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The Rake’s progress: last week in gossip

29 November 2016

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

When UK Chancellor Philip Hammond pledged £7.6 million to crumbling country pile Wentworth Woodhouse in the Autumn Statement last week, he may have felt a degree of pride; alas, it seems he hadn’t reckoned on the level of prejudice about to come his way. Announcing the grant, Hammond speculated that the Yorkshire property may well have been the basis for Pemberley, the home of Fitzwilliam Darcy in Jane Austen’s most famous novel.

Within hours, though, the Jane Austen Society had issued a statement affirming that there was ‘no evidence’ that the author had ever been anywhere near the place, or indeed ‘ever travelled further north than Lichfield in Staffordshire’. ‘[Philip Hammond] knows nowt about Jane Austen!’ Sue Wilkes, author of A Visitor’s Guide to Jane Austen’s England commented on Twitter. Let’s hope the Chancellor is less speculative about economic forecasts than he is when it comes to stately homes and Regency literature.


Sad news for fans of Eduardo Paolozzi, whose monumental sculpture Piscator is currently the subject of an ownership dispute. Alas, this is no normal squabble. The sculpture, located in front of London’s Euston Station, was commissioned by the now defunct British Rail in 1980, but has of late fallen into disrepair. According to Eduardo Paolozzi Foundation trustee Toby Treves, the charity has been trying to identify the body currently responsible for work for some time in order to renovate it.

However, Network Rail – the successor to British Rail and thus the most likely owner – has flatly denied ownership of the work, suggesting that it now belongs to Sydney & London, the firm that owns the lease to the nearby buildings. Yet S&L, too, denies responsibility for Piscator, claiming it is under no obligation to maintain it. ‘The absurdity of this is that the foundation would willingly pay to restore and clean the sculpture, but we can’t do it without the permission of the owners’, Treves told the Guardian. Paolozzi, himself a fan of Kafka, may well have appreciated the ludicrousness of the situation.


The Rake has covered many stories relating to paintings of famous people in peculiar situations, but never has he come across anything quite as odd as the works in ‘Celebrity Beasts’, a new series created by London artist Caroline Sykes. The paintings, which were auctioned at a Soho restaurant last week, included fetching depictions of comedian-turned-revolutionary Russell Brand mutating into a scorpion, Prince Harry looking disturbingly natural as an orangutan and, perhaps weirdest of all, a bumblebee with the head of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Perhaps this last has some sense to it, though. Johnson, of course, divides opinion like few other politicians. Some consider him a benign and productive creature, albeit a politically endangered one if he keeps insulting EU member states. Others, however, just wish he’d buzz off.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via@Rakewelltweets.

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