30 June 2014

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 'Hard Choices'

After the author’s enigmatic “Will I, won’t I be running in 2015?” smile on its cover, the next thing to strike me about Hard Choices was that a 654 page hardback , printed in the UK with 48 colour plates, had been delivered to my house for £9, presumably with a margin of profit for all concerned. Disconcertingly, on 20 June the FT’s reviewer of Hard Choices, Edward Luce, had concluded:
me about
Hard Choices is something of a paradox. On the one hand it shores up the view that Clinton would make a good president – she is a tough, hard-working and very experienced figure. On the other, it is a dull affair. From the point of view of the reader it is an easy decision. Reviewers read Hard Choices so that you don’t have to.
So why would anyone persist? It might be firstly to discover any insights Hillary Clinton, having been responsible for US foreign policy for four years as Secretary of State, might offer the rest of us about the prospects for a complex and riven world and, secondly, would the book’s contents reveal anything about her fitness to be 45th POTUS? It soon becomes apparent that Clinton is not aiming to rival Henry Kissinger when it comes to providing a strategic view of geopolitics and that there is some guff to be waded through on the way. Perhaps a bit of folksiness is to be expected of a presidential candidate, but it makes for hard going even on page one:
Why on earth was I lying on the backseat of a blue minivan with tinted windows? Good question.
Not really, because obviously:
I was trying to leave my home in Washington, D.C., without being seen by the reporters staked out front. It was the evening of June 5, 2008, and I was heading to a secret meeting with Barack Obama.
then on page 2:
By the time of our meeting I had known Barack for four years, two of which we spent debating each other.
but on page 3:
We stared at each other like two teenagers on an awkward first date, taking a few sips of Chardonnay.
Oh come on! But leaving that sort of thing on one side (and there is more, for example Chelsea’s wedding), the problem a reader of Hard Choices often meets is revealed in this early paragraph, the only one about New Zealand:
[Australia’s] neighbor New Zealand presented more of a challenge. For twentyfive years, since New Zealand prohibited all nuclear vessels from visiting their home ports, the United States and New Zealand had had a limited relationship. However, I thought our long friendship and mutual interests created a diplomatic opening for bridging the divide and shaping a new relationship between Wellington and Washington. On my visit in 20L0, I signed the Wellington Declaration with Prime Minister John Key, which committed our nations to work more closely together in Asia, the Pacific, and multilateral organizations. In 2012, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta would rescind the twenty-six-year ban on New Zealand's ships docking at American bases. In global politics, sometimes reaching out to an old friend can be as rewarding as making a new one. (page 44)
Taken individually, none of these six sentences can be faulted – not surprisingly given the high-quality help (an awful lot of it) listed in the Acknowledgements. However, while the element of self-aggrandisement in the second sentence is forgivable in a memoir, up to a point, there is no mention of her predecessor as SecState, Condoleeza Rice, having visited New Zealand in 2008, nor of the Free Trade Agreement the two countries had been pursuing for some time.

At which point it should be dawning on even the most naive of souls that Hard Choices is a sort of grown-up’s LinkedIn entry - all about making the most of what you have done with an eye to what job you want to do next. This model makes some sense of the book’s content but has three inherent weaknesses. Firstly, as in other countries, US foreign policy is based on enduring national self-interest:
America will always do what it takes to keep our people safe and advance our core interests. (page 361)
So much of the time, successive Secretaries of State will have to pursue similar and unoriginal objectives. Secondly, Clinton visited many countries as FLOTUS (some as First Lady of Arkansas, between 1979 and 1992) so her account frequently leaps back to long before 2009, leading to daft remarks like:
Since my 1995 visit, Mongolian democracy had endured. (page 63).
Thirdly, in certain areas of the world, there have been significant developments since 2013 and she has felt it necessary to add appropriate material. This is the case with the chapter on Russia (see below) which has been supplemented to cover the Crimea/Ukraine developments this year. On the other hand, the latest complexities of Iraq, the self-proclaimed Caliphate and Iran have arisen since printing.

