Book Club


Publishers of award-winning illustrated books on art, history, archaeology, world cultures and more.

Manga and the Museum

The latest temporary exhibition to grace Room 3 is well worth a visit if you haven’t been already – entitled ‘Manga now: three generations’, it’s the perfect introduction to an art form that most of us have heard of, but few of us understand.

It’s only relatively recently that the significance of manga as an art form has been widely recognised by the West – many people falsely assumed that manga equated to cartoons and was aimed primarily at children and teenagers. However, in Japan, manga is enjoyed by audiences of all ages and covers a wide variety of genres and societal issues.

In fact, the exhibition’s first surprise comes when it reveals just how far back Manga’s origins lie – the term was first coined by Hokusai (of The Great Wave fame) and can be playfully translated as ‘pictures run riot’. The art form was developed in the early 20th century but is based on traditional Japanese artistic and literary genres that stretch much further back – the narrative handscrolls that were produced from AD 1100 and illustrated printed books from the 1700s onwards.

Although the British Museum has collected manga for over 60 years, it has only recently begun to acquire drawings and paintings by contemporary manga artists. This display has been designed to celebrate these recent acquisitions, and features the work of three leading contemporary artists. Nakamura Hikaru is currently the seventh bestselling manga artist in Japan and represents the most recent generation of manga artists. Chiba Tetsuya is a specialist of sports manga that relate a young person’s struggle for recognition through dedication to sport.


Works by the three artists - Nakamura Hikaru, Hoshino Yukinobu and Chiba Tetsuya

In between these two generations we have Hoshino Yyukinobu, one of Japan’s best-known science fiction manga artists who also specialises in mystery. One of his most popular works has been Case Records of Professor Munakata, and following visits to London in 2008 and 2009, he decided to create a number of episodes set in the British Museum. In these, crime-fighting anthropologist Munakata Tadakusu investigates a spate of thefts from the museum. The British Museum Press had the pleasure of publishing these in English as Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure in 2011, and you can see some of the illustrations in the gallery. In this compilation of ten episodes Professor Munakata embarks on a series of exciting adventures at the British Museum, featuring some of its most iconic objects – from the Rosetta Stone to the Lewis Chessmen.

Professor Munakata visiting the British Museum

We hope that you learn as much from the display as we did, and enjoy seeing one of our books in the limelight! If you’re feeling inspired you can pick up a copy of Professor Munakata’s British Museum Adventure from the gift shop on your way out, or online here if you can’t wait til then!

Professor Munakata

Edinburgh Festival Fever

People all over the country have been gripped by Festival fever this month and we at the BM Press are no exception! Not one but two of our authors were invited to speak at the Edinburgh International Book Festival: Irving Finkel, the curator in charge of the British Museum’s collection of cuneiform tablets – the largest in the world – and Henrietta Lidchi, Keeper of the Department of World Cultures at National Museums Scotland.

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

Charlotte Square looking beautiful in the sunshine

In his sell-out event, Irving took his audience on a roller-coaster tour of the 3,500 year history of the world’s oldest writing system – cuneiform. With his trademark enthusiasm, he explained that the strange, wedge-shaped markings invented in Mesopotamia represent syllables and so can be used to record any language, from Sumerian to Spanish. He then pointed out that we can find a surprising parallel in modern text-speak, in which symbols have  once again come to stand in for syllables or even whole words – just look at ‘c u l8r’. The audience were left full of questions and many stayed behind to talk to Irving, have their books signed and admire the real cuneiform tablet that he had brought along with him.

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving addresses a huge crowd in the tent

Irving was similarly well-received at the National Museums Scotland, where he taught a group of 90 local schoolchildren how to write their own cuneiform inscriptions. They used plasticine and lollipop sticks rather than clay and reeds, but the results still looked as if they could have come from the museum archives!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

An impressive effort from the Edinburgh schoolchildren!

The weekend also saw Henrietta Lidchi launch her wonderful book Surviving Desires: Making and Selling Native Jewellery in the American Southwest – the product of twenty years of research. She captivated the audience with her talk about the iconic turquoise and silver jewellery and the transformations it has undergone in response the competing desires of traders, tourists, curators and government agencies. The audience were fascinated and at the end many came forward with their own pieces of Native jewellery, which Henrietta was able to put into context for them.

