The editors' blog


    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, January 6th 2015

    Frederick Wiseman's absorbing new documentary about the National Gallery in London is an access-all-areas look at the gallery's inner workings. For several weeks in 2012, when Leonardo had people sleeping outside in Trafalgar Square to get a ticket to his blockbuster show, Wiseman—who has now made 40 documentaries about institutions—floated around the gallery observing and eavesdropping on restorers cleaning and retouching paintings, and curators discussing and hanging them; budgets being decided and marketing being reviewed; tours being guided and frames being carved. He also filmed quiet montages of masterpieces by Velázquez, Veronese, Rubens and van Eyck, and visitors wandering the rooms peering closely or looking bored, texting or canoodling. It’s a slow, meditative look at the bustle and chatter and craft that goes on around those quiet canvases. But its most interesting theme is the elusive lives of the paintings themselves.

    read more » ArtDocumentaryFilmSimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, January 2nd 2015

    Charles Emerson's photographs of mountains, which you can see in our latest photo essay, are not one-click wonders. As he explained when I interviewed him about his pictures—shot in Scotland, Romania and Jordan—each is made from several different exposures which he then merges and layers to produce his final photograph. Very early one morning last month, I went to the Brecon Beacons in Wales with Emerson and the cameraman Tom Rowland to watch Emerson shoot Pen y Fan, one of Britain's highest peaks. 

    read more » PhotographySimon Willis

    ~ Posted by Simon Willis, December 31st 2014

    The Editors' Blog began 2014 at Stonehenge and ended it in a dolls' house. In between we covered festivals in Jaipur, New YorkGlastonbury and Edinburgh; food from Peru, South Korea, the 1980s and our deputy editor's kitchen; writers including Homer, Robert Browning, Ali Smith and P.D. James; the rise of Future Islands and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But our five most popular blog posts took us from a south London club into outer space, to Hay-on-Wye and beyond. Here they are, in reverse order:

    read more » 2014Simon Willis

    ~ Posted by Kassia St Clair, December 29th 2014

    For her seventh birthday earlier this year my niece asked for a box that only she could open. It would come to contain, she explained, all her secrets. This may be familiar from your own childhood: you begin to close off physical and interior spaces from your parents and siblings. You begin to yearn for privacy.

    This intimate idea is explored in a new exhibition of twelve dolls' houses at the V&A Museum of Childhood in East London. Although here they stand slack-doored, open and illuminated, so that visitors can peer inside, their recesses capture the impulse to craft personal space and write your own narrative. A stranger looking in might only spot that the lady of the house is propped upstairs by the bed, dwarfed by a wooden dresser that nearly reaches the ceiling. The setter of the scene would understand why the lady was up there: she might be waiting for someone, or perhaps hiding from the sinister footman with shapely ankles stalking through the drawing room below. The bigger the house, the more elaborate the décor, and the more convoluted the plot. Betty Pinney's house (slide 2), built in the 1890s and renovated in the 1970s, is a daedal structure decorated with extreme care and teeming with eccentric dolls and shrunken everyday objects: a rocking horse, a tiny set of tin soldiers, a working lift, a drunken man slumped in the living room next to a set of decanters.

    read more » childhoodExhibitionsinteriorsKassia St ClairLondon

    ~ Posted by Julie Kavanagh, December 28th 2014

    In the early 1980s we used to spend Christmas with the chef Raymond Blanc and his family. I was newly married, and Raymond and his first wife Jenny had just acquired the Oxfordshire pile that became Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons. It wasn’t as swanky as it is today—more of a restaurant with rooms—and Christmas dinner was traditional English fare with not even a French twist. I first got to know Raymond when the original Quat’Saisons was in an unprepossessing row of shops in the Oxford suburb of Summertown. From being regulars, we became friends (he and I are pictured above), and when Raymond began writing his first cookery book he asked me to be one of his recipe testers.

    read more » ChristmascookingFoodJulie KavanaghMemoir

    ~ Posted by Tim de Lisle, December 22nd 2014

    Our pick of the best new tunes. Hear a selection on our player below, or find the playlist on Spotify by searching for IntLifeMag. All songs available on iTunes, unless otherwise stated.

    read more » intelligent tunesMusicplaylistTim de Lisle

    ~ Posted by Robert Butler, December 19th 2014

    When you visit Derby Museum for the first time (as I did yesterday morning) and stand in front of its most famous painting, "The Orrery" by Joseph Wright of Derby, what’s immediately striking is not the partly obscured model of the solar system, and the way the painting—whose full title is “A philosopher lecturing on the Orrery”—illustrates the enormous excitement around 18th-century ideas about astronomy. What’s striking is the depth of concentration on the lamp-lit faces of the adults and children. They are seeing how something actually works. It's fitting, then, that until next March the museum is exhibiting other extraordinary examples of how things work: 30 illustrations by Heath Robinson, who did so much to satirise the Edwardian mania for machines.

    read more » ArtcultureExhibitionsRobert Butler

    ~ Posted by Nicholas Barber, December 18th 2014

    A raucous, Sherlock Holmes-themed pantomime called "Mrs Hudson's Christmas Corker" might not sound like the most highbrow play that London has to offer. But if you sample enough of the mulled wine being served in the foyer beforehand, you begin to see it differently. Not just a knockabout collection of puns and pratfalls, the play incorporates so much of what is revered in contemporary theatre that it could be the centrepiece of any prestigious international arts festival. Just look at the checklist. It’s a site-specific, time-specific project, co-created by multi-cultural performers who each flit between multiple roles. It has an onstage band and animated back projections. It has self-reflexive commentary and audience participation. And it has a masculine literary source which is given a gynocentric makeover. Finally, it was developed in a hidden-away urban venue that is being rescued slowly from dilapidation. Beat that, National Theatre.

    The venue is Wilton’s, a mid-19th-century music hall that was derelict for decades before reopening in the late 1990s. On the border between the City and Docklands, it has somehow escaped being demolished by Boris Johnson and replaced by a block of bankers’ flats, and its flaking grandeur is regularly employed in music videos and films, including Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” and Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows”.

    read more » ChristmasLondonMusicNicholas BarberTheatre

    ~ Posted by Lucy Farmer, December 17th 2014

    For each issue of Intelligent Life, we ask a selection of contributors to record their pieces for our digital editions and website. Below you can listen to Rebecca Willis on what to buy a teenage girl that she will still love when she's a woman; Oliver Morton on a dinosaur who'd been in the wars; Simon Willis on the maths behind an Aston Martin; Nicholas Barber on the rise of the fan edit; Maggie Fergusson on her books of the year; and Robert Macfarlane on "Game of Thrones". 

    read more » audiojanuary/february 2015Lucy Farmer

    ~ Posted by Rahul Bhattacharya, December 12th 2014

    Earlier this week, Roger Federer walked out into a large multipurpose indoor arena in east Delhi. He wore a dark tracksuit jacket and dark shorts, and filled the air with charisma. There are sportsmen and then there is Federer—no longer in the majesty of his full bloom, but enjoying a lovely late flush. I want to say he received a rousing ovation, but that would not quite convey it: it was the kind of cheering that Indians used to reserve for Sachin Tendulkar.

    read more » IndiaRahul BhattacharyaSPORT