Andrew Lambirth

The big picture: two books on artists and their lives

Michael Peppiatt (born 1941) explains in the introduction to his new book of essays that he has from the start of his career been attracted to the lives of artists, as much as, if not more than, their work. Accordingly, he should find a ready audience with the British, who much prefer the written word

The European influence on modern American art

Charles Darwent’s Surrealists in New York is somewhat misleadingly titled, though its true content and focus are revealed in the subtitle: ‘Atelier 17 and the Birth of Abstract Expressionism.’ Perhaps that sounds obscure and even academic. If so, it gives the wrong idea, for this is a very readable and accessible account of a hitherto

Alive with innovation: British art between the world wars

When I mentioned the subject of this book to someone reasonably well-informed about 20th-century British art, the response was: ‘Isn’t that all portrait and still-life paintings?’ Well, perhaps if you’re looking exclusively at the contents of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibitions – and even there landscape was another popular choice. But actually the period was

Ghosts in a landscape: farming life through the eyes of Thomas Hennell

Thomas Hennell is one of that generation of painters born in 1903 whose collective achievements are such an adornment of modern British art. Among his contemporaries are Edward Bawden, Richard Eurich, John Piper, Eric Ravilious and Graham Sutherland. Some of these have been over-praised (Sutherland’s reputation was unhelpfully inflated for many years, then suffered a

Rembrandt remains an enigma

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606–69) is not only the presiding genius of the Dutch golden age of painting, but one of the greatest painters of all time. His work — as painter, draughtsman and etcher — continues to fascinate and move us like none other. He has been the subject of innumerable books, from novels

Art’s hard graft

Once, when a number of Royal Academicians were invited to Buckingham Palace, the celebrated abstract painter John Hoyland (1934–2011) found himself enjoying a conversation with the Duke of Edinburgh about art. ‘The real problem with painting,’ said the Duke, in Hoyland’s delighted re-telling of this encounter, ‘is not so much the doing of it, as

Sculpture of the imagination

At the height of his fame in the mid-1960s, the sculptor Geoffrey Clarke (1924–2014) was buying fast cars and flying to architects’ meetings by helicopter. Within a decade the commissions for public sculptures had dwindled, and the rest of his career was something of an anticlimax. Yet he remained largely undaunted and was exceptionally prolific,

Figures in a landscape | 10 November 2016

Timothy Hyman’s remarkable new book makes the case for the relevance of figurative painting in the 20th century, a period effectively dominated by modernist abstraction. He identifies an alternative tradition of potent human-centred painting, coming out of Cubism and Expressionism and tracing its lineage through Chagall and Leger, the Italians Carlo Carra and Mario Sironi,

The artist as lover

Roland Penrose (1900–84) was a Surrealist painter and object-maker, a collector and art world grandee, a writer and organiser of exhibitions, co-founder of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) and biographer of Picasso. He amply illustrates Goethe’s dictum that we are rich at the price of our contradictions. Born a wealthy Quaker, Penrose rebelled and

From cave painting to Maggi Hambling: the best Christmas art books

It’s been a memorably productive year for art books (I have published a couple myself), but certain volumes stand out. Chief among the illustrated monographs is Maggi Hambling: War Requiem & Aftermath by James Cahill (Unicorn Press, £30), a spirited examination of this wonderfully unpredictable artist. The book focuses on her recent paintings and sculptures,

Lines of beauty | 24 September 2015

David Jones (1895–1974) was a remarkable figure: artist and poet, he was a great original in both disciplines. His was an art of ‘gathering things in’ that engaged imaginatively with history and myth, with his Welsh heritage and the Christian religion. But art also comes out of conflict, and the tension between the two sides

‘Paint goes on living’

Maggi Hambling is 70 later this year, and a career that took off when she was appointed the first artist in residence at the National Gallery, in 1980, shows no signs of slackening in momentum. Hambling is still as uncompromising as ever, and as difficult to categorise. An artist of sustained originality and inventiveness who

Curator-driven ambitions mar this Constable show at the V&A

The V&A has an unparalleled collection of hundreds of works by John Constable (1776–1837), but hardly anyone seems to know about them. This is perhaps because they’re usually kept on an upper floor of the Henry Cole Wing, rather off the beaten track for most visitors. This new exhibition gives us the chance to examine

Is John Hoyland the new Turner?

What happens to an artist’s reputation when he dies? Traditionally, there was a period of cooling off when the reputation, established during a lifetime, lost momentum and frequently collapsed, quite often presaging a long fallow period before reassessment could take place. The Pre-Raphaelites suffered this to a very pronounced degree. Famously, Andrew Lloyd Webber tells

The man who brought Cubism to New York

The American Jewish artist Max Weber (1881–1961) was born in Belostok in Russia (now Bialystok in Poland), and although he visited this country twice (he came to London in 1906 and 1908), it was the experience of continental Europe — and particularly Paris — that was crucial for his development. The title of this exhibition