Thursday 29 February 2024

Rumors Swirl Amid Concern Over the Princess of Wales


Rumors Swirl Amid Concern Over the Princess of Wales


Prince William’s decision to bow out of a planned appearance this week, citing an undisclosed personal matter, fueled feverish speculation about his wife’s health online.


Steven Kurutz

By Steven Kurutz

Feb. 28, 2024


On Christmas Day, Catherine, Princess of Wales, attended service at St. Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk, England, wearing head-to-toe royal blue. She walked to church with her husband, Prince William, and their three children, Prince George, Princess Charlotte and Prince Louis, much like she had in years past.


Greeting the gathered crowds and the cameras, “She looked lovely for the occasion,” said Town & Country.


The princess has not been seen in public since.


Three weeks later, on Jan. 17, Kensington Palace announced that Catherine, 42, formerly known as Kate Middleton, had been admitted to the London Clinic to undergo “a planned abdominal surgery.”


The surprise news about Catherine’s health was magnified by the fact that, just an hour later, the palace announced that King Charles III, 75, would receive treatment for an enlarged prostate the next week. Two of the most senior members of Britain’s royal family were now facing health trials.


As news started to return to normal — on Wednesday King Charles was photographed being driven from his home, Clarence House, and he has resumed some official business, including meeting with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak — rumors began to surface again about the Princess of Wales. Although Prince William, 41, also scaled back his royal duties during his wife’s recuperation, this week, he bowed out of a planned appearance at a memorial service at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor for his godfather, King Constantine of the Hellenes, who died in January 2023.


That led a palace source to address the latest twist in the saga, and perhaps try to stop the rumors, in language that did anything but. The princess, the source told People, “continues to be doing well.”


William’s absence at the memorial, and the reason given by the palace — an undisclosed personal matter — only fueled continued speculation around Catherine’s health. Little is known about her medical procedure, leading to plenty of conjecture, concern and conspiracy theories.


What kind of surgery did Kate Middleton have?

That remains a mystery to the public. Abdominal surgery could be anything from an appendectomy to laparoscopy. On Jan. 17, Kensington Palace said the surgery was successful. It did not offer details on Catherine’s diagnosis or prognosis, other than that her condition was “not cancerous.”


The palace added: “The Princess of Wales appreciates the interest this statement will generate. She hopes that the public will understand her desire to maintain as much normality for her children as possible; and her wish that her personal medical information remains private.”


The palace issued another statement at the end of the month, telling the public that Catherine had been discharged from the London Clinic.


Where is Kate Middleton?

At home, according to a statement. The palace said the princess would recuperate at Adelaide Cottage in Windsor Home Park after she left the hospital.


Her office added that she was “unlikely to return to public duties until after Easter.”


How are Kate’s family faring?

Prince William visited his wife shortly after her surgery and was photographed leaving the hospital. But according to People magazine, Catherine’s three children did not see their mother at the hospital. That follows the London Clinic’s visitor guidelines, which state that “we do not permit any children or babies to visit.” (Special requests must be approved by hospital staff.) Instead, the princess is said to have connected with her children over FaceTime.


The palace has called various conspiracy theories “total nonsense.”

The lack of information around Catherine has given rise to wild speculation about her health. A Spanish journalist named Concha Calleja claimed that she spoke with a source within the Royal Family. The source supposedly told Ms. Calleja that Catherine faced serious complications after surgery, requiring “drastic” actions to save her life.


“The decision was to put her in an induced coma,” Ms. Calleja told the Spanish news show Fiesta. “They had to intubate her.”


In its initial statement, Kensington Palace said it would provide updates on the princess only when there was “significant new information to share.” But the palace was moved to address Ms. Calleja’s claims, calling them “total nonsense” and “ludicrous.”


Steven Kurutz covers cultural trends, social media and the world of design for The Times. More about Steven Kurutz

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Crooked House: Owners of 'Britain's wonkiest pub' ordered to rebuild it after 'unlawful demolition'

Developers Who Leveled ‘Britain’s Wonkiest Pub’ Ordered to Rebuild

Developers Who Leveled ‘Britain’s Wonkiest Pub’ Ordered to Rebuild


The Crooked House was knocked down last summer after a suspicious fire. Local authorities have now ordered that the owners reconstruct the site brick by brick.


Megan Specia

By Megan Specia

Reporting from London.

Feb. 27, 2024, 12:13 p.m. ET


The Crooked House, a pub in England’s West Midlands that was demolished last year after a suspicious fire, could soon be rising from the rubble after its owners were ordered to restore the pub to its former lopsided glory.


The tavern, known as “Britain’s wonkiest pub” for its slanting walls and floors, was sold to a private developer in July 2023. Around two weeks later, the pub caught fire in a suspected arson attack and the developers who had bought it brought in the bulldozers. Locals were outraged. With the support of local politicians, they launched a public campaign to see the building restored and someone held accountable for its destruction.


Now, they may be one step closer to those goals becoming a reality. South Staffordshire Council, the local authority for the area where the pub once stood, on Tuesday ordered the owners to rebuild the pub within three years, restoring it using original materials and with its original character maintained.


The council said in a statement that it had “engaged with the owners since the demolition, but has reached a point where formal action is considered necessary.” An initial attempt to reach the owners by phone and email went unanswered.


The pub, located in Himley, a small village just west of Dudley, was not a listed building, which would have given it legal protection. But it was considered a “heritage asset” and registered on the Historic Environment Record as a building of local importance, according to the council.


