Piece: The Ambassadors
Artist: Hans Holbein the Younger
About: What makes this painting special is not its subjects (two young men of privilege, working as ambassadors in the 16th century) but the symbols smuggled within. Many believe its intention was to reinforce links between the two men and religion. Objects on the shelf, for example, include a shepherds dial, a quadrant, and a sundial – all instruments used to better understand and map the heavens. The lute with the broken string suggests discord – perhaps amongst the church. And a skull in the foreground (the symbol for mortality) is rendered anamorphically, so only reveals itself when you view the painting from the right.


Piece: Mona Lisa
Artist: Leonardo Da Vinci
About: The most iconic of them all. It’s disappointing that the Louvre’s security won’t let you within ten metres of it. Da Vinci carried the canvas around with him for most of his life. To create her knowing smile and following eyes, he employed a forgotten technique called sfumato – the blurring of the edges of the mouth and the corners of her eyes. The blur gives no fixed point for the viewer, and so the smile seems elusive and the eyes seem to follow you wherever you go. Amazing.


Piece: Venus De Milo
Artist: Alexandros
About: The Venus De Milo isn’t just admired for its beauty, but also its imperfection. With broken arms and a missing plinth, it somehow seems complete than it was when it was created. In fact, artist recreations of its original form seem to prove that less is more. The missing arms were actually found in fragments at her excavation, but were discarded later by the French for having a rougher appearance. The plinth (featuring Alexandros’ name) on which she stood was also discarded – an embarrassment to those who had paid for the statue on the presumption it had been created by Praxiteles.


Piece: William Shakespeare
Artist: John Taylor
About: John Taylor may well be the wrong name. But he’s certainly considered the most likely person to have painted the Chandos portrait of Shakespeare. It hangs in the Portrait Gallery, and was in fact the founding piece of their collection. It’s the most famous portrait of Shakespeare, perhaps because its the only known painting that could’ve been painted from a live sitting – all other paintings date to years following his death.


Piece: A Bar at the Folies-Bergère
Artist: Édouard Manet
About: This is Manet’s final major work, and he certainly went out with a bang. The painting shows a bar lady at work in a famous Parisienne music hall. Whilst it’s hotly debated, most believe Manet has consciously shifted perspective here to show the two faces of a bar person. Look at her face, and you see sadness – distant, bored and cold. But in the mirror over her right shoulder, we see she’s merrily entertaining one of the bar’s patrons (perhaps that’s meant to be us, the viewer) – she’s incredibly close and leaning in. The Guardian called it “one of the keystones of modern art.”


Piece: The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her last berth to be broken up
Artist: JMW Turner
About: Here, Turner explores striking contrasts. Light and dark, detailed and atmospheric, old guard and new, each are played to great effect – in fact, it was voted the UK’s favourite painting in 2005. The HMS Temeraire was a warship famous for its fight in the Battle of Trafalgar. It is pictured being towed by a steam-powered tug to the shipbreakers, on what would be its final voyage.


Piece: Ophelia
Artist: Sir John Everett Millais
About: An iconic example of the pre-raphaelite movement, which opposed the Royal Academy ideals typified by artist Raphael. The pre-raphaelites believed the landscape of a painting was just as important as the subject (in comparison to Raphael and his counterparts) and so Millais chose to paint the background first. Up close, you see that even the tiniest detail of plant life is accurately cast.


Piece: Pelagos
Artist: Barbara Hepworth
About: Hepworth’s work explores, for the most part at least, relationships and the interplay between people and environments. She worked from a studio in St Ives and the coast is often a focus. In Pelagos, one of her most famous sculptures, she draws on the ‘tension between herself and the sea, the wind, or the hills’, using taut strings to bridge the gap between two peaks of a wooden spiral.


Piece: Bathers at Asnières
Artist: Georges Seurat
About: A step-change in the art world: gone are the impressionist sweeps and swirls, and instead we have carefully considered pointillism. This was the painting with which Seurat developed his pointillistic technique, using dots created with a conte crayon to slowly build up subtle tonal changes.


Piece: Sunflowers
Artist: Vincent Van Gogh
About: One of Van Gogh’s most loved paintings, it is in fact one of four sunflower paintings he created for Paul Gauguin. Both the vibrancy of colour, and the layering of yellow on yellow, were groundbreaking at the time, and its influence can be seen in the work of many artists today including David Hockney. The sunflower seeds were created with a technique known as impasto.


Piece: Bacchus and Ariadne
Artist: Titian
About: A famous 16th century painting, commissioned to decorate one of the rooms at the Ducal palace in Ferrara (near Bologna.) Pictured we see Ariadne near the shoreline, recently spurned by her lover Theseus, caught unawares by Bacchus, god of wine. What’s most striking here is the richness of colour – deep blues, mossy greens and warm reds – a quality Titian was obsessed with getting right.


Thoughts on 2017:
The Big Stuff:
A big year for us. We met Laurel Wilding Harris. We left Shepherdess Walk for Whitechapel. And then left Whitechapel for Stepney Green. Longish trip to Italy (Rome, Florence, Bologna, Venice.) Shortish trip to New York. I worked on some big pitches at work, and helped win a few of them. Launched Possibilitea. Launched APG gold for CRUK. I was invited to become a trustee of Depaul UK. And with my parents moving house, I waved goodbye to my childhood home in Gotherington.
The Small Stuff:
Adhered to 
’Weekly squash’ better in the first half of the year than the second. Finally achieved “The Usual?” at Workshop Coffee before it closed down. Ordered far too much from Tayyabs and Chicken Shop. I managed a full year of journalling, and Monday morning week-planning. Didn’t go to enough gigs. We had some nice weekends away seeing friends and family. Dry January. Wet November and December. And a white Christmas (well, Boxing Day). Amazing what can happen in a year.