Henrietta signing books after her event

Henrietta signing books after her event

Many thanks to Henrietta and Irving for taking part in the Festival and to the National Museums Scotland for hosting the schools event. We hope to be back next year!

If you would like to find out more about either of the books, just follow the links below:


Surviving Desires

We’ve had a very exciting day over at the British Museum as our next major exhibition has been announced! From 24th September, Celts: art and identity will be exploring the truth behind our romanticised imaginings of the so-called Celts and discovering how this diverse group of people actually defined themselves.

Celts: art and identity

We at the British Museum Press have been working hard to produce a catalogue and giftbook that do justice to the beautiful objects on display, and we’re looking forward to sharing it with you!

Over 250 remarkable objects have been selected from the collections of the British Museum, National Museums Scotland and other key European institutions to illustrate the narrative and highlight the artistic accomplishments of craftspeople through the centuries.

You’ll see everything from jewellery to feasting accoutrements, weaponry to illuminated manuscripts – much of it decorated in those distinctive swirling patterns that, upon closer inspection, transform into images of fantastical men and beasts.

Stone cross

Come and join us on a journey tracing what it means to be Celtic. The more you look, the more you’ll see…

Defining Beauty at the Hay Festival

After a long hiatus, the British Museum Press blog is back!

Our summer got off to an exciting start when Ian Jenkins, curator of the Greece and Rome Galleries and the blockbuster Defining Beauty exhibition, was invited to speak at the Hay Festival at the end of May.

Founded in 1987, the Hay Festival is now an international phenomenon, with spin-off festivals bringing writers and readers together on five continents throughout the year. The original, held in Hay-on-Wye, prides itself on its community spirit and rightly so – we were welcomed at Hereford station by a local volunteer who ferries authors around the festival every year. He was happy to share all his stories about the area, the history of the festival and, of course the celebrities who’ve shared his car!

Festival-goers relaxing

Set against a backdrop of rolling green hills and blue skies, the festival site looked like an idyllic village fȇte – snowy white tents interspersed with flowering plants and trees, and all bedecked with 16 miles (!) of bunting. There were bookshops selling both new and secondhand books, and plenty of deckchairs to relax and read them in. There was food for the body as well as the mind – special mention goes to the red London bus selling oysters and cocktails!

Ian was introduced by history author Jerry Brotton, and took an enthusiastic audience of around 100 people on a verbal tour of the current Defining Beauty exhibition. They were amused to learn that the exhibition opens with a view of the Queen’s bottom – because Her Majesty owns the crouching Venus sculpture that beckons viewers into the gallery.

Ian takes the stage

He explained that the first room showcases the work of the three greatest Athenian sculptors – Myron’s iconic Discobolus (or ‘Discus Thrower’), which is a study of opposites; Praxiteles’ Doryphoros (‘Spear-bearer’), whose beauty comes from its perfect mathematical proportions, and finally, Pheidias’ river god Ilissos, made famous earlier in the year by his trip to Russia, but remarkable here for being the only Greek original, and the only one whose realism seems intuitive and effortless.

Next came the revelation that far from being the polished white figures that we are familiar with today, many Greek statues would originally have been brightly painted or even gilded, sometimes with metal accessories or weapons attached. Even the bronze statues could be embellished with copper lips and glass eyes, as with the amazing statue only recently recovered from the depths of the Croatian sea – named the Apoxyomenos, or ‘The Scraper’, after the fact that he is scraping the oil, dust and sweat from his skin after a long workout.

The exhibition compares and contrasts Greek art with that from other world cultures to show just how unique the Greeks’ perspective on nudity was. Scenes from the Parthenon Frieze, where the nude figures are the city’s noble warriors, are paired with an Assyrian relief, where the naked figures are defeated enemies being humiliated and killed. However, whilst nudity was a heroic signifier for a man, we see that it was altogether more problematic in the case of women, who were thought to be wild and uncontrolled. This aligned them with mythical groups such as centaurs, satyrs and Amazons – all represented in the exhibition, and all seen as ‘other’ – their representations symbolising the darker side of human nature.

