Valentines Day Roundup

–The BBC has reposted a 2022 episode of its art series Fake or Fortune. This involves a drawing said to be by the painter Modigliani that was owned by Waugh’s friend Sacheverell Sitwell (brother of Edith and Osbert). Here’s an excerpt from the BBC’s summary:

Fiona Bruce and Philip Mould investigate a delicate sketch depicting a mother and child, purported to be by one of the modern art world’s most famous names, Amedeo Modigliani. Its owner, Henrietta Sitwell, inherited the work and always believed it to be genuine. However, a leading auction house recently cast doubt on its authenticity. If the work is genuine, it could be worth up to £100,000. If not, just a few hundred.

Henrietta inherited the sketch from her father, who had inherited it from his father, the writer and art collector Sacheverell Sitwell. Sacheverell was, along with his two siblings Osbert and Edith, a central member of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s and a key figure in the world of British art. A direct connection to such an established and respected name might normally be enough to guarantee the authenticity of a work but, with an artist as regularly forged as Modigliani, it’s not so simple…

Fiona [Bruce, co-presenter] delves deep into the extensive Sitwell family archives to find any hard evidence for the picture’s provenance. The family story is that Sacheverell bought this work sometime after the First World War. Can we find any written proof of this? The picture is dedicated to ‘Zborowski’ – the name of Modigliani’s friend and art dealer Leopold Zborowski. Why would Sacheverell have owned a picture dedicated to someone else? Travelling to the Montmartre streets where Modigliani lived and worked, Fiona outlines the connections between the artist, his dealer and Henrietta’s grandfather.

Back in London, we recreate the 1919 exhibition Sacheverell, his brother and Leopold Zborowski held of modern French artists at Heal’s, the famous department store – an exhibition where dozens of Modigliani sketches were on sale for a few pennies each. Could this have been the moment when a Modigliani sketch, dedicated to his art dealer, found its way into the hands of the Sitwell family?

The program can be viewed on BBC iPlayer,  A UK internet connection is required.

Country House magazine has posted an article by John Goodall entitled “Inside Madresfield Court, the house that inspired Evelyn Waugh’s novel ‘Brideshead Revisited'”. Here are the opening paragraphs:

Hanging just inside the front door of Madresfield Court is a framed notice in the form of an exquisitely illuminated manuscript page  It presents erstwhile visitors with a summary of all they needed to know during their stay. The times of prayers and meals take pride of place and, beneath them, are the telegram address and telephone exchange number of the house. Across the top of the intricate foliage border are the figures of saints and the name of the nearest railway station, Malvern Link; at the bottom the arms of Earl Beauchamp. To the sides are four vignettes — a view of the moat, gardens, dining hall and chapel — and portraits of a dog and cat.

The notice is a relic of Madresfield’s busy social round in the years leading up to the First World War, when it was the home of the Liberal politician and discerning patron William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp, who had inherited this ancient family seat in 1891 aged 18. The story of his remarkable life and fall from grace, as well as the links between the house, his children and the novelist Evelyn Waugh, are central to Jane Mulvagh’s acclaimed history Madresfield: The Real Brideshead (2008)…

The article is accompanied with several detailed and relevant photographs. These include some of the chapel which was the part of the house that Waugh had particularly chosen to describe in his novel.

–Bridgeman Images has posted a 1959 photo of Waugh and his wife outside their then relatively new home Combe Florey. This is from a photo shoot of the couple and their children that is widely circulated, but this one has less often been reproduced.

The Oldie  has posted a review by Geoffrey Wheatcroft of two new biographies of Winston Churchill, a man not admired by Evelyn Waugh. Here’s an excerpt:

…examples of Churchill’s judgement were seen in his choice of friends and advisers, notably Lord Beaverbrook and Brendan Bracken. They were what Evelyn Waugh had in mind with his brisk phrase just after Churchill’s death, ‘always in the wrong, always surrounded by crooks’.

Bracken was a man of most unlikely origin who attached himself to Churchill and made himself very useful as his financial factotum, a role he performed even while holding government office. And Beaverbrook was bully, a liar and altogether a scoundrel, to whom Churchill was strangely addicted even when ‘Max’ was betraying him…

The Sunday Times has posted an article containing what two of its book critics consider the best “boozy books”. These are defined as “… literary adventures brimming with piss-ups and lonely bar stools with moments of elation and dreadful hangovers.” Here’s one by Evelyn Waugh nominated by Laura Hacket:

Evelyn Waugh wrote Decline and Fall, his first novel, at 24. Disgusting. But it’s fantastic — small, simple and perfectly formed. We begin in Scone College, where the Junior Dean and Domestic Bursar are sheltering from the wild excesses of the annual Bollinger dinner (no prizes for guessing the drinking society Waugh is gesturing towards here). Less successful in hiding from the evening, in which “a fox had been brought in in a cage and stoned to death with champagne bottles”, is poor Paul Pennyfeather, a scholarship student reading for the Church. Thanks to a school tie that unfortunately resembles the Boller tie, he is captured and forced to run away in his pants — an incident so “flagrantly indecent” that he is sent down and forced into employment at Llanabba school, where the story proper begins.

The Observer asked novelists to choose their favorite love songs. Here is Alice Winn’s selection:

Music gives me a headache. Evelyn Waugh once called music “physical torment” and I agree with him, although possibly Waugh was only pretending to hate music in order to hurt Stravinsky’s feelings at a dinner party. Still, I’m very grateful to the sparse selection of music that doesn’t make me want to shut myself in a quiet, darkened room: I think Rachmaninoff is the most wildly romantic composer, and I love him with my whole heart. As to outright love songs – I’m very fond of Wouldn’t It Be Nice by the Beach Boys. I distinctly remember, as a teenager, wondering how married people could behave so normally when they got to live with the person they loved, when they could sleep every night in the same bed! What bliss it seemed! To have the exquisite privilege of privacy and a person to share it with – nothing could be more wonderful. Wouldn’t It Be Nice reminds me of that feeling, and makes me appreciate what I have, and how badly I wanted it.

I don’t think Waugh was pretending to dislike music when he turned down Stravinsky’s invitation to attend a debut of a new composition. Waugh genuinely found it painful to listen to music and, to be fair, even normal music lovers will find some of Stravinsky’s work at least a wee bit pain inducing.


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