Hard Choices consists of 25 chapters and an Epilogue, grouped into six Parts. Part One, A Fresh Start, is the shortest and covers Clinton’s getting the job and her introduction to the State Department. Part Two of the book, Across the Pacific, addresses Asia and the Pacific following the adoption by the US of the strategic pivot. Clinton shows little hesitation at claiming credit for this concept:
Over four years, I delivered a series of speeches explaining our strategy and making the case for why the Asia-Pacific deserved greater attention from the U.S. government. In the summer of 2011, I began working on a long essay that would situate our work in the region in the broader sweep of American foreign policy. The war in Iraq was winding down, and a transition was under way in Afghanistan. After a decade of focusing on the areas of greatest threat, we had come to a "pivot point." Of course, we had to stay focused on the threats that remained, but it was also time to do more in the areas of greatest opportunity. 
Foreign Policy magazine published my essay in the fall under the title "America's Pacific Century" but it was the word pivot that gained prominence. Journalists latched on to it as an evocative description of the administration's renewed emphasis on Asia, although many in our own government preferred the more anodyne rebalance to Asia. Some friends and allies in other parts of the world were understandably concerned that the phrase implied turning our back on them, but we worked to make clear that America had the reach and resolve to pivot to Asia without pivoting away from other obligations and opportunities. (pages 45/46)
So it's presumably no accident that the map of the world at the start of Hard Choices has the Pacific at its centre and the Atlantic bisected to left and right. But at the time of reading, with the crisis in Georgia unresolved and Iraq’s existence in doubt, the concept looks a little simplistic. However, these current problems do not lessen the ever-increasing importance of China, and I hoped Clinton’s two chapters within Part Two relating to China to be of value. Unfortunately there is little of real interest. One chapter turns out to be a lengthy, but promptly forgettable, description of the way a Chinese dissident, Chen Guangchen, could have derailed important talks and how this was avoided. I was hoping for some insight into the relationship between the Chinese military, with its rapidly expanding capabilities, and the rest of the Party – is the Chinese hierarchy a monolith, or are there internal tensions? All that is on offer is a reference to:
… more hardline elements in the security apparatus. (page 89)
As to another fascinating uncertainty about China – will it be able to break through the $10,000 GDP/head barrier which seems to be an insuperable developmental barrier for some other countries – doubtless Clinton is aware of the issue but she doesn’t address it.

Another chapter in this Part, Burma: The Lady and the Generals, reports Clinton’s visits to Burma (she does not use Myanmar) in 2011 and 2012, with much feel-good stuff about Aung San Suu Kyi. Clinton describes Suu Kyi’s visit to the US in 2012 to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, but somehow forgets to mention that it was awarded during George W Bush’s administration in 2008.

Part Three is devoted to Af-Pak and portentously titled War and Peace as if those possibilities don’t arise elsewhere. There’s plenty about Zero Dark Thirty as it was seen from the White House Situation Room end of the telescope, but nothing about two particular elephants (Elephas maximus indicus, of course) in the Af-Pak room: India’s interest, selfish but no less real for that, in any Afghanistan outcome (for Kissinger’s views, see here) and Pakistan’s custodianship of nuclear weapons.

Part Five being given over to the Middle East, Part Four, Between Hope and History, might just as well have been called Best of the Rest, ie Europe, Russia, Latin America and Africa who get a chapter each, Europe’s subtitle being Ties that Bind. British readers should find pages 207-208 interesting. On David Miliband the adjectives pile up:
David proved to be an invaluable partner. He was young, energetic, smart, creative and attractive with a ready smile. We found our views on how the world was changing remarkably similar.
And quite keen on William Hague, too:
We both started off a bit cautiously with each other, but, much to my delight, I found him a thoughtful statesman with good sense and good humour.
On David Cameron:
President Obama and Cameron took to each other right off, starting with a private meeting before Cameron’s electoral victory [sic]. They had an easy rapport and enjoyed each other’s company. Cameron and I met together a number of times over the years, both with and without President Obama. He was intellectually curious and eager to exchange ideas about world events, …
which does little to dispel Cameron’s reputation as not being able to cope with intelligent women of ability (Hague and Miliband not so, indeed having married them). The French get only a few lines less than the British, Clinton observing of Sarkozy that:
Most leaders are quieter in person than they appear to be on the stage. Not Sarkozy. He was more dramatic – and fun – in person. Sitting in a meeting with him was always an adventure. [etc] (page 209)
Alain Juppé, mayor of Bordeaux in SW France and Sarkozy’s foreign minister, is described as a consummate professional. Sarkozy reappears during the Libyan crisis, when Clinton, the Illinois Methodist, encounters “the French public intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy:
Finally, around 10 p.m., Jibril [Libyan rebel leadership] arrived at the Westin in Paris accompanied by Bernard-Henri Lévy, who had helped arrange the meeting. They made quite a pair, the rebel and the philosopher. Hard to tell who was who. Jibril appeared more like a technocrat than a firebrand. He was small and bespectacled, with thinning hair and a stern demeanor. Lévy, by contrast, cut a dramatic and stylish figure, with long wavy hair and his shirt open practically down to his navel. He has been quoted as saying, "God is dead but my hair is perfect." (To that I'd say, I think God is alive, but I'd love to have perfect hair!) (page 368)
Pivoting or not, Clinton, reassuringly for us Europeans, gives pages 211 to 213 over to NATO (remembering Canada is also a member). This leads her on to the EU and then Turkey, a NATO member since 1952, which the US envisages as a European state:
None of our relationships in Europe needed more tending than Turkey, a country of more than 70 million people, overwhelmingly Muslim, with one foot in Europe and one in Southwest Asia. (page 214)
Though this section ends:
Erdoğan’s support in more conservative areas of Turkey remains strong. Turkey’s future direction is uncertain. But what is certain is that Turkey will continue to play a significant role in both the Middle East and Europe. And our relationship will remain of vital importance to the United States. (page 218)
Later, in the context of Libya, Clinton does not omit:
There were already tensions between Sarkozy and Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan because of France’s objections to Turkey joining the EU. (page 373)
I found the chapter on Russia, Reset and Regression, one of the most interesting, ignoring the reset button malarkey. It gives some of the background, “a modern-day version of the “Great Game”, to the Northern Distribution Network used to support the US military in Afghanistan (pages 237-8).

