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The Face of Britain The Nation Through its Portraits by Simon Schama

The Face of Britain The Nation Through its Portraits

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If you were expecting a chronological plod through the Nation's portrait history, then try something else. On the other hand if you want a set of dazzling pen portraits equal to the paintings Simon Schama describes then read on. This quickly became one of my favourite reads of the year. I was captivated by the details revealed, the stories of the artists, their models and the history of the times, I loved the fact that it isn't a best of, there are some fine clunkers included – because they are part of the story and reading this you will look at the paintings themselves with a keener eye spotting the details you now know you've always missed. The book has a wide range of illustrations but for the full immersive experience you can read this book, visit the forthcoming National Portrait Gallery's exhibition and watch the BBC2 accompanying 5-part series, well worth doing all three. ~ Sue Baker

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The Face of Britain The Nation Through its Portraits by Simon Schama

Simon Schama brings Britain to life through its portraits, as seen in the five-part BBC series The Face of Britain and the major National Portrait Gallery exhibition Churchill and his painter locked in a struggle of stares and glares; Gainsborough watching his daughters run after a butterfly; a black Othello in the nineteenth century, the poet-artist Rossetti trying to capture on canvas what he couldn't possess in life, a surgeon-artist making studies of wounded faces brought in from the Battle of the Somme; a naked John Lennon five hours before his death. In the age of the hasty glance and the selfie, Simon Schama has written a tour de force about the long exchange of looks from which British portraits have been made over the centuries: images of the modest and the mighty; of friends and lovers; heroes and working people. Each of them - the image-maker, the subject, and the rest of us who get to look at them - are brought unforgettably to life. Together they build into a collective picture of Britain, our past and our present, a look into the mirror of our identity at a moment when we are wondering just who we are. Combining his two great passions, British history and art history, for the first time, Schama's extraordinary storytelling reveals the truth behind the nation's most famous portrayals of power, love, fame, the self, and the people. Mesmerising in its breadth and its panache, and beautifully illustrated, with more than 150 images from the National Portrait Gallery, The Face of Britain will change the way we see our past - and ourselves.


Schama has a masterly ability to conjure up character and vivify conflict' Financial Times on 'A History of Britain'

'With Schama you look at a picture and see it as you hadn't before' Telegraph on 'Rembrandt's Eyes'

'Splendid, spirited, immensely enjoyable and wide-ranging' Financial Times on 'The Story of the Jews'

'Shows Schama at his best... as full of memorable incident as a Bellow novel and wittier than a Woody Allen movie' The Times on 'The Story of the Jews'

'Schama writes with grace and wit, and his enthusiasms are contagious' -- Anita Brookner on 'The Embarrassment of Riches'

'Dazzling, beyond praise' Sunday Times on 'Citizens'

About the Author

Simon Schama

Simon Schama is University Professor of Art History and History at Columbia University in New York, and was awarded a C.B.E. in the 2001 New Year’s Honours List. Since 1995 he has been art and culture critic for The New Yorker and essayist for The Guardian. His award-winning books include Citizens; Rembrandt's Eyes and the History of Britain trilogy. His most recent book, Simon Schama's Power of Art, was published to critical acclaim in 2006.

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Book Info

Publication date

16th September 2015


Simon Schama

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Biography / Autobiography
Books Behind TV & Film
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