Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Emin’s My Bed

Tate Britain is wetting its knickers with excitement now that Tracey Emin's installation thingy My Bed (1998) has returned after a 15-year absence. It's on display with six of her figure drawings together with two paintings by Francis Bacon. I imagine the used condoms are a bit icky by now. BP ought to be ashamed of itself for putting its Spotlight on inartistic tripe like this (CLICK).

Monday, 30 March 2015

Sale Exhibition

You have only one day left to view Harry Moore-Gwyn British & Continental Pictures at the 25 Blythe Road Gallery in London before its online and live auction, which includes works directly from artists' families. 25 Blythe Road is a cooperative of specialists running their own auctions under one roof. Shown is Nude on a Chaise Long by John Nash RA, estimated at £300-£500. Prices start at £50 (CLICK).

Elgin Marbles Tiff

The Greeks are still moaning about their lost marbles. The recent opening of The British Museum's exhibition Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art, which includes the Elgin Marbles, was like a red rag to a bull. The Greeks have condemned The British Museum for rejecting mediation by UNESCO to help resolve the decades-old dispute over returning the ancient Parthenon sculptures to Athens. Why should we? The marbles were bought legitimately from the Ottoman Empire. Members of Parliament voted to give Lord Elgin - then ambassador to the Ottoman court - the funds to buy the marbles in 1816, then gave them to The British Museum for safe keeping. Shown is one of the scenes cut from the ancient Parthenon: A Centaur fighting a Lapith (CLICK).

Sunday, 29 March 2015

The Empty Chair

Thanks to a grant of £780,000, the Charles Dickens Museum in London has been able to buy the desk and chair used by Charles Dickens in his final home in Gad's Hill Place in Kent. They are shown in The Empty Chair (1870) a tribute by Sir Luke Fildes RA painted shortly after Dickens' death. This watercolour is now in the collection of the Free Library of Philadelphia, USA. The desk and chair are on public display in the Charles Dickens Museum at 48 Doughty Street, his former London home (CLICK).

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Trials End

The eight-year saga of police incompetence and judicial cock-ups over the murder of British student Meredith Kercher (right) finally came to an end for Amanda Knox when she and her ex-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were acquitted of the murder by Italy's top appeals court. The only person convicted of murder in this appalling case is Rudy Hermann Guede, born in Ivory Coast. He was convicted in a separate trial and is serving a 16-year sentence. He admitted sexually assaulting Meredith Kercher, but claimed that Amanda Knox cut Meredith's throat. He would say that, wouldn't he? It's what the police wanted him to say and it got him a reduced sentence: 19 years against Amanda's 28-year sentence. I firmly believe that Guede is a very dangerous man who should never be released (CLICK).

Looted Constable?

To repatriate or not to repatriate? That is the question hanging over John Constable's Beaching A Boat, Brighton (1824) a preparatory sketch for a later painting. It was owned by a Jewish Hungarian artist who fled the 1944 Nazi invasion and went into hiding. He died in 1958. His descendants found the painting in Tate's collection and submitted a claim to the Spoliation Panel in 2013. The painting was first recorded in London in 1962, and was donated to the Tate by Mrs P.M. Rainsford in 1986. The Spoliation Advisory Panel decided that Tate had "a moral obligation" to return it. Since then, new information has come to light (CLICK).

Friday, 27 March 2015

Cpl Cross Cured

UK military medic Corporal Anna Cross has been cured of ebola, contracted while she nursed patients in Sierra Leone. She gave a press conference in the Royal Free hospital in London, where she was treated. She is the first person in the world to be given the experimental Ebola drug MIL 77, made in China. Her doctor said it was too soon to know what role the drug played in her recovery (CLICK).

Defining Beauty

I previewed The British Museum's exhibition Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art in February (CLICK). It is now open. See the YouTube trailer.

Downton Abbey

Season six of ITV's award-winning period saga Downton Abbey will be its last. The show will culminate in a concluding special on Christmas Day this year. Its creator Julian Fellowes has signed up to create The Gilded Age, an American TV period drama set in New York (CLICK). I missed the first series of Downton Abbey, because I hate all the commercials that break up programmes on ITV and because I didn't fancy another version of Upstairs, Downstairs. But when the accolades started piling up I gave it a chance. I've been hooked since 2011. Back then, Matthew Crawley was ducking and diving in the Battle of the Somme.

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Geffrye Museum

On Tuesday the Geffrye Museum of the Home opened Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London. Shown is Augustus Edwin Mulready's oil painting A recess on a London Bridge (1879) on loan from the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Victorian artists certainly knew how to pull the heartstrings. The exhibition runs until 12 July, admission £5 adults, £3 silver surfers (CLICK).

