Reviews and Critiques by Rictor Norton

Beckford's Magnificence

A review of William Beckford (1760–1844): An Eye for the Magnificent, Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Dulwich Picture Gallery, also the Bard Center, New York (Yale University Press (2002)

This was the most fascinating of several outstanding art exhibitions during 2002. The truly magnificent catalogue not only illustrates all the exhibits – from exquisite silver-gilt tea services and Meissen china to ebony furniture, wondrous bowls of jasper and lapis lazuli and paintings by Turner and Cozens – but also contains sixteen highly illustrates essays by leading Beckford scholars and enthusiasts, on subjects ranging from Beckford's travels to his taste in landscaping and architecture. The witers fully acknowledge Beckford's homosexuality, and establish its importance in forming his aesthetic sensibility and his collecting activities. French lenience towards homosexuality following the Revolution, for instance, may hve prompted hjis long stays in Paris. About eighteen years of Beckford's life were spent in exile after English society ostracised him following a homosexual scandal. This contributed to his exclusive and exotic taste for the sublime and the magnificent. Using his fabulous wealth, he achieved the oustider's revenge,by building an extravagant Gothic mansion at Fonthill and keeping everyone out. And what better way to shock English middle-class attitudes than by taking one's breakfast with a solid gold toasting fork!

(This review was originally published in Gay Times, December 2002, p. 91. Copyright Rictor Norton. All rights reserved. Reproduction for sale or profit prohibited.)

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