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Lucky Hunter-Gatherers

T.J. Clark: Ice Age Art, 21 March 2013

Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind 
British Museum, 7 February 2013 to 26 May 2013Show More
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... There is a terrifying moment in Rousseau’s ‘Essay on the Origin of Languages’ when Rousseau tells the story, with the pieties of Enlightenment in his sights, of the human animal first coming across itself and deciding on a name: A primitive man, on meeting other men, will first have experienced fright. His fear will make him see these men as larger and stronger than himself; he will give them the name giants ...

At the Royal Academy

T.J. Clark: James Ensor, 1 December 2016

... The​ Ensor exhibition at the Royal Academy (until 29 January) is for me the event of the autumn. It is twenty years since Ensor had a show in London, and another sixty years before that since the Leicester Galleries’ retrospective of 1936 (the artist was still alive, but the handful of years round 1890 when most of his best work had been done must already have seemed remote ...

At Tate Britain

T.J. Clark: Paul Nash , 2 February 2017

... Paul Nash​ is as close as we come, many think, to having a strong painter of the English landscape in the 20th century. The uncertainties built into the wording here are part of the point: Nash spent his working life trying to decide if ‘the English landscape’ was something that had an existence, as a value for art, beyond, say, 1918; and what the difference was, in landscape painting, between strength and histrionics; and whether remaining ‘a painter of the English landscape’, with all that followed in terms of a settling of accounts with Constable and Turner, and Blake and Palmer, and Crome and the watercolourists and Ford Madox Brown, was at all compatible with being a painter ‘in the 20th century ...

The Chill of Disillusion

T.J. Clark: Leonardo da Vinci, 5 January 2012

Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan 
National GalleryShow More
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... object cross the Channel – looks to have been done no later than the mid-1480s. Kenneth Clark even thought Leonardo might have brought the panel with him from Florence to Milan (though this cannot be right). Let’s say it was finished by 1485. Then something went wrong between Leonardo and his patrons. The picture was originally intended as one ...

In a Pomegranate Chandelier

T.J. Clark: Benedict Anderson, 21 September 2006

Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism 
by Benedict Anderson.
Verso, 240 pp., £12.99, September 2006, 1 84467 086 4
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Under Three Flags: Anarchism and the Anti-Colonial Imagination 
by Benedict Anderson.
Verso, 224 pp., £14.99, January 2006, 1 84467 037 6
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... Writers only pretend to be embarrassed at the small fame a book sometimes brings them, but there is nothing assumed about the irritation they can feel at having a new line of argument, and a universe of unfamiliar examples, reduced to a single phrase. Great titles are especially dangerous. Imagined Communities is one of the greatest, and I shall be arguing that the cluster of concepts it sums up deserves still to be central to our thinking about the world ...

The Special Motion of a Hand

T.J. Clark: Courbet and Poussin at the Met, 24 April 2008

... Once or twice in a lifetime, if you are lucky, the whole madness of painting seems to pass in front of your eyes. It felt that way to me in New York this spring, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where two great exhibitions – one exploring Nicolas Poussin’s role in the invention of the genre we call ‘landscape’, the other an endless, stupendous retrospective of Gustave Courbet – are happening a few corridors apart ...


T.J. Clark: Bellini and Mantegna, 20 December 2018

Mantegna and Bellini 
National Gallery, London, until 27 January 2018Show More
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... The​ six rooms at the National Gallery filled with works by Bellini and Mantegna are a once-in-a-lifetime feast. My reaction in the show was mainly wonder, mixed with incredulity that so many paintings, often so fragile or so much the pride of their place, had been allowed to travel to London. Then a slight sadness mixed with my first elation. It struck me as strange not to have to press my way to such treasures through a great crowd of people ...

A Snake, a Flame

T.J. Clark: Blake at the Ashmolean, 5 February 2015

William Blake: Apprentice and Master 
Ashmolean Museum, until 1 March 2015Show More
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... Just​ occasionally in Blake’s engravings there are pictures within pictures, and we get a glimpse of the life he thought images might lead in a better world. The most moving of these visions is Plate 20 of Blake’s Illustrations of the Book of Job. Job has survived his doubts and torments, and is telling the story to his daughters – in an earlier watercolour, they hold the instruments of Poetry, Painting and Music ...

