Sunday 29 May 2016

Morbid pedantry

A fascinating review by Judith Flanders in the current TLS of an exhibition of Dutch flower painting at the National Gallery. I was particularly struck by the following:

The art historians Klaske Muizelaar and Derek Phillips have estimated that of the 10 million-plus paintings produced in the Netherlands between 1580 and 1800, less than 1 per cent have survived.

That's still an awful lot of paintings, isn't it? If we can rely on the figures it means around 5 million paintings per century were produced during the period, at a rate of 67 per day (including Sundays) or almost three per hour. Astonishing. How the two art historians arrived at the big number I cannot imagine. Were Dutch painters especially prolific compared with their peers in Italy, for example? I assume they were catering more for a secular demand from the rising merchant class than ecclesiastical commissions. But what do I know?

I was slightly taken aback by something else in the review :

From the mid-century, painters like Jan Davidsz de Heem continued to experiment with both form and content. 

Which painters were they, the ones like Jon Davidsz de Heen, who continued to experiment thus? Or does the writer mean painters such as Jan Davidsz de Heen? Presumably yes. There was a time when no sub-editor would have let this pass uncorrected.

It was Frederic Raphael who alerted me (not personally, you understand, but in an essay) to the increasingly commonplace use of 'like' instead of 'such as' when giving comparative examples. It's incorrect to say, for instance,

     Countries like Australia are home to exotic flora and fauna.

Which countries? It's preferable to say:

     Countries like Australia, such as New Zealand and Tasmania, are home to exotic flora and fauna.

Actually this is merely a pretext to share a clip of the comedians Mitchell and Webb performing one of a series of very funny sketches featuring a fictitious and utterly baffling telly game show called Numberwang. Amusing, this, and they have fun with 'like' and 'such as' at some point.

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