Cloaks and daggers in the art world?

Just got back from Sue G’s traditional New Year’s Day do. She is a lovely and generous hostess, and it is a warm and welcoming get-together. Jules managed to drag herself there, too. Three nights in a row – were we not so tired, I guess we could have claimed to have real stamina.

We got into a fairly involved discussion with Monica about Tracey Emin, and whether she is a conscious caricature or not. The consensus was probably not. I had no idea she was ‘always rightwing’ – but I guess it makes a strange sort of sense.

Monica also told us of this letter to the Guardian, written by Professor Lynda Morris, at Norwich University College of the Arts, which suggests that the man who was in charge at Slade was involved with MI5:

“The photograph of Gary Oldman as Smiley on page 4 of the Review (The truth about spies, 17 September) looked so like Sir William Coldstream when I taught with him in his final years at the Slade school of fine art, UCL, 1974 to 1976. I saw Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last night and the film confirmed that Oldman’s portrayal of Smiley is based on Coldstream: his glasses, his painting technique based on the ideas of watching he developed at the GPO Film Unit working alongside WH Auden, who wrote in his Letter to William Coldstream, Esq (1937): “Let me pretend I am the impersonal eye of the camera.” The film even seemed to echo his various Georgian homes and studios.

Peter Wright’s Spycatcher starts with his final day at work for MI5. He gets off the train at Euston Square and walks down Gower Street to the MI5 offices in a building next to an art school. Anthony Blunt would often drop into Coldstream’s office at the Slade for a whisky or two, according to John Wonnacott, while he was a student there in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This suggested the building next to the Slade was where Blunt was debriefed.

I interviewed Coldstream in the 1970s about his involvement with the left in the 1930s and the influence of the Hungarian art historian Freder ick Antal, who moved to London in 1933, having spent 1932 in Moscow. Antal wrote about bourgeois realism as opposed to socialist realism and influenced Coldstream, Blunt and Francis Klingender in the 1930s, and John Berger and Paul Hogarth in the 1940s. I would love to ask the film-makers if the link with Coldstream was a directorial or designers’ idea? Or did they consult John Le Carre?”


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