Currently on display at the National Gallery’s Goya exhibition, this portrait shows how much an artist can impose their style on a subject. If you compare the portrait with others of Wellington, e.g. those by Lawrence, you’ll see that the Duke’s beaky features have been smoothed into something much more sausage-like.


It also presented as a portrait of a mind, and the characteristically strong sense of atmosphere links it to Goya’s engravings and political tableaux.

Goya could be war photography before the camera; the  themes are protest, horror, darkness and the aim psychological impact. This force comes through even in his tempestuous images of the Duchess of Alba or the Wellington work above. This is not art to entertain and it works through the viewers’ mind.

I remember visiting friends in Paris and being told to go and see Goya’s “black drawings”, which were then on display at the Petit Palais. The recommended print was a rather ghoulish one called “Hasta la muerta”, showing an old woman dressing herself up, that made me feel quite sick. However, the two that stick in my mind were much smaller works.

One showed a man bound to the stake, a look of horror on his face, and only the smallest tip of the approaching bayonet nudging into the far right hand side of the frame. The other was of a priest bound to a chair, slumped forward and in shade, his dark robe obscuring his face and body. Only his feet, the toes screwed up in every direction, were in light. As the gap in composition was used to show the velocity of a bayonet, the tops of the feet instantly showed the scars and burns on the hidden soles of the feet. Dangerous art indeed.

Further mottos


Alongside being a terrifyingly glamourous beast and thinking of Belle Gardner, I am also working to combine my charm with a racy minerality these days.

Inspiration courtesy of Justerini and Brooks’ publicity department, who FYI are totally beating the Royal Opera House at this game.

In contrast to the above superb flummery, Covent Garden emailed me to promise two “sublime” works, entitled Monotones I and II and The Pigeons. Based on those names it’s time to rethink sublime.

“Saw Belle last night…”

“Saw Belle last night, saw a lot of her!”


I’d love to read the rest of the letter this quote came from…

Isabella Stewart Gardner scandalised her Bostonian contemporaries with her tightly cut evening dresses. If you want an idea, check out Sargent’s portrait where he used three pearl necklaces to simultaneously show off her tiny waist and impressive cleavage.

I have a feeling that Belle knew exactly how to channel her inner beast.

When her eponymous museum was opened she insisted it be staffed only by good-looking Harvard men. You can read about the rest of the architecture here:


Today I think only with scents


Today I think

Only with scents, – scents dead leaves yield,

And bracken, and wild carrot’s seed,

And the square mustard field.

Odours that rise

When the spade wounds the root of the tree,

Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,

Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke’s smell, too,

Flowing from where a bonfire burns

The dead, the waste, the dangerous,

And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough

To smell, to crumble the dark earth

While the robin sings over again

Sad songs of autumn mirth

Edward Thomas – Digging. Photos from a somewhat less wild Walthamstow.



“After that long while, there was a tap at the door and Grandcourt entered, dressed for dinner. The sight of him brought a new nervous shock and Gwendolen screamed again and again with hysterical violence. He had expected to see her dressed and smiling, ready to be led down. He saw her pallid, shrieking as it seemed with terror, the jewels scattered her on the floor. Was it a fit of madness?

In some form or other the Furies had crossed his threshold.”

Great stuff from George Eliot

Augustus John

Bridgeman; (c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Bridgeman; (c) The Fitzwilliam Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

(The yellow dress, 1910)

So much to say on this post. I was actually looking for John’s “The Contraviesa Alpujarra”, which is on the cover of my copy of Gerald Brenan’s “South from Granada”, but you’ll have to google the book and scroll through lots of photos of Matthew Goode looking dashing in order to get there.

I first came across Augustus John and his family as walk-on characters in Ruth Elwin Harris’ children’s series, the “Quantocks Quartet”. Here is a wonderfully fresh portrait of John’s son, Robin, recently acquired by the Art Fund:


John was part of the group of artists gathered round the Slade school of art in the decade before the First World War. Through Dora Carrington (a onetime lover of Gerald Brenan) the set overlapped with the Bloomsbury group, though neither community liked the other much.

Look at these dramatic poses of the wonderfully named and groundbreaking Guilhermina Suggia. The one in the red dress belongs to Tate Britain.


And finally, this striking portrait of the Marchesa Casati,


who reminds me of the Bloomsberries’ Lady Ottoline Morrell and, literally, deserves a post of her own


The exhibition in Venice sounds fascinating, not least because of how different the Marchesa looks in each portrait. In John, the Marchesa seems to have found the ideal artist for expressing her view of herself.

Did she and Suggia deliberately chose to be recorded by an artist known to be unconventional in so many ways, as Isabella Blow chose Alexander McQueen?