J.M.W. Turner: painting set free: edited by David Blayney Brown, Amy Concannon, and Sam Smiles

J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014

J. Paul Getty Museum, 2014

Sometimes revolutions take place in a single person, almost without their knowing it, transforming so much that comes after them. So great was the change in J.M.W. Turner’s art from his early work to that being produced in the final 16 years of his life that some of his contemporaries thought him mad, and even today the look of his paintings from this era can come as a shock. I like the quote I found in this fascinating catalogue, attributed to one of his oldest but increasingly disgruntled patrons, William Beckford who complained in 1844 that Turner ” paints now as if his brains and imagination were mixed upon his palette with soapsuds and lather; one must be born again to understand his pictures.”

A chasm in time: Scottish war art and artists in the twentieth century by Patricia R. Andrew

Birlinn, 2014

Birlinn, 2014

The art of Scotland is too distinctive to be simply rolled into some generalised notion of the British Isles, and this survey of Scottish war art throughout the 20th century is the first to focus attention on this always interesting aspect of artistic production. The influence of important local movements such as the Scottish Colourists and the Glasgow School of Art, helped mould a modernist vision amongst Scottish artists that deeply informed the way in which they went on to depict the triumphs and tragedies of wars throughout the following decades.

Anarchy & beauty: William Morris and his legacy, 1860-1960 by Fiona MacCarthy

Yale University Press, 2014

his life and work Yale University Press, 2014

Like Turner, William Morris was another transformational figure from 19th century Britain. Deeply affected by what the Industrial Revolution had done to working life in England as well as its centuries old arts and crafts traditions, Morris developed a philosophy and artistic practice that placed both art and craft at the centre of everyday British life, an antidote to the din of modern production and the excess of high-Victorian style. This catalogue to an exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery in London in 2014 outlines all of Morris’s pursuits, both artistic and political, and then charts the enormous influence these were to have on what followed, from the Arts and Crafts Movement of the 19th century to the contemporary notion that good design should be available to all.

Sidney Nolan: a life by Nancy Underhill (ebook)

NewSouth Publishing, 2015

NewSouth Publishing, 2015

Making sense of the life of Australian artist Sidney Nolan is no easy task, particularly as Nolan himself could be an unreliable (or “creative”) informant. Wading through the labyrinth of complex relationships that characterised his entire life would certainly be a challenge, not to mention a list of works that potentially runs into the tens of thousands; not all of them masterpieces of course (Robert Hughes I think referred to quite a few as “dross”). Still his greatest work is great indeed, and the times he lived through and the people he knew positioned him at the very centre of mid to late 20th century cultural life. You can access this ebook in the comfort of your own home if you’re one of our registered Victorian members.


A short film about Nolan from the National Gallery of Victoria, including a charming story about the artist’s early relationship with the Library.

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