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Constable’s Plenty

John Barrell

15 August 1991
by Leslie Parris and Ian Fleming-Williams.
Tate Gallery, 544 pp., £45, June 1991, 1 85437 071 5
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Romatic Ecology: Wordsworth and the Environmental Tradition 
by Jonathan Bate.
Routledge, 131 pp., £8.99, May 1991, 0 415 06116 4
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... said in the little prefatory statements by which the sponsors themselves advertise their participation in these ventutes. ‘Our modern world of high finance and international banking,’ writes Sir John Quinton, Chairman of Barclays, in the Constable catalogue, ‘shows a proper concern for all aspects of our environment, but especially for the countryside.’ Wow. It’s hard to say what is more ...

Into the Gulf

Rosemary Hill

17 December 1992
A Sultry Month: Scenes of London Literary Life in 1846 
by Alethea Hayter.
Robin Clark, 224 pp., £6.95, June 1992, 0 86072 146 9
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Painting and the Politics of Culture: New Essays on British Art 1700-1850 
edited by John Barrell.
Oxford, 301 pp., £35, June 1992, 9780198173922
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London: World City 1800-1840 
edited by Celina Fox.
Yale, 624 pp., £45, September 1992, 0 300 05284 7
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... and when finally confronted by it he found another variation on the heroic theme, the artist as ‘solitary and glorious’. He leapt like Marcus Curtius into the gulf, taking with him, according to JohnBarrell, the whole moribund tradition of High Art. Haydon’s status as one of the few literal martyrs to critical theory makes him an appropriate, if somewhat ominous subject for Painting and the ...
18 December 1980
Thomas Gainsborough 
by John​ Hayes.
Tate Gallery, 160 pp., £4.75, October 1980, 0 905005 72 4
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... A year or so before his death in 1788, Thomas Gainsborough made a series of chalk sketches of ‘a poor smith worn out by labour’. In some of them, the smith appears as a woodman, carrying or sitting upon a bundle of faggots; and though woodmen appear in a large number of his drawings and paintings from the 1750s onwards, these particular sketches seem originally to have been made in preparation ...

Back of Beyond

John Barrell

9 April 1992
Keeping a rendezvous 
by John​ Berger.
Granta, 252 pp., £14.99, January 1992, 0 14 014229 0
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... which come from the back of the visible. And this, not because all painters are Platonists, but because they look so hard.’ Throughout this very varied book, and especially when writing on art, John Berger invites us to acknowledge the absolutes and universals which, he insists, lie behind the surfaces of things. He doesn’t have a great deal to say about those absolutes, and asks us to be ...

The Positions He Takes

John Barrell: Hitchens on Paine

30 November 2006
Thomas Paine’s ‘Rights of Man’: A Biography 
by Christopher Hitchens.
Atlantic, 128 pp., £9.99, July 2006, 1 84354 513 6
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... had published no views that required endorsing. Paine was charged with seditious libel for publishing Part Two, and to escape arrest he fled to France, accompanied by the Wykehamist gentleman-lawyer John Frost, described by Hitchens as secretary of the London Corresponding Society. The LCS was a society of radical artisans, not a gentleman’s club, and its secretary was in fact the shoemaker Thomas ...

In Cardiff

John Barrell: Richard Wilson

24 September 2014
... c.1760)PreviousNext The relative qualities of the two painters gave rise to much discussion in the last decades of the 18th century, before Wilson came to be forgotten. The portrait painter John Hoppner, an early adherent of the Joey-Barton-on-Question-Time school of cultural criticism, declared that ‘considering the qualities of Claude & Wilson as He shd. the qualities of two fine Women ...

The Virtues of Topography

John Barrell: Constable, Gainsborough, Turner

3 January 2013
Constable, Gainsborough, Turner and the Making of Landscape 
Royal Academy, until 17 February 2013Show More
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... day by studying what appears to be ‘irrelevant’ to it, as they can from works which claim to speak directly of the times we live in. ‘The Watering Place’ after Peter Paul Rubens by John Browne (1770) There is, however, nothing irrelevant about the new show at the Royal Academy, featuring Gainsborough, Constable and Turner; not because of anything it has to say about ‘the making ...