Roger Lees, the leader of South Staffordshire Council, said in a statement that a “huge amount of time and resources” had been put into investigating the unauthorized demolition of the pub, and the enforcement order had not been taken lightly.


“But we believe that it is right to bring the owners, who demolished the building without consent, to account,” he said. “And we are committed to do what we can to get the Crooked House rebuilt.”


The building, constructed in 1765 as a farmhouse, began to slouch in the 19th century because of coal mining under its foundations. For generations, its window frames had slanted sideways and its walls seemed to tilt at a near gravity-defying angle, delighting both patrons and passers-by.


Despite its wobbly looks, the building was structurally safe after being shored up by steel bars and other supports. But its fate had become as precarious as its appearance.


In recent years, the pub had faced financial hardship like so many others across Britain in the wake of the pandemic and amid a cost of living crisis. The developers who bought the building planned to convert it for “alternative uses,” local authorities said at the time. Then last August, a suspicious fire broke out one Saturday night partially destroying the building. Before the locals even had a chance to take stock, it was leveled.


Last year Staffordshire Police said it had arrested six people on suspicion of conspiracy to commit arson, but no one has been charged and those suspects remain on conditional bail.


Marco Longhi, a member of Parliament who represents the area where the pub was based, Dudley North, said the demolition of the beloved pub “shook our community.”


“So it’s fantastic news that an enforcement notice has been served on the owners for demolition without consent,” Mr. Longhi said in a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday.


He added that the owners would be required to “rebuild the site back its former glory, and I will not rest until the Crooked House is built back brick by brick.” Mr. Longhi concluded with a warning: “Let this serve as a warning to anyone who wants to launch an attack on our heritage sites — you will not get away with it.”


Those involved in the awareness campaign were hopeful but realistic that it would still be some time before the pub was restored.


Marie Stokes, 62, who lives in nearby Wolverhampton, has taken part in protests at the site since the pub’s demolition and said she was “over the moon” to hear the news of its potential restoration.


“I am so proud to have been a part of it,” she said through tears when reached by phone. “It was a lovely pub, I had many great memories there with my husband who has now passed.”


The order, she said, was a testament to the power of a small group of committed people. “I am in for the long haul, and we aren’t going anywhere,” she said of the locals who demanded the return of the pub.


The enforcement notice that ordered the owners to rebuild the pub can be appealed within 30 days, and if the order is not appealed or the restoration completed within three years, the owners could be prosecuted.


Campaigners may find some hope from other communities that have fought similar battles before. The Carlton Tavern, a 1920s pub tucked away between newer buildings in London’s Maida Vale neighborhood, was also unceremoniously destroyed in 2015, igniting local outrage.


After a long public campaign, the developers who had knocked down the Carlton Tavern were also ordered to rebuild brick by brick. They may have had a slightly easier task, though.


Firstly, the building was not slanting. Secondly, the preservation society English Heritage had done an earlier survey of the Carlton Tavern as it was being considered for historical status.


During that process, the society had created a detailed record of the pub’s rooms and taken molds of its distinctive architectural features. When it was time to rebuild, there was a clear blueprint.


Six years later, as Britain was emerging from a pandemic lockdown, the pub finally reopened its doors.


Megan Specia reports on Britain, Ireland and the Ukraine war for The Times. She is based in London. More about Megan Specia

Sunday 25 February 2024

WICKED LITTLE LETTERS - Official Trailer - Starring Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley

Wicked Little Letters is a 2023 British black comedy mystery film directed by Thea Sharrock and written by Jonny Sweet. The film stars Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan, Joanna Scanlan, Gemma Jones, Malachi Kirby, Lolly Adefope, Eileen Atkins, and Timothy Spall.

Wicked Little Letters premiered at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival on 9 September 2023, and was released in the United Kingdom by StudioCanal on 23 February 2024. The film received mixed reviews from critics.

Based on a true scandal that stunned 1920s England, the story centres on neighbours Edith Swan and Rose Gooding in the seaside town of Littlehampton. One day, a series of obscene letters begin to target Edith and the other residents, with suspicion falling upon Rose. As the outrageous letters continue to escalate, Rose risks losing both her freedom and custody of her daughter. Police Officer Gladys Moss is determined to find the real culprit, and along with a group of other women, seeks to solve this perplexing mystery.


Wicked Little Letters review – a deliciously sweary poison-pen mystery


The true tale of a foul-mouthed scribbler in 1920s Sussex is given nuance by a stellar cast including Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley, Anjana Vasan and Timothy Spall


Ellen E Jones

Sat 24 Feb 2024 16.00 CET


Before X or Twitter or even YouTube, if you wanted to vent your rage at an unjust world on a blameless bystander you had to go to the trouble of actually writing a letter and posting it. These were the days of the poison pen letter, an early 20th-century socio-criminal phenomenon here revived by comedian Jonny Sweet’s gleefully sweary script and a competent ensemble of British comedy’s finest directed by Thea Sharrock.


Swearwords, you see, can be very funny – especially when primly pronounced by a pious spinster such as Edith (Olivia Colman), who seems to be the letter writer’s primary target. Or when spurting forth from a potty-mouthed slattern such as Edith’s neighbour Rose (Jessie Buckley), on whom suspicion immediately falls. And these swearwords are particularly funny – a collection of naughty non sequiturs and rococo rantings that derive from the real letters of the Littlehampton libels, a forgotten scandal that terrorised this small Sussex town in the early 1920s. “Piss-country whore”? “Foxy-assed rabbit-fucker”? Epithets this fruity are clearly beyond the wit of man to invent. (And there’s your first clue to the letter writer’s identity.)


