A selection of recent essays and features:
A Crisis of Brilliance is currently on show at Dulwich Picture Gallery (until September 2013) and looks at the work of six artists who studied together at the Slade and were just setting out on their careers when the Great War changed everything. There’s a beautiful and provocative catalogue, with essays by the exhibition’s curator David Boyd Haycock, art historian Frances Spalding, and my own essay ‘We are making a new world: Art, Youth, and War’.
I chose William Cowper as ‘My Hero’ in the Guardian, 2 February 2013.
In my view we should hear a lot more about this great poet of nature, faith, and homeliness. It’s well worth a visit to his house at Olney, where you can see Cowper’s summerhouse and stockings as well as the fabled sofa that prompted his poem The Task.
I enjoyed choosing a favourite book illustration for the Guardian, December 2012. Eventually I plumped for Hogarth’s illustrations to Tristram Shandy.
I've written forewords to two wonderful books, both responding to the history of particular places. Jonathan Newdick's Out of Time? is the culmination of a project in which Newdick studied the barns, stables and outhouses to be found within a few miles of his home in Petworth, Sussex. The book reproduces his exquisitely crafted, stylish and sometimes witty drawings of these forgotten buildings in their landscapes, and includes Newdick's reflections on the past and future of rural places.
Toller Fratrum by Judith Stainton (Little Toller Books, 2012) tells the history of a Dorset parish which was once home to the Knights Templar. Beautifully produced by Little Toller Books (a small publishing house which has done much to revive interest in the classics of nature-writing and local history), the book includes photographs of the mesmerising Norman carvings in the church of St Basil.
'Sutherland's Metamorphoses', an essay in Modern Art Oxford's catalogue Graham Sutherland: An Unfinished World. The exhibition is curated by Turner-shortlisted artist George Shaw and runs until 18 March.
'Wandering with Clouds: Literary Weather from Milton to Wordsworth', in Where We Fell To Earth: Writing for Peter Conrad, edited by Michael Dobson and James Woodall, 2011, pp. 322-336.This was a privately published tribute to mark Peter Conrad's retirement from Christ Church. Copies can be ordered here.
'A subject for all seasons: Painting the Charleston Barns', feature article in the Charleston Trust magazine Canvas, Autumn 2011. The barns at Charleston are soon to undergo major refurbishment to provide new education and exhibition spaces. My essay marks this turning-point by looking back at some of the many paintings of the barns by Duncan Grant, Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry.
Introduction to the catalogue for Poster King: Edward McKnight Kauffer, a major new exhibition at the Estorick Collection in London.
Pass, Measure, and Mark: reflections on our ways of marking time. An essay commissioned by Rachel Seaton for the Toast Travels website. The essay responds to themes in the TOAST Autumn/Winter collection.
'The Ground Beneath Our Feet', an essay on the rise of local history, New Statesman, 7 April 2011.
'The Road South', introductory essay in the catalogue accompanying the exhibition John Piper in Kent and Sussex, Mascalls Gallery March 2011. You can get a copy here.