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Hollow-Headed Angels

Nicholas Penny, 4 January 1996

Art and Power: Europe under the Dictators 1930-1945 
edited by David Britt.
Hayward Gallery, 360 pp., £19.95, October 1995, 1 85332 148 6
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... but vertical in format and entirely without saccharine optimism and uniform cheerfulness. José Maria Sert’s Saint Teresa, Ambassadress of Divine Love in Spain, Offers to Our Lord the Spanish Martyrs of 1936 is an altarpiece, painted in earth colours on gold, which employs the Counter-Reformation iconography of intercession and ascent. The heroes – of ...

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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... of the Guards to Finchley (1750), in the Foundling Museum, formerly the Foundling Hospital, near Russell Square. There are only three Hogarths there, but it is absolutely the best place to enjoy his amazing variety without getting tired. The scene of the March of the Guards to Finchley is Tottenham Court Road turnpike, looking up towards Highgate on its ...

Dispersed and Distracted

Jonathan Rée: Leibniz, 25 June 2009

Leibniz: An Intellectual Biography 
by Maria Rosa Antognazza.
Cambridge, 623 pp., £25, November 2008, 978 0 521 80619 0
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... has remained an inspiration to subsequent logicians, and was eventually taken up by Frege and Russell and turned into the basis of modern mathematical logic. The afterlives of monadology and the theory of ‘possible worlds’ may seem specialised and abstruse, but the same cannot be said of the notion of ‘perspective’. Leibniz was the first ...

Let Them Be Sea-Captains

Megan Marshall: Margaret Fuller, 15 November 2007

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life: The Public Years 
by Charles Capper.
Oxford, 649 pp., £23.99, June 2007, 978 0 19 506313 4
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... Fuller Drowned’, a sonnet of the early 1970s, Robert Lowell, whose ancestor James Russell Lowell had been skewered by Fuller’s pen more than a century earlier, sums up what’s commonly known about Fuller. ‘You had everything to rattle the men who wrote,’ he begins, addressing her as ‘the first American woman?’ (emphasis on the ...

I adore your moustache

James Wolcott: Styron’s Letters, 24 January 2013

Selected Letters of William Styron 
edited by Rose Styron and R. Blakeslee Gilpin.
Random House, 643 pp., £24.99, December 2012, 978 1 4000 6806 7
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... serene pasture of the Tidewater, a secluded place hemmed around by undulant oak trees, my departed Maria was standing before me, with the abandon of a strumpet stripping down to the flesh – she who had never removed in my presence so much as her bobbysocks. Naked, peach-ripe, chestnut hair flowing across her creamy breasts, desirable beyond utterance, she ...

The Coburg Connection

Richard Shannon, 5 April 1984

Albert, Prince Consort 
by Robert Rhodes James.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 241 11000 9
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... dreadful old men’ (as Queen Victoria later dubbed them in a letter to Uncle Leopold of Belgium), Russell and Palmerston. It was the Court which prodded the coalition into being at the end of 1852 under Peel’s heir, Aberdeen. The Crimean War was as much of a disaster to Albert as it was to Aberdeen. Albert made no secret of his detestation of Palmerston ...


Alan Bennett: My 2006, 4 January 2007

... the wall which I’m currently engaged on, is to be able to visit Cornelissen’s shop in Great Russell Street, which sells all manner of paints and colours and where I go this morning in order to find some varnish to seal the surface of the plaster. After I’d finished putting on all the greenish-yellow colour yesterday I did some trial patches of varnish ...

Don’t Ask Henry

Alan Hollinghurst: Sissiness, 9 October 2008

by Howard Sturgis.
NYRB, 345 pp., £8.99, May 2008, 978 1 59017 266 7
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... is a splendid, thoughtless physical type, who surprisingly marries his chorus-girl mistress (Maria Muggins, stage name Cynthia de Vere) and sinks into a life of matrimonial misery, presented by Sturgis with a telling mixture of relish and revulsion. But Claude is something more troubling; his ‘latent sensuality’ at the age of 13 creates a ‘vague ...

A Moustache Too Far

Danny Karlin: Melville goes under, 8 May 2003

Herman Melville: A Biography. Vol. II: 1851-91 
by Hershel Parker.
Johns Hopkins, 997 pp., £31, May 2002, 0 8018 6892 0
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... of the middlebrow culture whose laureate was Longfellow and whose critical arbiter was James Russell Lowell, and from which Melville, unlike Henry James or Whitman, could not escape. Melville’s doomed attempt, in the late 1840s, to make himself into a country squire at Arrowhead, his farm in the Berkshires, epitomises the family legacy of social ...

Make Something Happen!

Julian Bell: Paint Serious, Paint Big, 2 December 2010

Salvator Rosa: Bandits, Wilderness and Magic 
by Helen Langdon, Xavier Salomon and Caterina Volpi.
Paul Holberton, 240 pp., £40, September 2010, 978 1 907372 01 8
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Painting for Profit: The Economic Lives of 17th-Century Italian Painters 
by Richard Spear and Philip Sohm et al.
Yale, 384 pp., £45, 0 300 15456 9
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Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane 
by Andrew Graham-Dixon.
Allen Lane, 514 pp., £30, July 2010, 978 0 7139 9674 6
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The Moment of Caravaggio 
by Michael Fried.
Princeton, 304 pp., £34.95, 0 691 14701 9
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... a philosophic self-portrait – the poseur in cavalier ringlets contemplating a skull, as if Russell Brand were to land the role of Hamlet. But composure was not Rosa’s métier. He took fright when the Chigi, butts of his satire, took over the papacy in 1655, sent his mistress and their son out of town, then cursed his own cowardice: ‘Am I the person ...

Trouble down there

Ferdinand Mount: Tea with Sassoon, 7 August 2003

Siegfried Sassoon: The Making of a War Poet 1886-1918 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £9.99, September 2002, 0 7156 2894 1
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Siegfried Sassoon: The Journey from the Trenches 1918-67 
by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.
Duckworth, 526 pp., £30, April 2003, 0 7156 2971 9
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Sassoon: The Worlds of Philip and Sybil 
by Peter Stansky.
Yale, 295 pp., £25, April 2003, 0 300 09547 3
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... on by the new pacifist friends he had made on his excursions to Garsington – notably Bertrand Russell and the Morrells, not to mention Robbie Ross, as loyal and wise a friend to Sassoon as he had been to Oscar Wilde. But he made it in his own way, and when he had made it, he characteristically refused to pursue it in the way they wanted, by doing ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides, 24 October 2019

Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... consideration, her primary sexual relations were with women, one girlfriend being the playwright Maria Irene Fornes, a Greenwich Village vortex born in Havana who had been involved in a triangle with Mailer and his second wife, Adele Morales (yes, the one he stabbed), which must have made for some lively evenings. Laid-waste-to lovers lauded Fornes as an ...

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