Pavilion 2015

Yesterday Serpentine Galleries revealed the design for the 15th annual Pavilion: an amorphous, double-skinned, polygonal structure made of panels of translucent, multi-coloured fabric. The effect inside will be like huge stained-glass windows. Shown is SelgasCano's computer generated image of the Pavilion 2015 by night. SelgasCano is a Spanish firm of architects founded in 1998 by José Selgas and Lucía Cano. CLICK for a CGI of the Pavilion in its parkland setting of Kensington Gardens in daylight.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Clarkson Sacked

It's official. Politically correct BBC has sacked its star presenter politically incorrect Jeremy Clarkson for biffing a producer who failed to organise a steak-and-chips dinner for him at the hotel where the Top Gear team were staying while on location. Top Gear has an estimated worldwide audience of 350 million and earns BBC Worldwide about £50m a year from overseas sales. Now that's all kaput (CLICK).

Body Art: No Meat

Take a close look at this photo taken in Barcelona last week, on World Without Meat Day. It shows a naked "AnimaNaturalis" activist with her body painted in fruit and veggies to get her message across, which is "every day without meat reduces by 12% the emission of gases". Don't panic, young lady. The British are working hard on reducing flatulence in cattle. The aim is to eliminate cow farts as soon as pos.

Unity Spencer

Today, to mark the publication of her candid autobiography Lucky to be an Artist, The Fine Art Society in London opened Unity Spencer. Together with 50 of her oil paintings from all periods of her career, the exhibition will include samples of work from her artistic family: father Stanley Spencer, her mother Hilda Carline, her uncles Gilbert Spencer and Richard Carline and her grandfather George Carline. Thus her art is put into context. Shown is her Self Portrait (1954). She looks a daunting young lady (CLICK).

Design Museum

Today the Design Museum in London opened Designs of the Year 2015. The categories include everything from architecture to computer games. In the running this year is the Google self-driving car. The photo is picturesque, but doesn't fill me with confidence, because the car seems to have rolled down an embankment and halted in the middle of a read. BUT IT DIDN'T HIT ANYTHING. The Museum has revamped its website since I last visited. It's now strong on photos and weak on information (CLICK). Entry costs £13.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Anish Kapoor

Tomorrow the Lisson Gallery at 52 - 54 Bell Street, London. opens Anish Kapoor. Huge new paintings in silicon and red and white resin protrude from the walls like hideous bas-reliefs. The idea is that you absorb yourself into these caverns of raw, bloodied flesh. Rather you than me. Yuk! CLICK.

Christ's Cross

The National Gallery in London has put on display this painting Christ Carrying the Cross by an unknown artist. It is early Italian Renaissance, probably from the workshop of Giovanni Bellini. It was generously donated to the National Gallery by Angus Neill, who has owned it since 2002. You'll find it in Room 62, alongside works by Bellini, Mantegna and Cima (CLICK).

Monday, 23 March 2015

Kenwood House

The daffodils in my back garden are just coming into bloom. This is the best time of year to visit Kenwood House on the northern boundary of Hampstead Heath, London. because its lawn has banks of naturalised daffodils and the midges shouldn't be biting yet. This former stately home houses the Iveagh Bequest of old-master paintings and the superb library restyled by Robert Adam from 1764 to 1779 (CLICK).

BBC News!

Why do people feel the need to tinker with something that is working okay? This afternoon BBC News switched PC users to a "responsive" new website . The graphic allegedly shows the new BBC website working on a desktop PC, tablet and mobile. It's a lie. It doesn't work properly on my version of Internet Explorer 8 and told me to use a modern browser. So I loaded in a modern browser - Google Chrome - and the appearance was just as pathetic, The only difference was that the BBC website didn't tell me to use a modern browser. So it hasn't just stopped being compatible with IE8. It has excluded Microsoft XP Professional too. My PC is too old to update. I'm damned if I'm going to buy a new computer to please the BEEB. So it's goodbye licence fee, BBC, unless you sort out this mess.

Pratchett Pub Sign

Landlord Antony Yateman has unveiled a new pub sign for Uncle Tom's Cabin, Wincanton, Somerset, in tribute to the late fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett. He commissioned the Mended Drum Terry Pratchett pub sign (2015) from Discworld Emporium illustrator Richard Kingston before the author's death and had hoped that Sir Terry would unveil it. Sadly, Sir Terry died too soon (CLICK).