Some credit should therefore go to Christopher Hilliard, author of the well-researched 2017 book that brought the case back to public notice. It’s Sweet’s script, though, that successfully folds the true crime tale into an eminently exportable period-drama package. And it’s the cast – notably Anjana Vasan as the county’s lone female police officer and Timothy Spall as Edith’s domineering father – who allow for deeper exploration of the underlying motives for such aberrant behaviour. Swearing can be comic, but it might also be the way that a highly pressurised, repressive and patriarchal postwar society lets off a bit of steam.

The Littlehampton Libels

A Miscarriage of Justice and a Mystery about Words in 1920s England

Christopher Hilliard

Recounts the story of a poison-pen mystery that led to a miscarriage of justice in a seaside town in the years following the First World War

Offers a convincing account of a painstaking and ingenious police investigation into a libel case

Recovers the words and word-play of working-class people in the early twentieth century

Examines the psychological dynamics of a working-class community

Provides the most substantial interpretative account of criminal libel in the twentieth century



Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley: ‘Never repress a woman – because it will come out’

Claire Armitstead

The actors star in a true-life 1920s tale of a snobbish small town upset by poison-pen letters. They discuss falling in love with one another, the f-word and the parallels with today’s internet trolling


Claire Armitstead


Fri 23 Feb 2024 06.00 CET


On 23 September 1921, a letter arrived at the home of Edith Swan, a laundress in the seaside town of Littlehampton, addressed to “the foxy ass whore 47, Western Rd”. One of the milder letters that had been plaguing the Sussex community for three years, it continued: “You foxy ass piss country whore you are a character.” Swan blamed a neighbour, Rose Gooding. But the post-office clerk and the local police had other suspicions, which drove them to rig up a periscope to spy on deliveries to the town’s post box and marking postage stamps with invisible ink.


The combination of filthy poison pen letters and DIY sleuthing in a quaint small-town setting is a gift for the star pairing of Olivia Colman and Jessie Buckley. Directed by Thea Sharrock with a screenplay by Jonny Sweet, and stuffed with classy character actors, Wicked Little Letters blows a raspberry at the Agatha Christie tradition of cosy crime stories. It also undercuts the Downton Abbey image of British social history which, says Buckley, “gives everybody the idea that people are kind of lovely when actually there’s a little bit of dirt under everybody’s pretty teacup. Everyone loves a good swear, even the ones that say they don’t.”


Colman and Buckley are in high spirits when we meet, having just spent half an hour filming Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, in which they discussed the different forms of rudeness with a group of five-year-old boys. Colman, familiar to them as the conniving innkeeper Mrs Scrubbit in Wonka, bounces in first with a “fart” app, which she has installed specially for the occasion. “It’s so good, I can’t stop,” she says, letting off a peal of whoopees, as assistants scurry around ensuring she and Buckley have everything they need. “Oh sorry, that’s too much,” she apologises, after miming along to a particularly sonorous one. “OK, I promise I’ll stop,” she says, giving vent to another as her co-star settles into the seat next to her. It’s an impromptu improvisation of delighted gaucherie reminiscent of the one that propelled her 2019 Oscar acceptance speech for The Favourite into the best-ever league.


Colman and Buckley became best friends after meeting through a Letters Live event at a festival in Oxfordshire, at which Colman’s contributions included a humorous letter from a 17th-century naval officer to a creditor, and Buckley read a declaration of love from Maud Gonne to WB Yeats. “We stayed up late doing karaoke,” says Buckley. “Yes, we just sort of fell in love with each other,” adds Colman, who went on to recommend her new friend to play her younger self in Maggie Gyllenhaal’s award-winning adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel The Lost Daughter. Though the separate timelines meant they didn’t have any scenes together, they continued their after-hours bonding, “singing, playing guitar, swimming in the sea and drinking rosé,” says Colman. “I’m sure we are kindred,” adds Buckley. “Yes,” replies Colman. “It should happen more often – outside and inside work.”


When Wicked Little Letters came up, on which Colman and her husband, Ed Sinclair, are producers, she suggested Buckley again, though this time for a character who is the exact opposite of her own. While middle-aged Edith tends to the town’s laundry and dutifully keeps house for a tyrannical father, Rose is a free spirit who roisters with the sailors in the pub when she is not waging domestic war on her sister and her seaman husband, who is known not to be the father of her young daughter.


The Littlehampton libels became a national sensation, debated in parliament and filling the newspapers with prurient outrage. As filming began, the apparent outlandishness of the drama was put into perspective by a more recent scandal: the Wagatha Christie case – which pitted Coleen Rooney against Rebekah Vardy, highlighting the offstage enmities of the footballing world – erupted into the courts and the press with its own barely credible story of female betrayal and amateur sleuthing. “Ooh, we were all gripped by that,” says Colman.


In the film, as in life, it doesn’t take long to work out that Rose is not to blame for the letters, which are gleefully recited at length from the originals that were produced as evidence in the resulting court hearings. The mystery in both cases is not whodunnit, but why – and how it could be possible for those charged with upholding the law to be so snobbishly prejudiced that they refused to believe the evidence in front of their eyes. When Edith Swan was put on trial, the judge ordered a jury to “consider whether it was conceivable that she could have written this document” given that her “demeanour in the witness box was that of a respectable, clean-mouthed woman”.


