Tag Archives: Simon Schama

➤ Schama gives us a taste of the ambassador’s life

Travelling Light ,Whitechapel Gallery,Simon Schama ,video
➢ CLICK PIC TO VIEW BBC NEWS VIDEO of historian Simon Schama introducing his choice of travel paintings at the Whitechapel Gallery, and revealing his own Essex origins which he shares with artist Grayson Perry.

❚ TODAY WE CAN ALL SEE A HOST of paintings seldom available to the British public because they usually hang in our embassies and government buildings around the world. They are owned by the British government and all incoming ministers of state have the pick of this vast and impressive 100-year-old collection from which to decorate their offices. (The Blairs when in Downing Street lined the entrance corridor with lively Scottish colourists and the main public reception room showcased living stars of British art from Allen Jones to David Hockney. The Camerons have chosen endless routine landscapes and city views, several contemporary minimalist images by Susan Collins and David Austin, and among the few human beings, 19th-century prime minister Benjamin Disraeli, twice.)

Travelling Light is a selection made from the Government Art Collection by historian and broadcaster Simon Schama to explore ideas of travel. The show opens today at London’s Whitechapel Gallery. In commenting on his selection he said: “Travelling Light is all about setting off, trying to picture something, never quite catching it but in the process doing something beautiful.”

Highlights of the exhibition include an iconic portrait from 1814 of Romantic poet and intrepid traveller Lord Byron by Thomas Phillips (seen above), brought back specially for the display from the British ambassador’s residence in Athens, Greece. Schama waxes lyrical about the handsome young lord taking his gap year grand tour of Europe as a glamorising prequel to his life of madness and badness. He also loves the urge for adventure seen in Bloomsbury Group painter Vanessa Bell’s portrait of a Byzantine Lady (1912, also above) which is nominally the Byzantine empress Theodora, though Schama notes how it is also a striking self-portrait.

➢ Travelling Light is a display of GAC works of art selected by Simon Schama, running at the Whitechapel Gallery, Dec 16–Feb 26 (closed Mondays, free)

➢ The UK Government Art Collection is based in central London — free tours can be arranged by appointment


➤ Killing a king tells you who you are — so do your haircut and shoes

execution, painting,1649,Banqueting House , King Charles I

One of Schama’s six epic moments in British history: the execution of King Charles I in 1649, painted by John Weesop. Source: The Gallery Collection/Corbis

The Look, Rock & Pop Fashion❚ SHAPERS OF THE 80s? A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE or an antidote to complacency about the present? Let’s hope the vintage yarns on the inside pages of this website provide a constant foil to the topical blog posts on the front. Even on the pop-cultural timeline, parallels deliver insights: parallels between the Swinging 60s and the Swinging 80s, and what feels highly likely in 2010 to become the Swinging Tens. The signposts to every British youth cult since World War Two have always been the haircut and the shoes, as we’re constantly reminded at that absorbing online version of the book The Look: Adventures in Rock & Pop Fashion. So keep your eyes open.

What caused this momentary validity-check was an exhilarating read in today’s Guardian headlined “Kids need to know they belong”. Don’t wince when you hear that it amounted to a vigorous exhortation to schools that are failing to teach to the hilt the dreaded H-word, history. The history of how we came to execute our king, for example, gets short shrift from the national curriculum.

“Irreverent freedom” is a special aspect of life in Britain. “The endurance of rich and rowdy discord” is another. This was telly-don Simon Schama getting into his eloquent stride. Who needs history, he asked? Our children, of course, if they are to know who they are, and whose imaginations risk being held hostage in the cage of eternal Now… In full fig, Schama succinctly listed the benefits of examining the past:

To the vulgar utilitarian demand, ‘Yes, all very nice, I’m sure, but what use is it?’, this much (and more) can be said: inter alia, the scrutiny of evidence and the capacity to decide which version of an event seems most credible; analytical knowledge of the nature of power; an understanding of the way in which some societies acquire wealth while others lose it and others again never attain it; a familiarity with the follies and pity of war; the distinctions between just and unjust conflicts; a clear-eyed vision of the trappings and the aura of charisma, the weird magic that turns sovereignty into majesty; the still more peculiar surrender to authority grounded in revelation, be that a sacred book or a constitution invoked as if it too were supernaturally ordained and hence unavailable to contested interpretation.

➢ Read My vision for schools by Simon Schama
— six key events from the past that no child should miss out on

King Charles I, execution, warrant

Death warrant of King Charles I (1649): Showing the signatures and seals of 59 of the commissioners who tried Charles I, including that of Oliver Cromwell. This document directly led to the execution of the king, the abolition of the monarchy, and the consequent establishment of a republic to govern England for the only time in its history, between 1649 and 1660. © Parliamentary Archives