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Chipmunk Shopping

Here's my favourite animal photo of the week: Stuffed full of Nuts by Barb D'Arpino. The subject is a chipmunk with its cheek pouches bulging with food. It's one of 12 of the funniest animal faces posted by BBC Earth, Life through the Lens, well worth a look (CLICK).

Falls the Shadow

Eleven at 11 Eccleston Street, London, is currently showing Falls the Shadow, new paintings by Natasha Kissell and photographs by Gina Soden. Both artists explore the impermanence of architecture. The title of the exhibition comes from T.S. Eliot: "Between the idea, and the reality, between the motion, and the act, falls the shadow”. Shown is Natasha Kissell's oil-on-canvas Dust to Dust (2015). I'm still trying to figure out the strange perspective. The exhibition runs until 1 May. CLICK to read the blurb.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

RI at Mall

The annual exhibition of the Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours opens at the Mall Galleries in central London on 25 March and runs until 11 April. This is an eclectic mix of modern and traditional work. You'll find it in the Main Gallery and North Gallery. Shown is Brian Robinson's Everything Has Gone With the Years. Admission costs £3 for adults, £2.50 for silver surfers (CLICK).

Friday, 20 March 2015

New £1 Coin

The Royal Mint has unveiled this graphic of its New £1 Coin, which will enter circulation in 2017. It was designed by 15-year-old schoolboy David Pearce, who entered the winning design out of around 6,000 entries. It shows the English rose, the Welsh leek, the Scottish thistle and the Irish shamrock, all emerging from a Royal Coronet. Coin artist David Lawrence and lettering expert Stephen Raw refined the schoolboy's design. It will boast the Royal Mint's latest anti-counterfeiting technology (CLICK).

Picasso Outcome

Pablo Picasso's former handyman and electrician Pierre Le Guennec and his wife Danielle have been found guilty of possessing stolen goods. They kept a box with 271 Picasso works inside for 40 years, then Le Guennec made the mistake of trying to have them authenticated. He and his wife have been ordered to return the contents and have each been given a two-year suspended sentence (CLICK).

Thursday, 19 March 2015


Why does the BBC waste licence payers' money on pathetic dramas that have no promise? I gave Episode 1 of Banished a try two weeks ago and gave up on it. Badly directed, badly lit and with a script Jimmy McGovern should be ashamed of, this penal-colony saga in 1788 Australia failed to win my suspension of disbelief. Shown are Russell Tovey as James Freeman, MyAnna Buring as Elizabeth Quinn and Julian Rhind-Tutt as Tommy Barrett. Elizabeth is that old cliché the whore with the heart of gold. She'll drop her knickers - if she wears any - to get her way. She's madly in love with Tommy Barrett and he and James Freeman are in love with her. Tommy is so entranced he's prepared to go to the gallows rather than give her up. That's when it became farcical (CLICK).

New NG Director

PM David Cameron has rubber stamped the appointment of Gabriele Finaldi as the new Director of the National Gallery in London. Finaldi takes over from Dr Nicholas Penny on 17 August. On paper, Finaldi looks like the bee's knees (CLICK). The big question is: How good are his people skills? Dr Penny leaves the Gallery in a mess, with demoralised staff paid less than the London living wage striking against privatisation. The Trustees have suspended union rep. Candy Udwin over some technicality. So much for negotiations to avert more strikes! The Trustees are stupidly determined to have their own way. CLICK to learn more.

Painting Paradise

While curating Painting Paradise: The Art of the Garden, which opens tomorrow in The Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace, the earliest surviving portrait of a professional gardener was found in the Royal Collection. It was painted by Franciabigio nearly 500 years ago and depicts Jacopo Cennini, factor and estate manager to the powerful House of Medici, the banking family and hereditary dukes of the Republic of Florence. This is among 150 works of art from the Royal Collection in the new exhibition of gardens and botanical illustrations across four centuries. Admission costs £10 adults, £9.20 silver surfers (CLICK).

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Budget Satire

It wouldn't be Budget Day in the UK without satirical artist Kaya Mar parading his latest painting of Chancellor George Osborne on Abingdon Green outside the Houses of Parliament. Note the axe in the budget box and the Chancellor's crutch and gammy leg with which he tries to balance on troubled waters.

Since 9/11

Yesterday, for the second time, London mayor Bouncy Boris unveiled American artist Miya Ando's Since 9/!!, comprising a steel girder from the World Trade Centre donated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. In 2011 Boris unveiled it in Battersea Park. Nobody wanted to give this eyesore a permanent home. So it was dumped in a Cambridgeshire farmyard. Its permanent home is now the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. It may honour the dead of the Muslim atrocity on the Twin Towers, but it's still an eyesore (CLICK).

