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At Sotheby’s

Rosemary Hill: Debo’s Bibelots , 17 March 2016

... Early​ this month Sotheby’s held a champagne-and-canape viewing for the sale of possessions of the late ‘Debo’, Duchess of Devonshire. The lots were arranged to suggest room sets, with tables laid, sofas positioned by rugs and blown-up photographic backdrops, one showing the dining room of the dower house where the duchess spent her last years ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Stonehenge for the solstice, 6 July 2006

... It is 21 years this summer since the Battle of the Beanfield, the bloody confrontation at Cholderton in Wiltshire between police and a travellers’ convoy heading for Stonehenge, which resulted in 420 arrests and the end of the Stonehenge Free Festival. For more than a decade after that the authorities kept the public out at the solstice with a ferocity bordering on hysteria: razor wire, searchlights and a four-mile exclusion zone ...

On the Titanic

Rosemary Hill: ‘Ocean Liners’ at the V&A, 24 May 2018

... One​ of the most evocative objects in Ocean Liners (at the V&A until 17 June) is a diamond and pearl tiara by Cartier. Not particularly spectacular as Cartier tiaras go, it was once the property of Lady Marguerite Allan, who took it with her when she sailed from New York on 1 May 1915 on board the Lusitania. Six days later, off the Irish coast, a German U-boat torpedoed the ship, which sank in 18 minutes with the loss of 1198 lives ...

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 the V&A 2

Rosemary Hill: Wedding Dresses, 1775-2014, 9 October 2014

... Of all​ the 19th-century innovations disparaged by Eric Hobsbawm as ‘invented traditions’, the white wedding must rank alongside clan tartans as the most enduring, a convention now so firmly rooted that many people think it’s medieval. To the Georgians a white wedding was a foreign novelty. In 1818 a British traveller in Normandy, Dawson Turner, remarked on a bride emerging from church that she was dressed all in white – ‘even her shoes’, he wrote with some astonishment ...

In Split

Rosemary Hill: Diocletian’s Palace, 26 September 2013

... The train journey from Zagreb to Split takes six hours and entails a degree of mental adjustment. Zagreb is quiet in summer. A city of government and business, it mostly closes for August, leaving the streets to tourists, who come in modest numbers. Stucco-fronted apartment blocks in ice-cream colours, the dripping Jugendstil of the Croatian Secessionists, tree-lined squares; on the verge of autumn the city has a lingering air of Austria-Hungary ...

At the Whitechapel

Rosemary Hill: ‘Black Eyes and Lemonade’, 23 May 2013

... The Festival of Britain in 1951 marked the centenary of the Great Exhibition. It came six years after the end of the Second World War and three before the end of rationing. By this time Barbara Jones was 39, an established artist and designer. The titles of the books and magazine articles that made her name as an illustrator tell their own story: a translation of Boulestin’s Ease and Endurance; Bombed Churches as War Memorials; and a piece for Vogue with the headline ‘Civilisation Is Still with Us ...

At Tate Britain (2)

Rosemary Hill: Kenneth Clark, 3 July 2014

... In part ten​ of Civilisation, Kenneth Clark turned his attention to the Enlightenment, the age of the great amateurs. These were men ‘rich and independent enough to do what they liked’, who nevertheless did things which required considerable ability, men like Lord Burlington, the architect earl. A connoisseur, an ‘arbiter of taste’, Clark explained, ‘the sort of character who these days is much despised ...

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 ...

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 Hayward

Rosemary Hill: David Shrigley, 23 February 2012

... There has been a certain amount of huffing and puffing among the usually imperturbable gallery-going set about David Shrigley’s Brain Activity exhibition at the Hayward (until 13 May). People who value the power of art to shock far too highly ever to be shocked by it themselves, have nevertheless been somewhat put out, complaining that Shrigley, who is best known as a cartoonist, should have been given a solo show in such a prominent venue for serious modern art ...

At the Ashmolean

Rosemary Hill: The Capture of the Westmorland, 19 July 2012

... At noon on 7 January 1779 the British merchant ship Westmorland, en route from Livorno to England, was captured by two French warships off the Spanish coast. France having joined the War of Independence on the side of the Americans, the Westmorland’s captain, Willis Machell, was prepared for trouble. He had a crew of sixty and 22 cannons, but was outgunned ...

At the Royal Academy

Rosemary Hill: The Treasures of the Society of Antiquaries, 18 October 2007

... The world in which the Society of Antiquaries came into existence in 1707 had been created in 4004 BC, on 22 October, which was a Saturday. So at least Archbishop Ussher had calculated, using the Biblical sources which were the only ones available to him, or anyone else. Antiquaries, those who study the physical remains of the past as well as the written records, had been around for several hundred years, but the foundation of the society, whose 300th anniversary is celebrated in Making History,* brought them closer to the mainstream of national life than ever before ...

Short Cuts

Rosemary Hill: Successive John Murrays, 8 November 2018

... Some things​ in the relations between authors and publishers never change. Dear Mr Murray, edited by David McClay (John Murray, £16.99), a collection of letters written to six generations of the Murray family, is full of familiar complaints. Jane Austen was ‘very much disappointed … by the delays of the printers’. Maria Rundell, author of A New System of Domestic Cookery (1805), was furious about misprints in the second edition, including an unfortunate mistake in a recipe for rice pudding ...

Short Cuts

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 ...

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