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The ‘Private Eye’ Story: The First 21 Years 
by Patrick Marnham.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 232 pp., £7.95, October 1982, 0 233 97509 8
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One for the Road: Further Letters of Denis Thatcher 
by Richard Ingrams and John Wells.
Private Eye/Deutsch, 80 pp., £2.50, October 1982, 9780233975115
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Sir James Goldsmith: The Man and the Myth 
by Geoffrey Wansell.
Fontana, 222 pp., £1.95, April 1982, 0 00 636503 5
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... In Abel Gance’s film Napoleon there is a brilliant sequence in the Revolutionary Bureau of Indictments. The walls are stacked to the ceiling with the files of known, suspected, possible and deeply fanciful enemies of the Revolution; some are bulky, well-researched dossiers, others the constructions of dishonest, mean-spirited score-settlers. This key office of the new masters exudes smugness, oafishness and fear (might it be their turn next ...

Behind the Gas Lamp

Julian Barnes: Félix Fénéon, 4 October 2007

Novels in Three Lines 
by Félix Fénéon, translated by Luc Sante.
NYRB, 171 pp., £7.99, August 2007, 978 1 59017 230 8
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... In 1890, the neo-Impressionist Paul Signac offered to paint Félix Fénéon, the very coiner, four years previously, of the term ‘neo-Impressionist’. The critic-subject responded with modest evasiveness, and then a proviso: ‘I will express only one opinion: effigy absolutely full-face – do you agree?’ Signac did not agree. Five months later, the best-known image of Fénéon emerged: in left profile, holding top hat and cane, presenting a lily to an off-canvas recipient (homage to an artist? love-gift to a woman?) against a circusy pinwheel of dashing pointillist colour ...

The Real Thing!

Julian Barnes: Visions of Vice, 17 December 2015

Splendeurs et misères: Images de la prostitution 1850-1910 
Musée d’Orsay, until 17 January 2016Show More
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 
Grand Palais, until 11 January 2016Show More
Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun 
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 9 February 2016 to 15 May 2016Show More
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... In​ 1849 Flaubert was in Cairo with his friend Maxime Du Camp, a rising littérateur as well as the official photographer for their tour of the Middle East. On 1 December, Flaubert wrote to their mutual friend the poet Louis Bouilhet: This morning we arrived in Egypt … we had scarcely set foot on shore when Max, the old lecher, got excited over a negress who was drawing water at a fountain ...

Not in a Box

Julian Barnes: Mary Cassatt as Herself, 26 April 2018

Mary Cassatt, une impressioniste americaine a Paris 
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, until 23 July 2018Show More
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... What​ you can paint depends on what you are allowed to see, which may be controlled by regulation or social convention. So, for instance, at the Paris Opéra in the 1870s, women were not under any circumstances permitted to sit in the orchestre. And they could only sit in the parterre, or rear stalls, if accompanied by a man. An unaccompanied woman could only attend a matinée ...

High Anxiety

Julian Barnes: Fantin-Latour, 11 April 2013

Fellow Men: Fantin-Latour and the Problem of the Group in 19th-Century French Painting 
by Bridget Alsdorf.
Princeton, 333 pp., £30.95, November 2012, 978 0 691 15367 4
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... Thirty-four men, 20 of them standing, 14 sitting, spread across four paintings and 21 years. Almost all are sombrely dressed, in the black frock coat worn by bourgeois and artist alike in the France of their day; the least sartorial departure – a pair of light trousers, a coat of proletarian grey, a white painter’s smock – startles. The spaces in which these men are depicted are matchingly sombre, narrow from front to back, airless, and claustrophobic: there is not a window in sight, and only in the final painting is a door indicated; otherwise, there seems no means of escape ...

At the Fondation Louis Vuitton

Julian Barnes: The Shchukin Collection , 19 January 2017

... Among​ the Russian novelists, poets, composers, actors and thinkers on display in last year’s compact but intense loan show from the Tretyakov Gallery to the National Portrait Gallery, Russia and the Arts: The Age of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky, were two pictures of famous collectors. The first was of Pavel Tretyakov himself, painted in 1901 by Ilya Repin, showing its tall, willowy subject, arms crossed, in shy, aesthetic half-profile; behind him are some of his holdings of 19th-century Russian art, including an edge-slice of the massive, heroic and rather ridiculous Bogatyrs (beefy medieval warriors) by Viktor Vasnetsov ...

Double Bind

Julian Barnes, 3 June 1982

The Family Idiot: Gustave Flaubert 1821-1857 
by Jean-Paul Sartre.
Chicago, 627 pp., £17.50, January 1982, 0 226 73509 5
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Sartre and Flaubert 
by Hazel Barnes.
Chicago, 449 pp., £17.50, January 1982, 0 226 03720 7
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... merely to find out what Sartre thought about Flaubert will probably turn unreproached to Hazel Barnes’s Sartre and Flaubert. Perhaps we might offer a passing prayer of thanks that the fourth volume of L’Idiot was never written (de Beauvoir mentions in La Cérémonie that, ‘always thoughtful about renewing himself’, Sartre planned a study of ...

