The editors' blog
~ Posted by Rebecca Willis, March 7th 2013read more »
The fact that Manet did not throw in his lot with the Impressionists—he refused to take part in the 1874 show that later became known as the "First Impressionist Exhibition"—has not stopped a constant rumble of debate about whether he was one or not. Having just seen the exhibition "Manet: Portraying Life" at the Royal Academy, I am tempted to conclude for once and for all that he was not, and the reason for that is his use of black paint.
Black was anathema to Impressionists with a capital "I", who believed that light was broken up into colours and achieved greys and dark tones by mixing complementary colours. Manet used black—which is actually the absence of colour—as a colour in its own right. A striking number of Manet's works have large, flat areas of black, which take on an almost abstract quality, like the graphic darkness of women's elaborate hairstyles in the Japanese paintings he admired: Leon's coat, for example, in "Luncheon in the Studio"; the riding habits worn by some of his sitters; the men's frock coats in "Déjeuner sur l'herbe" and (with top hats) in "Music in the Tuileries". The black notes chime through these and a huge number of the other paintings in this show.
His famous portrait of Berthe Morisot (above) is juxtaposed with another powerful one of her in mourning. The backdrop, the brushwork, the sitter's complexion and the emotional impact of these two images are very different. But her clothing is not. Manet's people seemed to wear a lot of black.
~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 6th 2013
Giovanni makes ice-cream, but he doesn't have a sweet tooth. "If I did, I'd eat my business," he says. We're in a little room above his ice-cream shop in Brixton. There's a stove, a sink, lots of bowls and spoons on a draining board, a fridge and, in the corner, an ice-cream machine. To us it's whirring, but to Giovanni it speaks. "The ice-cream says five minutes," he tells us. He can hear it getting thicker inside the machine's drum. When it's done he opens a valve, and golden salted-caramel gelato flops into a deep tray.read more »
I was on a food walk last weekend around Brixton market in south London. Our guide was an ex-chef who lives nearby, buys all his groceries there and knows most of the stall-holders. It was the first sunny day for weeks—bright but freezing—so it was a good day for food with a kick of spice. We started with coffee from Ethiopia, roasted over coals with cinnamon and ginger and served with popcorn. Then we headed to Las Americas, a Colombian butcher where they do delicious things with pork, pig skin and hot salsa. Next up were Ghanaian shops, which sold dried fish and palm-nut oil as well as airline tickets and Nollywood DVDs. At a long table outside a Caribbean café we tucked in to curry-goat roti with scotch-bonnet hot sauce, before cooling our palates again in Giovanni's shop.
He's in his mid-30s, whippet-thin, and his dreadlocks are coming along nicely. Before he opened Laboratoria Artigianale del Buon Gelato—Lab G for short—he'd never made ice-cream. He'd worked in Italian restaurants, and when he needed to find a new job he looked for a gap in the market. Brixton, it turned out, had no gelato. He showed us up a narrow flight of stairs, into a room which now serves as the shop's kitchen. First he melted sugar into caramel on the hob—"It has to burn a little for flavour. Otherwise it just tastes of sugar." Then he added salt (how much he wouldn't say), dropped in a whole pat of butter, which bubbled and spat in the 160-degree caramel, and added his ice-cream base: milk, sugar and a secret mix of stabilisers instead of cream. Less cream means less fat, and less fat means less worry. Finally he pours in egg yolk.
~ Posted by Ian Leslie, March 4th 2013
On Sunday I took part in a performance of Bach's marathon masterwork, the "St Matthew Passion", with the London Concert Choir, at Cadogan Hall in Chelsea.read more »
~ Posted by Jasper Rees, March 1st 2013
It being St David’s Day, let’s sing hymns and arias to Rhossili Bay. This strip of coastline in southwest Wales has finished in the top ten of Trip Advisor’s survey of the world’s 25 best beaches. The same list includes just a single Australian strand. Down Under, where in a word-association game they naturally link sand to sunned, temperatures are rising. A beach, of all things, has kicked up a sandstorm.read more »
~ Posted by Maggie Fergusson, February 27th 2013
In the brouhaha stirred up by Hilary Mantel’s "Royal Bodies" talk, controversy focused so intensely on Mantel’s comments about Kate Middleton’s physique ("designed by committee", "perfect plastic smile") that gems were overlooked.
Take, for example, Mantel’s confessions about the violent confusion she's experienced when she has met members of the royal family in the flesh. The first time she saw Prince Charles, at an awards ceremony, she was knocked sideways by his "sublime tailoring", and by the flawless orchestration of the evening. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a pile of stacking chairs. The mundane overwhelmed the magnificent. This was just a charade, she realised, played out on a cardboard stage-set.
