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Tiepolo Blue: 'The best novel I have read for ages' Stephen Fry

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I think it’s vital that contemporary art is always in some sense moving forward or redefining the debate or challenging the terms of the argument, but back then it was almost more than that; there was this very special social world and this feeling among those artists coming out of Goldsmiths [art school] in the early 1990s that anything was possible.

One may agree or disagree with Christiansen's assessment, yet on one point there can be no dispute: Tiepolo is a fixture in the pantheon of Western art. Though his standing suffered following the rise of Neoclassicism, Tiepolo's reputation underwent a process of reassessment in France at the end of the nineteenth century. A bachelor and scholar in his early 40s who has been at Peterhouse since his undergraduate days, Lamb’s is “a life of sexual abdication”: erudition dominates, while his gayness is studiously repressed.In all likelihood, Tiepolo painted them all prima - or "at once" - that is, painted directly onto the picture surface without later retouching. It is propped up at one end by a mound of empty liquor bottles, crushed beer cans and snarled-up clothes.

Indeed, there is, according to Christiansen, "something of Matisse in his serious pursuit of the pleasurable," and something of de Chirico in the way Tiepolo "generates a feeling of malaise and enigma with his arbitrary combinations of costume and juxtapositions of seemingly disconnected elements in a composition. It is a bitter sweet tale about sexuality, finding oneself and how other peoples manipulation can have such a negative effect on life. The novel doesn’t stay there, though: like all such closed spaces, the people within them are prone to endless backbiting, gossip, and power games – indeed, such institutions demand them – and after one controversy, Professor Lamb leaves, and instead becomes the Director of a small but well-respected art museum in Dulwich.Maria bore Tiepolo no fewer than ten children (two of whom would take up painting and became apprentices to their father). Simultaneously uncomfortable and a gripping tragicomedy, it is magnificent -- A Picture of Dorian Gray meets Forster meets Waugh, reinvented for the 21st century. Shortly afterwards, he’s whisked away to London to take up a new role at the Brockwell Collection, a dead ringer for Dulwich Picture Gallery.

There is some debate as to when this fresco was painted, but in all likelihood, it was undertaken between 1716-19.The Art Newspaper’s Book Club shines a light on art books in their myriad forms and brings you exclusive extracts, interviews and recommendations from leading art world figures. The title picks from Roberto Calasso’s Tiepolo Pink , which is a quote from Proust’s sentence “rose Tiepolo”, but if Calasso’s is a treatise on a series of drawings by the painter, Cahill’s is a novel.

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