The audience had plenty of questions, and many stayed to have their books signed by Ian. All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip and I’d recommend the Festival to anyone – I’m looking forward to Hay 2016 already!

Winner of ACE Best New Publication Award goes to..


We’re excited to announce that A Little Gay History has won the Association for Cultural Enterprises’ award for Best New Publication in the General Publication category!

Find out more about Richard Parkinson’s book here

The lives of others in runic inscriptions

A guest blog by Martin Findell

Call it perversity, but in my own research I’ve always had a taste for the unfashionable and the unglamorous areas of runic writing.  I get more excited about a name scratched onto the back of a brooch than about a large and richly decorated runestone; and as a historical linguist, I take more pleasure in trying to work out problems of the relationship between spelling, speech and the changing structure of language than in broader questions of cultural history and society.  Of course the two are interdependent, and while I concern myself with the troublesome nuts-and-bolts details of language, language is an aspect of culture and must be studied alongside other aspects of culture.  Even the briefest and most unattractive inscription is an instance of language use by real people who belonged to a community in which the act of writing had some purpose.  Rather than regale you with tales of unstressed vowels, I thought it would be more interesting to share my interest in some of the texts we find written in runes, and what they might tell us about the people who produced them.

One of the most impressive objects in the Vikings exhibition (if somewhat overshadowed by the great Roskilde ship) is a replica of the Jelling stone.  The original is at the large royal complex at Jelling in southern Denmark, and was commissioned by Harald Bluetooth to honour his parents and boast of his own achievements.  The inscription says “King Harald ordered this monument made in memory of Gorm his father and Þorvi his mother; that Harald who won for himself all of Denmark and Norway, and who made the  Danes Christian” (translation based on that in the Samnordisk rundatabas, which you can download here).

The memorial text is formulaic, and similar to inscriptions found all over Viking-Age Scandinavia (with a particular concentration in the Uppland region of Sweden, where several thousand have been found).  The stone is probably best seen as a political statement, particularly when it comes to Harald’s display of his Christian credentials; lest the viewer be left in any doubt, one face of the stone is carved with an image of the Crucifixion.

The Jelling stone is an inscription made for a king, but not by him.  The people who did the actual work – and importantly for linguists, these were probably also the people who made decisions about things like spelling – were craftsmen, possibly attached to Harald’s court, who remain silent in the historical record.

One of my favourite inscriptions lies at the other end of the scale:  a short, personal message, informally scratched on the back of a brooch found in a sixth-century woman’s grave at Bad Krozingen in Baden-Württemberg, Germany.  The inscription reads boba:leub agirike, “Bōba, dear to Agirik”.  Bōba is the name of a woman, perhaps that of the woman buried with the brooch (although not necessarily – valuable pieces of jewellery like this could be passed on as heirlooms, or looted and given to someone other than the original owner), and Agirik is a man.  It is likely that he wrote the inscription himself – it is not a work of professional craftsmanship (which the brooch certainly is), and the fact that the message is on the back of the brooch means that it would not have been visible when worn.  We have no way of knowing what the relationship between these two people was.  They might have been husband and wife, father and daughter, brother and sister, or related in some other way; but this slender piece of evidence helps to remind us that these were real people, people who knew and cared for one another.  It might not tell us much about the large-scale political and religious trends of the society in which they lived, but it brings both the words and objects of the past to life as something familiar, human and all too short-lived.

Martin Findell is Research Associate at the University of Leicester. His particular interests are in the problems of understanding the relationship between spelling and sound change in the early Germanic languages, and in the uses and abuses of runes in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

His book about runic inscriptions has recently published and can be found on our website

Paperback with flaps, £9.99
Part of The British Museum Press series on ancient languages

See our authors at the Oxford Literary Festival

A Little Gay History

Desire and Diversity across the


Richard Parkinson
Tuesday March 25th

A Little Gay History 3D mock-up - low-res

British Museum curator and egyptologist Richard Parkinson and author of A Little Gay History examines a series of artefacts to see what they tell us about love and sexuality in the ancient and modern world. How old is the oldest chat-up line between men, who was the first lesbian, and were Greek men who had sex together necessarily gay? Parkinson uses objects ranging from Egyptian Papyri and the Roman Warren Cup to work by modern artists including David Hockney and Bhupen Khakhar in his search for answers.