By the time the truth was accepted, Rose had spent two spells in jail. Her only fault, says Buckley, was her refusal to conform. “She was basically judged for being a single mother, which is hard enough without having the whole rest of the world condemn you for it. She wanted to be as uncompromisingly free and full and joyful as she possibly could be, and that does come with consequences.”


Though the language of the letters might appear startlingly extreme, it reflects a real shift that social historians have attributed to the stresses of the first world war. Swearing accelerated at a such a pace that, by 1930, the editors of a collection of British songs and slang noted that, among soldiers particularly, the word “fucking” was so common that it was merely a warning “that a noun is coming”. The same licence was never given to women, and in many quarters still isn’t. Buckley, who is 34 and grew up in Ireland, has an early memory of being banished to the back step for swearing. “I remember feeling half ashamed and half like it’s just a word and I probably meant it. I was going for gold: this was my revenge, my revolt against the back step.”


Colman, who has just turned 50, had a different experience growing up in Norfolk: she can’t remember a time when she didn’t know the F-word. “My mum or dad always swore and it was never in anger, just in normal conversation. Dad would say: ‘Where’ve I put the fucking car keys’, or mum would say: ‘Shall we have a cup of tea? Yes, fuck it, let’s have a cup of tea.’ So I’ve got no time for people who would happily watch a murder on telly but whose sphincters tighten at the idea of some woman swearing in the 1920s.”



She does, though, add a caveat: “If you hear someone in the street who’s really angry, swearing at another person, of course that’s scary and shocking.” Wicked Little Letters treads this line: the language might be funny, but the emotions powering it are not. Though in some ways it tells a story of its time, which is handled with “a dollop of artistic licence”, in other ways it is a startlingly resonant portrayal of the rage unleashed in women who are subjected to coercive control.


“Never repress a woman – because it will come out,” says Colman. “Rose manages to escape. But Edith is stuck in this place where she’s still under the thumb of her father in her late 40s. And it was only through writing these letters that she got some sort of a release. So it is serious. It’s the way women were treated in that period. And how far we have come, I suppose, is open for discussion.”


In particular, Colman points out, there is a parallel with the internet trolling of today. “I think Edith sees Rose and thinks: ‘Oh my God, life could be different.’ And, you know: ‘Fuck you for being what I want to be.’ She probably feels bad initially, but then it’s like a drug and she can’t stop. It’s so gratifying. It’s trolling. She has anonymous power and a thrill from hurting someone, which is awful. And it’s happening now on a much greater scale.”


People are complicated, agrees Buckley. “I guess ultimately everyone wants to be seen. As Frankenstein’s creature says: ‘I’m malicious because I’m miserable.’ If you lock somebody up, they’re going to become lonely, and they’re going to cause damage.”


Partly because of a fear of trolling, neither actor uses social media. “I don’t want to see all that. I don’t want someone I’ve never met to be unkind. I don’t understand it, and I wouldn’t be able to cope with it. And I really feel for our youth,” says Colman, who has three children. “As a teenager I was able to make my mistakes in private, you know, but now, you’ve got to be so careful. I feel sorry for them. And I want to tell them to just walk away from it.”


Which begs the question, what exactly do two such successful actors think they might find themselves trolled for? “We’re not going to tell you that,” they chorus, while agreeing that doing work that makes them cringe is part of any performer’s lot because mistakes happen all the time, even if nobody else notices.


Buckley, whose first break was as one of the hopefuls in the TV reality show I’d Do Anything, auditioning to play Nancy in the West End musical Oliver (she came second and turned down the consolation prize of an understudy role), now alternates between music, theatre and film. The soundtrack of the 2018 film Wild Rose – which drew all her strengths together in the portrayal of a Glaswegian wannabe country-and-western singer – reached the top of the UK country albums chart. She won an Olivier award in 2022 as Sally Bowles in the West End production of Cabaret, but is now on a film roll that will shortly include a Frankenstein film, The Bride, directed by Gyllenhaal, and a screen adaptation of Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet. But it’s not all plain sailing, she says. “You spend most of your time trying to convince people to give you a job. And then you’re like: ‘Oh my God, I was terrible.’ Or: ‘This is awful’, but you just keep going.”


Colman, who became a national treasure with TV roles including DS Ellie Miller in the crime series Broadchurch, and Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown, has developed such bad stage fright that she thinks she may never act in the theatre again. Her last appearance was at the National Theatre in 2017, as the stuck-at-home daughter of an ailing mother in Lucy Kirkwood’s drama of science and sibling rivalry Mosquitoes. “I started in theatre and loved it so much,” she says. But when her children got to the “pyjama-time-cuddle-on-the-sofa-before-bed age”, she stepped back. “And I think I’ve left it too long – the fear is too great. Oh, God. I feel it’s so far to fall now. And then there’s my menopause brain, and the fear that I wouldn’t be able to remember an entire play. When you’re filming, you can look and learn on the day, get it wrong, and get to go again. But if you’re on stage, and you’ve forgotten your soliloquy … everyone knows that fear, but I don’t know if I can face it again. Maybe when I’m in my 80s with an earpiece …”


Both actors are fiercely protective of the Edith Swans of this world – difficult women whose circumstances have driven them to challenging behaviour. “What does that even mean?” demands Buckley. “Are you challenging or difficult because you actually want some autonomy and want to be part of a world that engages you instead of putting you in the corner and pretending that we’re all parlourmaids who witter away to each other and drink tea? Because that’s never been my experience as a woman.”


