Richard Wollheim

Richard Wollheim, who died in 2003, was Grote Professor in the University of London, before moving to the States, where he taught at Columbia and at Berkeley. His last book was On the Emotions (1999).

The Girl in the Shiny Boots: Adolescence

Richard Wollheim, 20 May 2004

For as long as my parents still went on holiday together, which ended around my sixth or seventh year, there was nothing unusual in the fact that I should have been sent off with my nanny to stay in what was called a Board Residence in a seaside town on the South Coast. The first two or three weeks of the holiday were divided between long periods of routine and brief moments of terror, with,...

Germs: A Memoir

Richard Wollheim, 15 April 2004

As a child, I loved lists of all sorts, and found that all sorts of things could be listed. I listed the sails on a windjammer, not knowing how they worked, and the names of philosophers, not knowing what they were, and, a particular source of pleasure, the names of royal mistresses and of royal favourites, not knowing how they earned their keep. I listed the flags of the different nations,...

A Bed out of Leaves: a dance at Belsen

Richard Wollheim, 4 December 2003

“Would I regard it as my duty, as soon as I had arranged transport, to drive over to Belsen, see the people in charge, and arrange a dance? I told my colonel, as respectfully as I could, that I thought this a very bad idea. My colonel reminded me where the idea had originated, it had come from very high up, it was an order.”

“Scorning perspective and resemblance as means to achieving figuration, Staël edged his way into figuration by first training himself to respect the painting as a wall, then by learning how to create an overall represented space. The depiction of objects came third. Objects could be depicted only when the space into which they were to fit was complete, and this was the point Staël felt he had reached by February 1952. The year that followed showed him his instincts were right. He ended the year by writing: ‘I do not contrast abstract painting with figurative painting.’”


Richard Wollheim, 22 June 1995

One of the essays included in this volume is entitled ‘Eugène Fromentin as Critic’, and it opens: ‘The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland is the first and perhaps the only book of its kind: a critical study of painting by an accomplished artist who is also a first-rate writer.’ Anyone acquainted with Meyer Schapiro will be amused. For, whether or not this is a correct assessment of Fromentin as a critic (the essay that follows suggests some qualifications), applied to Schapiro himself, these words have the ring of truth, if heavily understated.

Fifty Years On

Richard Wollheim, 23 June 1994

One snowy night in the early months of 1945, we were dining in the basement of a bombed-out house in one of those neat workers’suburbs of which the Dutch were proud. ‘We’ were the ten or so officers on the Head-quarters of 214 Infantry Brigade. For protection against the fierce cold, we had an anthracite stove, which smoked, and large tumblers of Dutch gin. We had been out of the line for an unprecedented ten days, and the Brigadier was in a more relaxed mood than we had seen since the last days of training in Kent the previous summer. He said that we must promise him something. We had been through a lot together. ‘My word,’ he said, and he chuckled. When the war was over, we might start to think of these as great days of our lives. ‘I want you never to forget that war is the filthiest, the most disgusting, thing man has invented.’

I am them

Richard Wollheim, 7 October 1993

J.-B. Pontalis is a Parisian intellectual de pur sang. Born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family, he was brought up in Neuilly, and, as a child, spent long summers at a family house in Cabourg, Proust’s Balbec. He studied philosophy under Sartre, and taught it for some years. He entered psychoanalysis under the aegis of Lacan, and having weaned himself from that unfortunate affiliation, is now one of the leading figures in the French psychoanalytic world. He was on the editorial board of Les Temps modernes, and he founded and now runs La Nouvelle Revue de psychanalyse. He is part of the hierarchy of Gallimard, which is as much an academy as a publishing house. He has always had a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, and he seems never to have let his experience of life be restricted by the constraints of employment or profession. He has always, as he puts it, ‘tried to diversify’.

Richardson’s Rex

Richard Wollheim, 10 October 1991

Written in a strong, clear, slightly salty style, carrying effortlessly a great deal of information, much of it new, and illustrated so profusely that at every turn the narrative seems to play itself out before our eyes, the first volume of John Richardson’s long-awaited Life of Picasso will leave its readers waiting impatiently for Volume Two. Long may it go on. Meanwhile it is a special kind of pleasure to be able to praise the book of an old and close friend, and be confident that the praise has nothing to do with the friendship.

Diary: On A.J. Ayer

Richard Wollheim, 27 July 1989

In the late afternoon of Wednesday, 28 June, a television channel rang me. Would I say a few words on their news programme about Freddie Ayer? It was the first I heard of his death. Then the Independent, for which I had written an obituary a year before, asked me if I would write 600 words for their front page. Then another television channel rang. Freddie’s death was about to become, I could see, a media event.