Part Five, Upheaval, is the longest Part and, to my mind, mostly better written than the others. It is worth noting that the first and last of its seven chapters are about Israel and Palestine and could have been combined for an audience focussed on foreign policy. But Clinton, as one might expect of a possible US presidential candidate, has no intention of joining the ranks of Israel’s critics. Related considerations probably led to one of the longest chapters in the book, Benghazi: under Attack, which deals with the death of the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, on September 11, 2012. This is a forensically-written account of events, presumably intended to block off attempts to make Clinton’s responsibilities at the time an issue in a future presidential election campaign. Otherwise, so great are the upheavals in the Middle East that much of what Clinton tells readers about relations between the US and Iran or Syria is being overtaken by events. 

The final Part, The Future We Want, rounds up what might be called supra-national, or supra-regional, issues that don’t fit in elsewhere, like human rights and the internet. It seems odd to have put Climate Change and Energy in separate chapters, Energy being addressed alongside Jobs – American ones, primarily. It’s in this chapter, rather than Part Two, that the tensions between the US and China over “state capitalism” are exposed. One of the shortest chapters gets the longest title: 21st-Century Statecraft: Digital Diplomacy in a Networked World.  The unsurprising conclusion is that Twitter, Facebook etc are fine and help support “smart power”, a concept which Clinton had “embraced” back on page 23 and “had been kicking around Washington for a few years”, but Wikileaks and Snowden are not.

Then, in the Epilogue on page 595, we come to the crunch: “Will I run for President in 2016? The answer is, I haven’t decided yet”. Not even having a vote in a US presidential election, my views are less than worthless, but I feel after 600 pages entitled to express a view! Firstly, just how effective was Secretary Clinton in terms of gaining domestic political support? Days after her book’s publication, this chart appeared on the FiveThirtyEight website. I’ve added the details of the administrations and Clinton’s term:

However, there is a general pattern here of trust being acquired when in opposition and lost when facing global realities in office.

Secondly, having been born in the same year as Clinton, I feel I can comment on her age. The chart below shows the ages of the US presidents in office since 1913 (notes below):

If Clinton were sworn in as POTUS in January 2017, she would be only a few months younger than Ronald Reagan was when he entered office in 1981. Four presidents in the last 100 years, all male, have lived into their nineties (all being well, Jimmy Carter will be 90 on 1 October this year). So, if her health is good, why not? But some stories in the press, like this one, will need to be countered, and, if I were a US voter, I would be looking for assurance from any candidate, given the demands of the Presidency, that their health was well above the average for their age, sex and class, and rather more than:
Over many years of travel I’ve developed the ability to sleep almost anywhere at any time – on planes, in cars, a quick power nap in a hotel room before a meeting. … (page 47)
The same press source quotes Bill Clinton as saying:
[Obama]’s convinced himself he’s been a brilliant president, and wants to clone himself — to find his Mini-Me. He’s hunting for someone to succeed him, and he believes the American people don’t want to vote for someone who’s been around for a long time. He thinks that [Hilary] and I are what he calls ‘so 20th century.’ He’s looking for ¬another Barack Obama.
And it’s certainly the case that US presidents often appear as if by magic from some nowhere far beyond the Beltway – as did Bill himself. In the case of the Clintons, will it be this desire for “clean skins” or a feeling that one bite of the cherry is enough, given their current wealth, that will be Hillary’s undoing? Hillary Clinton told ABC News on 9 June:
We came out of the White House not only dead broke, but in debt. We had no money when we got there, and we struggled to, you know, piece together the resources for mortgages, for houses, for Chelsea's education. You know, it was not easy. Bill has worked really hard — and it's been amazing to me — he's worked very hard. First of all, we had to pay off all our debts, which was, you know, he had to make double the money because of obviously taxes and then pay off the debts and get us houses and take care of family members.
Well we’d all like to do that, of course, but most of us can’t – except people like “our old friend Tony Blair” (page 30)!

Summing up, I found Hard Choices had its good elements but the omissions that a potential presidential candidate has to make detract from the book’s interest. To have added more on China and Af-Pak would almost inevitably have risked offering future hostages to fortune in the Oval Office, but a discussion of Turkey without any reference to the Kurds seems hollow, particularly by June 2014.

