The Diary: Rembrandt; Radio 4's short stories; J G Ballard; Man Booker International Prize
Friday 29 July 2011
Hot off the press
How many Rembrandts have been stolen in the last 100 years? Answer: 81 (that have been reported to the police or written about in newspapers). How many of them have been burned after being stolen? Answer: one. Find out facts such as this in Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists, released next month. The book is co-written by Anthony Amore, a US Homeland Security expert. The burned Rembrandt is Saskia at Her Toilet, which was stolen from Chilham Castle, near Canterbury in 1936. At the time, it was the biggest art heist in 60 years. Time magazine reported two years later: "Down early in the morning, Sir Edmund Davis, financier and host of Chilham Castle, noticed the light still burning. In his gallery he found 'a shocking sight'. Spread out on cushions on the floor were five picture frames from which the robbers had neatly cut $500,000 worth of masterpieces: two Gainsborough portraits, a Reynolds, a Van Dyck, and Rembrandt's Saskia at Her Toilet." According to Amore, the fate of the Rembrandt has not been published until now. The thieves fled and then burned the canvas. They panicked and wanted to destroy any potential evidence. A tragic loss which earned the painting a place in history.
The BBC now says that it is not, as previously announced, cutting the short stories it broadcasts on Radio 4 from three a week to one a week. According to a spokesperson, the reduction is from three a week, to two a week. The initial announcement, earlier this month, was unclear because, the spokesman said, the BBC "wasn't able to go into the detail at the time of the schedule change announcements because the finer detail hadn't been ironed out". The most impassioned defence of the short story this week came from Joanna Lumley, who signed a petition against the cuts. "Radio seems to be made for the short story," she said, her comments printed here for the first time. "News, yes and information and discussion, of course: but the strength of the unseen face and the one-to-one voice reading fiction aloud is a perfect escape from the woes of the world. There should be as many stories read aloud on Radio 4 as there are fish in the sea. Don't cut them down or send them to a backwater; they belong in the heart of the listener's menu. Without this little time to dream and escape we become dull and predictable: without our own minds painting the landscapes and characters we diminish ourselves as people."
Ballard's home is now where Haart is
Fans hoping to turn J G Ballard's Shepperton home – which recently went on the property market – into a museum may have to wait a little longer. According to a recent article in the Surrey Herald, the property, which was advertised as "in need of refurbishment" this month, has been let to a family, who are due to move in next week. A spokesman for Haart, the estate agent, told the Herald the property was "under offer". One neighbour issued a guarded warning to fans, however. "Neighbours might hope it will be done up," she said. "It would be interesting for fans to club together and buy it, although people may be worried about to-ing and fro-ing from the house."
A not so subtle knife
For a week at least, it was the biggest row in the literary world. In May, the publisher Carmen Callil "withdrew" from the judging panel of the Man Booker International Prize, unhappy that the award was to be given to the US author Philip Roth. She was reported as saying: "He goes on and on and on about the same subject in almost every single book. It's as though he's sitting on your face and you can't breathe." Bar a dislike of Roth's writing, why was Callil so vociferous? Clues emerged last week at a London literary meeting, held to raise funds for a campaign to prevent the closure of Kensal Rise Library after public funding cuts. Philip Pullman, a supporter of the campaign, was interviewed by his fellow novelist Maggie Gee. Gee introduced Pullman by saying that Callil had resigned because she wanted Pullman to win. Pullman nodded, and did not deny Gee's assertion. Maybe, unlike Roth, she "rated" and "admired" his work? The plot thickens.
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