Friday, 22 November 2013

Sickert at Tate Britain

'Taste is the death of a painter' - Walter Richard Sickert, 1908

This week Tate Britain officially reopened its doors after a two-year renovation; it celebrates this weekend with a 'house-warming party'. The new rehang, sponsored by BP, arranges 500 years of British art chronologically, throwing up a number of juxtapositions and surprises.

If you want to trace the work of one artist through the BP Walk through British Art, you could do worse than follow the career of Walter Sickert. The German-born artist first appears halfway round Tate Britain's west wing in the room dedicated to the 1840s - Café des Tribunaux, Dieppe (c1890) - and continues to the front of the east wing: Miss Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies as Isabella of France (1932).

The theatre crops up in early, Impressionistic, Minnie Cunningham at the Old Bedford (1892), though his fascination is given an unsettling, haunting twist in Brighton Pierrots (1915). In between, La Hollandaise (c1906) perhaps represents the peak of his Camden Town nudes.

Unfortunately, there's no room for Ennui (c1914), and I'd love to see his 1935 portraits of the Martin family, but on the way are Sickert's contemporaries: the Camden Town and Bloomsbury groups, Augustus John and his associates, and the Vorticists. Following Dulwich Picture Gallery's recent exhibition, 'A Crisis of Brilliance', the work of a group of Slade artists from a century ago shines especially brightly: David Bomberg (The Mud Bath, 1914), Stanley Spencer (Swan Upping at Cookham, 1915-19), CRW Nevinson (La Mitrailleuse, 1915), Paul Nash (Dead Sea, 1940-1) and Mark Gertler's wonderful Merry-Go-Round (1916).

Monday, 4 November 2013

Tout Maigret

In perhaps a belated tribute to the 110th anniversary of writer Georges Simenon's birth, Penguin is reprinting the full catalogue of his Inspector Maigret novels in new translations. The first of 75 books, Pietr the Latvian, is out this week, translated by David Bellos, and the rest will follow at one a month. The current calendar runs to The Saint-Fiacre Affair (number 13), which is due December 2014.

Penguin has tried remarketing Simenon twice in the past decade, with limited success. In 2003, on his centenary, a series of Maigrets was published in Penguin Classics, with covers by Keenan, alongside a handful of the author's notorious romans durs (as Modern Classics). Problems with Penguin's move to a new warehouse may have been to blame at the time, and three years later some of the Maigrets were repackaged once again, this time as pocketbooks.

This is an audacious move for what may have become an acquired taste for crime connoisseurs, and Pietr the Latvian (Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett in Daphne Woodward's 1963 translation, pictured) is no bad place to start; 10 Maigrets were published in 1931 and Simenon always said this was the first to be completed. The template is established here, alongside the introduction of other favourite characters including Madame Maigret, while Simenon can investigate one of his favourite themes: identity.

The current crop is branded "Inspector Maigret" and returns to the stock cover images of the Modern Classics*; the books are more faithful to the original titles and some of the goodies that await include The Night at the Crossroads (due April 2014) and The Bar on the Seine (October 2014). The problem for many fans is whether to invest once more in these new imprints, but what a happy problem!

*UPDATE I note from the estimable Caustic Cover Critic that the cover images have been specially commissioned from Belgian photographer Harry Gruyaert. I'm not convinced by them but fair play to Penguin for their commitment and, darn it, this makes these new editions all the more collectable.