It is, however, salutary for someone who lives in a country which merits four paragraphs in one chapter in one Part of this book to be reminded just how totally global a power the USA continues to be, as the UK once was. The responsibilities of POTUS, even without the domestic burden, are almost supra-human and one has to admire the unusual people prepared to take them on. Nothing in Hilary Rodham Clinton’s book made me think she was unfit for the job, if she wants it, and she’s probably more able than many men have been.

Notes on the Ages chart above 

1. The black circles indicate the deaths of former Presidents over the age of 90 (Hoover, Ford, Reagan) and of deaths in office (Harding, Roosevelt, Kennedy).
2. Harding’s successor, Coolidge died in 1933 at the age of 60, four years after leaving office. When they told Dorothy Parker, she is supposed to have asked “How could they tell?”
3. All dates of birth, death and office have been taken from Wikipedia. For dates of birth before 1900 in Excel I used a “quick and dirty” method as before here. As always, please advise any errors.

27 June 2014

But a whimper

Not many people appear twice in the same issue of Private Eye but Dominic Cummings, a former special adviser (spad) for Michael Gove has managed it this week (No 1369 27 June – 10 July), under The New Coalition Academy (page 23) and Me and My Spoon (page 26):

This feat stems from an interview he gave Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester which made the front page of The Times on 16 June. He is quoted as saying:
As Bismarck said about Napoleon III, Cameron is a sphinx without a riddle – he bumbles from one shambles to another without the slightest sense of purpose. … Everyone is trying to find the secret of David Cameron, but he is what he appears to be. He had a picture of Macmillan on his wall – that’s all you need to know.
Subsequently he posted on his Wordpress blog A few responses to comments, misconceptions etc about my Times interview, referring in passing to an earlier post The Hollow Men (Part 1). This starts with a selection from TS Eliot’s poem:

Close up:

On Wordpress blogs the readers’ comments are called “thoughts”, and I offered one, a very short one: “Eliot”. This wasn’t allowed through. On this blog, when I’m offered an acceptable correction I not only let it stand but respond with “Thanks, corrected” or some such. Cummings’ blog is a much grander affair than mine, and he might well have regarded Western Independent’s input as a trivial attempt at attention-seeking off his back. So, if he’d not published but had corrected his misspelling of Eliot’s name, I really wouldn’t have minded.

But at the time of this post, it’s still “Elliot”. Readers can draw their own conclusions, particularly when he and Mr G have such a reputation as advocates for academic rigour.

16 June 2014

on form 14 at Asthall Manor

The seventh biennial on form outdoor sculpture exhibition is being held at Asthall Manor in Oxfordshire (I posted here about their 2012 show). Like its predecessors it is a display of sculpture in stone. 204 works of high quality from 30 sculptors are on show, mostly in the grounds but some in the ballroom and others in St Nicholas church near the house.

The on form 14 website is so comprehensive that there is little need for much description here, but the following (in no particular order) interested me. Matthew Spener’s Campionessa (various marble pieces, left) and Jude Tucker’s Blue Helicore (Ancaster weatherbed, right):

John Joekes’ Stela (Slate, gold leaf and paint) (caesura, pause, Latin):

William Peers’ Darzle was in Horton stone (much used by Henry Moore) but looked like metal:

Matthew Simmonds’ troglodytic Rotunda II (Travatine, left) was an unusual idea, as was Alasdair Thomson’s Naomi (Carrara marble, one of four like pieces, right) – (though I worry about the loading on that coathook):

I would like to have taken home David Klein’s War Horse II (Bath stone, left) and Paul Vanstone’s Rainforest Giants (Indian rainforest marble, right):

The ‘male gaze’ was well catered for, mostly by the female hand (this is a selling exhibition), left to right, Aly Brown’s Hathor (Vietnam marble), David Klein’s Line II (Bath stone), Aly Brown’s Parvati (Portland stone), and Selene (Purbeck marble):

while Mel Fraser took a more robust view of the female form in Destiny (Persian travertine, right) and Venus (Zimbabwean springstone, left):

on form 14 continues to 6 July and isnwell worth visiting - the garden is looking particularly fine this year. Asthall Manor may offer additional interest for some in having been the home of the Mitford sisters from 1919-26. Katherine Frelon (Shop.Cook.Eat) is in charge of the pop-up café, The Potting Shed – highly recommended.

And in the skies over Oxfordshire:

Ceci n'est pas une sculpture

(A USAF B2 deployed to RAF Fairford)

15 June 2014

Two London Exhibitions - Better late than never

This post is mostly for the record, both these shows having closed on 15 June, but I was glad to have been able to finally get to see them just a few days earlier.


At the National Gallery, Veronese Magnificence in Renaissance Venice fully lived up to its title. Paolo Bazaro (also Caliari), who came from Verona and so was known as Veronese, lived from 1528 to 1588. The time line on the way into the exhibition helpfully explained that these years spanned the establishment of the Church of England, the birth of Shakespeare and the Spanish Armada. Then a chronological sequence of fifty works followed his artistic progress from his home town to Vicenza, Mantua and, from1555, Venice. Some of these were being reunited at the National Gallery, which has ten Veroneses of its own, for the first time in many years.