Parkinson is professor of egyptology at the University of Oxford and a curator in the Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, British Museum.

Find out more about the event and book your ticket!

The Cyrus Cylinder and

Ancient Persia

Tuesday 25th March
John Curtis

3d image - white background

The Cyrus Cylinder is one of the most famous objects to have survived the ancient world and has become a symbol of respect and tolerance for different peoples and different faiths. It was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform at the behest of Persian King Cyrus in the sixth century BC and is often referred to as the first bill of human rights. It appears to allow freedom of worship in the Persian empire and for deported people to return to their homes.

The Cyrus Cylinder is held by the British Museum and was the centrepiece of an exhibition touring the United States in 2013. John Curtis, keeper of the British Museum’s Middle East collections and curator of the exhibition,  and author of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia, explains the history and importance of the Cyrus Cylinder.

Find out more about this event

Parthenon: Power and Politics

on the Acropolis

David Stuttard
Thursday 27th March

Parthenon cover low-res

Classicist, author of The Parthenon: Power and Politics on the Acropolis and theatre director David Stuttard tells the dramatic story of the conception and creation of one of the world’s most iconic buildings, the Parthenon in Athens. It symbolises Greece today and, in the fifth century BC, was the embodiment of the power of the city’s empire and of its politicians, artists and citizens. Stuttard places the Parthenon in its historical context, examines its place in the wider ancient world and looks at its subsequent history.

Stuttard has a background in classics and drama. He is well known for translating and directing Greek plays and is also author of several books including AD410, The Year That Shook Rome; and The Romans Who Shaped Britain, both co-written with well-known archaeologist Sam Moorhead.

Find out more about this event

Vikings: life and legend at Bath Literary Festival


Last Saturday we spent the day at Bath Literary Festival with Vikings life and legend curator and author Gareth Williams. If you didn’t manage to come to the brilliant talk that he gave at the Guildhall, never fear – here are the highlights:

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Why choose to do an exhibition on the Vikings?
• Suitable topic for Anglo-Danish co-operation
• Vikings seen as ‘sexier’ than other past civilisations
• Vikings one of the most popular subjects for museum visitors
• The exhibition provides an opportunity to conserve and present a spectacular ship


The Viking Ship – Roskilde 6


This is the longest Viking ship found to date, at over 37m in total! It has never previously been displayed, and conserved and mounted specially for this exhibition.


The ship is at the heart of the history of the Vikings, and of the exhibition and the related books.

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Don’t miss the Vikings: life and legend exhibition which opens today!
We’re publishing a wonderful array of Viking titles which are a great way to get acquainted with the Viking world before attending the exhibition or to follow up on your particular interests afterwards.

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Exhibition essentials:

Vikings life and legend edited by Gareth Williams, Peter Pentz and Matthias Wemhoff (paperback £25)

The Viking Ship by Gareth Williams (£9.99)

Further reading for Viking fanatics:

Runes by Martin Findel (£9.99)

The Vikings in Britain and Ireland by Jayne Carroll, Stephen H. Harrison and Gareth Williams (£10.99)

For little Vikings:

The Tale of King Harald: The Last Viking Adventure by Thomas Williams (£7.99)

Make your own Viking ship (£5.99)

The Lewis Chessmen and what happened to them by Irving Finkel (£4.99)

A selection of excerpts from African Textiles Today by Chris Spring.

A book that illuminates the living history of Africa through the making and trading of cloth.

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Advertisement and reality
During the Third Sansa workshop in 2009
(pictured right) organized by the Ghanaian
artist Atta Kwami (see p. 61), the Iranian
photographer Tooraj Khamenehzadeh took
the two images below as part of a sequence
of works examining the gulf between
advertisements – in magazines, on bill
boards, on TV – and the realities of life for
women in the city of Kumase, Ghana.
Beneath his own images he displayed
crumpled and discarded advertisements,
including one by the Dutch textile
company Vlisco which manufactures many
of the ‘wax’ print textiles that one of his
subjects carries in a metal bowl on her
head – and which she wears herself as a
walking advertisement.
Noblewoman’s tunic
Cotton, silk
Ethiopia, 19th century
110 x 167 cm
British Museum, Af,Ab.1

Textiles and trade:

four stories from global Africa

It is impossible to discuss African textiles without recognizing the central importance of trade – local, regional, long-distance and intercontinental – in the development of almost all traditions across time and place. In many parts of the world today we may encounter a variety of African textile traditions without necessarily being aware of their historical roots among the (often very small) groups of people who originally created and/or used these cloths.

