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Rosemary Hill: Shakespeare’s Faces, 7 January 2016

... It is​ a curious fact of history, which my research on antiquarianism has brought home to me, that if something is believed in or wanted for long enough, it will eventually materialise. From John Aubrey’s passing remark in 1665 that Stonehenge might have been built by druids, through William Stukeley’s obsessively detailed and almost entirely invented account of the druidic religion it took another hundred and fifty years, but in the early 20th century druids appeared at Stonehenge and they have been there ever since ...

Snob Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Modern Snobbery, 3 November 2016

... I once found​ a copy of Jilly Cooper’s Class (1979) in the bargain box outside a friend’s second-hand bookshop. When I asked how much it was he winced visibly and said: ‘Just take it, I can’t bear to have it in the shop.’ Subtitled ‘A View from Middle England’ and written in Cooper’s usual rollicking style, it’s a witty read spiked with detailed observations of life in the 1970s and based on the good-natured assumption that everyone is a snob about something and to that extent we are all ridiculous ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

Rosemary Hill: ‘The Lost Prince’, 6 December 2012

... Two of England’s best remembered kings, Henry VIII and Charles I, stand in the shadow of lost princes. Each had an elder brother who was Prince of Wales and expected to succeed. Had Prince Arthur and Prince Henry lived the Reformation and the Civil War would have followed different courses or might not, it is sometimes suggested, have taken place at all ...

Churchill’s Faces

Rosemary Hill, 30 March 2017

... If anything​ justifies the use of the word ‘iconic’ to mean an instantly recognisable image with emotive associations it is representations of Churchill. The cigar, the V for Victory sign and the siren suit are the stuff of caricatures, oil portraits and monumental sculpture from Parliament Square to Fulton, Missouri. So potent was his image in the early months of the Second World War that the sculptor Eric Kennington believed it could literally be a weapon ...

At Pallant House

Rosemary Hill: Victor Pasmore, 20 April 2017

... According to​ Herbert Read, ‘the most revolutionary event in post-war British art’ was Victor Pasmore’s conversion from figurative to abstract painting. Victor Pasmore: Towards a New Reality at Pallant House in Chichester (until 11 June), examines that moment around 1948 and its place in Pasmore’s long career. The essays in the catalogue argue for it variously as a gradual development, latent in his earlier landscapes, or a Damascene conversion ...

At the V&A

Rosemary Hill: Constable , 23 October 2014

... Constable​ , as the V&A’s press release puts it, is ‘Britain’s best-loved artist’, and that in a way is the problem. (Constable: The Making of a Master is at the V&A until 11 January.) While his contemporary Turner bestrides the history of European art, Constable remains a largely domestic taste. There was a time when almost every home had a reproduction of The Hay Wain ...

At Tate Britain

Rosemary Hill: ‘Ruin Lust’, 3 April 2014

... Ruins are unstable things, sometimes physically, culturally almost always. Their appeal as occasions for art is only partly aesthetic; they are the remains of something else, of which they must necessarily be a shadow, an echo or a critique. Tate Britain’s exhibition (until 18 May), drawn mostly from its own collection and gathered under the capacious heading of Ruin Lust, takes too little account of this ...

At Tate Modern

Rosemary Hill: Alexander Calder, 3 March 2016

... Sculpture​ conventionally does one of two things; it either creates space by carving, or creates volume by modelling. Once the material has been cut back or built up, a statue, as the word implies, is static in its relationship to space. Moving sculpture occupies space in a variable way and it has its own history, from devotional objects in the late Middle Ages fitted with clockwork to make Christ’s blood appear to flow, to the lion which Leonardo da Vinci is said to have made, which walked and opened its breast to offer its heart to the king of France ...

At the Corner House

Rosemary Hill, 20 February 2020

... We had a rag at Monico’s. We had a rag at the Troc,And the one we had at the Berkeley gave the customers quite a shock.Then we went to the Popular, and after that – oh my!I wish you’d seen the rag we had in the Grill Room at the Cri.John​ Betjeman’s ‘’Varsity Rag’ is a hymn to the bright young things of the 1920s, who roared round London’s smartest venues, baying for broken glass ...

At Tate Britain

Rosemary Hill: Aubrey Beardsley, 24 September 2020

... I represent things as I see them,’ Aubrey Beardsley said, ‘outlined faintly in thin streaks (just like me).’ Beardsley, who died at 25, passed his brief life in the fin-de-siècle milieu of Max Beerbohm and Oscar Wilde. Like them, he was his own artefact. Immensely thin and hollow-eyed with long fingers and a large nose, he seemed to the actress Elizabeth Robins, who met him at a lunch party, to be merely the ‘uncertain ghost of Oscar ...

At the Garden Museum

Rosemary Hill: Constance Spry, 9 September 2021

... Flower​ arranging occupies a lowly rung in the English cultural hierarchy. Somewhere between handicraft and hobby and associated mostly with women, it conjures up images of 1950s housewives filling the suburban afternoons or savage competition at the WI. Constance Spry had no time for any of that. The first and still one of the few flower arrangers to become a household name, she pointedly distanced herself from the postwar Flower Arrangement Societies she had inadvertently inspired ...

Looking for a Way Up

Rosemary Hill: Roy Strong’s Vanities, 25 April 2013

Self-Portrait as a Young Man 
by Roy Strong.
Bodleian, 286 pp., £25, March 2013, 978 1 85124 282 5
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... Strong was a child of interwar Metroland, which he hated. Born at 23 Colne Road, Winchmore Hill, into a landscape of privet hedges, crazy paving and hanging baskets, he was one of three sons of George and Mabel Strong. George was a travelling salesman selling hats along the south coast for the firm of Ayres & Smith. He had served in the First World ...

Heaven’s Gate

Rosemary Hill, 8 September 1994

Pugin: A Gothic Passion 
edited by Paul Atterbury and Clive Wainwright.
Yale, 310 pp., £45, June 1994, 0 300 06014 9
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... than bad taste. In Pugin’s youth the Gothic Revival had moved on since Walpole’s Strawberry Hill, but had scarcely developed. It remained a novelty style. Pugin’s father, the French émigré artist and self-styled count, Auguste Charles, had published books of Gothic details, drawn to scale from medieval buildings, that contributed to a better ...

Agog

Rosemary Hill: Love and madness in 18th century London, 7 October 2004

Sentimental Murder: Love and Madness in the 18th Century 
by John Brewer.
HarperCollins, 340 pp., £20, March 2004, 9780002571340
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... and then murder one’s mistress – I don’t understand it.’At his own house, Strawberry Hill, Walpole arranged things more artistically. He hung his ill-assorted selection of old armour in the dark stairwell so that it would pass more easily for an ancestral collection. He had battlements made of cardboard which had to be changed after heavy ...

Bang, Bang, Smash, Smash

Rosemary Hill: Beatrix Potter, 22 February 2007

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature 
by Linda Lear.
Allen Lane, 584 pp., £25, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9560 2
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... Tom Kitten, Jeremy Fisher and Jemima Puddleduck. She also bought, with her royalties and a legacy, Hill Top Farm at Near Sawrey in Lancashire, where she contrived to spend as much of her time as possible, away from hated Kensington and her ‘exacting’ mama. Eventually her story did come right. In October 1913, at the age of 47, and in the teeth of ...

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