Jenny Uglow is the author of The Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Changed the World and, most recently, Mr. Lear: A Life of Art and Nonsense. (February 2019)


Island Hopping

The death of Captain Cook on February 15, 1779, at Kealakekua Bay in Hawaii; engraving from John Rickman’s Journal of Captain Cook’s Last Journey to the Pacific Ocean on Discovery (1781). It was the first image of Cook’s death to be published.

Captain James Cook: The Journals

selected and edited by Philip Edwards

James Cook: The Voyages

by William Frame with Laura Walker
On August 26, 1768, a day of fresh winds and cloudy skies, James Cook guided his ship, the Endeavour, past the coast of Cornwall into the open sea. On board, he noted in his journal, were ninety-four men, “Officers Seamen Gentlemen”—including the wealthy young naturalist Joseph Banks—and the ship carried …

Stepping Out of Byron’s Shadow

Ada Lovelace; painting by Alfred Edward Chalon, 1835

In Byron’s Wake: The Turbulent Lives of Byron’s Wife and Daughter: Annabella Milbanke and Ada Lovelace

by Miranda Seymour

Ada Lovelace: The Making of a Computer Scientist

by Christopher Hollings, Ursula Martin, and Adrian Rice
On March 20, 1816, Annabella, Lady Byron, received a poem in the mail. In fifteen stanzas, Byron’s “Fare Thee Well” was a cascade of brokenhearted loss and love: All my faults perchance thou     knowest,       All my madness none can         know; All my hopes, where’er thou goest, …

Collecting for the Glory of God

Hans Sloane during his presidency of the Royal Society, with an illustration of Jamaican lagetto; portrait by Stephen Slaughter, 1736

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 …

The Revolutionary Christian Girl

Edith Heckstall Smith: The Match Girl, circa 1884–1890

The Match Girl and the Heiress

by Seth Koven
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 …


Airy & Otherworldly Japanese Poetry Prints

Keisai Eisen: A mother with her two children feeding chickens, 1825

“Plum Blossom and Green Willow: Surimono Poetry Prints,” with its array of nineteenth-century Japanese woodblock poetry prints, transports us to another world. A quiet revelation to visitors who are primarily attuned to the arts of the West, this is a strange and lovely show, accompanied by clear labels that usefully explain the context of the genre and teach us how to “read” these rare woodblock prints—to understand the relation of the work to the poems inscribed on the prints and the meaning of the figures shown, with their references to ancient traditions.

‘Oceania,’ Art of the Islands

“Oceania” is not the historical, ethnographic show that Western museum-goers might expect. At the entrance a shimmering wave of blue material cascades from the ceiling. Titled Kiko Moana, this flowing wave uses ancient techniques of weaving, embroidery, layering, and cutting, but it’s a contemporary work in polyethylene and cotton, created by four Maori women from the Mata Aho Collective in New Zealand who have also compiled an online archive of stories about the supernatural spirits of the waters. Old and new technologies meet.

How Rembrandt Took Britain

Rembrandt van Rijn: The Mill, 1645–1648

It is a tricky and ambitious plan to show Rembrandt’s works alongside those of his admirers, imitators, and copyists, as the National Gallery of Scotland’s “Rembrandt: Britain’s Discovery of the Master” does. Although Rembrandt’s presence was dominant, the exhibition told a rich and revealing story of the historical response to his work in Britain. The start was slow. There is continuing debate about whether or not Rembrandt actually visited England.

In Urgent Color: Emil Nolde’s Expressionism

Emil Nolde: Party, 1911

Profoundly influenced by Van Gogh and later by Munch, Emil Nolde (1867–1956) rejected Impressionism—which catches the external impression of a scene—in favor of Expressionism, which tries to convey the artist’s inner response, using exaggeration and distortion to delve into the nature of being. Yet Nolde seems to go even further, to be in love with the “expressiveness” of paint itself, its power to manipulate emotions, to delight, inflame, provoke.


Artist and Empire

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.”