the local river.     The painter’s mother had thrown herself into the water and, when they fished out her corpse, her face was covered by her nightgown. It was never known whether she used it to cover her eyes against the death she had chosen or whether the swirling water had veiled ...

Green Minna

Peter Campbell, 7 October 1982

The Autobiography of George Grosz: A Small Yes and a Big No 
translated by Arnold Pomerans.
Allison and Busby, 246 pp., £12.50, August 1982, 0 85031 455 0
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... George Grosz made the drawings and paintings for which he will be remembered during the First World War and in the Twenties and Thirties. In his autobiography (first published in German in 1955), Old Grosz looks back at Young Grosz, and considers the change of direction which came in his work when he went to America ...

Death in Florence

Charles Nicholl, 23 February 2012

... of the Artists (1550) Vasari describes in some detail Andrea’s cold-blooded killing of another painter, Domenico Veneziano, apparently motivated by envy of Domenico’s skills as a fresco artist. Matters came to a head, Vasari tells us, when both artists were lodged at the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova, painting a fresco cycle, Scenes from the Life of the ...

Selfie with ‘Sunflowers’

Julian Barnes, 30 July 2015

Ever Yours: The Essential Letters 
by Vincent van Gogh, edited by Leo Jansen, Hans Luijten and Nienke Bakker.
Yale, 777 pp., £30, December 2014, 978 0 300 20947 1
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Van Gogh: A Power Seething 
by Julian Bell.
Amazon, 171 pp., £6.99, January 2015, 978 1 4778 0129 1
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... all-or-nothing streak in human beings, once aroused, never entirely goes away. So the striving painter who, in the most successful of his schemes, took himself off to Arles, first working alone, then alongside Gauguin, then alone again, then in the mental hospital in Saint-Rémy, was continuous with that violently principled younger man: he had grown up to ...

A Likely Story

Frank Kermode, 25 January 1996

Howard Hodgkin: Paintings 
by Michael Auping, John Elderfield and Susan Sontag, edited by Marla Price.
Thames and Hudson, 216 pp., £28, October 1995, 0 500 09256 7
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Howard Hodgkin 
by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Thames and Hudson, 192 pp., £24.95, October 1994, 0 500 27769 9
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... Zeuxis, as Pliny admiringly observed, were so real that birds came and pecked at them. Vasari, a painter himself, believed that in his day art had rediscovered those lost antique skills, built on them, and was now close to perfection. To make representations look deceptively real, and to remain untroubled by considerations of what ‘real’ could possibly ...

Not His Type

Frank Kermode, 5 September 1996

About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 
by David Sylvester.
Chatto, 448 pp., £25, June 1996, 0 7011 6268 6
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... Dubuffet and Newman. He tentatively withdraws his estimate of Bomberg as ‘the finest English painter of the century’, and repents some early limiting judgments on Picasso; ‘the young critic cuts his teeth on Picasso. He proves his manhood by putting down Picasso, which is quite easy because he is so flawed an artist, is such a colossal figure that he ...

Solitary Reapers

Christopher Salvesen, 5 June 1980

The Dark Side of the Landscape: The Rural Poor in English Painting 1730-1840 
by John Barrell.
Cambridge, 179 pp., £15, March 1980, 0 521 22509 4
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... essays and an introduction Dr Barrell looks at the figures in the paintings of Gains borough, George Morland and Constable in order to trace changes in the way that rural workers and the rural poor in general were represented, and to suggest a tradition in which a gradual desire for greater naturalism was compromised and inhibited by considerations which ...

Open in a Scream

Colm Tóibín, 4 March 2021

Francis Bacon: Revelations 
by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan.
William Collins, 869 pp., £30, January, 978 0 00 729841 9
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... father, groom, animal, discipline – gave Francis a physical jolt that helped make him into the painter Francis Bacon.’Bacon left home when he was sixteen. ‘Did his father suddenly banish him for trying on his mother’s silky underthings?’ Stevens and Swan ask. ‘That was a story Bacon later told, and he had a taste for women’s ...

The People’s Goya

Nicholas Penny: A Fascination with Atrocity, 23 September 2004

by Robert Hughes.
Harvill, 429 pp., £25, October 2003, 1 84343 054 1
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... contemporary; or that he was, at least, the first modern artist. Not unexpectedly, it is Goya as a painter of horror and atrocity who attracts most attention. Hughes contrasts the Meadow of San Isidro, painted in 1788 when the artist was 42, with the Pilgrimage of San Isidro, also in the Prado, of 1821-23. The former shows a pleasant picnicking scene while the ...

Brush for Hire

Eamon Duffy: Protestant painting, 19 August 2004

The Reformation of the Image 
by Joseph Leo Koerner.
Reaktion, 494 pp., £29.95, April 2004, 1 86189 172 5
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... as a God-given liberation of the spirit, but they trembled for their livelihood. As the Strasbourg painter Heinrich Vogtherr observed, throughout Germany the gospel had brought the ‘diminution and arrest of all subtle and liberal arts’, so that ‘in a few years, there will scarcely be found anyone working as painter or ...

Don’t Move

Jeremy Noel-Tod: Fictional re-creations of Vermeer, 9 August 2001

Girl with a Pearl Earring 
by Tracy Chevalier.
HarperCollins, 248 pp., £5.99, July 2000, 0 00 651320 4
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Girl in Hyacinth Blue 
by Susan Vreeland.
Review, 242 pp., £6.99, May 2001, 9780747266594
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A View of Delft: Vermeer Then and Now 
by Anthony Bailey.
Chatto, 288 pp., £16.99, April 2001, 0 7011 6913 3
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Vermeer's Camera 
by Philip Steadman.
Oxford, 207 pp., £17.99, February 2001, 0 19 215967 4
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... Doors of Perception, that to take mescalin is to see the world as Vermeer saw it is typical of the painter’s canonisation in the 20th century. Pater’s Romantic flight of fancy established da Vinci as an artistic visionary for late 19th-century aesthetes: the modern Impressionist turns to Vermeer. In Studies in the History of the Renaissance (1873), Pater ...

Under the Brush

Peter Campbell: Ingres-flesh, 4 March 1999

Portraits by Ingres: Image of an Epoch 
edited by Gary Tinterow and Philip Conisbee.
Abrams, 500 pp., £55, January 1999, 0 300 08653 9
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Velázquez: The Technique of Genius 
by Jonathan Brown and Carmen Garrido.
Yale, 213 pp., £29.95, November 1998, 0 300 07293 7
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... he got an invitation to visit England to do portraits – he could have given us the Court of George IV just as his hero Holbein gave us that of Henry VIII – but he saw history painting as a duty and he rejected the invitation with disdain. The transformation that Ingres worked on flesh does not obliterate personality. M. Bertin, the journalist, hands ...

At Dulwich Picture Gallery

Peter Campbell: Gerrit Dou, 5 October 2000

... from The Grocery Shop by Gerrit Dou (1613-75), now in the Queen’s Collection – bought by George IV for 1000 guineas in 1817. Dou’s reputation (and prices) were then still high. He gave tremendous value. He attended closely to the play of light as it came through a window or was thrown out by a candle. He rendered the textures of wood, metal, fabric ...

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