Laura Gascoigne

Laura Gascoigne is the chief art critic of The Spectator

How flabby our ideas of draughtsmanship have become

The term drawing is a broad umbrella, so in an exhibition of 120 works it helps to outline some distinctions. A good place to start is to ask what drawings are for, and that is what Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum has done with its current show of sketches by Flemish masters – staged in collaboration with

The tumultuous story behind Caravaggio’s last painting

For centuries no one knew who it was by or even what it was of. The picture that had hung unnoticed in a succession of noble palazzi in the Italian province of Salerno, with its deep chiaroscuro and close-cropped composition, looked like a Caravaggio – but after Caravaggio almost every painting in Naples did. When

The ghostly charcoals of Frank Auerbach

‘In some curious way, the practice of art and the awareness of the imminence of death are connected,’ Frank Auerbach said in 2012. ‘Otherwise, we would not find it necessary to do the work art finally does – to pin something down and take it out of time.’ There’s no sense of the imminence of

The true inventor of the superhero comic? William Blake

Among the documents in the West Sussex Record Office is an indictment for sedition of a certain William Blake. During an altercation in a Felpham garden in August 1803, he is accused by one John Scofield, a soldier in the British army then at war with France, of having shouted: ‘Damn the King. The soldiers

The genius of Yoko Ono

The first I heard of Yoko Ono was when my sister’s boyfriend brought home a little book of hers called Grapefruit. It was 1970, four years after John Lennon took the bite out of an apple that led to the break-up of the Beatles. The apple had been on a plinth in Ono’s 1966 exhibition

Winning: When Forms Come Alive, at the Hayward, reviewed

In case you didn’t know, we live in a ‘post-minimalist’ age, sculpturally speaking. Not a maximalist age, though some of the works in the Hayward’s new sculpture show are huge – an age of revolution against neatness. Who’s to blame for this call to disorder? Women. The two prime movers of this movement, if you

Joyous chaos: Lucy Harwood, at Firstsite, reviewed

‘Welcome to England’s Most Misunderstood County’, reads an imitation road sign inside the entrance to Firstsite gallery. It’s part of ‘The Essex Way’ (2021), a monumental collage commissioned from local boy Michael Landy to mark the 10th anniversary of the Colchester gallery’s opening. With its discombobulating mix of illustrations of native birdlife and views of

The killer satire of James Gillray

‘I hope the day will never come when I shall neither be the subject of calumny or ridicule, for then I shall be neglected and forgotten’, is how Samuel Johnson greeted the news that James Gillray had caricatured him as Dr Pomposo. In Georgian London, a caricature was a fast-track to celebrity. And, as described

The spare, graceful, revelatory sculptures of Kim Lim

In 1989, the sculptor Lorna Green circulated a questionnaire among 320 of her female peers about their experiences as women in a male-dominated field; three years ago she sent a follow-up survey. The work of 29 respondents to both is currently on show in an instructive exhibition, If Not Now, When? Generations of Women in

A Nativity that sends shivers down the spine

Hieronymus Bosch was not a natural painter of religious images. His terrifying visions of Hell may have helped to keep congregations on the path of righteousness, but they did not inspire feelings of devotion – which could explain why none of the large altarpieces he painted remained over their altars after his death. In the