Many of the pictures were of religious scenes and intended to decorate churches (12 altarpieces), some were based on classical mythology and a few were portraits. In these, Veronese carefully documented the opulent costumes of his wealthy aristocratic subjects, but still managed to convey something of the sitter's personality, as for example in Portrait of a Lady, known as the 'Bellamy Nani' (about 1560-5, below).

I suppose that fewer of us than would have been the case in the past have the biblical awareness to appreciate immediately the content of, say, Christ and the Centurion (about 1750, below)

or to know that a jar is associated with Mary Magdalene. Fortunately, the curators compensated for this in their guide. Some of the exhibits were larger than any I had seen before in a temporary exhibition. For example, The Martyrdom of Saint George (about 1565, below), removed from the church of San Giorgio in Braida, Verona for only the second time in its existence, is approximately 4m by 3m.

The curators and lenders must have faced considerable problems in ensuring its secure and safe transit. Knowing all too little classical mythology, I was also grateful for being provided with brief accounts of works like Perseus and Andromeda (1575-80, below).

However ill-equipped some of us might be to appreciate the biblical and classical references, the details in the paintings revealed an unfamiliar and fascinating 16th century world full of consiglieri, servants, horses, dogs and monkeys. Sea-borne trade was the economic basis of Venice’s wealth and I liked the two Allegories of Navigation, about 1555-60, one with a Cross-Staff (left) and the other with an Astrolabe (right).

No doubt like many others, I left the exhibition thinking it was time to visit Northern Italy, particularly Venice, again. A complementary exhibition, Paolo Veronese L'illusione della realtà, will be at the Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona, from 5 July – 5 October 2014).

Great War Portraits

The Great War in Portraits at the National Portrait Gallery was a small and rather crowded show scheduled to end before the centenary of the start of World War 1 had been reached, or even that of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Perhaps the current Director of the NPG wanted to do something on the subject before he leaves, or it was a Whitehall priority. I can't believe it will be the Gallery's last word on the War before 2018.  Nonetheless, this exhibition quite rightly induced sombre reflection. What a contrast there was between Orpen's slick portraits of the top brass, no doubt unfailingly pleasing to their subjects (particularly himself), and the wall of photographs showing the haunted faces of the ‘Poor Bloody Infantry’. Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig (1861–1928), KT, GCB, GCVO, KCIE, Commander-in-Chief, France, from 15 December 1915 (1917, below left) and Self-portrait (1917, below, right).

I saw for the first time some of Henry Tonks' famous pastel drawings of injured faces (they feature in Pat Barker’s Toby’s Room). The text didn’t point out that Tonks was originally trained as a surgeon. There was also an opportunity to see a work by the Die Brücke expressionist Ernst Ludwig Kirchner: Selbstbildnis als Soldat (Self-Portrait as a Soldier, 1915, below left) and Jacob Epstein’s Torso in Metal from The Rock Drill 1913 – 14 (below, right).

 A bigger show with more German art would almost certainly have been of more value. Also, while screening German as well as British contemporary newsreel footage was highly desirable, it made the exhibition seem even more crowded. It might have been better left to the BBC, who will probably show most of what is worth seeing in the next four years.

12 June 2014

Lord Clark at Tate Britain

Kenneth Clark (1903-1983) was not only born in the same year as Evelyn Waugh, (mentioned in recent posts here), but also became well-known at a young age in the 1930s. Clark, unlike Waugh, was born into considerable wealth and, after studying the history of art at Oxford and coming under the influence of Roger Fry, was able to spend time in Italy with the American art historian Bernard Berenson, specialising in the Renaissance. On return to England he became Curator of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and then Director of the National Gallery from 1930 to 1946. His public service also included being Surveyor of the King’s Pictures, and chairmanships of the War Artists' Advisory Committee, the Arts Council of Great Britain and the Independent Television Authority. In 1969 Clark wrote and presented a celebrated TV series on the history of Western civilisation for BBC television, later shown in the US. When he subsequently received a life peerage, Private Eye dubbed him Lord Clark of Civilisation. The Tate Britain exhibition, Kenneth Clark - Looking for Civilisation, is a survey of his life’s work and brings together art that he had dealt with professionally, had benefitted from his patronage or that he had collected personally.

