Recent links of note:
“Churchill, Writ Large and Small”
James Schneider, The Weekly Standard
Churchill was so occupied with sketching the future of Britain that his skill as a painter often fades into the background in biographies of his life. But Churchill: Statesman as Artist reveals Churchill the artist through critics’ reviews and his own writing. Churchill considered painting “complete as a distraction,” finished around five hundred canvases, and, according to some art historians, wasn’t half bad. The story of one piece, in particular, reveals Churchill the artist and the man: he painted The Tower of Katoubia Mosque after a post–Casablanca conference meeting with Franklin Delano Roosevelt in January 1943. It was the only canvas he finished during World War II. Andrew Roberts’s massive new biography spends little time on Churchill the artist, but it does put the finishing touches on the Tower: Roberts mentions that it currently belongs to, of all people, Angelina Jolie. For more on the Roberts biography, look for Conrad Black’s review in our upcoming December issue and Dominic Green’s review of Churchill: Statesman as Artist in our February issue.
“Top lots go unsold at New York’s Impressionist and modern sales”
Nancy Kenney & Margaret Carrigan, The Art Newspaper
It was a record-setting night for Magritte and a rough one for pretty much everyone else at Christie’s and Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern evening sales this week. Le principe du plaisir (1937) went for $23.5 million, a higher price than expected and the most ever paid for a Magritte. But Van Gogh was in a slump, and a Monet required the endorsement that it would “fit well within a very contemporary collection” to reach its asking price. According to the art adviser Tracy Kinnally, this wasn’t an unexpected outcome: the fact that seven of ten of Sotheby’s highest-priced pieces went unsold is a sign that buyers are showing “a greater level of discernment” in their larger acquisitions after a period of steeply rising prices driven by demand in Asia. Art experts wonder whether lackluster Impressionist and modern auctions can be attributed to taste, as well. Next week’s contemporary sales will tell whether today’s buyers prefer post- over modern. If David Hockney’s Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures), which sold last night for $90.3 million—the most ever paid for a work by a living artist—is any indication, contemporary sales may pick up some of the slack.
“Pretentious, impenetrable, hard work . . . better? Why we need difficult books”
Sam Leith, The Guardian
Congratulations to Anna Burns, winner of this year’s Man Booker Prize for her novel Milkman. Now for the perennial question from the literati: were the judges right to choose a “difficult” book for Britain’s leading literary award? Milkman is rather experimental: its characters have no names, for one thing. When “difficult” shades over into “pretentious,” the life of an ambitious novel is over—and awarding a book that no one wants to read is no way to get potential readers off Twitter and into literature. Sam Leith uses Milkman—a novel that is challenging, but not indulgently so—to explore the way we think about difficult books. Successful fiction “answers whatever challenge it sets itself,” according to Leith, and evokes a “complexity and depth of attention” that easy books and bad ones don’t. To discover whether or not this year’s winner lives up to the challenge, you’ll have to read Milkman for yourself. As for “difficult” literature as a whole, take that up with Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner, Sterne, and other canonized writers beloved precisely for the challenge they present.
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A soundtrack for Schoenberg