Great Paintings of the World with Andrew Marr

Friday: Great Paintings of the World with Andrew Marr; (Channel 5, 9pm)

Thursday, 1st July 2021, 5:00 pm

If you’re looking for a presenter who plays his cards close to his chest, don’t go near Andrew Marr

During his career in broadcasting, he’s locked horns with politicians of all denominations and has never been known to give them an inch.

Instead, he asks the questions he believes the public needs answers for, and isn’t afraid to upset anybody, from the lowliest backbencher to the Prime Minister himself.

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It’s a no-nonsense approach that has won him fans across a broad spectrum, from Goggleboxers (they regularly comment admiringly) to MPs themselves and the people in the street.

Last year, Marr won over a new set of fans – and perhaps broadened the horizons of his regular followers – when he began using the same tough-talking tactics in a series about art, one of his greatest passions outside current affairs. Of course, there aren’t so many folk locking horns with him here, but he does deliver a very honest appraisal of the paintings and their creators in each episode, eschewing the flowery and often pretentious language we’ve come to expect – and often dread – in other art documentaries.

Marr may seem like an odd choice for such a series, but when he isn’t grilling politicians, he can often be found painting or drawing; he is a respected artist in his own right and has written books on the subject, including A Short Book About Painting and its companion, A Short Book About Drawing. If there’s a third series of Grayson’s Art Club, here’s surely top of the list of celebrity guests.

Great Paintings returned for a second run a month ago, and has gone down a treat with those who haven’t been able to get to a real art gallery since lockdown restrictions began.

During the past few weeks, Marr has offered his insights into Monet’s Water Lilies, Constable’s The Hay Wain and The Night Watch by Rembrandt (all of which, if you missed their broadcast, can be seen on the streaming service My5). Now Picasso’s Weeping Woman grabs his attention. He also receives help from a team of experts to tell the haunting and moving tale behind the canvas.

The model was Picasso’s mistress and muse Dora Maar, a talented photographer and painter in her own right. He created many portraits of her, often in an anguished state, but Weeping Woman is the most famous and traumatic of them all; it was inspired by the sight of a mother holding her dead child and was created in response to the bombing of the small town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War.

Picasso was so horrified by the attack, which left hundreds dead, that he depicted the devastating scene in one of his most famous works, simply entitled Guernica, which is currently hanging in a gallery in Madrid. Weeping Woman is, however, far more intimate and, according to some, more disturbing as a result.

Marr charts the painting’s history, revealing how it is tied to Picasso’s often difficult relationships with the women who inspired him.

Unfortunately, next week marks the end of the series, but at least Marr is going out in style with a look at Velazquez’s remarkable and unforgettable Rokeby Venus.

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