ART HISTORY, Television
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Art History can be a huge challenge. You can look at books, transparencies or digital files from different image libraries and see widely differing reproductions of the same piece. This book and Simon Schama’s Power of Art were both a task of sorting out the good from the not-so-good, or the truly awful. Unless you can get to see for yourself all the images included, wherever in the world they may be, you do your research in other ways, working closely with your author, picture researcher or other eyeball witnesses.

In The Victorians, Jeremy Paxman offers his personal take on the most important and influential period of our national past. Using the paintings of the era as his starting point – in his view, the one mode of Victorian art yet to be rescued from indifference – Paxman explores themes of family, urban life, industry, empire, and imagination to uncover truths (and explode some myths) about Victorian Britain.

To Paxman, these paintings were the television of their day, immensely popular visual narratives that attracted crowds by the hundreds of thousands: a single picture show featuring Elizabeth Butler’s Balaclava (depicting survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade) drew 50,000 viewers, some of them openly weeping. The Victorians shows how artists like Butler, William Powell Frith, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Luke Fildes, and Ford Madox Brown were chronicling a world changing before their eyes, and his overview ranges across the whole of Victorian life and culture: from high gothic architecture to the birth of the football league, from the novels of Dickens to the technological marvels of Brunel.

Published to coincide with a landmark BBC series, The Victorians is an opinionated, informed, surprising, and hugely enthusiastic appraisal of the birth of modern Britain – a glorious reminder of how the Victorians made us who we are today.


  • Published in August 2009, by BBC Books / Random House UK
  • Tie-in to four-part BBC series
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