Monty Python’s Michael Palin Is Also an Art Critic: Watch Him Explore His Favorite Paintings by Andrew Wyeth & Other Artists

Many a par­ent who caught their kid watch­ing Mon­ty Python’s Fly­ing Cir­cus in the 1970s felt, as one 70s Amer­i­can dad pro­claimed, that “it was the sin­gu­lar­ly dumb­est thing ever broad­cast on the tube.” Fans of the show know oth­er­wise. The Pythons cre­at­ed some of sharpest satire of con­ser­v­a­tive author­i­ty fig­ures and mid­dle-class mores. But they did it in the broad­ly sil­li­est of ways. The troupe, who met at Oxford and Cam­bridge, where they’d been study­ing for pro­fes­sion­al careers, decid­ed they pre­ferred to fol­low in the foot­steps of their heroes on The Goon Show. What must their par­ents have thought?

But the Pythons made good. They grew up to be avun­cu­lar author­i­ties them­selves, of the kind they might have skew­ered in their younger days. After sev­er­al decades of mak­ing high­ly regard­ed trav­el doc­u­men­taries, Michael Palin became pres­i­dent of the Roy­al Geo­graph­i­cal Soci­ety, an office one can imag­ine him occu­py­ing in the short-pants uni­form of a Bruce. Instead, pho­tographed in aca­d­e­m­ic casu­al hold­ing a globe, he was dubbed by The Inde­pen­dent as “a man with the world in his hands.”

Unlike fel­low accom­plished Python John Cleese, who can nev­er resist get­ting in a joke, Palin has most­ly played the straight man in his TV pre­sen­ter career. He brings to this role an earnest­ness that endeared view­ers for decades. It’s a qual­i­ty that shines through in his doc­u­men­taries on art for BBC Scot­land, in which he explores the worlds of his favorite painters with­out a hint of the pre­ten­tious­ness we would find in a Python car­i­ca­ture. Just above, Palin trav­els to Maine to learn about the life of Andrew Wyeth and the set­ting of his most famous work, Christina’s World.

Palin’s pas­sion for art and for trav­el are of a piece—driven not by ideas about what art or trav­el should be, but rather by what they were like for him. Palin brings this per­son­al approach to the con­ver­sa­tion above with Car­o­line Camp­bell, Head of Cura­to­r­i­al at the British Nation­al Gallery. Here, he dis­cuss­es “ten paint­ings which I can­not avoid when I’m going in the gallery. They always catch my eye, and each one means some­thing to me.” Artists includ­ed in his “rather eso­teric” col­lec­tion include the late-Medieval/ear­ly-Renais­sance pio­neer Duc­cio, Hans Hol­bein the Younger, William Hog­a­rth, and Joseph Mal­lord William Turn­er.

While these may be famil­iar names to any art lover, the works Palin choos­es from each artist may not be. His thought­ful, per­cep­tive respons­es to these works are not those of the pro­fes­sion­al crit­ic or of the pro­fes­sion­al come­di­an. They are the respons­es of a fre­quent trav­el­er who notices some­thing new on every trip.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mon­ty Python Pays Trib­ute to Ter­ry Jones: Watch Their Mon­tage of Jones’ Beloved Char­ac­ters in Action

John Cleese Revis­its His 20 Years as an Ivy League Pro­fes­sor in His New Book, Pro­fes­sor at Large: The Cor­nell Years

New Ani­mat­ed Film Tells the Life Sto­ry of Mon­ty Python’s Gra­ham Chap­man

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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