EDGAR DEGAS (1834-1917) L’Absinthe (1875/6) may be about a powerful spirit made from wormwood (the ‘Green Fairy’) but it is art, not sociology. Phylloxera had devastated French vineyards, which made wine expensive. The cheapest way to oblivion was Absinthe. The picture is the essence of Degas: lowlifes, distraction, jagged planes, subtle palette. Sadness. And precise drawing (‘I am a colourist with line’). Space is suggested, not constructed; the zig-zags define it. ‘I thirst for order,’ he said. The lady’s splayed Read More

Classic Firearms

GUNS SINCE WATERLOO ‘Whatever happens, we have got / The Maxim gun, and they have not’ wrote Hilaire Belloc. At the Battle of Omdurman (1898), where Churchill charged with the 21st Lancers, 50,000 Dervishes were faced by Kitchener’s 25,000 trained troops. Kitchener – ‘a great poster if not a great man’ (Margot Asquith) – had 44 Maxim machine guns. The Dervishes, armed with spears and a few old rifles, were massacred. Kitchener (who, to Churchill’s horror, shot wounded tribesmen) lost Read More

A Day at the Races

A FLUTTER AT THE RACES Racing is the Sport of Kings and the sport of the people. It has been around since antiquity. By 648 BC the Greek Olympics featured mounted horse races. Chariot races, often violent spectacles fatal to riders and horses, were the rage in Ancient Rome, topping the bill with Gladiators v Lions. As now, the best seats went to the smarter or richer types. The difference today is social mobility. If you have the money you Read More

Horror Movies

SPINE TINGLERS! Fear of things that go bump in the night is the basis of all horror movies. John Carpenter, the director of the Halloween series, explained the ‘very specific secret’ of a good horror film. ‘It should be scary’. Publishers were the first to twig that people would pay to be scared witless. It led to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), the macabre tales of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897). Georges Méliès, a French film pioneer, made Read More

The Art of the Japanese Print

JAPANESE PRINTS ‘All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art…’ So said van Gogh in 1888. He and the Impressionists discovered Japanese art through prints sent to Europe as mere wrapping paper (!) in packages. Their palette was transformed. Compositions adopted the low horizon, or none at all. Colour and line became crucial and would define the work of later masters, like Matisse and Picasso who revered Utamaro and Hiroshige. Monet even created a Japanese garden, Giverny. Read More

The RAF 1918-2018

THE RAF 1918-2018 CENTENARY ‘If we lose the war in the air we lose the war and lose it quickly.’ FM Bernard Montgomery If sea power and the might of the Royal Navy were key to victory in WW1, the tactical use of air power came to dominate the Western Front. Without it artillery fired blind and infantry attacked blind. In WW2, as Monty realised, to surrender initiative in the air meant defeat. Air power won the war. The RAF Read More

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Travel USA

‘As I was walking a ribbon of highwayI saw above me an endless skyway,I saw below me a golden valley;This land was made for you and me.’Woody Guthrie Americans discovered travel in the 19th century, when trains first stretched across the landscape. But travel was on roads of iron, and many of the ‘golden valleys’ were untamed. The ‘endless skyway’ was only tamed in the 50s when American enterprise, American business, made air travel affordable. BOOMTIME AND THE AUTO ‘What Read More