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Dr. R. Brandon (England)
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Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty
Black Diamonds: The Rise and Fall of an English Dynasty
by Catherine Bailey
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wide Ranging and Gripping Social History of South Yorkshire, 3 Jan. 2014
The blurb on the back of this book describes it as, "gripping, one heck of a good read" and that is exactly what it is. There is not a single dull chapter.
The book tells the history of the Fitzwilliam family, their stately home Wentworth House in south Yorkshire and of the surrounding pit villages and mines that formed part of this colossal estate. In the 1880s through to the 1930s the Fitzwilliam family were one of the richest families in Britain and they lived and entertained on a scale that reflected this wealth. Much of this fortune was founded on the income from their mines that exploited the rich Barnsley seam of coal that ran directly under the Fitzwilliam land.
The book not only deals with the complicated and often tragic history of the Fitzwilliam family and their disastrous link with the Kennedy family, an association they shared with the Devonshire family, but also devotes much time to the lives of the miners and their families. Whilst the Fitzwilliams were thought of as `good owners' the book describes conditions in other villages and pits in south Yorkshire that were not so fortunate. The hardship that resulted from the pit strikes of 1912 and 1926, the `Bag Muck Strike' in Yorkshire in 1903 and the Cadeby Colliery disaster of 1912 that claimed the lives of 93 men make truly harrowing reading.
The early efforts of Lloyd George that promised much to the miners but delivered nothing are described together with the rise of the post war Labour government of Clement Attlee and his radical program to take into state control the key industries of coal, gas, electricity, the railways, and those of iron and steel production. Manny Shinwell, a vindictive little person, was made Minister of Fuel and Power and it was he who set about destroying the Wentworth estate by open cast coal-mining despite the opposition from the local south Yorkshire miner's associations. The book charts the final demise of the Wentworth estate, destroyed just as much by late family inheritance feuds that were Dickensian in nature and reminiscent of `Jarndyce and Jarndyce' as by the rise of socialism.
A very well written, wide ranging, and gripping read that will satisfy many different tastes. Contains a number of good black and white illustrations.


Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery London)
Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900 (National Gallery London)
by Gemma Blackshaw
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £31.50

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Well Illustrated But Heavy Going in Parts, 23 Dec. 2013
This catalogue was published to accompany the excellent exhibition, `Facing the Modern: The Portrait in Vienna 1900', at the National Gallery 9th October 2013 to 12th January 2014. The exhibition contained a number of paintings from early 19th century Vienna, a period referred to as the Biedermeier period, as well as the more familiar paintings of the turn of the century from artists such as Klimt, Kokaschka and Egon Schiele. The curator of the exhibition, Gemma Blackshaw, tries to suggest a continuous narrative between the early paintings and the later works by identifying similarities in purpose rather than execution, and in so doing avoid the usual review of the works in Freudian or psychological terms. The exhibition and catalogue both fail to some extent in this objective as psychological references appear to creep into the text quite frequently. It is interesting to note that despite a great tendency to reference psychological themes when reviewing late Viennese art, Freud himself did not like modern styles of painting.
The format of the catalogue eschews the usual presentation of essays followed by full page plates, for a series of eight essays by different authors in which illustrations and plates appear together, with no separate section. The quality of the essays is somewhat variable, varying from the rather tortured and heavy going to the very straightforward and lucid. I wonder how many purchasers will actually read all the catalogue. Themes covered include changing approaches to portraiture; Biedermeier ideas in a modern context; self portraits; female artists; the cultural role of the large Jewish population in 1900 Vienna; and finally the fascination with the portrayal of death. The text does explain very well the immense changes that occurred in Vienna, especially after the `Ausgleich' of 1867 when all citizens of the Empire were granted equal rights and a new middle class was created in Vienna, largely as a result of inward immigration. It is suggested that it was the struggle by the new middle class for position and recognition as a cultured elite that gave rise to the modern commissions in the 1890s and early 20th century, paralleling the old Biedermeier cultural norms of the 1830s and 1840s. (The same might be said of the architecture.)
Perhaps too much space in the exhibition and catalogue is given to the paintings by Schonberg. He had a singular lack of talent when it came to painting (some might also say music) but he possessed a very high opinion of his own work. Too much space is given to attributing overblown explanations to his very poor work. The exhibition and catalogue do introduce many pictures to a British public that would otherwise not be easily seen and are of value for this fact alone. A very well illustrated, if rather heavy going, catalogue which sets out a number of interesting themes that occur in 19th and early 20th century Viennese art.


Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet
Edmund Burke: Philosopher, Politician, Prophet
by Jesse Norman
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterful Handling of 18th Century Politics and the Political Thought of Edmund Burke, 7 Dec. 2013
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I am normally very dubious about buying books by MPs or ex-MPs as they usually disappoint. However, this book on the life and work of Edmund Burke shows MP Jesse Norman to be right on top of his game. The first two thirds of the book relate very well the life of Burke and his career in politics, his reputation resting on his written work and speeches rather than action as he only held office for some three years out of his thirty odd years in politics.
Whilst the author does not claim to have undertaken any primary research he does show a masterly understanding of the factional politics of the 18th century under leaders such as Chatham, Lord North, Rockingham (during whose time Burke served on the Privy Council and was Paymaster General), Shelburne and finally Pitt. This was a period of intense problems for the various administrations with difficulties in the American colonies, in Ireland, in India (from which Burke impeached and prosecuted Warren Hastings for corruption) and, of course, with the catastrophic upheaval of the French Revolution. It was in response to all these matters that Burke responded and refined his political views into what would now be seen as classical `conservatism', although as a political label the term had not been invented in his lifetime. It was also during this period that Burke postulated his original ideas on the formation of political parties that could endure during periods of being out of office instead of the ever shifting factionalism and grouping that was typical of the day, the Rockingham administration being the first ever experiment in `party' politics. Burke was a Whig politician but always opposed radicalism as destructive and encouraged gradualism and the maintenance of the existing social structure.
In the final third of the book the author looks at Burke's political thinking in more depth and enlarges and develops our understanding by considering Burke's approach to a number of political problems. He also considers how Burke might have viewed some of the adventures of recent American and British governments; the author suggests that he would almost always be against the radical interventions in Iraq and elsewhere. Burke would not have approved of the wholesale destruction of governmental institutions that accompanied these invasions, let alone the legality of the invasions themselves.
For all those looking to have a better understanding of the life and work of this immensely important philosopher-politician this book is an excellent primer, in fact, rather more than a primer thanks to the clarity of the writing and the lucidity of the explanations and examples. This provides a perfect antidote to Thomas Paine and his `Rights of Man' and the modern mania for radicalism at any cost, usually as a means to grab headlines and promote personal interest.


The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh
The Strange Death of Lord Castlereagh
by H. Montgomery Hyde
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars A Light and Entertaining Read, 2 Dec. 2013
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This book, published in 1959, is now rather dated in its style but is a good enjoyable read nonetheless. The author was probably able to tell us his view as to why Castlereagh decided to take his own life in a chapter or two but quite rightly provides interesting background as to the stresses placed upon him and the extremes of public reaction that he was subject to during his career. This all contributes to an understanding of the state of mind of Castlereagh at the time of his death.
Castlereagh was at once hated for his part in the suppression of the Irish rebellion of 1798, the passing of Lord Sidmouth's Six Acts (Restricted the right of public meeting, crackdown on seditious libel and increased powers of search by magistrates), and for his support for the King's divorce of Queen Caroline. It was during this latter episode that Castlereagh was besieged in his house in St James's Square and had all his windows broken several times. Later, however, in the fickle way that crowds behave Castlereagh was cheered to the rafters on a visit to Ireland and was able to walk the London streets without incident. Having said all that Castlereagh remains an object of detestation by the Left, enshrined in Shelley's `Mask of Anarchy', but one wonders how much people actually know of his political life.
This is a well written and interesting book and in the style of the time it was published is a light and easy read, perhaps lacking the extensive scholarship of modern tomes. It contains a nice twist in the final chapters.


