Gallery

The Roman station church pilgrimage of Lent, an ancient Christian tradition, was revived in the late 20th century by Anglophone believers living in Rome and led by the seminarians and student-priests of the Pontifical North American College. The pilgrimage winds its way through the city from Ash Wednesday through the Octave of Easter: a specific church is assigned as the “station” of each day, in a sequence first formalised by Pope St Gregory the Great in the late sixth century. 

Roy Davids, head of the Manuscripts and Books department at Sotheby’s for many years, built up what must be the most significant privately-owned collection of poets’ manuscripts and memorabilia. This collection is now going under the hammer at Bonhams in London, with roughly half the lots having been sold in April and the rest coming up this month.

These images are selected from a portfolio of grandmaster chess portraits that I have created over the past six years. Most of the grandmasters are friends and colleagues — as well as being an official artist on the chess circuit I organise and present tournaments such as the Staunton Society events, held at that famous 19th-century home of the game, Simpson’s-in-the-Strand. That was where I took the portrait of the English Grandmaster Nigel Short and his father (above right). It seemed for one split second that father and son were symbiotically connected — it is full of paternal pride and joy.

“Every time I paint a portrait I lose a friend,” said John Singer Sargent. There were nearly 2,200 entries for this year’s BP Portrait Award which equates to a lot of friendships broken. The annual exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery has become a fixture since its inception 33 years ago and throughout the vagaries of taste of the intervening decades it has remained steadfast in championing traditional painted portraiture. A £25,000 first prize and its accompanying £4,000 commission help sharpen eye and hand.

Jenny Saville’s fascination with human flesh started as an art student when she was awarded a scholarship to attend Cincinnati University. Once there she became an habitué of the shopping malls of Ohio because that was “where you saw lots of big women. Big white flesh in shorts and T-shirts”. Big white — or pink — flesh has been her obsession ever since, to the point where she would even attend cosmetic surgery and liposuction procedures and photograph the operations. Artists from Rubens to Lucian Freud have shared her fascination but not her almost monomaniacal interest.

I spent all of last year drawing London-looking, exploring, finding new bits and revisiting, considering, reassessing and re-evaluating familiar places I thought I knew well. Wandering and drawing made me notice and think afresh about the city I’ve lived in for 60 years. Its vivid contrasts of past imperial splendours, and present decline and uncertainty; the disconnect between beautiful Whitehall with its seductive reminders of imperial and colonial power-nostalgia for which still seems to mesmerise our policymakers-and the city’s unseemly extremes of spectacular wealth and unemployment and poverty. Yet amid all these I enjoyed London’s visual and often stimulating muddle, its vivid ethnic mixes, the tolerance and courtesy of most people. 

According to the great 19th-century draughtsman Jean-Auguste Ingres, “Drawing is the probity of art.” This aphorism has been put to the test recently by the noise surrounding the graphic work of Lucian Freud and Tracey Emin. For Emin, the recently appointed Royal Academy Professor of Drawing and poster designer for the 2012 Olympics, probity — such as it is — resides in a drawing’s expressive qualities and not in its craft. For Freud without craft there was no expression.

The Photo League was a New York cooperative organisation founded in 1936 as an offshoot of the Workers’ Film and Photo League. It was disbanded in 1951 after being included on the Attorney General’s list of subversive organisations. Early on, there were several important members who did belong to the Communist Party, and the Photo League had close ties with several “front” organisations and publications. For instance, the Daily Worker and the New Masses were not charged for the members’ photographs they used, but other publications were. The league had a school that taught photography at several levels, there were exhibitions of members’ and guests’ work, an occasional publication, darkrooms, lectures by distinguished photographers, and — maybe most important — a place for like-minded people to hang out. There were never more than 100 members before the Second World War.

After leaving art school, Matthew specialised in drawing nudes, executing compelling life-size studies of young contemporaries. When he subsequently confined himself to carrying out portrait commissions, the careerist approach proved stultifying. The ensuing fallow period ended when he abandoned painting and devoted himself to refining his technique as a draughtsman. The sitters for his portrait drawings were now of his own choosing, and included Jamaican Rastafarians, mummified corpses from Sicilian catacombs, and the occupants of a Shanghai tenement. Initially, however, he resisted returning to large-scale nude studies, perhaps seeing it as a regressive step. 

I consider myself a New Yorker now, but I was born and raised in London. Before settling for art I considered standing for parliament, which would have placed me squarely in the family tradition: my father was Duncan Sandys, a Cabinet minister, and my grandfather was Winston Churchill. Incidentally, they were both talented artists.