Buckley has the wind in her sails and is not going to stop there, as Colman looks admiringly on. “First of all,” she pronounces, “we should all be able to take space and stand up and educate our minds and have autonomy of our bodies and feel like we are entitled to pleasure and desire that is ours and not bound by a system that decides those things for us. And so if that is challenging to you, it shouldn’t be, because the other option is crippling and actually causes more damage across the board.”


For all the pain and havoc caused by the Littlehampton libels, they did have a positive outcome of sorts. Gladys Moss, the dogged PC who investigated the case and is played in the film by Anjana Vasan, recently had a blue plaque dedicated to her in the Sussex town of Worthing, in recognition of her pioneering work as the county’s first woman police officer. Edith Swan was finally freed from her father, even though it took a jail sentence to do it. This thought sends the two friends off on a reverie about what sort of prisoner she would have been. She would have been a mother hen who taught the younger prisoners how to read and write, says Colman. “Yeah,” picks up Buckley, “she’d be like: ‘You know that F-word? I want you to write it out a hundred times.’”


 Wicked Little Letters is released in the UK on 23 February

Saturday 24 February 2024

TATE BRITAIN EXHIBITION SARGENT AND FASHION: This is a terrible and unfair review by Jonathan Jones, followed below by a send Letter by Cally Blackman, who takes issue with the ‘dismissive’ review by Jones.





Fashion, identity, painting: explore the unique work of John Singer Sargent


Celebrated for his striking portrait paintings, this exhibition sheds new light on John Singer Sargent’s acclaimed works. It explores how he worked like a stylist to craft the image of the sitters he painted, who he often had close relationships with.


Sargent used fashion as a powerful tool to express identity and personality. He regularly chose the outfits of his collaborators or manipulated their clothing. This innovative use of costume was central to his artwork – for example, tugging a heavy coat tighter around a man to emphasise his figure or letting a dress strap sensuously slip from a woman’s shoulder. It was these daring sartorial choices that allowed him to express his vision as an artist.


Almost 60 of Sargent’s paintings will be on display, including major portraits that rarely travel. Several period garments will also be showcased alongside the portraits they were worn in. The show examines how this remarkable painter used fashion to create portraits of the time, which still captivate today.


Lead support with a generous donation from the Blavatnik Family Foundation. Additional support from the Sargent and Fashion Exhibition Supporters Circle and Tate Americas Foundation.


Organised by Tate Britain and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Both MFA Boston and Tate Britain received generous support for international scholarly convenings and for the exhibition from the Terra Foundation for American Art

This is a terrible and unfair review by Jonathan Jones, followed below by a send Letter

by Cally Blackman, who takes issue with the ‘dismissive’ review by Jones.




Sargent and Fashion review – tragicomic travesty is a frock horror

Tate Britain, London

Sargent’s gloriously rich and subtle paintings can’t be reduced to dreary facts about hats, dresses and opera gowns. Sadly, that’s just what’s happened


Jonathan Jones

Tue 20 Feb 2024 10.00 CET


This is a horrible exhibition. The American painter John Singer Sargent is a great artist of identity, fascinated with the nature of social being. He paints people not in isolation but as players in a social world in a way that is startling, modern and so truthful it hurts. Trained in 19th-century Paris, he brought brushwork tinted by Manet and Monet to portraying late Victorian and Edwardian British society, and was especially drawn to those who didn’t fit the old order – such as the young Jewish women joyously proclaiming their individuality in Ena and Betty, Daughters of Asher and Mrs Wertheimer. But was he, above all, a painter of fashion, as this show claims? No way – what on earth are they talking about?


This daring artist of modern life is turned into a stuffed shirt by a show that puts the dress before the face, the hat before the head and the crinoline before the soul in an obsessive, myopic argument. A painter with much to say to us becomes, here, a relic with no relevance.


The first thing you see on walking in is an old opera cloak, magnificently preserved and beautiful in its day. But this black lacy artefact is leaden next to the first painting, Sargent’s portrait of Aline de Rothschild, Lady Sassoon, whose keen face is full of life and wit. That’s the difference between a work of art and an ancient frock: the painting is as old as the dress but in it, a person lives.


Throughout this show, Sargent’s scintillating works are wretchedly displayed. There are clothes in glass cases everywhere obstructing sightlines, distracting from the art instead of illuminating it. One hilarious example is his portrait of Lord Ribblesdale, a positively Sadean image of an aristocrat in top hat, black coat and boots holding a riding crop he might be about to use on a horse or housemaid. Instead of letting this fascinating portrait speak for itself, it is displayed next to a case containing a top hat, made in the late 19th century by Cooksey and Co of London, as the pedantic label explains.


The curators have gone to the trouble of borrowing this topper from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, but I have no idea what its presence adds to our appreciation of Sargent. Reconstructing the clothing his sitters wore seems as perverse as digging up their skulls and displaying them complete with forensic reconstructions of their faces to see how accurately he painted them. The crinkled silks look as macabre as that to me. They belong in an attic with a rocking horse that moves of its own accord.


