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I am them

Richard Wollheim, 7 October 1993

Love of Beginnings 
by J.-B. Pontalis, translated by James Greene and Marie-Christine Régius.
Free Association, 260 pp., £13.95, May 1993, 9781853431296
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... J.-B. Pontalis is a Parisian intellectual de pur sang. Born into a wealthy upper-middle-class family, he was brought up in Neuilly, and, as a child, spent long summers at a family house in Cabourg, Proust’s Balbec. He studied philosophy under Sartre, and taught it for some years. He entered psychoanalysis under the aegis of Lacan, and having weaned himself from that unfortunate affiliation, is now one of the leading figures in the French psychoanalytic world ...

Richardson’s Rex

Richard Wollheim, 10 October 1991

A Life of Picasso: Vol. I 1881-1906 
by John Richardson and Marilyn McCulley.
Cape, 548 pp., £25, September 1991, 0 224 03024 8
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... Written in a strong, clear, slightly salty style, carrying effortlessly a great deal of information, much of it new, and illustrated so profusely that at every turn the narrative seems to play itself out before our eyes, the first volume of John Richardson’s long-awaited Life of Picasso will leave its readers waiting impatiently for Volume Two. Long may it go on ...


Richard Wollheim: On A.J. Ayer, 27 July 1989

... In the late afternoon of Wednesday, 28 June, a television channel rang me. Would I say a few words on their news programme about Freddie Ayer? It was the first I heard of his death. Then the Independent, for which I had written an obituary a year before, asked me if I would write 600 words for their front page. Then another television channel rang. Freddie’s death was about to become, I could see, a media event ...


Richard Wollheim: In South Africa, 3 July 1986

... of an incredibly talented black weaver. People asked me how my ideas related to Foucault or Richard Rorty. A painter, Swedish by origin, of great intensity as was his work, talked to me of the problems of South Africa. They were not political problems, he said, they were cultural problems. They were problems of communication and of creativity. The ...

Yellow Sky, Red Sea, Violet Sands

Richard Wollheim: Nicolas De Staël, 24 July 2003

Nicolas de Staël 
by Jean-Paul Ameline et al.
Centre Pompidou, 252 pp., €39.90, March 2003, 2 84426 158 2
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... Nicolas de Staël was an experimental painter. The first half of the 20th century abounded in experimental artists. Not so the second half, which abounded in innovatory artists of one sort or another, and the difference is that the innovatory artist innovates in order to give his work a distinctive look, whereas the experimental artist innovates in the hope, later to be confirmed or disconfirmed, that this new look will help him do better justice to his subject matter ...

A Charismatic View of Pornography

Richard Wollheim, 7 February 1980

... It might be supposed that in a liberal society, such as ours professes to be, the attitude of the state towards obscenity, or the function of the public censor, should not give rise to problems of any great difficulty – details apart – and that there is a widely accepted model to which thinking on these issues would try to conform. The model is that provided by John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty, and the doctrine that it endorses runs something like this: some people like obscenity, and some don’t, and those who don’t tend to find it filthy, horrible, revolting, and, probably, immoral ...


Richard Wollheim, 19 March 1987

Semites and Anti-Semites 
by Bernard Lewis.
Weidenfeld, 288 pp., £15, August 1986, 0 297 79030 7
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After the Last Sky 
by Edward Said and Jean Mohr.
Faber, 224 pp., £6.95, September 1986, 0 571 13918 3
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... Professor Bernard Lewis enjoys a worldwide reputation as a scholar of Near-Eastern history, and in his most recent work, Semites and Anti-Semites, he has chosen to concentrate his formidable powers of analysis, and a massive accumulation of fact, upon a relatively restricted topic, which nevertheless raises large questions of historical and political understanding ...


