Henrik Bering Articles

Epistolary Art

What one connoisseur would say to another.
Oct 05, 2015

That aesthetic discernment can exist entirely on its own, devoid of human warmth, is demonstrated by the lives of the art connoisseurs Bernard Berenson and Kenneth Clark. As leading arbiters of taste in their day, both enjoyed all the trappings of success. Berenson, the oracle on Italian Renaissance paintings who had gotten his start by helping Isabella Stewart Gardner build her collection in Boston, held court at his Tuscan villa, I Tatti, in the hills above Florence.

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Let George Do It

A bumpy ride for America’s last king.
Jul 20, 2015

One of the benefits of living in a monarchy is that whenever an Englishman feels miserable he can always point to some hapless royal whose lot is worse. As the British aristocrat Richard Grenville-Temple noted back in the days of George III: 

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Looking Backward

The art of the Victorian vision of history
Jan 26, 2015

As Charles Dickens’s Child’s History of England makes plain, Charles II was not an upstanding individual: “Whenever you see his portrait, with his swarthy, ill-looking face and great nose, you may fancy him at his court in Whitehall surrounded by the worst vagabonds in the kingdom (though they were lords and ladies), drinking, gambling, indulging in vicious conversation and committing every kind of profligate excess.” 

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Lafayette Squared

Portrait of the hero in two revolutions
Oct 27, 2014

Whenever a French president visits Washington and White House speechwriters need to come up with something nice to say about France, Lafayette is cited as the man who came to America’s aid in its war of independence. Whether this produces the intended emotional echo in the visitor’s mind is a different matter: While in the United States his statues are liberally scattered up and down the East Coast, in his home country Lafayette is almost forgotten.

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Mirror, Mirror

The changing instinct for self-depiction
Jun 30, 2014

In the history of art, self-portraiture constitutes a world of its own, presenting us with moods ranging from the lighthearted to the sordid. There is sheer delight in Rubens’s painting of himself and his first wife Isabella Brant in a bower of honeysuckle bliss; acute menace when Caravaggio decks himself out as Bacchus, looking like some exceedingly poisonous rent boy, and veering into grisliness when he lets the severed head of Goliath carry his own likeness.

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Scratch an Actor

.  .  . and you’ll find an actor—like Laurence Olivier.
Jun 02, 2014

In the annals of villainy, Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Richard III holds a special place: In the 1955 film version of Shakespeare’s play, Olivier’s Richard brims with malevolent energy, all the more lethal for being witty.

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Freudian Brush

A modern master’s indelible style and disordered life.
Dec 09, 2013

Lucian Freud (1922-2011) did not tolerate lateness, as Mick Jagger’s onetime wife Jerry Hall found out the hard way back in 1997. For four months, she had been sitting for her portrait, in which she was breast-feeding her and Jagger’s son. But being punctual was not among Ms. Hall’s virtues, and after arriving late on a number of occasions, Freud abruptly canceled the project, informing his agent: “The painting’s had a sex change. .  .  .

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How It All Began

A historian assigns the blame for World War I.
Nov 18, 2013

While the Second World War is considered the necessary war against Nazi evil, World War I is widely seen as a pointless tragedy, an impression first shaped by the British trench poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, then reinforced by Barbara Tuchman’s Guns of August (1962). That book, which was on John F. Kennedy’s mind during the Cuban Missile Crisis, held the Great Powers equally responsible, and blamed the outbreak of war on mobilization timetables spinning out of control.

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