Matthew Dennison

‘The Wilderness, Hartwell House, Buckinghamshire’ by Balthasar Nebot

Why is the garden absent in English painting?

One of the default settings of garden journalists is the adjective ‘painterly’ — applied to careful colour harmonies within a…

Irish-born soldier and adventurer Colonel Thomas Blood (Photo: Getty)

Colonel Blood: thief turned spy and Royal pensioner

In the words of one of his contemporaries ‘a man of down look, lean-faced and full of pock holes’, the…

‘Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington’, 1829, by Sir Thomas Lawrence

Wellington's PR machine

The history of portraiture is festooned with images of sitters overwhelmed by dress, setting and the accoutrements of worldly success.…

Virtually identical in their languorous loucheness. Clockwise from top left: Louise de Kérouaille Barbara Palmer, Moll Davis and Nell Gwyn

The merry monarch and his mistresses; was sex for Charles II a dangerous distraction?

In a tone of breezy bravado in keeping with their concept of their subject’s character, Don Jordan and Michael Walsh…


Elizabeth is about to become Britain’s longest-reigning queen. Here’s how she’s changed monarchy

This year the Queen will become the longest-serving monarch in British history. Her rule defines our era

‘Melting Snow at Wormingford’, 1962, by John Nash

Snow - art’s biggest challenge

In owning a flock of artificial sheep, Joseph Farquharson must have been unusual among Highland lairds a century ago. His…

Ruth Rendell cr Jerry Bauer

Fifty years of Inspector Wexford – and a new detective on the block

Early on in The Girl Next Door, Ruth Rendell gives the reader a sharp nudge. ‘Colin Quell had very little…

Author Graham Swift Photo: Getty

You’ll never look at dried pasta in the same way again

A calculated ordinariness unites the protagonists in Graham Swift’s new collection of short stories. In each of these mini fictions,…

Passionate Reunion

Not quite romantic fiction, or literary fiction, or commercial fiction – but still quite good

Elements of Raffaella Barker’s new novel, her eighth for adults, suggest commercial fiction: a narrative that oscillates between the aftermath…

Margaret Drabble at the offices of publisher McLelland Stewart Photo: Toronto Star via Getty

Margaret Drabble tries to lose the plot

Halfway through her new novel, Margaret Drabble tells us of Anna, the pure gold baby of the title, ‘There was…


The imitable Jeeves

For as long as I can remember — I take neither pleasure nor pride in the admission — I have…

Mrs Bridge and Mr Bridge, by Evan S. Connell - review

A policeman encountering Mrs Bridge on the home furnishings floor of a Kansas City department store recognises her at once…

Another bleak house on the Fens

Some years ago, Susan Hill stated in an interview: ‘It’s not plot that interests me but setting, people in a…

Old lovers…

If it is true that we demand of our favourite authors above all consistency — a certain fidelity to the…


Bookends: Tilling tales

Several years ago, I listed as my literary heroes Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations and E. F. Benson’s Lucia. The…

060060_Winterhalter_Prince Albert

Prince of progress

Prince Albert, who died 150 years ago this month, was a far more interesting figure than his pompous monuments suggest

Death of the Author

The death of the Polish-born British novelist Joseph Conrad is the central event of David Miller’s debut novel.


UnEnglish triumph

Sometimes an exhibition does what it says on the tin. The Pre-Raphaelites and Italy, the Ashmolean’s first major show post-revamp, is such an exhibition.

Pass the cheese, Louise

Widowhood in 1955 was not a desirable state.


More than a painter of Queens

The last words of Hungarian-born portraitist Philip de László, spoken to his nurse, were apparently, ‘It is a pity, because there is so much still to do.’ As Duff Hart-Davis’s biography amply demonstrates, for de László, art — which he regarded as ‘work’ as much as an aesthetic vocation — was both the purpose and the substance of his life.

Big frocks, silk stockings and lissom ladies

Matthew Dennison on the life of Augustus Harris, the Victorian showman who invented the Christmas pantomime and pioneered sex, celebrity and excess as an art form

Dog days for British breeds

Many of our traditional working dogs are in danger of dying out. In abandoning the Sealyham and Dandie Dinmont, says Matthew Dennison, we diminish our heritage

Strangely familiar

Family Album, by Penelope Lively


The day the music died

The Immortals, by Amit Chaudhuri

Not just for Christmas

Matthew Dennison extols the virtues of a rare but distinguished breed