Richard Wollheim, 22 June 1995

Theory and Philosophy of Art: Style, Artist and Society 
by Meyer Schapiro.
Braziller, 253 pp., £19.95, October 1994, 0 8076 1356 8
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... One of the essays included in this volume is entitled ‘Eugène Fromentin as Critic’, and it opens: ‘The Old Masters of Belgium and Holland is the first and perhaps the only book of its kind: a critical study of painting by an accomplished artist who is also a first-rate writer.’ Anyone acquainted with Meyer Schapiro will be amused. For, whether or not this is a correct assessment of Fromentin as a critic (the essay that follows suggests some qualifications), applied to Schapiro himself, these words have the ring of truth, if heavily understated ...

A Bed out of Leaves

Richard Wollheim: A dance at Belsen, 4 December 2003

... I had spent profitable time in the library, and, on this occasion, I found myself sitting next to Richard Meier, the uncompromising Modernist architect. Meier, who had just won the commission to build the new complex on top of the Santa Monica mountains, was expanding on the content of his brief, and momentarily I must have forgotten whom I was talking ...

Jesus Christie

Richard Wollheim, 3 October 1985

J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher 
by Donald Lindsay, Roger Young and Hugh Lloyd-Jones.
Plume, 211 pp., £12.50, September 1984, 0 947656 00 6
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... There are, I am sure, in the lives of all of us except perhaps the most low-spirited, some four or five people whom we cannot forgive. By this I do not mean anything necessarily moral. We don’t have to think that what they did was wrong, or even that they could have stopped themselves doing it. It is enough that they stick in the gullet. J.T. Christie: A Great Teacher is modelled on those Late Victorian or Edwardian volumes, bound in dark olive or chocolate board, hagiographical in tone, which, while bringing together the scattered papers of some resolutely private figure, admit that his real distinction of mind and character has eluded them, and its subject is one of the four or five people who stick in my gullet ...

Fifty Years On

Richard Wollheim, 23 June 1994

... One snowy night in the early months of 1945, we were dining in the basement of a bombed-out house in one of those neat workers’ suburbs of which the Dutch were proud. ‘We’ were the ten or so officers on the Headquarters of 214 Infantry Brigade. For protection against the fierce cold, we had an anthracite stove, which smoked, and large tumblers of Dutch gin ...

The Girl in the Shiny Boots

Richard Wollheim: Adolescence, 20 May 2004

... For as long as my parents still went on holiday together, which ended around my sixth or seventh year, there was nothing unusual in the fact that I should have been sent off with my nanny to stay in what was called a Board Residence in a seaside town on the South Coast. The first two or three weeks of the holiday were divided between long periods of routine and brief moments of terror, with, I am sure, some pleasure in the middle ...

Germs: A Memoir

Richard Wollheim, 15 April 2004

... around in a very characteristic way, and blurted out his answer in a fast, high-pitched voice. ‘Richard,’ he said, ‘I think I see exactly what you mean, and it’s fascinating, but really I don’t see why "suburban". Aren’t you trying to be too – specific? I don’t see why suburban has anything to do with it. I really don’t think it has.’ At ...
On the Emotions 
by Richard Wollheim.
Yale, 269 pp., £19.95, November 1999, 0 300 07974 5
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... While Richard Wollheim doesn’t go so far as to suggest that the unexamined emotion is not worth feeling, he does proceed on the assumption that it is beneficial for philosophers and non-philosophers alike to have an accurate picture of a powerful and ever-present part of the human constitution. And in a variety of ways he chides philosophers for their inattention to what he takes to be certain facts of the matter about our psyches ...


Nicholas Penny, 18 February 1988

Painting as an Art 
by Richard Wollheim.
Thames and Hudson, 384 pp., £28, November 1987, 0 500 23495 7
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... In the Preface to his new book Richard Wollheim tells how he ‘evolved a way of looking at paintings which was massively time-consuming and deeply rewarding’. He looked at them for a very long time – longer than us – and then they told him what they were all about. I came to recognise that it often took the first hour or so in front of a painting for stray associations or motivated misperceptions to settle down, and it was only then, with the same amount of time or more to spend looking at it, that the picture could be relied upon to disclose itself as it was ...

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