Face of Britain by Simon Schama

Face of Britain by Simon Schama

Before we can walk, before we can talk, we become readers of faces. This primal engagement with the face makes portraiture one of the most compelling forms of art. Historian Simon Schama explores the history of British portraiture, revealing the stories behind the most fascinating images in British art and examines the ways portraiture is used to make a statement.

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Face of Britain by Simon Schama on BBC Select

Episode 1: The Face of Power
How portraits can be a battle of control between powerful subjects and the artist.

Portraits, especially of the powerful, can involve a battle for control between the artist and the subject. Historian Simon Schama explores the eternal power of portraiture. He investigates how a painting celebrating Winston Churchill’s 80th birthday ended in disaster for both the painter and his sitter and how photography allowed Queen Victoria to rebrand the British monarchy as a modern family.

Episode 2: Faces of the People
A look at artists who create images of people who otherwise would have been forgotten.

While most portraits have been of the great and the good who pay to be flattered, some artists have taken all of humanity as their subject. Historian Simon Schama looks at those who have plunged into the crowd and given us the faces of the people. From Hogarth’s portrayals of London’s rogues to the suffragette rampage against the nation’s art galleries that unleashed the dark side of photography.

Episode 3: The Face of Fame
Can portraits of the famous from Britain’s past and present explain the British psyche?

From images of naval hero Francis Drake to iconic photographs of Princess Diana, the craving for celebrity fuels the British psyche. Simon Schama looks at portraits of the famous and asks what the celebrated faces of Britain’s past and present tell us about its national character. From Cecil Beaton’s seductive portraits of the rich to glossy magazines, how has celebrity culture changed?

Episode 4: The Look of Love
How romantic portraits allow us to fulfil our craving to keep loved ones close to us.

By fixing the faces of loved ones in time through pictures, we can defy separation, distance, time, even death. Historian Simon Schama explores how love portraits allow us to fulfil our craving to keep the ones we love close to us. Francis Bacon’s posthumous portraits of his lover and the final photograph of John Lennon and Yoko Ono show the power of portraiture to immortalize love.

Episode 5: The Face in the Mirror
The complex motivations behind some of the art world’s most intriguing self-portraits.

What do self-portraits say about both the creative minds of the artists who produced them and the wider human condition? Historian Simon Schama explores the complex motivations behind some of our most intriguing self-portraits. From Tracy Emin’s bed to Lucien Freud’s examinations of his ageing body, he explores how all self-portraits stand on a knife-edge between self-indulgence and self-scrutiny.

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