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10 artworks
  • Black on Maroon

    This is one of a series of murals commissioned from Rothko for a restaurant in New York but subsequently withdrawn and hanging elsewhere. The series seen together is one of the most powerful experiences of the modern art world: they offer meditative calm, a deep insight into colour and its power over mood. The work to my untutored eye seems immaculately done. I can only be silent and still in its presence.

    Black on Maroon 1958
    Mark Rothko (1903–1970)
    Black on Maroon
    © 1998 Kate Rothko Prizel & Christopher Rothko ARS, NY and DACS, London. Photo credit: Tate

  • Box That Never Closes

    I love the simplicity and tension of this work: it hovers, it is still, it is constantly in motion. It is both soothing and exciting. Michael Craig Martin is most widely known for his flat-colour representations of objects in the current culture: but this work harks back to his days as a pioneering conceptual artist, and presiding mentor of the NBAs... the New British Artists, who emerged with such panache in the 1990s.

    Box That Never Closes 1967
    Michael Craig-Martin (b.1941)
    Swindon Museum and Art Gallery
    Box That Never Closes
    © Michael Craig-Martin. Courtesy Gagosian Gallery. Photo credit: Swindon Museum and Art Gallery

  • Interior at Paddington

    I first saw this painting at the time of the Festival of Britain in 1951: I was a teenager and grappling with all the displays of 'modern art' that were suddenly available around then. This gave me a grounding: I found it enigmatic and enthralling. I have done so ever since. I find the detail eerie... not quite naturalistic. The clothes haunt me: the plant is strange too. I grasp at the view from the window and get my breath back. But Freud has locked me into his vision... which will intensify over the years and seal his reputation.

    Interior at Paddington 1951
    Lucian Freud (1922–2011)
    Walker Art Gallery
    Interior at Paddington
    © Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

  • Othello, the Moor of Venice

    This is the African-American actor, Ira Aldridge, who was celebrated in his day for this, his most famous Shakespearean role. It is a competent painting by James Northcote, an early nineteenth-century painter, but I chose it for its content, and its narrative.

    Here is a black actor famous enough to have his portrait painted, playing a leading Shakespearean role. The painting itself was the first acquired by Manchester City Art Gallery when it took over from the Royal Manchester Institution in 1883. I chose it because it celebrates all that I value: the part of country I come from, Lancashire; the works of Shakespeare; and a fine actor of colour with a leading place in British theatre.

    Othello, the Moor of Venice 1826
    James Northcote (1746–1831)
    Manchester Art Gallery
    Othello, the Moor of Venice
    Photo credit: Manchester Art Gallery

  • Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

    We know the self-portraits of course: they're his most famous work. But I love this because this shows us him as a young man. It will be the first of many, but here he is setting the pattern for what is to come, without quite knowing it. He's wearing a hat: Rembrandt's selections of hats is impressive. And he already has a beard. His beard always remained a rather inconspicuous thing, often quite scruffy. Nothing will change.

    Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man c.1630
    Rembrandt van Rijn (1606–1669)
    Walker Art Gallery
    Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
    Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

  • Still Life, Fruit

    I chose this for non-aesthetic reasons: Vallette, born French, came to England in 1904 and studied at Birkbeck Institute (now Birkbeck College, London, of which I'm President). He went to Manchester and taught at the School of Art there, tutoring L. S. Lowry. He left a range of paintings depicting Manchester in all its smoky gloom and rain, and this painting is in the care of Stockport Heritage Services... my home town. All of this is significant in my personal story... but I also think its a delightful still life.

    Still Life, Fruit 1912
    Adolphe Valette (1876–1942)
    Stockport Heritage Services
    Still Life, Fruit
    Photo credit: Stockport Heritage Services

  • The Annunciation

    This choice reflects my love of all early Renaissance art: it gives the lie to the idea they hadn't yet learnt to paint correctly, i.e., mostly pre-perspective. But here it is: the lovely imaginary architecture, the tempting garden beyond, the two delicate figures of women – both observing social distancing. Well, you might if you were confronted by an angel! The folds of the clothes, the gentle hands, the lily each offers their own delight... all set the imagination soaring.

    The Annunciation c.1442–1448
    Domenico Veneziano (active 1438–1461)
    The Fitzwilliam Museum
    The Annunciation
    Photo credit: The Fitzwilliam Museum

  • Venice: the Bacino di San Marco from San Giorgio Maggiore

    Knowing Venice is a life-long love affair: so it is impossible to separate the view of the place and its significance for us Venice-lovers, from the bravura of the painting. I have chosen to curate this lesser-known painting because it captures more than Venice's more obvious attractions.

    I love the sky, the bright blue, sprayed with cloud, which captures the salty air of the lagoon: I love the foreground space of red stone, relishing again the spaciousness that enfolds this gem of a city. I love the business of the different boats and the lives of its busy people... I want to live there among them.

    Venice: the Bacino di San Marco from San Giorgio Maggiore c.1735–1744
    Canaletto (1697–1768)
    The Wallace Collection

  • The White Cloud

    This picture combines many things I care about: the weather, fields, the work of the countryside. This is a particularly inspiring cloud... who wouldn't want to look up and see it in the sky? Is it moving away or towards us? In either case, it is transient and therefore precious. The fields are typical of Samuel Palmer's beloved Shoreham which he painted so often. I recall joining a campaign to save the view from new traffic changes: did we succeed, I wonder. This painting holds forever the magic of the place and time, with the harvesters – are they harvesters? – going patiently about their daily tasks. There are times when I would like to have been one of them... for a day!

    The White Cloud c. 1833–1834
    Samuel Palmer (1805–1881)
    The Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology
    The White Cloud
    Photo credit: Ashmolean Museum, University of Oxford

  • The Dance

    Paul Rego is one of the finest women artists of our day. Her subject is women and their lives, emotions, sufferings, inspirations. She has a unique fantastical vision, often brutal, poetic, stark. 'The Dance' captures the mystery of her style: who are these people? Are they together or complete strangers? The narrative is elusive and haunting; the paintwork is assured, strong, clear, the colours hint at unhappiness, even crime. Her work is not comfortable: but it compels our attention.

    The Dance 1988
    Paula Figueiroa Rego (b.1935)
    The Dance
    © the artist. Photo credit: Tate