The mystery of the woman who invented the Nativity

    We don’t hear enough of Birgitta Birgersdotter and her immense contribution to Christmas. Basically, she invented it. These days, alas, her fabulous involvement goes under the radar. It never used to. Birgitta was from Uppland in Sweden. She was born in about 1303 and when she was 13 she was married off to Ulf Gudmarsson, […]

    Sex, art and washing machines

      These are exciting times in art. Every day seems to bring new evidence of fertility and achievement in two key areas — black art and women’s art. Some have been sniffy about it and are calling it a fashion, but they’re wrong. It’s a revelation. The canon is being rewritten and accompanying the rewrite is […]

      National Gallery: how art restorers brought real meaning back to this masterpiece

        Room 17a is not one of the rooms I usually rush to when I visit the National Gallery. In the past it has been a “footnote” room, appended to the Dutch collection and filled with pretty floral still-lifes or gadgety Dutch box illusions. Pleasing, rather than crucial. Not any more. Today, it has in it […]

        Why does art ignore football?

          Some things in life are just not meant to go together. Oil and water spring immediately to mind. As do oysters and peaches, Kim and Kanye, denim and denim. It’s true, as well, of football and art. Forces bigger than us have ordained that football is one thing, art is another thing, and the two […]

          Manet at the National Gallery: what the x-ray reveals

            The National Gallery used to have a handy format called Painting in Focus. Taking a single picture from the collection, the gallery would examine it from many sides, deepening and enlarging our understanding of it. It did it with The Ambassadors by Holbein, Madame Moitessier by Ingres and Bathers at Asnières by Seurat. So the […]

            What does the 2022 Turner prize have in common with my daughter’s pet canary?

              I had a canary once. Or, rather, our daughter had a canary that we, as doting parents, ended up looking after. When it arrived in our household it was a bundle of beautiful orange energy, flitting here, flitting there, recurrently bursting into an ecstatic trill. Then the decline set in. First it stopped singing. Then it […]

              Painting is having a special moment: look at Amy Sherald

                Last week was the week of the Frieze art fair — “the most important week in the contemporary art calendar”. So I did what any true art lover would do and gave this monstrous souk a wide berth, thereby avoiding the invasive tents, the snooty doormen, the “important collectors” imported from Florida, the £20 glasses […]

                Waldemar Januszczak decodes the British Museum’s hieroglyphics show

                  Only rarely have I exited an exhibition having learnt as much as I learnt from Hieroglyphs at the British Museum. It’s the perfect show — deep, fascinating, full of beautiful things, full of beautiful ideas. While so many exhibitions get bogged down in narcissistic identity issues and evening-class politics, this one is driven by that […]

                  Witness Cézanne’s genius at Tate Modern. He changed art for ever

                    It falls to few artists to change the course of art. You can count the ones who have done so on one hand. Art was one thing before Michelangelo came along, before Caravaggio, before Duchamp. After them it was another thing. So it was too with Cézanne. Tate Modern’s flawed but engrossing survey of his […]

                    William Kentridge exposes the hidden horrors of South Africa

                      It falls to few artists to be involved as fiercely with their times as William Kentridge was and is involved with his. Born in Johannesburg in 1955, he grew up in apartheid South Africa, where he witnessed not only the repression of the black community but also its resistance and triumph. And all the time, […]