The Urge to Strangle

T.J. Clark: Matisse’s Cut-Outs, 5 June 2014

Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs 
Tate Modern, until 7 September 2014Show More
Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs 
MoMA, 25 October 2014 to 8 February 2015Show More
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... Crowds​ gather at the heart of Henri Matisse: The Cut-Outs, drawn to an artless home movie showing the master at work. He looks, and was, extremely unwell. Not even a rakish straw hat, part cowboy part Maurice Chevalier, can divest the scene of its pathos. There is a spot of time in the movie, after Matisse has finished his fierce fast cutting of the usual vegetable-flower-seaweed-jellyfish shapes (the ones he works on here are not unlike the clusters of yellow in the centre of Mimosa), when the speed suddenly slackens and the old man holds the limp paper in his hands as if reluctant to let go ...

False Moderacy

T.J. Clark: Picasso and Modern British Art, 22 March 2012

Picasso and Modern British Art 
Tate Britain, 15 February 2012 to 15 July 2012Show More
Mondrian Nicholson: In Parallel 
Courtauld Gallery, 16 February 2012 to 20 May 2012Show More
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... I would like to get the generalisations over with at the beginning, and have them be brief, but part of me knows that once embarked on they’ll be hard to stop. The Tate’s is the kind of show that sets one generalising. Richard Dorment in the Daily Telegraph, for instance, wrote that it had managed ‘to take a non-subject (Picasso’s impact here was limited to a handful of artists) and turn it into a gripping indictment of British culture in the first half of the 20th century ...

Living Death

T.J. Clark: Among the Sarcophagi, 7 January 2010

... When I die please bury me In a high-top Stetson hat, Put a 20-dollar gold piece on my watch-chain So the boys will know I died standing pat. ‘Saint James Infirmary’ A few years ago I was looking at a group of paintings by Poussin in which Death dances to a stately tune, though always with Panic as part of the line-up, and began to realise that the basic beat of the tune – the paintings’ processional language, and even the wildness upsetting the funeral – was borrowed from reliefs of Meleager, Endymion, the Niobids and the rest that Romans had chosen for the sides of their stone coffins ...

Grey Panic

T.J. Clark: Gerhard Richter, 17 November 2011

... A couple of nights before I first saw the Richter show at Tate Modern I had been at the Festival Hall listening to Boulez conduct his Pli selon pli. I felt then, as the octogenarian directed us through his atrocious and wonderful labyrinth, that it was sheer luck – the luck of a lifetime – to have caught this last intransigence of modernism on the wing ...

Frank Auerbach’s London

T.J. Clark: Frank Auerbach, 10 September 2015

... That marvellous line from Thomas Hardy’s ‘At the Railway Station’: ‘And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang/With grimful glee …’ Frank Auerbach to William Feaver And the man in the handcuffs suddenly sang With grimful glee: ‘This life so free Is the thing for me!’ And the constable smiled, and said no word. Thomas Hardy, ‘At the Railway Station, Upway’ I remember​ the first time I saw, or looked repeatedly at, a painting by Frank Auerbach was in the art historian Michael Podro’s living room – it must have been in 1968 ...

It stamps its pretty feet

T.J. Clark: Goya’s Portraits, 19 November 2015

Goya: The Portraits 
National Gallery, until 10 January 2016Show More
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... Along​ the façade of the National Gallery these days are hoardings announcing Credit Suisse’s patronage of the Goya show, with the invitation: ‘Now you can bring Goya’s portraits to life, using your smartphone.’ I didn’t think much of the invitation as I passed it – seeing it over the head of a pixie levitating in Trafalgar Square seemed appropriate – and I was pretty confident I’d be able to bring Goya’s portraits to life without the help of an iPhone ...

World of Faces

T.J. Clark: Face to Face with Rembrandt, 4 December 2014

Rembrandt: The Late Works 
National Gallery, until 18 January 2015Show More
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... They say​ that when Jean Genet made occasional visits to London after the war his first stop was always the Rembrandt room in the National Gallery, to see Self-Portrait at the Age of 63. The portrait is dated 1669: Genet believed it was the last Rembrandt painted. (Not true, apparently.) He wrote a short essay called ‘Rembrandt’s Secret’ for L’Express in 1958, and in his unfailingly Manichaean way he wanted to convince his readers of Rembrandt’s goodness ...

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