I will briefly trace four such traditions and their ongoing global impact. Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean ‘Silk Road’ Our first story begins in the mid nineteenth century among the Christian noblewomen of the central and northern highlands of Ethiopia. These women wore tunics probably made of imported cotton sheeting (as likely as not manufactured in Manchester, UK), but which they embroidered around the neck and sleeves with complex and colourful patterns created from imported Chinese silk. Just as the overland Silk Road had brought this precious material from China across Central Asia to Europe and the Middle East, so the trade winds created a watery ‘road’ for silk and other textiles across the Indian Ocean to eastern Africa, a trade which continues to this day. One of the highest offi ces in the courts of the great Ethiopian kings and emperors was the Keeper of the Silk Caves, overseeing the cool, dark and moist environment that provided the ideal storage place for the vast quantities of raw Chinese silk used in creating garments, accoutrements and wall hangings for the complex hierarchies of church, army and state. Today, well-to-do Christian women in Ethiopia wear a version of this nineteenth-century dress, but the original pattern and variants, usually factory-printed, are worn by men and women all over the world as a signifi er of global Africa.


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Narrow-strip cloth (pano d’obra) (detail)
Manjak people, Guinea-Bissau, early 20th century
115 x 206 cm
British Museum, Af1934,0307.195, donated by Charles A. Beving

When the Portuguese first navigated the Guinea Coast of West Africa they found that local people had a great taste for textiles of North African Amazigh (Berber) manufacture or inspiration, a taste which had been fed by access to textiles traded across the Sahara, or woven on the southern fringes of the desert by weavers familiar with the patterning of trade cloths from the north. The Portuguese initially set up workshops in Morocco to cater for this trade, though that of course meant shipping the fi nished products many hundreds of miles from the Mediterranean to the Gulf of Guinea. The Portuguese therefore enslaved Wolof and Manding weavers, from the regions which are now Senegal and Guinea Bissau, and took them to the Cape Verde islands. There they were taught to weave the intricately patterned cloths which were popular in the Hispano-Mauresque civilization (tenth to fi fteenth centuries AD) in southern Spain and North Africa. These textiles assimilated the patterning of Amazigh (Berber) cloths (woven by women on upright, single-heddle looms) but were woven by men on complex, multi-heddle ‘draw looms’ which required additional sets of pulleys to be operated by ‘draw boys’ positioned on either side of the weaver. Later this style of weaving, though adapted to the West African narrow-strip loom, transferred to the mainland and can still be found today among Manjak and Papel weavers of Senegambia, who use a small draw loom with just one ‘draw boy’ working with the weaver.


039_African Textiles_4c

Printed Cloth
Democratic Republic of Congo,
late 20th century
116 x 179 cm
British Museum, 2011,2002.24

This textile is printed with the names of various Congolese newspapers. When Mobutu’s dictatorship finally came to an end in 1997, freedom of expression and of the press was enshrined in articles 27 and 28 of the transitional constitution of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Despite ongoing violence and ethnic conflict, freedom of the press is passionately defended in DRC by organizations such as Journaliste en Danger and is nationally and internationally recognized as vital to a more settled and truly democratic future.


181_African Textiles_4c

Talismanic tunic (rigan yaki)
Cotton, leather
Northern Nigeria(?), early 20th century
91 x 88 cm
British Museum, Af1940,23.1

This talismanic tunic (rigan yaki), probably from northern Nigeria, also combines the power of written and painted inscriptions with leather packets containing various Islamic protective charms, though on these tunics, unlike the batakari (see p. 175), the amulets are sewn onto the inside of the garment. The written word, in the form of phrases and exhortations from the Qur’an, possesses a magical signifi cance to the peoples of Islamic West Africa, even to those who cannot read Arabic.


