Golden Globe Awards 2012

It was a triumphant night for British talent at last night’s Golden Globes.

Click here for photos from the ceremony and the red carpet

British recipients of the Golden Globe awards included Kate Winslet, Idris Elba and period drama Downton Abbey.

An emotional Kate Winslet picked up an award for Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for her role in Mildred Pierce. She told the audience: "I'd like to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press for giving this award to me and for putting me in a category with such incredible heavyweights whom I feel honoured to stand alongside."

Discussing the show's win at last year's Emmy Awards, the New Statesman's Ryan Gilbey questioned whether all the best directors are heading to TV:

Not too long ago, this would have looked like a knock-out cast list for a mid-budget, grown-up Hollywood movie: Glenn Close, Alec Baldwin, Forest Whitaker, Kelly Macdonald, Steve Buscemi, James Woods, Guy Pearce, Michael Pitt, Gabriel Byrne, Kathy Bates, Minnie Driver... Now, it represents a cursory roll-call of US television.

ITV period drama Downton Abbey about the aristocratic Crawley family and their servants was named best television miniseries, proving the show's success on both sides of the Atlantic. The show's creator, Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes, who accepted the award at the Beverly Hills ceremony said: "The whole Downton Abbey adventure has been an extraordinary one, like spotting a promising child and waking up to find they won the Olympics."

However, Rachel Cooke in the New Statesman opined:

How is it that this much-hyped series has turned out to be such a disappointment? I was determined to love it and, after struggling to feel even remotely involved during part one, I decided to keep my doubts to myself. Perhaps it would pick up. Yes, I felt patronised by the explanatory dialogue. Yes, the soundtrack was intrusive. Yes, virtually every costume-drama cliché one can think of had been concertinaed into a little over an hour's worth of television... Yet, now that I've seen part two, I'm already thoroughly sick of the bitchy servants and couldn't care less who inherits Lord Grantham's pile. If they turned Downton into timeshare flats, I'm not sure I would be exactly sad. Julian Fellowes, who won an Oscar for his script for Gosford Park, another big-house-in-changing-times drama, is obsessed by social class and I think Downton Abbey is a victim of that fixation: the series has no light and shade because its only preoccupation is where anyone stands in the house's hierarchy. As a result, everything else - plot, character - has been bleached out...

This is status-quo television, uncomplicated and undemanding, with backstories that are easily tied up between ad breaks."

British star Idris Elba collected a best actor award for his role in BBC crime series Luther at the ceremony, which was hosted for the third time by British comedian Ricky Gervais.

SAMUEL COURTAULD TRUST
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The monochrome set

In Pieter Bruegel’s hands, even black and white paintings can be full of colour.

Grisailles – monochrome images usually painted in shades of grey and white – have a long tradition. Early examples appeared in the 14th century as miniatures or manuscript illuminations and then later on the outside of the folding panels of altarpieces, where they imitated sepulchre statues and offered a stark contrast to the bright colour of the paintings inside. With their minimal palette, grisailles also offered painters a chance both to show off their skill and to add their bit to the age-old artistic debate about paragone: which was superior – sculpture, with its ability to show a figure in three dimensions, or painting, with its powers of illusion? By pretending to be sculpture, grisailles could better it.

The first artist to paint grisailles as independent works for private enjoyment and contemplation was the Netherlander Pieter Bruegel the Elder (circa 1525-69), whose folk scenes of peasants carousing or of hunters in a snowy landscape have long been staples of art’s quotidian, earthy strand. Only about 40 works by him are now known and of those, just three are grisailles (not a term he would have recognised; he referred to the pictures simply as “painted in black and white”). This trio of survivors has been reunited for the first time, at the Courtauld Gallery, with an accompanying selection of copies and engravings – a mere ten pictures in all – for a fascinating one-room exhibition.

The grisailles show a deeper and more intellectual artist than the sometimes slapstick figure who would dress as a peasant in order to gatecrash weddings in the Brabant countryside and record the drunken and playful goings-on in his pictures. They reflect the position of the Low Countries in Bruegel’s time, caught between the Catholicism of their Spanish overlords and the emerging Protestantism that had been sparked by Martin Luther only eight years before Bruegel’s birth. These tensions soon erupted in the Eighty Years War.

Of the three paintings, two show religious subjects – The Death of the Virgin (1562-65) and Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery (1565) – and one is a scene that would have been familiar in the streets around him, Three Soldiers (1568). This last, lent by the Frick Collection in New York, shows a drummer, a piper and a standard-bearer in the elaborately slashed uniforms of German Landsknechte mercenaries. Such groupings featured often in German prints and Bruegel’s small picture is a clever visual game: painting could imitate not only sculpture, but prints, too. What’s more, the gorgeously coloured uniforms (mercenaries were exempt from the sumptuary laws that restricted clothing to sedate colours) could be shown to be just as arresting even in black and white.

If this is a painting about painting, the ­religious works have, it seems, added layers of meaning – although it is always difficult with Bruegel to work out what that meaning is and how personal it might be. The Courtauld’s Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery shows Jesus stooping in front of the Pharisees and saving the accused woman from stoning by writing in the dust, “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” That he spells out the words in Dutch rather than Hebrew, which was more usual in other images of the scene (and which he uses on the tunic of one of the learned men observing the mute play), suggests that this picture – a plea for clemency – was intended to serve as a call for religious tolerance amid mounting sectarian antagonism. While the gaping faces of the onlookers recall those of Hieronymus Bosch, the flickering calligraphic touches and passages of great delicacy are all his own.

The picture stayed with Bruegel until his death, so it had a personal meaning for him; more than 20 copies were subsequently made. Included in the exhibition are the copies painted by his sons, Jan and Pieter the Younger (a coloured version), as well as the earliest known print after it, from 1579, by Pieter Perret, which shows some of the detail in the crowd around the central figures that has been lost in the discoloured panel.

If the sombre tones of grisaille are suited to the pared-down faith advocated by Luther, the death of the Virgin was a familiar topic in Catholic and Orthodox iconography. Bruegel’s picture, from Upton House in Warwickshire, depicts an episode that doesn’t actually appear in the Bible. A group of Apostles and mourners has gathered around the Virgin’s bed, the scene lit by the heavenly light emanating from the dying woman and the five flames from the candles and the hearth that correspond to the five wounds suffered by her son on the cross. Domestic items litter the room – a slice of orange, slippers, a dozing cat – and there is a sleeping attendant, unaware of the miracle of Assumption that will shortly unfold. Here is a moving nocturne in which the mysteries of religion emerge from and disappear back into the shadows.

While Bruegel’s peasant works display a delight in physical pleasure, these three bravura works, painted for humanist connoisseurs and for himself, portray the sober, spiritual concerns that come to the fore once the last drop has been drunk. 

The exhibition runs until 8 May. For more details, go to: courtauld.ac.uk

Michael Prodger is an Assistant Editor at the New Statesman. He is an art historian, Senior Research Fellow at the University of Buckingham, and a former literary editor.

This article first appeared in the 11 January 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The legacy of Europe's worst battle