Derby Find

A bodged restoration in the early 1960s badly over-painted to disguise the bodge subsequently led the Derby Museum to re-catalogue Joseph Wright of Derby's Coliseum by Moonlight (1780s) as by a follower of Wright. It was then put into storage and stayed there for 50 years. Recently a museum conservator working on the companion painting Coliseum by Daylight found documents proving that the museum owned both works. That's when the bodge on Moonlight was discovered. It will take a year to restore (CLICK).

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

St Patrick's Day

Looking a picture of health, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, marked St Patrick's Day by presenting shamrocks to the Irish Guards. This has been a tradition since 1901, when it was inaugurated by Queen Alexandra. The Queen Mother led the ceremony during her life. It is always a senior female member of the Royal Family who leads the ceremony. Note the Duke of Cambridge in the background, fiddling with the shamrocks on his cap. He wears the uniform of the Irish Guards, because he is Royal Colonel of the Regiment. CLICK for more information and photos.

Benson & Goudie

On 23 March the Mall Galleries opens New Paintings by Tim Benson and Lachlan Goudie, two members of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters. The dreadful portraits, gross nudes and occasional landscapes are by Tim Benson VPROI. The more sensitive still lifes and flowers are by Lachlan Goudie ROI. Shown is his Aperitif. He is a judge in the BBC's The Big Painting Challenge, showing on TV. There's a book signing in The Threadneedle Space on 25 March, from 4pm to 5pm (CLICK). Admission to the exhibition is free (CLICK).

Top Venues

According to the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions (ALVA) these are the top 10 visitor attractions in the UK. The top 9 are in London. The new Library of Birmingham creeps in at 10th place. South Kensington is the place to go. It boasts three of the top 10 museums (CLICK).

Monday, 16 March 2015

Creature Feature

In case you don't know what I was wittering on about when I compared Bouncy Boris's antics in Kew Gardens to the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) here's a still from the movie, showing the creature reaching for star Julie Adams, who looks great in a very modest 1950s swimsuit (CLICK).

Boris at Kew

Is it the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)? No, it's London mayor Bouncy Boris raising a smile in Kew Gardens. Never one to miss a photo opportunity, he joined Kew staff and students in the Princess of Wales Conservatory to plant young Victoria amazonica waterlilies. Last year a petition against job cuts at Kew Gardens with 100,000 signatures was handed in at No 10 Downing Street (CLICK). I was one of those who signed the Avaaz petition. Government has imposed savage funding cuts on the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Top Gear

The big news in the UK is the ongoing kerfuffle over the BBC's suspending its most lucrative export Top Gear, due to star presenter Jeremy Clarkson's biffing a producer. The producer, Oisin Tymon, is now in hiding, having allegedly received death threats from miffed fans. Will politically correct BBC sack Clarkson, much admired for his political incorrectness, or sack the producer for getting in the way of Clarkson's fist? In the meantime, here's a 10m-high statue of The Stig in Warsaw (2015). CLICK for more.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Gandhi Statue

Today a larger-than-life bronze statue of Mahatma Gandhi was unveiled in Parliament Square, London. The Gandhi Statue Memorial Trust raised more than £1 million to commission British sculptor Philip Jackson to create the work. Indian finance minister Shri Arun Jaitley unveiled the statue. PM David Cameron spoke at the unveiling and called the statue a "magnificent tribute" (CLICK).

Hockney on TV

This evening BBC Two is showing Hockney, an epic programme starting at 9pm and lasting 1 hour 45 minutes. For the first time David Hockney has given access to his personal archive of photographs and film. The archive has been explored by film-maker Randall Wright to create this record of Hockney's long life, from Bradford to Hollywood and back again (CLICK). Shown is Peter Getting out of Nick's Pool (1966).

Friday, 13 March 2015

Arts Centre Fire

Battersea Arts Centre in south London was engulfed by fire this afternoon. It took 12 fire engines and 80 fire fighters to bring the blaze under control. Part of the roof fell in. CLICK for the BBC News story. CLICK for the Battersea Arts Centre website about refunds.


Today's newspapers are full of praise for Sir Terry Pratchett, who died yesterday. His voice was unique. The artist most closely associated with Sir Terry was "Josh" Kirby. He painted all the British Discworld covers until his death in 2001. (The American publishers used their own cover artists.) The spin offs from Sir Terry's enormous output included graphic novels, games, maps and calendars, which required more artists. Here's my favourite, commissioned by Victor Gollancz for their 2009 Terry Pratchett Discworld Calendar: Mrs Cake Suspects a Psychic Perturbation (2008) by Les Edwards, who perfectly captures Sir Terry's madcap humour. Les was inspired by Reaper Man (1991) the 11th Discworld novel and the second to focus on Death (CLICK).

