At Sotheby’s

Manet’s oil sketch for A Bar at the Folies-Bergère was auctioned last Wednesday night at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art summer sale. The large Salon painting has been at the Courtauld since 1934, but the privately owned sketch was last on sale 21 years ago, when it went for £4 million. This year, its value was estimated at between £15 and 20 million. It was sold in a few seconds for £15 million, plus £1.9 million in fees. (The overall total for the night was £178,590,000, twice as much as last summer’s sale.) Auctions have been described as ‘tournaments of value’ but there was no jousting; the sale was settled between the seller, the buyer and Sotheby’s before the bidding began, and the auctioneer brought down the hammer after just one bid. More »

Banknote Hacking

Scan 125For the past eighteen months, the Greek artist who calls himself Stefanos has been hacking euros, sketching images of the economic crisis in Greece onto banknotes. ‘Over the last five years the economy has hatched violence and social decay,’ he told me. ‘I’m using a European document, that is in cross-border circulation, to bomb public property from the comfort of my home.’ The notes depict lynchings, people collapsing, mass hysteria. The project was kickstarted by news of a suicide. ‘I always use black ink ball-pen and draw human figures using headlines from the media, whenever violence or poverty is reported, I transfer the message on the medium.’ Stefanos scans the notes, posts the images on his website and then puts them back into circulation, messages in bottles that may wash up on the shores of northern Europe. ‘A currency should reflect the reality of the era it represents,’ he says. More »

Smarm Offensive

This week the queen showed up in Berlin to meet Angela Merkel. Her trip has taken in excursions to Frankfurt and Bergen-Belsen, to which the British seem to feel a proprietary bond through its having been liberated by UK and Commonwealth forces. She looked bemused when her hosts presented her with a painting, based on a photo from 1935, of her sitting on a sub-Franz Marc blue pony in front of her father, George VI. Did the queen recognise him? ‘No.’

Links between Germany and the house of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha remain robust, despite a couple of regrettable misunderstandings during the last century. But for the vagaries of 18th-century Anglican politics, the queen might have spent a blameless life pickling cabbage in Dortmund. At Berlin’s Technical University this week, she was greeted by a robot imitating the royal wave. It underlines the fact that the queen could have her job done for her by an android. More »

Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons

In his Essay on Diseases Incident to Literary and Sedentary Persons (1769), Samuel Tissot warned that ‘the devourers of books, who exhaust themselves only by reading, should desist as soon as they find their comprehension more than commonly slow, their sight moaty and dimmish, or their eyes hot and watery.’ Undeterred, I stayed in bed last Christmas Day until 4 p.m., reading Lost Illusions. More »

In Walworth

Home Office Immigration Enforcement officers seize up to forty people a day. They carry out raids in communities with large ethnic minority populations, without warning, and snatch their unsuspecting targets, who are often uninformed about their rights, from their places of work or off the street.

Immigration Enforcement (IE) replaced part of the UK Border Agency in 2013 to carry on the work of tackling so-called ‘immigration offences’. According to Home Office statistics, there were more than 4400 ‘enforcement visit arrests linked to information received’ last year, leading to over 1000 ‘subsequent removals’. In total there were over 12,000 enforced removals for breaches of UK immigration law in 2014. How many of them were the result of the 10,000 indiscriminate (i.e. not ‘linked to information received’) raids isn’t clear. Many of the people who aren’t deported end up in detention centres; others are released. Again, the precise figures aren’t published. More »

‘Too Much Succulence’

I recently heard a couple of stories about health and safety suggestions made by children’s book editors. They are often along the lines of ‘we’re concerned that the character is in danger here,’ but breast-feeding was also a no-no in a book for eight to twelve-year-olds.

The most famous editor as moral policeman is Thomas Bowdler, who in 1818 produced his Family Shakspeare [sic]. He was from a long line of Shakespeare sanitisers. A copy of the Second Folio now in the Folger Library in Washington preserves the often frustrated expurgatory efforts of William Sankey (signing himself Guillermo Sanchez), a 17th-century English Jesuit; the edition came from the English College in Valladolid. The pages are covered with Sankey’s redactions. What I like best about the book is the total absence of Measure for Measure. I wonder how much of the play he crossed out before giving up and ripping the whole thing out. More »

‘We are the opposition’

‘Does it look big?’ an elderly woman asked me, craning her neck to see down the street. ‘I’m afraid so,’ I replied, thinking she might be worried about getting to the Tube. ‘Good,’ she said. Like thousands of others, she was in London on Saturday for the national anti-austerity demonstration organised by the People’s Assembly.

As we marched from the Bank of England to Parliament Square, the crowd kept growing. More »

Audis Away

Voters in Spain have put two outsiders in the office of mayor in Madrid and Barcelona. Both are strong, popular figures heading parties associated with the new Spanish left. Both are women. The similarities between the two candidates and the two cities end there. More »

Legless at Waterloo

Lord Uxbridge, before the accident

Lord Uxbridge, before the accident

Legend has it that every English schoolboy knows three things about the battle of Waterloo. Each turns on a supposed remark by the Duke of Wellington. The battle was ‘won on the playing fields of Eton’; English footsoldiers were ‘the scum of the earth, enlisted for drink’; and, in a charge near the battle’s end, when his cavalry commander had his right knee puréed by French grapeshot – ‘By G_d, sir, they have shot off my leg’ – the Duke responded with puckered sangfroid: ‘By G_d, sir, so they have.’ More »

#Jeremy4Leader

A few weeks ago, it seemed impossible that a socialist would be in the running for the Labour leadership. The former miners’ leader Ian Lavery had ruled himself out and supported Andy Burnham; Lisa Nandy had resisted attempts to ‘draft’ her into the race. The debate was firmly anchored to the right, with Ed Miliband under attack for being ‘anti-business’ and focusing on the disenfranchised. More »

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