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15 August 1991
Constable 
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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... 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 extraordinary, the statement itself – which exonerates the ...

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 glorious’. He leapt like Marcus Curtius into the gulf, taking with him, according to John Barrell, 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 Politics of Culture. Here the questions raised ...
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 for what he was to regard as his greatest picture, ‘The Woodman’, executed in 1787 and destroyed by fire in 1810 ...

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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... 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 content with terms like the essential, the invisible, the ...

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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... and Paine was manhandled. According to Hitchens, Part Two was produced partly to explain to Dr Johnson the need for a written constitution, and partly to endorse Ricardo’s views on commerce and free trade, but when it was written Johnson had been dead for seven years and Ricardo, not yet 20, had published no views that ...

In Cardiff

John Barrell: Richard Wilson

24 September 2014
... 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, He should acknowledge the beauties of Claude but say Wilson ...

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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... 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 of landscape’, but because it is so evidently a show for ...

Beholders

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 all engaged in ‘absorptive’ states which create the fiction that we, the spectators, are not there: in forgetting themselves, they forget us too ...
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, the entire studio had been wrapped in muslin or bunting, by a designer whose notions of landscape art were mainly derived from Christo’s ...
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 there was a politics of landscape painting, that it needed to be understood in the context of landownership, agricultural improvement, the management of the rural poor, the changing economic relation between town and country and so on ...

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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... 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 crops.’ In 1795 the style took on added significance when ...

Unwarranted

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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... 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 achievements, which included lowering the tone of high politics, are ...

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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... 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 comic, most boisterous, most fun. This, he claims, is ...
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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... 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, including two pleasingly irritable essays from 1982 on the ...

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