Flaubert’s Parrot

Julian Barnes, 18 August 1983

... Six North Africans were playing boules beneath Flaubert’s statue. Clean cracks sounded over the grumble of jammed traffic. With a final, ironic caress from the fingertips, a brown hand despatched a metal globe. It landed, hopped to reveal a small moon-crater, and curved slowly in a scatter of hard dust. The thrower remained a stylish, temporary statue: knees not quite unbent, and the right hand ecstatically spread ...

Candles for the living

Julian Barnes, 22 November 1990

... Sunday night at the Hotel Bulgaria in central Sofia. Until the next electricity cut arrives, it is cabaret time. A succession of competent, Westernised acts unwind before a small, mute audience who have paid five levs each for the right not to applaud. On come four muscular, blond-rinsed girls, who go through a mixed routine, from rough-hewn disco-dancing to some Isadora Duncan stuff ...

On we sail

Julian Barnes: Maupassant, 5 November 2009

Afloat 
by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Douglas Parmée.
NYRB, 105 pp., £7.99, 1 59017 259 0
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Alien Hearts 
by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Richard Howard.
NYRB, 177 pp., £7.99, December 2009, 978 1 59017 260 5
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... One of the great examples of literary advice-giving took place in the summer of 1878. Guy de Maupassant was on the verge of becoming famous. As Flaubert’s literary nephew, and a member of the new group calling themselves Naturalists, he was already well known in Paris; three years previously, he had made his first appearance – as ‘le petit Maupassant’ – in the Goncourt Journal, delighting a company of already famous writers with a long story about Swinburne’s decadent behaviour in Etretat ...

A City of Sand and Puddles

Julian Barnes: Paris, 22 April 2010

Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris 
by Graham Robb.
Picador, 476 pp., £18.99, April 2010, 978 0 330 45244 1
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The Invention of Paris: A History in Footsteps 
by Eric Hazan, translated by David Fernbach.
Verso, 384 pp., £20, February 2010, 978 1 84467 411 4
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... Like many Francophiles, I’ve never read a book about Paris. Not a whole one, all the way through, anyway. Of course, I’ve bought enough of them, of every sort, and in some cases the hope of their being read has extended over several years. For instance, I was almost sure I would tackle the distinguished art critic John Russell’s Paris (1960), ‘with photographs by Brassaï’, but never got past the pictures ...

Writer’s Writer and Writer’s Writer’s Writer

Julian Barnes: ‘Madame Bovary’, 18 November 2010

Madame Bovary: Provincial Ways 
by Gustave Flaubert and Lydia Davis.
Penguin, 342 pp., £20, November 2010, 978 1 84614 104 1
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... If you go to the website of the restaurant L’Huîtrière (3, rue des Chats Bossus, Lille) and click on ‘translate’, the zealous automaton you have stirred up will instantly render everything into English, including the address. And it comes out as ‘3 street cats humped’. Translation is clearly too important a task to be left to machines. But what sort of human should it be given to? Imagine that you are about to read a great French novel for the first time, and can only do so in your native English ...

Always There

Julian Barnes: George Braque, 15 December 2005

Georges Braque: A Life 
by Alex Danchev.
Hamish Hamilton, 440 pp., £35, May 2005, 0 241 14078 1
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Landscape in Provence 1750-1920 
Montréal Musée des Beaux ArtsShow More
Derain: The London Paintings 
Courtauld InstituteShow More
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... They were friends, companions, painters-in-arms committed to what was, at the start of the 20th century, the newest and most provoking form of art. Braque was just the younger, but there was little assumption of seniority by the other. They were co-adventurers, co-discoverers; they painted side by side, often the same subject, and their work was at times almost indistinguishable ...

Humph, He, Ha

Julian Barnes: Degas’s Achievement, 4 January 2018

Degas: A Passion for Perfection 
Fitzwilliam Museum/Cambridge, until 14 January 2018Show More
Degas Danse Dessin: Hommage à Degas avec Paul Valéry 
Musée d’Orsay/Paris, until 25 February 2018Show More
Drawn in Colour: Degas from the Burrell 
National Gallery, London, until 7 May 2018Show More
Degas and His Model 
by Alice Michel, translated by Jeff Nagy.
David Zwirner, 88 pp., £8.95, June 2017, 978 1 941701 55 3
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... The great​ French diarist Jules Renard (1864-1910) had small interest in non-literary art forms. When Ravel approached him wanting to set five of his Histoires naturelles, Renard couldn’t see the point; he didn’t forbid it, but declined to go to the premiere. He sat through Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande and found it a ‘sombre bore’, its plot ‘puerile ...

Diary

Julian Barnes: People Will Hate Us Again, 20 April 2017

... Towards​ the end of the first year of Anita Brookner’s deathtime, I was remembering my meetings and conversations with her. What we talked about: art, books, the literary world, France, friends in common. What we didn’t talk about: her early years, her personal life, politics (I never knew whether or how she voted), or anything practical. No exchange of recipes ...

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