He painted his wife without lips. He painted his friend with a spinal deformity. And he painted himself as a ghost in a top hat. Paul Czannes unflinching portraits, coming to Britain this autumn, didnt just astonish Picasso and his disciples. They changed art for ever
In Paris at the dawn of the 20th century, a generation of young artists changed everything. They visited the dusty yet magical galleries of the Ethnography Museum in the rambling Trocadro and some started their own collections of African masks. This fascination with non-European art helped them break with hundreds of years of tradition. Pablo Picasso completed a portrait of his friend Gertrude Stein by giving her a mask instead of a face. He then painted Les Demoiselles dAvignon with its wildly cavorting masked prostitutes. Modern art was born in those bold years, in a glamorous atmosphere of absinthe, drugs (Picasso and his friends dabbled in opium) and sex in the red light district of Montmartre.
There is just one problem with this exhilarating story of the birth of modern art. It is not true.
My doubts began a couple of years ago in Londons National Gallery. I was looking at Paul Czannes Les Grandes Baigneuses, which he started in 1894. He was in his 50s then and did not complete it until 1905, one year before his death. Looking at the bold slashing lines of its landscape and the monumental abstracted nudes gathered under a crystalline sky, I realised something about the faces. Their eyes are dark sharp cuts. Their mouths, too. Their noses are like rigid blocks of wood. These are not faces. They are masks.
Yet they were painted by a man who, as far as anyone knows, had never looked at any African art. As for sex and drugs, he never went near them. The art of Czanne is the fruit of long, focused study by one man in front of an easel through long hot Provenal days. And this is the art that changed everything. This great 19th-century artist invented almost everything we attribute to Matisse, Picasso and Braque. Modernism is all there in paintings he executed as early as the 1880s. Czanne may be the single most revolutionary artist who ever lived.
The diversity of Nasas workforce in 1940s Virginia is uncovered in a new book by Margot Lee Shetterly. She recalls how a visit to her home town led to a revelation
Mrs Land worked as a computer out at Langley, my father said, taking a right turn out of the parking lot of the First Baptist church in Hampton, Virginia. My husband and I visited my parents just after Christmas in 2010, enjoying a few days away from our full-time life and work in Mexico.
They squired us around town in their 20-year-old green minivan, my father driving, my mother in the front passenger seat, Aran and I buckled in behind like siblings. My father, gregarious as always, offered a stream of commentary that shifted fluidly from updates on the friends and neighbours wed bumped into around town to the weather forecast to elaborate discourses on the physics underlying his latest research as a 66-year-old doctoral student at Hampton University.
He enjoyed touring my Maine-born-and-raised husband through our neck of the woods and refreshing my connection with local life and history in the process.
As a callow 18-year-old leaving for college, Id seen my home town as a mere launching pad for a life in worldlier locales, a place to be from rather than a place to be. But years and miles away from home could never attenuate the citys hold on my identity and the more I explored places and people far from Hampton, the more my status as one of its daughters came to mean to me. That day after church, we spent a long while catching up with the formidable Mrs Land, who had been one of my favourite Sunday school teachers. Kathaleen Land, a retired Nasa mathematician, still lived on her own well into her 90s and never missed a Sunday at church.
Is Nineteen Eighty-Four too obvious? Readers suggest books with the rise of a US oligarchy, alternative facts and a president who wont live in the White House
George Orwells Nineteen Eighty-Four has seen a surge in popularity since the election of Donald Trump, but other dystopian works of fiction are available. Following on from Alex Herns suggestions on Thursday, our readers offered the novels they think best capture the spirit of the times.
V for Vendetta by Alan Moore
To be sure, the management is very bad. In fact, let us not mince words the management is terrible! Weve had a string of embezzlers, frauds, liars and lunatics making a string of catastrophic decisions. This is plain fact.
But who elected them? It was you! You who appointed these people! You who gave them the power to make your decisions for you!
Clearly, we have elected the bad management that sits in office today, making catastrophic decisions. V for Vendetta depicts a state run by a dictator who rose to power after starting as an elected official, surrounding himself with people who think like him and are all too willing to carry out his extreme agenda.
Dickens is often criticised for his weak female characters. But his great-great-great-granddaughter Lucinda Dickens Hawksley says he is a product of the strong women in his life and the Victorian ideals of his times
To a modern reader, many of Dickenss heroines can seem weak, foolish figures of fun. Dickenss novels date from the 1830s to 1870, when women were legally the property of their husbands, fathers or whichever male relative called themselves head of the family. His heroines, including Flora Finching, Dora Spenlow and Rosa Budd described in The Mystery of Edwin Drood as wonderfully pretty, wonderfully childish are often infuriating to read now. At the time of their creation, however, Dickens was emulating a popular impression of what a well-brought up young lady should be like.
Many Victorian girls and even adult women were forbidden by their families to read novels if the heroines were considered too controversial (including Anne Bronts The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and Charlotte Bronts Jane Eyre). Instead they were recommended to read improving books, often written by religious writers, about how girls and women should behave: think Jessicas First Prayer by Hesba Stretton and Coventry Patmores narrative poem The Angel in the House. Queen Victoria famously sacked her daughters governess after discovering one of the princesses reading a novel.
The real women in Dickenss life were very different from his domesticated and compliant creations, including three remarkable women in his family. Charless paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Dickens, was a servant in the household of Lord Crewe. She began as a housemaid and, after being widowed and left a single mother, worked her way up to the role of housekeeper. Her grandson retained vivid memories of her warm personality and storytelling.