Glyn Philpot, 1884-1937: Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist
Glyn Philpot, 1884-1937: Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist
by Robin Gibson
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars Copiously Illustrated and Very Well Presented, 31 Oct. 2013
This catalogue was published to accompany an extensive exhibition of the works of Glyn Philpot, held between 9th November 1984 to 10th February 1985, at the National Portrait Gallery. Philpot was a very successful and wealthy portrait painter during the first twenty years of the 20th century and became an RA at a very early age. His work his thought by some to display an edge and character often missing from the more staid portraits of Lavery and Sargent. The subtitle, Edwardian Aesthete to Thirties Modernist, relates to the dramatic change in style adopted by the artist around 1932 when he took up a more Modernist, but still representative, style after years of success as a portrait painter.
The book contains an excellent short chronology, a well written introduction to the life and work of the artist and then an extensive illustrated catalogue of the paintings, drawings and watercolours, sculpture, book illustrations and family photographs of Philpot. The catalogue betrays its age in one respect in that virtually all the illustrations are in black and white, there are only twelve full colour plates although these do represent some of his most iconic pictures. The introduction is well written, lucid and flows well giving details of Philpot's life and friendships and dealing with aspects of his painting style in a clear, straightforward manner. For those who wish to know more of Philpot's complicated friendships I would recommend `Glyn Philpot; His Life and Art' by J. G. P. Delaney, Ashgate, 1999, as they are only lightly sketched in here.
I would think this book is a must for those wanting to know more about this very accomplished and highly regarded but now largely forgotten painter, being yet another casualty of the headlong and uncritical rush to embrace Modernism. There are copious illustrations and the whole catalogue is well presented.


Glynn Philpot: His Life and Art
Glynn Philpot: His Life and Art
by J.G.P. Delaney
Edition: Hardcover

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Valuable and Important Work But Not An Easy Read, 30 Sept. 2013
In many respects this is an important book, and that is generally reflected in its price, being the only comprehensive work available on this important British artist. Previous to this publication of 1999 we have to go back to the catalogue of the 1984 exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery for a substantial publication on Philpot. Having said that, this is a dense book in two respects, it is a physically heavy book although only a modest volume of 179 pages and it is a dense book in terms of the text and this makes it quite a difficult read.
The very detailed narrative that the author, Delaney, provides of the life and work of Philpot clearly reflects the immense amount of research that has been undertaken. Delaney charts the progress of the artist from a childhood of order and conformity in Clapham, to art school and the first influences of other artists, particularly Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon, to his interest in religious subjects and at the age of 22 his conversion to the Catholic Church in 1906. As Philpot achieved success at an early age and began to be able to exercise his independence so we see the first intimations of homoerotic art and as early as 1913 Philpot was off to the United States to stay with a male friend he had met a short time earlier at the opera. The author describes the twin track career of the artist, painting highly accomplished and fee earning portraits whilst at the same time producing many canvases of a varied nature and less formal style for his own pleasure. Wealth attracted a circle of friends, a number of whom became dependent financially and emotionally upon the artist whilst all the time Philpot's sister Daisy loyally managed his affairs and doled out money to his circle of menfriends. It was in the early 1930s that Philpot adopted a radically different Modernist style, breaking away entirely from his earlier classical and aesthetic approach. His new style incorporated a thin wash technique as opposed to the highly finished paintings of his earlier period.
Philpot was a prodigious traveller visiting many parts of Europe and Morocco and Tunisia with his friends. He was also a prolific painter, some 170 works are listed in the appendix to the book, of which some 28 are illustrated in colour and 32 in black and white. It is this frenetic travelling and highly productive output that present the problem with the book. Delaney has clearly decided to chart all the travelling and mention very many of the paintings even when not illustrated so that occasionally sections of the book become little more than a travel itinerary interspersed with brief lists of paintings. Whilst this may make this a valuable book of record it can make for quite tedious reading at times. The text requires more leavening with anecdote or description to make it an easier read. A valuable and important work but not an easy read.


Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder
Mr Briggs' Hat: A Sensational Account of Britain's First Railway Murder
by Kate Colquhoun
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars An Atmospheric and Detailed Re-Telling of the First Railway Murder Case, 15 Sept. 2013
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I enjoyed this book. I believe that some of the very negative reviews below stem from the fact that this is essentially a history book and not a crime novel. The author, Kate Colquhoun, does an excellent job of re-telling the true case of the murder of Mr James Briggs, a city banker, and resident of the very respectable Clapton Square, Hackney. This was the first murder carried out in a railway carriage anywhere in the world and provoked particular alarm in Britain because of the closed, isolated, nature of the individual railway compartments on British railways in 1864. (The Americans had already introduced corridor trains.) The particularly vicious attack on a respectable person provoked a wave of anxiety that was to remain for some time to come.
The author provides lots of interesting detail about the area in which the North London Railway line ran and the occupations and living conditions of all the characters in the affair. She goes on to describe the accumulation of evidence and the very unusual apprehension of the key suspect involving a race to New York to complete the arrest. The author then takes us stage by stage through the legal process and this, I think, has given rise to some of the review comments about repetition. Evidence is necessarily reviewed at each step of the legal process and slowly built up as the investigation proceeds but I believe the author does a very good job of keeping us abreast of the growing wealth of evidence without unduly repeating herself. The detail is key to being able to appreciate the weaknesses of the detection and legal processes of the day.
Kate Colquhoun has utilised newspaper reports and official documents to construct a fast moving, lucid and atmospheric story of this shocking event. The book deals very well with the law of the day and the horrific possibility of public execution which was still in place despite the astounding leap in technical progress and wealth in the country. A good entertaining read which is a `must' for those interested in north London local history.


In Search of Rex Whistler: His Life and His Work
In Search of Rex Whistler: His Life and His Work
by Mirabel Cecil
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £26.00

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Affectionate Appraisal of the Life and Work of this Wonderful Artist, 3 Sept. 2013
Five stars are hardly sufficient for this book which is wonderfully presented and a joy to own. Hugh and Mirabel Cecil have done an excellent job in presenting a first rate biography of Rex Whistler and a very thorough and well researched examination of his art. The book is lavishly illustrated with a particular delight awaiting the reader when they come to consider the Plas Newdd mural. Much work has been done in gaining access to the various pieces of work and providing new excellent quality photographs. The Cecils take us through Whistler's childhood, his study under the renowned Professor Tonks at the Slade and on to his first important commission, the mural in the Tate Britain restaurant (currently being restored). The enduring friendships that Whistler formed with a number of the `bright young things' of the day such as Stephen Tennant and Cecil Beaton as well as his `retreat' to Edith Olivier and the Daye House at Wilton House are dealt with in a straightforward and engaging way. Moving on the authors deal with other important mural commissions and Whistler's ever expanding endeavours into book illustration and design for the theatre. As Whistler's fame grows so his circle of friends and romantic attachments widened with the Dudley Ward sisters and the difficult Caroline Paget, one of the daughters of Lord and Lady Anglesey his most important patrons. Other attachments were to follow and these are revealed in a warm and affectionate but always straightforward and frank way by the authors, particularly the slight ambiguity as to his true sexual preference. Whistler's murals, book illustrations and stage designs are very well and copiously illustrated and salient features described but the book is blissfully free of the modern tendency to "art speak" and is always immediately accessible in its appreciation of his work.
After dealing with Whistler's magnificent mural for the Angleseys at Plas Newdd and his very successful but difficult commission for Maud Russell at Mottisfont we move on to the war years and Whistler's experience in the Welsh Guards and the Tank Battalion. Amazingly during the period of the war and his time with the Regiment Whistler maintained a prodigious output of book illustration, stage work and a number of very accomplished and mature portraits. Clearly his style and skills were evolving all the time and we wonder what he would have achieved had he not been killed in action at the early age of thirty nine in 1944. Whistler was never asked to be a War Artist, probably as a result of his witty and fanciful painting style being out of line with the move to Modernism that was the vogue in the late 1930s.
It is wonderful to have this book and to see the increasing appreciation of this much underrated but wonderful artist. A warm and affectionate appraisal of the life, loves and work of this sensitive and extremely talented artist. Highly recommended.