Not surprisingly, there is much to look at in this show. The 270 objects on display include some which are unfamiliar and may not be seen in public again for a while (one can hazard a guess as to which ‘Private Collection’ they come from). The first room is the most personal with Graham Sutherland’s portrait, Kenneth Clark (1963-64, left), and focusses on his early years. This is followed by works he collected for himself (Seurat’s The Forest at Pontaubert, (1881 below left) or, as Director of the National Gallery, for the nation, for example Constable’s Sketch for Hadleigh Castle (1828-9, below right), later transferred to the Tate. Some of the attributions he made when purchasing for the National Gallery do not seem to have stood the test of time particularly well. However, it was under his Directorship that the Gallery’s Scientific Department was formed, and the techniques which are now available to support judgements on authenticity began to be developed. In the 1930s Clark purchased for himself late works by Cézanne, as would Henry Pearlman a decade later and probably at a much higher price. A Cézanne pencil drawing, Still life, Pain sans mie, 1887-90, is particularly interesting in that its inclusion of commercial typography (“bread without crumbs”!) anticipates Picasso and Braque (but see the 1 July update below).

Clark not only collected but was an active patron looking favourably on Henry Moore (Recumbent Figure, 1938, right), Graham Sutherland, Paul Nash, and John Piper. He did not care much for abstraction (the Ben Nicholson on show seems to have been an exception), Francis Bacon or Lucien Freud’s later work. The fifth and largest space in the show is given over to the War Artists, most of whom worked in the Romantic style Clark liked, and is one of the most interesting. Although familiar in reproduction, the opportunity, during the Imperial War Museum’s closure, to see Paul Nash’s Battle of Britain (1942, below) and one of Moore’s shelter drawings (Tube 1941, below, lower) is welcome.

Among many impressive wartime pictures, ones which caught my eye were John Piper’s Somerset Place, Bath (1942, below,) and Albert Richards’ The Landing: H Hour minus 6. In the Distance Glow of the Lancasters Bombing Battery to be Attacked (1944, below, lower).

The final room concentrates on Clark’s activities after the war, particularly his involvement with television. The BBC are reportedly considering a new Civilisation series:
… "re-imagined … for the digital age". Unlike the original, it is likely to have a number of different presenters.
If so, I hope one of them will be Lisa Jardine, the daughter of Jacob Bronowski. His 1973 television series, The Ascent of Man, was complementary to Clark’s and looked at the rise of science as opposed to art, architecture and philosophy.

Just before leaving the exhibition, visitors can see two of the finest works acquired by Clark: a Francisco de Zurbarán still life, A Cup of Water and a Rose (c1630, below left), and Cézanne’s Le Château Noir (c 1904, below, right).

Kenneth Clark - Looking for Civilisation ends on 10 August and anyone with an interest in British art should try to get to Tate Britain before then. The most thought-provoking review I have come across is Kenneth Clark: arrogant snob or saviour of art? by James Hall in the Guardian.


In the first room there is a showcase (vitrine?) of Clark family photographs. One of these is of a villa owned by Clark’s father and (when I saw it) was labelled as being Clark’s childhood home in South West France at Cap Ferrat. I thought this unlikely. Although before the First World War Arcachon, on the Gironde department’s Atlantic Coast, was a fashionable resort, the village of Cap Ferret, nearby by sea but remote by land, was little more than a few oyster fishing huts (rather different now). However, Cap Ferrat (Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat) on the Mediterranean in the Alpes-Maritime department in South East France had become a magnet for the ultra-wealthy around 1900 and remained so. The Clark villa seems to be in the “Renaissance” style consistent with that location and, of course, Clark’s father was supposedly “the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo”, not Biarritz. It might be worth checking.


A footnote to Cézanne’s use of commercial typography: I have recently come across this image of The Artist's Father, Reading "L'Événement", 1866, now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC. Apparently it wasn’t Louis-Auguste’s favourite paper but Cézanne’s old friend Emile Zola was L'Événement’s art critic.

9 June 2014

Here is not there

A post about Madresfield Court and how it was depicted in Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited appeared here on 3 June. The day before, The Times had published a photograph (below) of the return to Castle Howard of a vintage Rolls Royce used in the filming there of the Brideshead Revisited TV series. (A more detailed story appeared in the Yorkshire Post.)

