The afterlives of the wives of Henry VIII

 
 
Plus: The weird reflections of Jean Cocteau
 
 
 
 
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Christina J. Faraday hangs out with six Tudor queens
 
Christina J. Faraday hangs out with six Tudor queens
'Six Lives: The Stories of Henry VIII's Queens' is the first historical show at the National Portrait Gallery in London since it reopened last year, and the first exhibition ever to focus on the women who had the misfortune of marrying Henry VIII. But the objects in this exhibition are by no means purely historical. The show opens with six enormous black-and-white photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto, taken in 1999, their seemingly life-like subjects actually waxwork portraits from Madame Tussaud's. The six women have been a fixture of the Tussaud's experience since 1861, testament to the evergreen interest in their lives and appearances.
 
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Craig Burnett on the restless imagination of Jean Cocteau
 
Craig Burnett on the restless imagination of Jean Cocteau
'I am nothing – "another" speaks in me,' declared Jean Cocteau in a Paris Review interview published in 1964, just a few months after his death. 'The Juggler's Revenge', at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, illustrates the accuracy of his self-assessment: his imagination resembled a hall of mirrors, an infinite machine of collage and juxtaposition. The photograph on the cover of the catalogue depicts the artist as a six-armed figure holding a book, a fountain pen, a pair of scissors, a cigarette, a paintbrush, while one hand rests upturned at his waist as if awaiting his next task. Cocteau was a polymath, a protean conjurer of worlds, a juggler – and, if the curators are correct, this exhibition offers revenge on all the critics who called him a dilettante. Despite his near-Warholian embrace of surface, celebrity and everything new ('I myself do not' read anything serious, he said in the same interview), he inhabited a world of ancient myth and melodrama, creating a friendly environment for both his sexuality and his desire to identify as a poet.
 
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Katie Scott on a Chardin still life that is ripe for reappraisal
 
Katie Scott on a Chardin still life that is ripe for reappraisal
We generally think of high art in terms of the hierarchy of genres and thus primarily in relation to subject matter. Yet in the case of Chardin it has long been recognised that although his still lifes and genre paintings owe much to the art of the Low Countries, he was not drawn to its emblematic tradition. His still lifes are not, for instance, allegories of abundance or moderation. Rather, they describe the particular in the everyday. The art historian Antoine Schnapper estimated that, at the beginning of his career, Chardin averaged four pictures a year, a number that doubtless rose as he matured, but which nevertheless leaves in place the suggestion of a seasonal rhythm to his practice. A Basket of Strawberries and Two Carnations may not symbolise summer, but its composition speaks to the unities of time and place: these fruits and flowers respectively ripened and bloomed in Paris and its environs in June and July. Moreover, the stillness of the painting's atmosphere captures the experience of time momentarily suspended and the particular feel of motionlessness provoked by summer heat. Chardin imbued A Basket of Strawberries and Two Carnations with meaning that exceeds, in short, that denoted by the list of its contents.
 
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Isabella Smith on the start of London's summer season
 
Isabella Smith on the start of London's summer season
When Masterpiece, the mainstay of London's summer fair season, was cancelled last year with little notice after 13 years of operation, co-founders Thomas Woodham-Smith and Harry Van der Hoorn were quick to enter the breach. The Treasure House Fair was organised in just four months by the pair – a remarkable feat by any standard. 'We did everything in a tearing hurry, and it's fair to say there were one or two oversights,' Woodham-Smith says, presumably referring to the maintenance issues that dogged the tent at the Royal Hospital Chelsea. 'But it's very different having a year to do something versus having four months. We won't get it all perfect, but we won't make the same mistakes as in 2023.'
 
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Lucy Waterson on a dazzling display of British still lifes
 
Lucy Waterson on a dazzling display of British still lifes
For many, the mention of still life may conjure little more than a mental image of a bowl of fruit; for the more art-inclined, perhaps Van Gogh's golden sunflowers will spring to mind. The genre has sometimes been considered dull in comparison to works that depict people. Pallant House Gallery, however, is having none of this narrative. Its current exhibition, 'The Shape of Things: Still Life in Britain', argues that still life was and continues to be integral to British art. Claiming to be one of the first dedicated to the subject in the country, the exhibition takes its task seriously, presenting paintings by some 100 artists who have contributed to an often-overlooked genre.
 
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In the current issue…
 
Rosamund Bartlett on avant-garde art after the Russian Revolution
 
Rosamund Bartlett on avant-garde art after the Russian Revolution
One hallmark of early 20th-century European modernism was the number of artist couples engaged in creative partnerships: Kandinsky and Münter in Munich, the Delaunays in Paris, Goncharova and Larionov in Moscow. Another equally distinctive feature were the rivalries among the radical leaders of the avant-garde, whose quest to forge a new artistic language was often fuelled by an intense spirit of competition. Picasso and Matisse naturally spring to mind, but the famous friction of their relationship pales in comparison with that of Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin. Their long-running feud forms the backbone of a marvellous new book.
 
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In the next issue…
 
The fine art of food
 
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