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett RIP

Shock news! British fantasy author Sir Terry Pratchett has died at the age of 66. DEATH finally caught up with him at his home, surrounded by his family. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 2007, but continued writing. He leaves legions of Discworld fans wondering what the hell they're going to do without him. Try his children's fantasy novels, if you haven't read them (CLICK).

Wellington II

Back in January I previewed the National Portrait Gallery's exhibition Wellington: Triumphs, Politics and Passions (CLICK). The exhibition opened today and there is additional news. For the first time ever the Gallery will get out of storage its 67-feet-long panorama The Funeral Procession of Arthur, Duke of Wellington (1853) a hand coloured print by Henry Alken and George Augustus Sala. Shown is one detail: The Late Duke's Horse Led by His Groom. Note the Wellington boots draped over the back of the horse. This is a free, one-hour viewing on 18 June, the date of the battle of Waterloo. If you can't make that date, the Gallery has provided an app on iTunes to allow you to peruse this panorama at your leisure, cost £1.49 (CLICK).

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Waterloo II

This year Britain has been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, when the Duke of Wellington gave Napoleon Bonaparte a trouncing. As Waterloo is in what is now Belgium, the Belgians came up with this design for a 2 euro coin to commemorate the battle, showing the triumphant British lion on Lion Hill. But the French threw a wobbly and the design has been rejected (CLICK). It seems the French are still miffed about their defeat at Waterloo.

More McQueen

Yesterday Tate Britain opened Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process, a behind-the-scenes photographic record of Alexander McQueen’s creative process, capturing the spirit and essence of his work. Like the Savage Beauty exhibition that opens at the V&A Museum on Saturday (CLICK) this will also cost you an arm and a leg. Shown is A Model being prepared for a McQueen show (CLICK).

Syngenta Award

Today Somerset House in London opened an exhibition of finalists' work in the Syngenta Photography Award 2015. This year's theme was Scarcity-Waste. Shown is Souvid Datta's photo of An Abandoned Steel Factory in Beijing. Getting the message across is more important than beauty in this competition. The award explores global challenges. The exhibition runs until 10 April, admission free (CLICK, CLICK).

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Savage Beauty

On 14 March the Victoria and Albert Museum in London opens Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. He was more showman than fashion designer, as you can see from this Model in a Ring of Fire. The exhibition spans his 1992 MA graduate collection to his unfinished A/W 2010 collection (CLICK). You won't get much change out of £20. So this is for rich tourists only.

Art Gallery Raid

The Priory Gallery in Broadway, Worcestershire, suffered a smash-and-grab raid shortly after 4am on Sunday morning. Two men smashed the window, stole a number of bronze statuettes and a small painting and drove off in a dark car heading toward Cheltenham. Gallery owner Elizabeth James is "devastated" by the raid. Shown is one of the stolen bronzes, A Ballet Dancer. CLICK to see more.

Pangaea II

Tomorrow the Saatchi Gallery in London opens Pangaea II: New Art From Africa and Latin America. Admission is free. That's the best thing I can say about it. Jean-François Boclé's Everything Must Go (2014) comprises 97,000 blue plastic bags. I suppose it is a comment on modern society, but is it really worth displaying in an art gallery? And is it worth going to see? Let me know, if you do go (CLICK).

Monday, 9 March 2015

Wellcome Awards

Yet again The Wellcome Trust has demonstrated that scientists can create more artistic images than can most contemporary artists. The BBC has posted the 20 images shortlisted for this year's Wellcome Image Awards. Shown is Maurizio de Angelis's Pollen Grains being released from a flower in the Asteraceae family. The winner will be announced on 18 March, the day before the exhibition opens at the Wellcome Trust HQ in London, admission free. For the first time the shortlist includes an image made by 3D printing (CLICK).

Gertie Millar

This isn't the most inspiring portrait I've ever seen, but it does have an interesting story. Gertie Millar was a star of musical comedies on the London stage. After her songwriter husband's death in 1924, she retired from show business to marry the Earl of Dudley. Sir William Orpen RA RHA painted her portrait as Gertrude, Countess of Dudley with fur and pearls for her new found status. The portrait comes up for grabs in Sworders Fine Arts Auctioneers, Essex, estimated at £30,000 – £40,000 (CLICK).