Sunday, 17 March 2019


Chris Beetles Gallery, my favourite selling art gallery, has just had a website face-lift making its extraordinarily diverse stock of artworks more tantalizingly accessible to the the online gallery-goer.

Former doctor, watercolour expert, past and present collector, Chris Beetles is an idiosyncratic dealer in English watercolours, illustrations, cartoons, photography and oils. In a profile, a few years ago, Renaissance: The Fine Art Collector, wrote: "If you want to buy a beautiful 19th century Edward Lear watercolour, an original Quentin Blake from a classic Roald Dahl book, an up-to-date Matt cartoon from the Daily Telegraph or a stunning Norman Parkinson photograph from the pages of Vogue, then this is the place to visit with everything just 'waiting in the wings'. It is virtually impossible to enter this venerable, approachable and reassuringly British gallery without adding to your collection. This also makes it the perfect place to start one…"

As a regular visitor (in real and virtual time) to Chris' gallery – and as a sometime (very modest) collector – I have, for many years, enjoyed the opportunity to discover more about the joys of many aspects of art and, in particular, those that are almost universally ignored by our great art institutions and, indeed, most commercial galleries too: illustration art, cartoons and caricatures. 

At Beetles' London gallery – 10 Ryder Street in the heart of  St James’s – I have met the aforementioned Quentin Blake, fellow illustrators Michael Foreman, Helen Oxenbury, John Burningham and others and enjoyed brilliant exhibitions either devoted to the work of specific artists or, in his legendary annual Illustrators blockbuster where an astonishing variety of graphic artists are hung shoulder to shoulder among them Mervyn Peake, Ronald Searle, Rowland Emett, Mabel Lucy Atwell, Arthur Rackham, Charles and William Heath Robinson, Eric Fraser, Al Hirschfeld, Lawson Wood, George and Eileen Soper, Edward Ardizzone, Norman Thelwell and Louis Wain.

The rejuvenated gallery website allows the visitor to browse its extensive collection by artist A to Z or by area of interest from 'Victorian' to 'American', from 'Cartoons' to 'Decorative Arts', 'Prints and Etchings' to 'Literary Manuscripts' or, in these days of Brexit uncertainty, 'Early English' to 'European'!

You can explore the current exhibitions featuring the vibrant paintings of Geraldine Girvan and a bicentennial celebration of the work of John Ruskin, reflecting on the work of artists who either helped him hone his aesthetic and skills or who received his praise and support.

Enthusiasts can also create a 'My Beetles Wall', a personal exhibition space on which to display your favourite exhibits.

I won't keep you further from your exploration of the delights in store, but I will just encourage you further to visit with a handful of fantastic images currently available to pursue or maybe, depending on your bank balance, take home to hang on your wall!

 Arthur Rackham

 Al Hirschfeld

 William Heath Robinson

Lesley Anne Ivory

 Edward Ardizzone

 Kathleen Hale

Eric Fraser

 Lawson Wood

 Michael Foreman

George Soper

 Mervyn Peake

 Paul Cox

Ronald Searle

E. H. Shepard

You can also visit Chris Beetles Gallery in person (Monday - Saturday, 10am - 5.30pm) at: 

8 & 10 Ryder Street, 
St James’s, 

Saturday, 16 February 2019


News today of the passing, at the age of 78, of another friend of Disney: Dave Smith, founder of the Walt Disney Archive and, for forty years, its champion, defender and gatekeeper. His knowledge of all matters Disney and his passion for sharing that knowledge were unrivalled.

David Rollin Smith was born and raised in Pasadena, California, and was a youthful admirer of Disney movies and a frequent to Disneyland. Later graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he spent eighteen months as an intern at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Moving back to California he worked as a librarian at UCLA for five years; then, in the late ‘60s, while working on a bibliography on Walt Disney, Dave heard that The Walt Disney Company was considering establishing an Archive and wrote a letter to the Disney Company offering his services. The rest is Disney history!

Apart from his huge contribution, through his work at the Archive, to preserving the history of Disney’s contribution to film and animation, Dave disseminated much of that story through his many books, including Disney A to Z (running through numerous editions), The Quotable Walt Disney, Disney: The First 100 Years, Disney Facts Revealed, his multi-volume The Ultimate Disney Trivia Book and many other volumes, articles and contributions to other publications.

Dave, was an essentially a shy and very private man; as a result he was – sometimes – a rather prickly customer, requiring careful handling, but those of us who got to share a personal friendship with him also knew him to be an entertaining and often wickedly funny man.

For example, I remember, during one of his visits to the U.K., my husband, David Weeks and I took him on a jaunt around the South of England visiting, among other places, Hever Castle (historic home of Anne Boleyn and her family); it was spring and the flowerbeds were a riot of blooms; admiring them, Dave said: "Well! There are more pansies here than in Disneyland!"

The existence of the Walt Disney Archive is a testament to Dave's determination and work, as well as to the vision of Walt's brother, Roy O. Disney, who appointed him to a job that had didn't already exist and let him set about preserving the company's phenomenal legacy.