Richard Wollheim, 19 March 1987

Professor Bernard Lewis enjoys a worldwide reputation as a scholar of Near-Eastern history, and in his most recent work, Semites and Anti-Semites, he has chosen to concentrate his formidable powers of analysis, and a massive accumulation of fact, upon a relatively restricted topic, which nevertheless raises large questions of historical and political understanding. The book deals with the widespread adoption within the Arab nation-states of the classical anti-semitic rhetoric that has so consistently fouled Christian civilisation. The quotations Lewis has retrieved from journals of standing, indeed from writers who lay claim to respectability, make chilling reading. They depress our estimate of human nature.

Diary: In South Africa

Richard Wollheim, 3 July 1986

Every morning as I woke up I reached for my radio. A cheerful Home Counties voice announced: ‘Sunny skies in Buenos Aires, Toronto, Calgary and Tokyo: overcast in Dublin, Rome and Ankara: rain in London, Athens, Nairobi and Frankfurt.’ As South Africa gets the weather, so it gets its news: in gobbets of fact, fragmented beyond all hope of comprehension.

Jesus Christie

Richard Wollheim, 3 October 1985

There are, I am sure, in the lives of all of us except perhaps the most low-spirited, some four or five people whom we cannot forgive. By this I do not mean anything necessarily moral. We don’t have to think that what they did was wrong, or even that they could have stopped themselves doing it. It is enough that they stick in the gullet. J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher is modelled on those Late Victorian or Edwardian volumes, bound in dark olive or chocolate board, hagiographical in tone, which, while bringing together the scattered papers of some resolutely private figure, admit that his real distinction of mind and character has eluded them, and its subject is one of the four or five people who stick in my gullet.

A Charismatic View of Pornography

Richard Wollheim, 7 February 1980

It might be supposed that in a liberal society, such as ours professes to be, the attitude of the state towards obscenity, or the function of the public censor, should not give rise to problems of any great difficulty – details apart – and that there is a widely accepted model to which thinking on these issues would try to conform. The model is that provided by John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, and the doctrine that it endorses runs something like this. Some people like obscenity, and some don’t, and those who don’t tend to find it filthy, horrible, revolting, and, probably, immoral. But even if obscenity is filthy, horrible, revolting, even immoral, those who want it should be allowed to have it unless their doing so causes harm and this harm outweighs any good that it might also cause. That something is immoral does not, as such, justify intervention at law: what is additionally required is that it should on balance bring about harm, and, if it does, this suffices for legal intervention whether or not there is immorality. The Williams Commission accepts what it calls ‘the harm condition’, and goes on to ask what kinds of harm there are, which of those is likely to attach to obscenity, and does any?


Jesus Christie

3 October 1985

SIR: The letter from Katherine Duncan-Jones and A.N. Wilson (Letters, 17 October) is a reminder that mine is not the only conceivable view to hold of J.T. Christie. I was aware of this fact, and it was so as to make this point – and others – that I was at pains to present my view autobiographically. That I did so seems to have displeased your correspondents. In three small matters their...

While Richard Wollheim doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the unexamined emotion is not worth feeling, he does proceed on the assumption that it is beneficial for philosophers and...

Read More

Art’s Infancy

Arthur C. Danto, 22 April 1993

I have always thought of Richard Wollheim as embodying the values and interests of a particularly urbane kind of British intellectual, typified by and possibly originating with the members of the...

Read More


Nicholas Penny, 18 February 1988

In the Preface to his new book Richard Wollheim tells how he ‘evolved a way of looking at paintings which was massively time-consuming and deeply rewarding’. He looked at them for a...

Read More

Second-Decimal Arguments

Jon Elster, 23 May 1985

Reading Richard Wollheim’s study of what it is to live the life of a person was a frustrating, painful experience. Perhaps it can best be summarised by saying that while the book goes to...

Read More


Frank Cioffi, 2 June 1983

Wittgenstein, whose conversations with Rush Rhees lead off these Philosophical Essays on Freud, once wrote to a friend: ‘I, too, was greatly impressed when I first read Freud. He’s...

Read More

Works of Art

Peter Lamarque, 2 April 1981

Generalising across the arts is a tricky business. Can we really expect to find anything in common between, say, Ulysses, Der Rosenkavalier, the ‘Donna Velata’ and Donatello’s...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences