Painting of the Month

September 2017

Still Life, Pink Roses by Samuel Peploe

Researching for exhibitions brings me in contact with art that I perhaps wouldn’t have discovered otherwise, which is usually a good thing. The Scottish Colourists were a group of fascinating artists, of which Samuel Peploe (1871-1935) was a leading member. The four members of the group, who were active in the 1920s, were from Edinburgh, and all were enormously…

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August 2017

A Boy Bringing Bread

There is something about the quiet harmony of this painting that I find really pleasing. The geometric details and clarity of light and air turn an everyday scene into a masterful work of art. The artist has chosen the asymmetric composition with precision and control, selecting and cropping the scene to create intrigue and balance. Yet it…

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July 2017

Portrait of Miss Anna Pitt as Hebe

If you commission an artist for a likeness, you may not consider dressing-up as someone else for the sitting, but in the 1700s this was very fashionable. Men would typically took on iconic figures from history, showing physical and moral strength through someone else’s characteristics. And women often posed as virtuous allegorical themes such as love…

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June 2017

Saint Sebastian

Earlier this month the National Gallery announced that they are putting on a very exciting exhibition next year; Mantegna and Bellini. Following the success of Michelangelo & Sebastiano (read my review here: it is no surprise that they have chosen to juxtapose and focus on two masters of Italian painting again. Although I am sure…

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May 2017

A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (Anne Lovell?)

If the identity of a sitter for a portrait is lost, how can it be found? Art has always used symbols to give us clues as well as add embellishment. The lady here is posed with a squirrel, an animal featured on the Lovell family coat of arms. They were popular pets in the 16th century,…

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April 2017

Mary Magdalen in the Cave

Inspired by Waldemar Januszczak’s recent BBC programme Mary Magdalen: Art’s Scarlet Woman, I wanted to share my favourite vision of Mary Magdalen. Painted by Hughes Merle in 1868, I think this is the most emotionally charged and beautiful images of the saint. The first thing I notice is how close we are to her face. It is unusual, although…

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March 2017

The Meeting (or ‘Bonjour, Monsieur Courbet’)

I remember first seeing an image of this in E. H. Gombrich’s Story of Art, which was my bible while studying Art History at college. I found the painting intriguing and appealing without really thinking about why, and I didn’t quite see how Courbet fitted into an otherwise neat chronology that the author had compiled. He was…

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February 2017


I am so excited about the Michelangelo & Sebastiano exhibition opening at the National Gallery in March, especially as they will be borrowing this beautiful work by the lesser known of the two artists, Sebastiano del Piombo. Like Michelangelo‘s sculpture of the same name from 1498-99, this Pietà (1516-17) is minimal in composition, but powerful in its impact. Mary is monumental…

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January 2017

Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse

As I am reading Reynold’s Discourses on Art at the moment, I thought it would be appropriate to honour him with January’s PotM. The published lectures were given between 1769-1790, while he was President of the Royal Academy of Arts. In his Discourses Reynolds wrote extensively on both the intellectual and physical requirements for creating a perfect artwork; one that was compositionally…

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December 2016

Black on Maroon

Anyone who knows me, knows about my limited and exacting taste in art. With a few exceptions there is little made after 1900 that I find meets the criteria for a masterpiece. And don’t get me started on Dada. But occasionally I surprise myself, and find beauty in something against my better judgement. Some of…

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November 2016

Marquise de Pompadour at her Toilette

I thought to contrast with last month’s dark Caravaggio, for November I would pick something light and fluffy – two words synonymous with Rococo. Contrary to what I feel great art should be, I can’t help but love Rococo. Obsessed with beauty, sensuality and all things frilly, the style was a reactionary evolution of the Baroque…

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October 2016

The Raising of Lazarus

I’ve resisted choosing a Caravaggio for my POTM for some time, but after going to Sicily especially to look at their three Caravaggio paintings, I had to write about one of them. It is always hard to read a Caravaggio painting with fresh eyes, disregarding the context of his infamous life. Painted during a tumultuous time in the artist’s…

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September 2016

Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom

Walter Richard Sickert is an anomaly amongst the artists that I like. I find his darkness compelling, he draws you into a scene and leave you there. His paintings are often ambiguous and unnerving, they give you an uncomfortable feeling, as though something is not quite right but you can’t tell what. Jack the Ripper’s Bedroom (1907) is an…

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August 2016

The Disembarkation at Marseilles (from the Marie de’ Medici cycle) by Peter Paul Rubens

Having recently discovered the amazing Khan Academy courses online, I decided that my brain would benefit from some fresh art history exercise. Starting with the units on Gothic art I have worked my way up to the Neo Classical so far. Each subject is explored alongside the political and social contexts of where the style…

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July 2016

Saint Michael Triumphs over the Devil

I came across this painting recently while spending an afternoon in the National Gallery with an audio guide (something I had never done before for some reason). Looking around the beautiful 13th – 15th century rooms in the Sainsbury Wing, I was immediately struck by how fantastic this painting is. My recent POTM sojourn into…

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June 2016

Flaming June

This seemed the obvious and only option for this POTM, as the exciting news that Leighton‘s Flaming June (1895), one of the artist’s most iconic works, is returning to London in November this year. From 4th November 2016 to 2nd April 2017, Leighton House will be showcasing the painting alongside the other works submitted to the Royal Academy that…

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May 2016

Sunlit Pines

A landscape can be a very emotive thing. It can stir every sense and create feelings that can be kept as snapshots of a time and place in our minds. They can be pure and cleansing, or invigorating and awesome. They can be nostalgic, whether or not we have ever visited the place. In them…

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April 2016

The Burial of St. Petronilla

This is a painting that I have been meaning to use as POTM since I saw it in Rome in 2014. Despite not having a good memory, I vividly remember walking into the gallery at the Musei Capitolini, and being overwhelmed by it. Firstly by the size of it (is is about 7 x 4 metres),…

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March 2016

Comtesse d’Haussonville

In lamentation that I have missed what looks to be an amazing Ingres exhibition at the Prado, I wanted to pick one of my favourite of his paintings for this POTM. The French painter started this portrait when he was in his sixties, and spent three years on it. The Comtesse is 24 years old, the embodiment…

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February 2016

Thor Battering the Midgard Serpent

A muscular male figure rises before us, emerging from a confusion of darkness and stormy waves. He is an idealisation beyond nature, statuesque with a god-like physique. Readying his left arm to strike the serpent, his right reins the beast in by the chain around its neck. With his head bent down to face his…

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December 2015

Vita by the Sea

This month’s Painting of the Month has been chosen and written by Matt Illman.   Every painting has a story, but so too does our appreciation of that painting. Perhaps in my youth I would go out in search of the history, take a biographical route into some deeper understanding of the work, but these…

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November 2015

Death of the Virgin

I’ve resisted choosing a Caravaggio for POTM for long enough, and after seeing this one recently at the Louvre I have had to give in! Standing in front of a painting that I have poured over in books and written about in essays was like seeing an old friend, and yet I noticed so many things that…

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October 2015

Self-Portrait at Twenty-Eight Years Old Wearing a Coat with Fur Collar

As far as self-portraits go this has got to be one of the greatest in the whole history of art. It has a special significance to me because I lived with a print of it on my bedroom wall for many years as a student. Dürer was one of the first artists that I really fell in love…

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September 2015

The Annunciation

I was recently daydreaming about my holiday in Florence, remembering the all beautiful art I saw there. Then flicking though my beloved copy of Gombrich’s The Story of Art this familiar image caught my eye. Although there are countless of Annunciation scenes in the history of painting, this one stands out to me. Baroque visions of dramatically…

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August 2015

Fumée d’Ambre Gris

In the winter of 1879 John Singer Sargent travelled to North Africa in the pursuit of the exotic. Orientalism and the lure of other cultures (particularly those which were non-Christian) sparked curiosity in a number of painters in the late 19th century. Although Sargent’s travels had influenced his works he is not usually associated with this genre….

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