Sunday, 10 February 2019


It is with great personal sadness that I note the passing of Ron Miller at the age of 85. Ronald William Miller was an American businessman and former professional American football player. Married to Diane Disney Miller, Walt Disney's eldest daughter, he worked for his father-in-law on numerous film projects and later became President and CEO of The Walt Disney Company from 1978 until 1984, when he was ousted following an internal power struggle that saw the company pass into the control of Michael Eisner, Frank Wells and Jeffrey Katzenberg supported by Walt's nephew Roy E. Disney.

Ron Miller's achievements, during the difficult years following Walt's death were hugely significant and have yet to received their due credit. As his father-in-law had done before him, he pushed the Company to expand and explore, creating, in 1983, the Touchstone label (with its first stand-out hit, Splash!) and launching the Disney Channel. He was an innovator (although, again, unacknowledged), experimenting in early computer animation in Tron (1982); funding an unlikely collaborator, the renegade Tim Burton, for stop-motion animation shorts Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984); and sowing the seeds for several future hit projects, among them Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (1988).

Following the 1984 company coup, Ron and Diane left Hollywood and settled in Nappa Valley where they had already established the now internationally successful Silverado Vineyards.

Ron was a gentlemanly giant, a man of great personal charm and graciousness whose company I enjoyed on several occasions. The first in the late '80s – in company with my friends Richard Holliss and his wife, Chris – on a visit to the Miller's then home in Hollywood and later, on various visits to San Francisco. He will be remembered (apart from his valiant attempts to reinvigorate the Disney studio following Walt's death) for his service to the Disney legacy, tirelessly supporting Diane's various projects devoted to her father's memory, including the documentary film, Walt: The Man Behind the Myth (2001) and the visionary project, The Walt Disney Family Museum created in 2009 in San Francisco where the Millers had a penthouse apartment overlooking the Bay. Following Diane's tragic death in 2013, Ron became president of the Museum's board of directors.

He had agreed to write an introduction to a book of Walt Disney's letters that I am currently editing and I am saddened that this will, now, never be the case.

I am pictured below with Diane and Ron in 2001 at the premiere of Walt: The Man Behind the Myth, in which I made a cameo appearance.

[Photo: Barb Nicholson]

Sunday, 6 January 2019


One could celebrate in sculpture the great achievement of Noah in saving the human, animal and avian world from the Flood, but here in Venice – where flooding is an every day event! – the architect of the Palazzo Ducale curiously chose instead to immortalise his moment of human weakness with 'The Drunkenness of Noah'...


Saturday, 5 January 2019


The Palazzo Ducale here in Venice is celebrating the 500th anniversary of the birth of the master of Venetian painting, Tintoretto with a stunning array of his masterworks: paintings that impress by their freedom of brushwork, their relentlessly challenging compositions, their striking use of perspective and their depiction of powerfully muscular figures that reflect his huge admiration of Michelangelo.

In the painting 'Saint George, Saint Louis and the Princess' (1552), St George's broken lance, the slithy dragon and his Princess-rider seem almost to be forcing their way out of the canvas into the viewer's space...

This painting of 'The Presentation of Christ in the Temple' (c. 1554-1556) was painted to be viewed from the right-hand side, hence the position of this photograph. It was commissioned by the guild of coopers – hence the small barrel on the altar steps!

'The Deposition of Christ' (1562) seems to me one of the most extraordinarily poignant paintings of this post-Crucifixion scene in that here, unlike other artistic depictions (including Michelangelo's Pietà), Mary is not sorrowfully but serenely cradling her dead son, she is fainting away with the shock and horror of the moment...

These last two paintings – 'Saint Andrew and Saint Jerome' (1552) and 'The Forge of Vulcan' (1578) show the physical power and energy that Tintoretto was one of hallmarks of his brilliance and contributed in no small measure to his brilliantly successful career.

Photos: David Weeks


Venice's current slogan is interesting and, perhaps, a tad too negative; but it speaks of the deep woes of a great, historic and beautiful city that is totally dependent on tourism for its survival and yet, in fulfilling that role, is subjected to much visitor abuse and disrespect. It is Venice's great dilemma...

Photo: David Weeks © 2019



Most people who photograph the statute of Venice's dragon-slaying St Theodore atop his column on the Molo, are unaware that he but a copy of the original which is housed in a somewhat lonely corner of the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale: it is just a further indignity visited upon a luckless fellow who was good enough to serve as Venice's first patron saint until the ambitious Venetians snaffled the remains of St Mark and went for upgraded protection!

As for his quarry, it would be hard to find a feebler dragon than this sorry (and sorry for itself) specimen...

Photos: Brian Sibley © 2019


Despite Tintoretto's skill in depicting people magnificently alive, he was really not so good with wildlife, as this 'Creation of the Animals' (1550-1553) reveals.

Most of the creatures (including household animals such as cats) are really poorly depicted; but I can forgive the artist his failings on account of the dynamic portrayal of the Creator and – more importantly – for including a unicorn in his vision of Eden!


After the exceptionally high tides that flooded Venice last November for a 24-hour period,  the city has recently been been experiencing less newsworthy low tides – so low, in fact, that they have left some gondolas in the Bacino Orseolo unappealingly mud-bound...

Photo: David Weeks © 2019


Gondola photos are de rigueur –– or, rather, di rigore –– so here are a few photos of gondolas and gondoliers snapped during our visit to Venezia...

Photos: David Weeks & Brian Sibley © 2018/19