The day after (4 June), a letter from Professor Emeritus (of architecture) A Peter Fawcett was published in The Times (£):
Sir, Although Hawksmoor’s baroque Castle Howard (picture story, June 2) will be forever associated with Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, his real inspiration came from a building of a very different architectural persuasion: Madresfield Court in Worcestershire. The English Arts and Crafts designer CR Ashbee designed the library in 1902, and the chapel (which features prominently in the novel) is a fine assembly of artefacts from Birmingham’s Arts and Crafts workshops — a far cry from English baroque. Waugh visited Madresfield frequently, and members of its Lygon family owners also appear as prominent players in the narrative.
On 6 June, there were three more letters. Neville Peel thought that:
… Waugh, like other writers, had a variety of sources of inspiration. His description of Brideshead’s central rotunda reminds one of Ickworth and is very far from the Arts and Crafts of Madresfield.
David Bertram pointed out that:
Professor Fawcett deplores the use of the baroque Castle Howard as a visual shorthand for Brideshead, but there was good reason for its use in the TV film. In the novel Charles Ryder says staying at Brideshead signalled the end of his love for the medieval and his “conversion to the baroque”.
Nigel Thomas felt that:
A more obvious candidate is Wardour Castle in Wiltshire, which Waugh would have known through his friendship with Cecil Beaton and the Herberts. Waugh placed Brideshead in a Wiltshire park with a castle that gave its name to a Georgian successor. … Old Wardour Castle overlooks a lake that points to the new mansion on a nearby hill. The largest Georgian house in Wiltshire, Wardour Castle, has splendid interiors and a spectacular chapel. It too was the home to a Catholic dynasty, the Arundells.
which is a little ingenuous given that Sebastian Flyte tells Charles:
“… We had a castle a mile away, down by the village. Then we took a fancy to the valley and pulled the castle down, carted the stones up here, and built a new house.” (Book 1 Chapter 4)
and that New Wardour Castle is in the Palladian style (as is Ickworth), not baroque. On the other hand, a little later Charles remembers:
It was an aesthetic education to live within those walls, to wander from room to room, from the Soanesque library to the Chinese drawing room … from the Pompeian parlour to the great tapestry-hung hall, which stood unchanged as it had been designed two hundred and fifty years before; …
that would be circa 1675, which, while about a century before John Soane started work as an architect and James Paine’s designing New Wardour Castle, was only a few decades before Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard being built in a thoroughly baroque style.

At this point there is a danger of becoming one of those Sherlockians who argue about the exact location on Dartmoor of Baskerville Hall. Obviously it would be pleasing to think that Brideshead was in Wiltshire, South West England, but I suspect the region will just have to be satisfied with Waugh’s having spent much of his adult life there. Not only friendly with the Herberts, in 1937 he had married one, Laura, whose grandmother bought the couple Piers Court in Gloucestershire. In 1956 the family moved further west to Combe Florey in Somerset where Waugh died in 1966. He wrote Brideshead Revisited in Devon in 1944 while on unpaid leave from the Army.

Perhaps Waugh’s notion of baroque in the novel is more a metaphor for Catholicism than a Pevsner-like description of a particular building’s architectural style. His author’s note, "I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they” might be extended: “here is not there”.

5 June 2014

Panda Slapped

Bloggers who use Google as their platform have access to what are described as ‘Stats’. There are a variety of these and they are not always consistent. For example, the totals for a day’s Pageviews by country, browser and operating system are usually close, but rarely identical. In turn the Overview figure for ‘Pageviews today’ may be different again.

But all these discrepancies are small. What is really alarming are the 'Stats' of trends over time – look below at the Pageviews for this blog over the last month: from over 100 a day a month ago to less than half that now. Admittedly there has been only a marginal increase in content – the usual 6 or 7 posts added in the last month - but nothing has been removed from or altered in the 350-plus older posts, some of which are viewed every day.

So what has happened? My guess is that it’s to do with the Panda algorithm which underpins Google searches. Funny old thing, but a Google search doesn’t throw up much information about Panda; Google, it seems, also have a related algorithm called Hummingbird. From what I can make out from the Search Engine Watch website, Panda 4.0 was launched around 20 May:
The Panda algorithm, which was designed to help boost great-quality content sites while pushing down thin or low-quality content sites in the search results, has always targeted scraper sites and low-quality content sites in order to provide searchers with the best search results possible.
Well, this isn’t a scraper site so I guess it’s the low quality content! That, and the fact that I don’t make any money for Google through, for example, Google Play, although this blog is consuming a tiny amount of their resources.

Something similar has happened before after a tweak to Panda, or maybe Hummingbird, and then the Pageviews slowly climb again, but I’ve not seen such a marked drop off before. As I blog primarily for my own amusement, I’m irritated, but not deterred from continuing as before, after being “Panda Slapped”. Read what this blogger felt he had to do after he had taken a far more severe hit from a previous change to Panda.


As predicted, there are signs of a slow recovery, particularly in the last week or so:

3 June 2014

Madresfield Visited

‘… Great barrack of a place. I've just had a snoop round. Very ornate, I'd call it. And a queer thing, there's a sort of R.C. Church attached. I looked in and there was a kind of service going on - just a padre and one old man. I felt very awkward. More in your line than mine.' Perhaps I seemed not to hear; in a final effort to excite my interest he said: 
'There's a frightful great fountain, too, in front of the steps, all rocks and sort of carved animals. You never saw such a thing.' 
'Yes, Hooper, I did. I've been here before.' 
The words seemed to ring back to me enriched from the vaults of my dungeon. 
‘Oh well, you know all about it. I'll go and get cleaned up.' 
I had been there before; I knew all about it.

Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited The Sacred & Profane Memories of Captain Charles Ryder was first published in 1946 and continues to appear on lists such as The 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century. In 1981, fifteen years after Waugh’s death at the age of 62, a television series based on the novel gained large audiences at a time when any viewing was appointment viewing. Whether all viewers appreciated the author’s intention: “Its theme - the operation of divine grace on a group of diverse but closely connected characters …” is open to doubt, and the image the series conveyed of decadent upper-class privilege at Oxford in the 1920s has probably been at best unhelpful to that university ever since. But it brought benefits elsewhere, if only by encouraging tourism. Making the series, Granada Television, the ITV franchisee for the North of England, chose the grandeur of Castle Howard in Yorkshire as the location of Waugh’s Brideshead Castle, home of the aristocratic Flyte family, and it was used again as a location for a film of the novel in 2008. There is an exhibition for visitors to “discover how Evelyn Waugh’s famous novel came to be filmed, not just once – but twice – at Castle Howard.”

The choice of the photogenic Castle Howard for filming is not entirely supported by the novel’s text. In Chapter 1 Charles Ryder recalls his first journey to Brideshead with Sebastian Flyte. After an early departure from Oxford, “At Swindon we turned off the main road …”. Later Charles receives a letter from Sebastian on stationery headed “Brideshead Castle, Wiltshire”. This has led in the past to the suggestion that Waugh had Corsham Court in Wiltshire in mind. However, in 2009 Paula Byrne’s Mad World Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead was published. A biography of Waugh, it concentrates on his relationships with members of the Lygon family and their home at Madresfield Court near Malvern, Worcestershire. Not long after first staying at Madresfield as a guest of the Lygons, Waugh finished his third novel, Black Mischief, there in 1932 and dedicated it “With love to MARY AND DOROTHY LYGON”. In 1934, in his next novel, A Handful of Dust, some scenes are set at Hetton Abbey which, to quote Byrne, is “manifestly Madresfield Court. The architectural resemblance is much more obvious and thoroughgoing than that between Madresfield and Brideshead Castle”:
Between the villages of Hetton and Compton Last lies the extensive park of Hetton Abbey. This, formerly one of the notable houses of the county, was entirely rebuilt in 1864 in the Gothic style and is now devoid of interest. The grounds are open to the public daily until sunset and the house may be viewed on application by writing. It contains some good portraits and furniture. The terrace commands a fine view. 
This passage from the county Guide Book did not cause Tony Last any serious annoyance. Unkinder things had been said. … (Chapter II English Gothic)
There is no particular resemblance, other than their class, between Last and the other characters in this novel and the Lygons. However, a decade later Waugh would draw extensively on the family he knew to create the Flytes. Byrne explains the parallels at length (disregarding Waugh’s note, "I am not I: thou art not he or she: they are not they”) and points out that to some members of high society like the diarist ‘Chips’ Channon, the resemblances were immediately obvious. The interior of the chapel was largely taken from life as well, although the Lygons were not Roman Catholics.  To quote Byrne again:
In Brideshead Sebastian insists on showing his family chapel to Charles, mockingly describing it as a 'monument of art nouveau'. Waugh's prose takes flight: 
The whole interior had been gutted, elaborately refurnished and redecorated in the Arts-and-Crafts style of the last decade of the nineteenth century. Angels in printed cotton smocks, rambler-roses, flower-spangled meadows, frisking lambs, texts in Celtic script, saints in armour, covered the walls in an intricate pattern of clear, bright colours. There was a triptych of pale oak, carved so as to give it the peculiar property of seeming to have been moulded in plasticine. The sanctuary lamp and all the metal furniture were of bronze, hand-beaten to the patina of a pockmarked skin; the altar steps had a carpet of grass-green, strewn with white and gold daisies. 
'Golly, I said. 
It was Papa's wedding present to Mamma. Now; if you've seen enough, we'll go.' 
Evelyn changes the gold triptych to pale oak and the sanctuary lamp and metal furniture to bronze, but otherwise there is no mistaking the Madresfield chapel.
Tours of Madresfield Court can be arranged through the Elmley Foundation. Of interest, apart from the connections to Waugh (in particular the desk at which he wrote Black Mischief), there are fine examples of Arts and Crafts style decoration throughout the house as well as in the chapel, notably in the library. The collections of furniture, porcelain, paintings and other objects built up by the Lygons over their generations of ownership are on display. As well as numerous portraits, the paintings include The Quarries of Syracuse (SE Sicily, 1853) by Edward Lear. The tour guides are patient, well-informed, and make visitors feel welcome. There is, thankfully, none of the National Trust’s frenetic marketing to visitor “segments” (see a post here on Tyntesfield), nor is there a detour to yet another ancient kitchen. Before visiting, it is certainly worth reading Simon Jenkins’ account of Madresfield in his England’s Thousand Best Houses (he awarded 4/5 stars, Top 100), and, if time permits, Byrne’s Mad World, which, as well as describing the house and family, explains the unusual circumstances which led to Waugh’s becoming so close to his Lygon contemporariess in the 1920s. An article about Madresfield showing some of the interiors appeared in the June 2014 issue of House and Garden magazine (below).


If you have read this far, you might like a later post here on the subject of which great house may have been the inspiration for Brideshead Castle.