The canvases are not only crowded by old clothes but shouted down by intrusive labelling and hideously set against ever-changing wall colours and lighting


The meticulous sartorial scholarship is misplaced. A painting is a fiction, not a jumble of facts, and no artist knew that better than Sargent. Born to American parents living in Europe, he was cosmopolitan, ironic and sophisticated – like a character in a Henry James novel. James, in fact, became a friend, and there are subtle connections between their artistry. Both might be mistaken, by an idiot, for conservatives. But James probes the tremulous complexity of the human psyche and the nature of morality with a shimmering, yet heartbreaking power. Sargent, too, is a portraitist of subtlety and mystery, bringing out the “character” of his people – with inverted commas as James might put it – in wisps and dashes of impressionistic brushwork. Sargent and James would make a much better exhibition.


Instead,“Fashion was central to John Singer Sargent’s achievements as a portraitist”, declares the opening wall text. No it wasn’t. Painting is. It’s the way he paints that makes his art breathe. Yet here it’s hard to see that. The canvases are not only crowded by old clothes but shouted down by intrusive labelling and hideously set against ever-changing wall colours and lighting. Worst of all there, is no narrative logic. The display sacrifices any sense of Sargent’s life as an artist to its essayistic theme.


This is all the more tragicomic because so many of Sargent’s finest works have been lent. If I was the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I’d have a serious complaint about the way its treasure, Madame X, is displayed. This portrait of Virginie Amélie Avegno Gautreau in a shoulder-baring dress was daring for the 1880s, even in Paris, where its contrast of dark material and pale, slightly blueish flesh horrified the 1884 Salon exhibition. But far from being given the grandstand it deserves, it is shown under a forgettable quotation painted in huge letters.


Worse, it’s just dropped in without any buildup or history (other than fashion history). We learn nothing about the Paris in which Sargent started his career: the capital of the avant garde where Manet and the impressionists were locked in artistic civil war with the conservative Salon. Sargent knew the modernist rebels, had met Monet as early as 1876 and his later portrait of the impressionist at his easel shows how attracted he was to such ideas. Madame X brings that knowledge into the establishment Salon and plays on the border of respectability and outrage.


Sargent slightly miscalculated, and people were more upset than he hoped. Is it the black dress that shocked the Salon? No, it was sex. Gautreau, not the frock, is the star, as she exudes sophisticated glamour, knowingly self-possessed as she turns her sharp profile away. It is a novel compressed into a portrait. Sargent provokes us to wonder who this magnificent character is, where she’s been and might go next. Gautreau collaborates with him in creating the fiction, inciting the fantasies.


This portrait of a lady shows how Sargent is as elusive and complex a fabulist as his alter ego, James. Each painting in this exhibition is just as rich, but the curators keep hammering home their narrow clothes-based interpretation. It’s extremely hard to see past that in the chaotic non-narrative display. An artist as good as Sargent needs space, decent light and not much more – certainly not quotations and props.


If you love historic millinery, this may be for you. If you love great art, stay at home and read The Portrait of a Lady.


 Sargent and Fashion is at Tate Britain, London, from 22 February to 7 July


( This is the reaction from Cally Blackman to the terrible review published above.)



Throw off the cloak of snobbery and treat fashion as a serious art form


Cally Blackman takes issue with a ‘dismissive’ review of the John Singer Sargent exhibition at Tate Britain


Fri 23 Feb 2024 19.24 CET


When I read or hear the word “frock”, my heart sinks and my hackles rise: when will fashion be taken seriously? As the most powerful form of non-verbal communication, clothes tell us a lot about people – from their occupation, to religion, to their Indigenous heritage. The now thriving academic discipline of fashion studies rose from schools of anthropology, ethnography, sociology, philosophy, curatorial scholarship and art history. The first postgraduate course in the history of dress was set up in 1965 at the Courtauld Institute – a bastion of the art establishment – to enable curators and art historians to date paintings and describe garments in them accurately. Sadly, many of them continue to get it wrong.


Jonathan Jones’s review of the Sargent exhibition at Tate Britain (Sargent and Fashion review – tragicomic travesty is a frock horror, 20 February) was typical of the snobbish and dismissive attitude often taken towards anything to do with fashion, including the multitrillion-dollar fashion industry that, for better or for worse, ranks as one of the biggest in the global economy, a fact that is seldom recognised. If it was called “garment manufacture” instead of “fashion”, a complicated word freighted with negative connotations, it might be.


Museums such as the V&A and the Tate well know the pulling power of fashion exhibitions and can hardly be blamed, in their currently straitened circumstances, for wanting to cash in on it: on Thursday this week, the Tate exhibition was packed, demonstrating the level of public interest. However, the exhibition is more than just an exercise in ticket sales. Sargent was a great painter who had an affinity with dress and fabric, like Dürer, Holbein, Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velázquez, Gainsborough and Lawrence before him, and traces of their influence resonate throughout his work.


Whatever the distress caused to Jones the by lighting, wall colours and glass cases in wrong places, it is a very rare thing indeed to see garments displayed next to the paintings in which they are depicted, and a special joy to see these same garments interpreted on the canvas with Sargent’s consummate skill and aesthetic judgment. Some of the gowns on display are by Charles Worth, the most prestigious couturier in Paris (not “designer” – the word had not been invented then). Compared with these, Ellen Terry’s beetle-wing-embellished Lady Macbeth stage costume (“costume” is the term for clothing worn for performance, not for garments worn in everyday life) looked dull and lifeless, yet scintillated in radiant, glowing colour from Sargent’s portrait, a testament to his quality as an artist.