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Quote for the year:
“Get some sleep before the baby arrives.”

Books read: 33
Best three books:
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Number of photos taken: 9858
Number of songs starred on Spotify: 110
Most listened to track: White noise – BP 228 hz
Series watched: Yes Minister, Yes Prime Minister, Inside No 9, Episodes, Better Call Saul, Brass Eye, Line of Duty, Flea Bag, The Crown, Parks and Recreation
Album of the Year: Laura Marling – Semper Femina
Film of the Year: The Lego Batman Movie

Pub Quizzes Partaken: 0
Pub Quizzes Won: 0
Trips to the doctor: 1
Trips to the dentist: 3
Trips to the vet: 1

Museums visited: 21
Museums by month:
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New Year’s Resolutions:
Dry January. More writing. More dinners with friends and family. Master Adobe Illustrator. Redo the kitchen and the bathroom.

Piece: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon
Artist: Pablo Picasso
About: Perhaps the most famous example of cubism painting, dating back to 1907. All background detail has been removed to ensure nothing interferes with the impact of the subject, five naked women. In fact, it’s only through the name of the painting that we know it’s setting (on a street famous for its brothel in Barcelona). It’s a huge piece, eschewing traditional form and composition, instead favouring geometrical shapes to make up African masks.

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Piece: The Starry Night
Artist: Vincent van Gogh
About: Beautiful swirls and an intense colour palette have ensured this painting is famous across the globe. Van Gogh painted the scene from his window at Saint-Paul asylum, but you wouldn’t recognise the view; the village was invented to frame the scene and provide some (much needed) order for the swirling expression above. Gogh preferred the night as it was “much more alive and richly coloured than the day.”

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Piece: The Dream
Artist: Henri Rousseau
About: This was Rousseau’s first painting to receive acclaim, but he didn’t have long to glory in it, as he passed a few months later. Rousseau wasn’t burdened by an understanding of art theory and he developed his own unique look, featuring highly stylised jungle scenes. Rousseau wrote a poem to accompany the piece, but it didn’t add much for me.

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Piece: The Lovers
Artist: Reni Magritte
About: This surrealist painting is almost as iconic as Dali’s clocks. Magritte has emulated the cinematic hero/heroine kiss, but he subverts the form by shrouding their entire faces with cloth. Frustrated desires are a common theme in his work, and the fabric barrier here is a perfect example.

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Piece: Young Woman with a Water Pitcher
Artist: Johannes Vermeer
About: This one features on the front cover of my Gombrich’s Story of Art book, so it has been top of mind throughout this whole challenge. Vermeer aimed to paint the ideal woman, in an ideal home. The image is one of harmony, with balanced shapes and colours. It dates back to 1660 and is painted in oil on canvas.

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Piece: Campbell’s Soup Cans
Artist: Andy Warhol
About: When first exhibited, Warhol’s 32 soup cans were placed onto shelves installed into the gallery to look like a supermarket. Each one shows of a type of soup Campbell’s was making at the time. Warhol was positive about modern life, and whilst some people read it as a celebration (or even a slight) on consumerism, it’s not generally considered as one. In fact, people close to him state it was simply a product close to his heart.

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Piece: Dance (I)
Artist: Henri Matisse
About: Matisse received a commission in 1909 for two large decorative panels, Dance & Music. This is the first study of Dance, to assess its composition. The figure on the left appears to move purposefully, pulling the others around that are a little weightless. Matisse studied the patterns and colours of carpets and North African scenery – and whilst those influences aren’t overtly visible here, they informed his approach.

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Piece: Broadway Boogie Woogie
Artist: Piet Mondrian
About: Piet Mondrian’s wanted to find an approach to art that was disciplined and structured, built up of the simplest elements – straight lines and pure colours. This is one of his more complex pictures; created when he left Europe for New York at the start of World War II. He loved the city’s architecture, and adored American jazz. This painting was his homage to both of those things: the grey banding suggests the city grid system, and the sharp staccato colour implies free jazz and improvisation along a theme.

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Piece: The Persistence of Memory
Artist: Salvador Dali
About: As Gombrich explains, people and objects often seem to merge and exchange places in our dreams. “Our cat may at the same time be our aunt and our garden Africa.” Dali attempted to make sense of this confusing dream life by painting similar dreamscapes. He mixed photorealistic fragments of the real world together – to imply apparent madness. In doing so he didn’t attempt to show what we see, but what we dream.

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Piece: The Vision of St John
Artist: El Greco
About: El Greco (‘the greek’) fell in love with the work of Tintoretto when he moved from Crete to Venice. Tintoretto considered his painting complete when he had conveyed his vision for the scene, and it was that function over form approach that El Greco embraced. By ignoring traditional technique, he created this dramatic biblical scene full of blurred lines and sharp light. It shows a moment from the book Revelations, in which the fifth seal of heaven is broken and the saints (including Saint John on the left) are martyred.

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Piece: Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies
Artist: Claude Monet
About: Monet urged his impressionist pals to abandon the indoors and create mobile studios outside, where they could place themselves in front of the ‘motif’. He fitted out a riverboat to act as a studio, and painted his river scenery. He wasn’t interested in the detail, but instead giving ‘an impression’ of the overall scene – the effect the light had on the water and the leaves, the depth of the shadows etc. Many critics at the time lambasted the impressionist movement (the term impressionist was originally a criticism, but the negative connotations were quickly forgotten). But Monet was an accomplished painted, and Gombrich tells us his tones and colours as deliberately as any landscape painter of the past.

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