The Cato Street Conspiracy
The Cato Street Conspiracy
by John Stanhope
Edition: Hardcover

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Little Dated and Spun Out But Interesting, 23 Aug. 2013
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The year is 1820, great hardship is being endured by the general population as a result of the depression that followed the Napoleonic Wars. At the same time the Establishment and property owners in general feel under great threat from radicals or Jacobins, having observed the atrocities associated with the French Revolution. More recently the Spa Fields Riots of 1816 and the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 have served to raise tensions even higher. This then, is the febrile atmosphere of an Establishment trying to suppress a starving underclass, in which the Cato Street Conspiracy occurs. A dozen or so wretched conspirators are caught in the act of plotting to assassinate the Cabinet, and in particular the hated figures of Lord Sidmouth (Henry Addington - Home Secretary) and Lord Castlereagh (Robert Stewart - Leader of the Commons and Foreign Secretary). Details of the conspirators, their arrest, trial and fearful public execution are provided.

But is the conspiracy all that it seems? The author, John Stanhope, refers to original trial documents, contemporary press reports and more importantly to subsequently released government documents to show convincingly that the government had a hand in the conspiracy and its discovery. The object being to keep the propertied classes fearful of parliamentary reform or change, and the under represented, under class, cowed into inaction.

The style of the book is now a little dated, and yes, the author does spin out his material to some extent. However, serious questions are raised as to the role of government spies and informers and when they lapse into being agents provocateur. Such discussion being very prescient given the recent revelations of the role of police informants today. There is, no doubt, a very contemporary feel to aspects of this story.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 15, 2016 3:14 PM GMT


Cyril Power Linocuts
Cyril Power Linocuts
by Philip Vann
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £30.00

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Beautiful Book, a Joy to Own, 10 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: Cyril Power Linocuts (Hardcover)
This beautiful book is a joy to own and contains full page, full colour, high quality, reproductions of all 46 of Cyril Power's wonderful linocuts. The prints that Cyril Power, and his associate of some sixteen years Sybil Andrews, produced between 1925 and 1938 encapsulate some of the best designs of the vital Modernist movement of the times. They take Italian Futurism and Wyndham-Lewis' Vorticism and create their own original and very effective prints that capture movement and light in exceptional ways, and never stray too far from realism so that the images are instantly recognisable. In addition to the full colour plates the book includes many of the accomplished sketches and notes that Power made in his ubiquitous notebooks in preparation for the later finished works. Some interesting black and white family photographs are also included. Philip Vann writes an interesting review of his work and provides comments on many of the plates and some biographical details and notes on technique. A minor criticism of the essay being that it is somewhat confusing in terms of the timing of events in Power's life, a brief timeline would have been helpful, however, this can be easily found on-line.
A wonderful catalogue of work that will feel familiar as it will be in your subconscious even if you do not specifically remember seeing it. The book leaves you wanting to see more of Power's sketches and oil paintings as well as more about his temporary partner Sybil Andrews and other key artists from the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in the 1920s and 1930s. Highly recommended.


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