Collecting the World: Hans Sloane and the Origins of the British Museum
by James Delbourgo
When the first visitors entered the newly opened British Museum in Montagu House in Bloomsbury in January 1759, they walked past a stone from the Appian Way, the skeleton of a unicorn fish, and a buffalo head from Newfoundland. Beneath their feet were pillars from the Giant’s Causeway in County …
Toward the start of his fascinating book The Match Girl and the Heiress, Seth Koven states that it “joins efforts by historians to reclaim pre–World War II Britain for Christianity, a salutary historiographical Reconquista.” This may set alarm bells ringing, with its implication that more secular-minded scholars should be driven …
How to Create the Perfect Wife: Britain’s Most Ineligible Bachelor and His Enlightened Quest to Train the Ideal Mate
by Wendy Moore
Wendy Moore has written an account of a crazed attempt by the eighteenth-century poet and philosopher Thomas Day to educate two foundling girls, so that one might become the ideal wife. Her book reads at times like a historical novel. Yet it is underpinned by meticulous research, and raises a …
Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat
by Bee Wilson
Bee Wilson’s Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat combines a passionate gathering of information, diligently communicated, and an amused realism that brings us safely down to earth. Tirelessly, Wilson narrates many instances of scientists and engineers, often in cahoots with big business, setting out to solve kitchen problems, especially in inventing modern labor-saving devices like beaters and blenders. “What tulips were to Holland in the 1630s and Internet startups were to Seattle in the 1990s, eggbeaters were to the East Coast of the United States in the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s,” Wilson says.</p
In the art world, Grayson Perry believes, despite the blockbuster exhibitions at national galleries, “popular” is a term of abuse, linked to populism and unthinking prejudice. But in his exhibition “The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever!” he shows that craft is also “art,” and that it belongs to us all. It’s here, even more than in his overt political statements, that Perry is truly democratic and profoundly “popular.”
“Quentin Blake: The Life of Birds,” drawn from the archive held by the House of Illustration in London, is a tiny exhibition, but one of pure, quirky joy. Blake is best known as an illustrator of children’s books, including most of Roald Dahl’s. Oddly, the human traits that Blake illustrates seem clearer and sharper in these birds than in his drawings of people, perhaps because without the human features we see only the revealing shorthand of gesture, expression, and movement.
No wonder volcanoes, like sea-monsters, are the stuff of legends. The curators at the Bodleian have brought out its treasures and raided the archives of Oxford colleges for Volcanoes: Encounters through the Ages. The eyewitness accounts evoked in the Bodleian run from the famous letters of Pliny the Younger, about the eruption of Vesuvius in Naples in 79 BC—well known in the classical world—to the vulcanologists of today.
Two weeks before the current exhibition of Howard Hodgkin’s portraits, “Absent Friends,” opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery, Hodgkin died. The labels for the exhibition were put up before he did. It tugged at my heart to read that “now eight-four years old, the artist continues to paint.” But while these pictures remain so vibrantly, splendidly present, I think he does.
An attempt to show how artists have responded to the history and ethos of empire over the last five centuries, and to address its legacy “not just in public monuments, but in social structures, culture and in the fault lines of contemporary global politics.”