John Barrell

2 April 1981
Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot 
by Michael Fried.
California, 249 pp., £16.50, February 1981, 0 520 03758 8
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... A family listening as their father reads them the Bible; a philosopher poring over a book; an artist, who turns his back on us as he draws; a secretary absorbed in taking dictation, and another absorbed instead in listening to the figure who dictates; a sleeping hermit. These figures, all of them represented in paintings exhibited in the Paris Salons of the 1750s, all share the same oubli de soi, are ...
24 August 1995
Landscape and Memory 
by Simon Schama.
HarperCollins, 624 pp., £25, April 1995, 0 00 215897 3
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... The five videotapes of Simon Schama’s BBC 2 series Landscape and Memory must have been sent to me in a wrapping all too suspiciously plain. They never arrived, nicked, we presume, by a postal worker with a thing for blue movies. I like to think he wasn’t too disappointed. There was a lot more drapery than he could have wished or expected: in each of the programmes I remembered to record myself ...
7 April 1994
Hogarth. Vol. I: The ‘Modern Moral Subject’, 1697-1732 
by Ronald Paulson.
Lutterworth, 411 pp., £35, May 1992, 0 7188 2854 2
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... In the early Eighties, the main debate – though quarrel might be the better word – among historians of British art in its ‘great century’, from Hogarth to Turner, was about landscape. But whatever the differences between them, the most vocal participants in this debate were all finally on the same side, arguing with a largely silent (either stunned or indifferent) opposition to establish that ...

Guinea Pigs

Barbara Taylor: Eighteenth-Century Surveillance Culture

8 February 2007
The Spirit of Despotism: Invasions of Privacy in the 1790s 
by John Barrell.
Oxford, 278 pp., £53, January 2006, 0 19 928120 3
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... In the 1790s revolutionaries on both sides of the Channel abandoned wigs and powder for hair worn au naturel. The English jacobin John Thelwall, tried for treason in 1794, cut his short in the Roman manner. A radical songster celebrated the look: ‘Each Brutus, each Cato, were none of them fops/But all to a man wore republican ...


John Barrell: John Wilkes Betrayed

6 July 2006
John​ Wilkes: The Scandalous Father of Civil Liberty 
by Arthur Cash.
Yale, 482 pp., £19.95, February 2006, 0 300 10871 0
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... If he loses his seat, as he surely will, he will have had fair warning. One of those with a strong claim to be remembered for his efforts in securing democracy, freedom of speech and fairness was John Wilkes, the subject of Arthur Cash’s informative and enjoyable new biography. Now that ‘high politics’ is taught less and less in schools and universities, Wilkes’s great political ...

A Smile at My Own Temerity

John Barrell: William Hogarth

16 February 2017
William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings 
by Elizabeth Einberg.
Yale, 432 pp., £95, November 2016, 978 0 300 22174 9
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... and naughty ’prentice boys’. ‘March of the Guards to Finchley’ (1750) ‘The Pool of Bethesda’ (1736) ‘Moses Brought before Pharaoh’s Daughter’ (1736) ‘Hannah Osborne, Daughter of John Ranby’ (c.1747-50) detail of ‘Captain Thomas Coram’ (1740)PreviousNext In a thoughtful essay Lamb himself attacked the notion that what is most Hogarthian about Hogarth is what is most broadly ...
29 October 1998
Theatres of Memory. Vol. II. Island Stories: Unravelling Britain 
by Raphael Samuel, edited by Alison Light.
Verso, 391 pp., £20, June 1998, 1 85984 965 2
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... intentions, partly by guessing at them. There is a section of his short articles on history in the National Curriculum, one of which suggests 1066 and All That as the appropriate textbook for a John MacGregor version of the history syllabus; another (mainly) on visiting heritage sites, which seems to belong to the first volume; another (mainly) on the politics of Britain in the Eighties ...

Make the music mute

John Barrell

9 July 1992
English Music 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 400 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 241 12501 4
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... by Richard Wilson with figures from Peregrine Pickle. Thereafter we are led through Gainsborough’s Forest with a guest appearance by Sterne, Constable’s Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, a John Martin and a Turner, with snatches of poems by Wordsworth and Coleridge, and echoes of De Quincey, Shelley, Frankenstein (not sure about that); and then on to Samuel Palmer to Wuthering Heights to ...

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