Perhaps what Mantel needs to counter her disillusionment is a spell in the royal archives. Earlier this week, Jane Ridley and William Shawcross appeared "in conversation" at the Royal Society of Literature to discuss the writing of royal biography. Ridley, quick-witted and irreverent, presented Queen Victoria and Prince Albert as bullying monsters in "Bertie", her riveting new biography (right) of Edward VII. Shawcross, hand-picked by the Queen as the official biographer of the Queen Mother, is a self-confessed royalist who struggled to find any fault in his subject at all. Very different authors, then. Yet they agreed that the royal archive at Windsor is an enchanted world.
After passing through security checks at the Henry VIII gate, and climbing 89 steps to the Round Tower, researchers are settled at mahogany desks in rooms of understated grandeur, and given one-to-one supervision. A bell rings for coffee at 11am, and simultaneously the guard changes to the stirring music of a military band in the Lower Ward below. Once a week, a man comes to wind the clocks. And once a manuscript is in draft form, archive staff work through it as if with nit-combs, checking every quotation and reference and date.read more »
~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, February 25th 2013read more »
~ Posted by Pip Wroe, February 21st 2013
Today we launch our latest Big Question: what is the best smell? Some of the smells chosen by our six writers—wild roses, rain, freshly-mown hay—are freely available; others—frying bacon, baking bread—involve very modest expenditure. But some smells are much pricier and yesterday I went to the launch of one that costs £3,000. It was so expensive that the journalists there weren't allowed a single sniff.
We had been invited to Bentley's main showroom in Berkeley Square, and instead of climbing in and out of cars that cost six figures we stood in front of a table that had eleven glass bowls. Each bowl had its own smell: cedarwood, patchouli, musk, benzoin siam, galleon rum, cinnamon, clary sage, leather, black pepper, bay leaves, and bergamot. The perfumier, a blonde French woman in her 30s, talked us through the science of making the car company's new range in luxury fragrance.
In the office there had been jokes about "notes of gasoline" and "hints of axle grease" and it was surprising that Bentley's thinking ran along similar, if classier, lines. The creators wanted the smell to resemble that of getting into a Bentley (a new one), with its heady blend of leather and wood. If science had allowed them to distill the sweet smell of success (the Bentley Mulsanne costs £225,000), no doubt they would have added that too.
There were three fragrances in the range. The first, "Lalique for Bentley Crystal edition" (above), a collaboration with the French glass designer, has a limited run of 999 bottles priced at £3000 each. The second was "Bentley Intense" (£76) and the third "Bentley Eau de Toilette" (£69). I opened the last of these and sniffed tentatively. It was surprisingly good: rich, sweet but not overwhelming (that’s what "Bentley Intense" is for).read more »
~ Posted by Charles Nevin, February 19th 2013
Considerable mockery from the outside world has attended a Norwegian television programme showing a fire burning in a fireplace for 12 hours, beginning in Friday night prime time. Paint and spin drying were popular comparisons; other shows happily recollected included the complete seven-hour train journey from Oslo to Bergen, and the six days of live feed from a ship sailing up the fjords, watched, allegedly, by almost the entire nation.read more »
~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, February 15th 2013
In journalism, the great reporter Phillip Knightley likes to say, no "no" is ever final. Our latest cover is a case in point. On landing in this seat five years ago, I had a few cover targets, led by Gustavo Dudamel (right), the conductor whose concerts are so exciting that he seems to be conducting electricity.
Dudamel was in his first flush of fame and the world had woken up to the success of El Sistema, the education programme that produced him and over which he now presides. He was hot, we were new, and the answer from his New York PR was "no". We tried again and then gave up (Knightley would not have approved), until one day last September an e-mail arrived from the broadcaster Clemency Burton-Hill.
She hadn’t written for us, but her diverse CV—acting, writing a novel, playing the violin—included an internship on The Economist. She had got to know Dudamel through her work as a presenter and thought she could get access for a long-form profile of the kind we had run on Ralph Fiennes and Sergei Polunin. "I do think", she wrote, "this piece deserves the space and tone only offered by Intelligent Life." It was already becoming clear why her various careers were flourishing.read more »
~ Posted by Robert Butler, February 14th 2013
Should we learn poems by heart? The British government thinks so, which is why the Department of Education has set up "Poetry by Heart", a competition that challenges pupils and students to learn and recite poems.read more »