Yes, some of the objects displayed to accompany a painting seemed arbitrarily helicoptered in, such as the top hat Jones mentions in his review, but this is not an exhibition about “historic millinery” as he puts it, but one that offers a new approach to a brilliant and prolific artist, just as the National Portrait Gallery’s exhibition Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends in 2015 did. This generous, sumptuous array of Sargent’s work tells us much about class, society and fashion at the end of the 19th century, an era of great privilege for some, before the impending rupture of war. As the historian and philosopher Thomas Carlyle wrote in his book Sartor Resartus (1831), one of the first to address the significance of dress with any degree of seriousness: “Clothes, as despicable as we think them, are so unspeakably significant.”

Cally Blackman


Friday 23 February 2024

The Fife Arms Braemar United Kingdom



High Victoriana meets modern luxury at the miraculously reinvented Fife Arms in Braemar, unveiled for Christmas 2018 with much press and bagpiping after a magnificent multi-million-pound makeover by art dealers Iwan and Manuela Wirth, the Swiss co-presidents of Hauser & Wirth. (They own galleries in London, New York, LA, Hong Kong, Zurich — and Bruton, Somerset, where they also have proved their form in the hospitality business with Durslade Farmhouse). To find such a luxury hotel in Scotland, let alone in the remote Highlands, is about as rare as a budgerigar in the Arctic. This will be a huge boom to tourism and the locale. With 46 eye-poppingly amazing rooms (individually themed and as eclectically wonderful as is possible within the bounds of good taste and design), and 95 staff to service the place, virtually the whole community has been involved in some way or other. Local grandee Araminta Campbell designed the house tartan and tweed (brilliantly used on walls, floors, uniforms and curtains), the local deer horn specialist has created cornucopias of antler art and practical objets, Picasso, Bruegel, Freud and HRH Prince Charles hang cheek by jowl. No need to go to the National Gallery when you can stay here and marvel at the masters up close and personal! Beware if you are frightened of stuffed things, this is a taxidermist’s paradise – there is a red deer in the dining room, a mobile of flying snipe in the stairwell, and every sort of furred and feathered creature under glass – including a life-size waxwork of Queen Vic herself settled in a wingchair in the library. (“Our mystery guest” as front of house like to call her). There are grandiose suites, all royally named and appointed, but also a number of less expensive rooms which are no less luxurious. The Artist’s Studio room is a charming concept – up in the eaves with a cosy box bed, pots and brushes on the windowsills and amusing paint spatters on the floor. A very talented design team has been at work here. It may be a little over the top and about as far from minimalist as you can get, but the whole is expertly choreographed. You can eat smart in the Clunie Dining room which features wood smoke ovens and cubist muraled walls by Guillermo Kuitca, drink an inventive cocktail in the bar or try one of the hundreds of carefully curated whiskies, or even have a pint of bitter and fish and chips in the bustling Flying Stag pub. Come here to celebrate and relax, or to walk, stalk or fish. Majestic mountains surround you and the River Dee rushes past. Don’t be put off by the winding ascent past Scotland’s famed International Ski Resort, Glenshee, the journey is all part of the adventure.


And why might you ask would you ever want to come to Braemar (population 400) unless tossing a caber at the Gathering? Well, a visit to this incredible hotel alone will suffice. You will not be disappointed, whether with family, friends or your own good self.


 Written by Caroline Townsend

Wednesday 21 February 2024

The Vintage Showroom - The Artistry of Vintage Design Inspiration by Doug Gunn.

REMEMBERING, 8 April 2021: These are very sad news


After 10 years at 14 Earlham Street, we are very sad to announce the permanent closure of our retail store.


With our current lease ending this month, we have taken the difficult decision not to reopen on the 12th of April or extend our time at the property with a new lease.

Our main Showroom at Buspace Studios remains open for appointments as usual. For details, please contact


The Vintage Showroom Ltd was formed in 2007 to house an ever growing archive of vintage showroom and accessories collected by co-founders Douglas Gunn and Roy Luckett. The Vintage Showroom has become one of the leading resources for vintage menswear in the UK, with the archive covering the early mid 20th century and specialising in international work, military and sports clothing, classic English tailoring and country wear. In September 2012 a selection of the archive was published in the title ‘Vintage Menswear – A Collection From The Vintage Showroom’ for Laurence King publishing and “The Vintage Showroom – An Archive of Menswear” followed in December 2015.

The business and collection is divided into two parts – an appointment only showroom situated near London’s Notting Hill and a retail outlet, with basement showroom, located on Earlham Street in Covent Garden’ Seven Dials. The showroom and studio resources are offered by appointment only and serve to inspire design teams and stylists. The collection is available to purchase or hire and the studio offers a number of bespoke services to clients for creative and concept consultation. The shop, in Covent Garden, has quietly integrated itself into Seven Dials proudly occupying the former ironmongery F.W. Collins & Sons.


Monday 19 February 2024

Camilla: From pariah to Queen

King Charles Has Done What Monarchs Before Him Would Not Dare




King Charles Has Done What Monarchs Before Him Would Not Dare

Feb. 18, 2024, 9:00 a.m. ET

By Miranda Carter


Ms. Carter is the author of “George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.”


The most surprising thing about the disclosure that King Charles III has been diagnosed with cancer after less than two years on the throne is the fact that it’s been disclosed at all.


Cancer is common; candor about the British royal family’s heath, not so much. Over the centuries, like many royal families, it has gone to great lengths to hide the condition of the sovereign’s body. Charles’s honesty, as far as it goes, seems to be a sign of his desire to be a different kind of monarch.