198_African Textiles_4c

Embroidered bark-cloth, Ekigaji (‘Aloe Vera’) by Proscovia Nabwami
Fig tree bark
Kampala, Uganda, 2008
100 x 120 cm
British Museum, 2008,2021.4

This embroidered bark-cloth is titled Ekigaji (‘Aloe Vera’) and was made by Proscovia Nabwami of the Nalumunye Women’s Group, Kampala, Uganda in 2008. This work celebrates the many benefi cial uses of the aloe vera plant. It was created through the Design, Health and Community project, a collaboration between Northumbria University, UK, Durban University of Technology, South Africa and Makerere University, Uganda. Women from different craft groups in Uganda explore the ancient tradition of bark-cloth making to communicate contemporary concerns, particularly over HIV and AIDS.

All text and images taken from African Textiles Today by Chris Spring. This book  is available to buy from the British Museum Shop online.

‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’

A guest blog by John-Paul Stonard

Last week the great literary critic James Wood gave a lecture at the British Museum, titled ‘On Not Going Home’. He spoke about the condition of exile, of living one’s life away from home, and of the strange unreality of this experience.

His own compelling account is based on the experience of having lived for the last two decades in America (he was born and raised in Durham) – a sort of voluntary ‘homelessness’ that he is at pains to distinguish from the wrenching experience of exile. ‘Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience’, he cites Edward Said, one of the great thinkers on the subject.

Wood’s brilliant lecture raised many questions that illuminate the works of art included in the book and exhibition Germany Divided: Baselitz and his Generation. The title might make you think of the Berlin Wall, and the political division that ended in 1989; but the sense of division is of something much deeper, much more personal and psychological.

All of the six artists included in the exhibition were born in eastern Germany, but sooner or later moved to make their lives in the West. Markus Lüpertz and Sigmar Polke were born in the eastern territories, lost to Germany in 1945, and were forced with their families west. Blinky Palermo moved with his foster family at the age of nine. Georg Baselitz transferred from East to West Berlin during his training (before the borders closed in 1961), just as Gerhard Richter completed his training as a Socialist Realist in Dresden, before moving to Düsseldorf and starting over again, working, as he (ironically) termed it, as a ‘Capitalist Realist’.

The most dramatic case was that of A.R. Penck, who crossed the East-West German border on foot in 1980, after years of working underground in opposition to the East German State. He had already made a career in the West, thanks to the dealer Michael Werner, who would smuggle his paintings out (by car), and showed them in his Cologne gallery. It seemed inevitable that one day Penck himself would follow.

The lives and works of all these artists were inflected in different ways by this experience of migration, and by the political division of Germany. I think of James Wood’s comment on his own experience of living in America, and the ‘light veil of alienation thrown over everything’. I wonder if this ‘veil of alienation’ might explain the way in which those such as Baselitz and Richter saw West Germany, somewhere apart from their ‘heimat’ – that untranslatable German word which suggests the intimate connection with the landscape in which one was born and raised.

For the philosopher and critic György Lúkacs (cited by Wood), the modern novel was an expression of the ‘transcendental homelessness’ of the modern age. Modern life was defined by the experience of exile, and the novel was the most direct expression of this experience. ‘Transcendental homelessness’ seems to float over the images created by Baselitz in his early series of drawings, prints and paintings of ‘heroes’, lonely figures walking through desolate landscapes. It is a feeling of restlessness that I also sense in the way Markus Lüpertz and A.R. Penck made drawings, producing vast quantities, as if constantly searching for something, some form of resolution. Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter’s early works are marked by a cool irony, and a feeling of keeping a distance from ‘art’ itself — Richter used photography, Polke an absurdist humour, as a way of avoiding ‘going home’ to older ideas of making art. And the myths that have gathered around the life and work of Blinky Palermo, whose name is itself a token of not-belonging (he was born Peter Stolle, and went through a number of change of surname, before alighting on the pseudonym as a student at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie), make of him one of the most romantic, and elusive artists of all the ‘Baselitz generation’.

Listen to James Wood’s lecture via the London Review of Books website

Germany Divided: Baselitz and his generation is on show at the British Museum until 31st August 2014.

Read more about this period of art and history by John-Paul Stonard in the beautifully illustrated catalogue which accompanies the exhibition.