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Dear Westminster Council

5p cemeteries? Homes for votes? Your Golden Seat trophy puts all those sleaze stories in the past

What once was lost

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Visual Arts Iain Gale SIR MATTHEW SMITH The Barbican, London: REVIEW

Writing of Matthew Smith in 1953, the young Francis Bacon expressed his admiration for "one of the very few English painters since Constable and Turner to be concerned with painting". There is more here than the formalist compliment might lead one to expect, a fact which becomes evident while walking through the Barbican's vast show of Smith's work. Apart from a few landscapes, Smith's entire life was spent painting just two subjects: the still life and the nude. This twin obsession suggests that it was more than mere painterliness which attracted Bacon to the septuagenarian. Both men shared a belief in the single subject - Bacon with the twisted face, the tortured body, the screaming Pope; Smith with the languorous nudes whose emphatic sensuality pumps at us in skeins of hot red and orange from every wall of this exhibition.

CHOICE: Art through the ears

Walk into any public art gallery and you will see visitors looking not at the pictures, but at the explanatory labels beside them. One suspects that for every minute's glance allowed a work of art, double that is spent attempting to decode the inc reasingly lengthy accompanying text. It's not a very satisfactory way of learning: at its best simplistic and, at worst, apt to confuse.

TELEVISION / There's no beef in a Yorkshire pud

IMAGINE you were one of the country's most experienced and popular media personalities. Your last vehicle has finished a 21-year run and you are given a new four-times-a-week talk show. You'd want the first sentence of your first programme to be a cracker. This is how Esther (BBC2) begins: 'Well, we live in violent times these days, the violence of war, the violence of crime in our streets, but since time began there's been another kind of secret violence that happens in families, and that's the violence between husband and wife.' Whoa, there. Are our times more violent and war-torn than others? Has domestic violence existed since the Big Bang? And why should the ChildLine chairwoman think only of adults when she talks of 'the secret violence that happens in families'? Another mystery is Esther Rantzen's summary of her new series: 'The difference between Esther and Oprah's show is the difference between Yorkshire pudding and pumpkin pie.'

Science: Charting the winds of change: Bill Burroughs has gloomy news for those looking for a sense of order in the weather

Ups and downs in the weather are a source of constant fascination. Whether it be this summer's hot spells or the longer-term swing from dry years to the waterlogged conditions we had last winter and spring, there appears to be a sense of rhythm in the weather.

A book, a glass of wine, but no thou

THE PAST two weeks have been an unusual experience for me. I've been lonely. My partner, Tony, is in Zimbabwe making a film in a small town so remote that it doesn't have a fax machine, so our normal method of daily communication when he is away has been denied us. My elder daughter, who lives in the next street (I know: a rare privilege for a London grandmother), is on holiday with her family in France. My son has been filming in Prague. The remaining daughter is working flat out for some exams she has to retake.

I Confess: Novelist Paul Bailey reads Paul Johnson

EVERY Friday morning I give myself a secret shot of adrenalin by reading Paul Johnson's column in The Spectator. My views incline more to those of the New Statesman, but I read him in order to know what the enemy is thinking. He's absurdly predictable, but that's part of the pleasure.

Whiff of hypocrisy on the Hill

WASHINGTON DC - A friend of mine who is a theologian tells me he now never reads Church history. 'I gave up reading it,' he says, 'because I found it so unedifying.' When human beings, whether lay or clerical, religious or secular, claim to be representing, and seeking to enforce, rigorous moral standards, consideration of their own actual goings-on is often unedifying.

Obituary: Ivor Bulmer-Thomas

IT IS perhaps inevitable that, with someone whose interest are as wide and deep as those of Ivor Bulmer-Thomas, there are things that cannot be covered within the compass of a short obituary (by Matthew Saunders, 8 October), but one omission was astonishing: there was no mention that he was a renowned expert on ancient and medieval mathematics, writes David Fowler.

Antwerp: who can know it and not rave?

SAMUEL BUTLER, of Erewhon fame, reports how a friend heard at dinner a clergyman 'raving' about Antwerp. 'You feel,' rhapsodised the man of God, 'under the spell of a certain painter - Rubens, for instance. As you go about the streets, you feel as though you might meet him at any corner.' 'Ah,' his hostess drily responded, 'when we were there we went about in the trams.'

Art costing hundreds raises pounds 3m

THE WOMAN who collected the pictures by Picasso, Braque and Bonnard sold in a charity auction at Christie's last night boasted that she never spent more than pounds 1,000 on a painting, writes Dalya Alberge.

ART / EXHIBITIONS: The matter of life and death: A spiky new show in Venice suggests that Francis Bacon was one of the greatest of post-war artists, and also one of the loneliest. Plus doom and gloom at the 45th Venice Biennale

NOBODY IN the world makes better exhibitions than David Sylvester and many artists have been lucky to receive his interest. Last year he gave us the memorable Magritte exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. This summer he has chosen a Francis Bacon exhibition and devised its setting in the Correr Museum in Venice. It is a triumph. Whatever one's reservations about Bacon as an artist - and I have many - the show looks magisterial. The painter has never been better displayed.
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