A ruling monarch has always been the embodiment of the state, a living metaphor of its health. Just look at Hans Holbein’s 1537 portrait of the six-foot-plus Henry VIII, a robust giant bestriding the world at the peak of his powers. Healthy king, healthy country. It works in reverse, too. Shakespeare — never above a little Tudor propagandizing — turned Richard III, the king from whom Henry’s father grabbed the throne in 1485, into someone with a hunchback, a man so ugly that dogs barked when he passed. Examination of Richard’s body, discovered in ruins under a car park in the English city of Leicester in 2012, showed he simply had scoliosis.


When your body is the state, how do you speak of its inevitable weaknesses and frailties? Historically, you didn’t. Four hundred years after the Tudors, in 1859, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the last German emperor, was born with a withered arm (and probably some brain damage) as a result of a complicated delivery. The idea of a physically disabled heir was unthinkable, especially in a country where the aristocracy defined itself by its military prowess. Wilhelm’s grandfather asked if it was even appropriate to offer congratulations on the birth.


Desperate and frankly weird attempts were made to make the limb work. Wilhelm’s functioning arm was bound to his body when he was learning to walk, in an attempt to force him to use the other one: predictably he fell over a lot. Electric shocks were passed through it. The arm was placed inside the warm carcass of a freshly killed hare, the idea being that the heat of the dead animal would transmute itself into the child’s arm. At the age of 4, as his mother wept, he was regularly strapped into a machine to try to stretch the muscles. Nothing worked. Wilhelm grew up to be difficult, anxious and resentful, though ironically he adapted very well to having only one functioning arm.


Wilhelm’s cousin, Nicholas II, the last czar of Russia, went to extreme lengths to hide the hemophilia of his son and heir, Alexei, and refused to explain the presence of the notorious faith healer Rasputin, whose exploits became a metaphor for the Russian state’s corruption.


Such suppressions almost always came at personal, emotional and political costs. The source of Alexei’s hemophilia gene is believed to be none other than King Charles’s great-great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. Victoria passed the gene on to her son Leopold, who died at 30 in 1884, after suffering a brain hemorrhage after a fall, and to two of her daughters. As a result of Victoria’s energetic royal matchmaking, the gene passed into the royal family of Russia, through her granddaughter Czarina Alexandra, and some of the royal families of Germany, through her daughter Alice. After the queen’s death it passed into the Spanish royal family, through her granddaughter Victoria Eugenie, known as Ena, who married King Alfonso XIII in 1906. Her husband’s discovery that she was a carrier helped to destroy their marriage, and her oldest and youngest sons would both die young of bleeding after minor car accidents.


Victoria may also have been a carrier of porphyria, the illness to which some historians have attributed George III’s madness and which produces physical symptoms including agonizing abdominal pain, skin rashes and purple urine. The queen’s eldest daughter (also named Victoria, the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II) may have had porphyria, too; DNA testing on the exhumed body of her daughter, Charlotte, found a gene mutation related to the disease.


That both illnesses may well have run in the British royal family were closely guarded secrets at the time, and the question has still never been publicly acknowledged by the monarchy.


One might have expected that as the British royal family became a ceremonial institution without power, it would become more open. In fact, the opposite was true. If appearance is the only power you have, appearance matters very much. Just before midnight on Jan. 20, 1936, the royal doctor Bertrand Dawson injected George V’s “distended jugular vein” with a cocktail containing enough morphine and cocaine to kill him at least twice. Lord Dawson gave the ailing king a comfortable exit, but just as important, guaranteed his death would be reported in the reputable morning papers, rather than in the “less appropriate evening journals.” The story finally came out 50 years later in 1986, not via the royal family but through Lord Dawson’s biographer.


George VI, the current monarch’s grandfather, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day and had already undergone the removal of his whole left lung by the time he died. Nonetheless, the cause of his death was reported as coronary thrombosis, a disease with less social stigma than the cancer that actually claimed him. According to a recent biographer of Queen Elizabeth II (Gyles Brandreth, a close friend of her husband’s), even her stated cause of death — “old age” — was a euphemism for multiple myeloma, a kind of bone-marrow cancer.


So there’s been widespread sympathy and praise for King Charles’s honesty. “His Majesty has chosen to share his diagnosis,” the official statement explained, “to prevent speculation and in the hope it may assist public understanding for all those around the world who are affected by cancer.”


It was, however, arguably the minimum amount of disclosure that the king could get away with, given that any withdrawal from public duties would immediately be noticed. Moreover, it did not specify which cancer he has — there are many kinds — nor how advanced it is. As Richard Smith, former editor of the British Medical Journal, wrote, whether the king might “be either right as rain or dead in a few weeks.”


That said, it’s probably asking too much to expect full candor from any head of state about his or her health. American presidents are just as prone to keep their medical information to themselves: Franklin Roosevelt hid the effects of his polio; John Kennedy’s perma-tan distracted the world from his Addison’s disease and probable celiac disease. A president’s physical and mental condition has a tangible effect on both American politics and those of the rest of the world. There will continue to be intense speculation about this question for the septuagenarian and octogenarian candidates in the coming U.S. presidential election, but no one expects either of them to tell the full truth.


The King’s illness is surprising and unwelcome news. But at least British citizens can take comfort in the fact that the monarchy is a ceremonial institution with a clear and uncontroversial line of succession.


Miranda Carter is the author of “George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I.”