QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

QI

BBC Two and BBC One panel show focusing on quite interesting facts. 249 episodes (pilot + 17 series), 2003 - 2020. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Joe Lycett, Sandi Toksvig, Hannah Gadsby, Noel Fielding. Copyright: TalkbackThames.

Series P, Episode 6 - Pictures

Further details

Themes

- Sandi is dressed as a stereotypical artist, with a paint-stained smock and beret. The panel are all dressed as characters in famous paintings. Joe is dressed as the wailing figure in "The Scream", Noel as the "Mona Lisa", Hannah as the self-portrait of Vincent van Gogh after he cut off his ear, and Alan as the figure with an apple for a face in Rene Magritte's "The Son of Man".

Topics

- The panel are shown a painting by Pablo Picasso and are asked what mistake he made when painting it. The painting is of Marie-Therese Walter, the 17-year-old mistress of the then 45-year-old artist, and Picasso's wife Olga Khokhlova recognised Walter despite the cubist styling, thus she discovered that Picasso was having an affair. Of the seven most important women in Picasso's live, two committed suicide and another two went insane. Walter is also depicted in "Le Reve", which depicts her with Picasso's penis resting on her face.

- XL Tangent: Picasso once threw a party inviting Henri Rousseau, and Picasso wanted to pretend to celebrate his genius but actually planed to mock Rousseau. However, the party backfired, was a massive success, and it made Rousseau popular. This party is an example of a "Degas", a cruel joke where Degas (who among other things was anti-Semitic and misogynist) himself went to a party with Renoir, Manet and Toulouse-Lautrec and a similar trick was played. Rousseau was a "naive" or "Sunday" painter who painted in his spare time while also working as a postman.

- There are many examples of self-insertion artists. Across the centuries artists have put themselves in their own works. This mostly occurs in Renaissance art. Examples of paintings which have the artist inserted in them include Botticelli's "Adoration of the Magi", Rembrandt's "The Night Watch" (which is actually called "The Militia Company of District II under The Command of Captain Franks Bannick Cocq", but it is better known as "The Night Watch" because the painting got so dirty), and Jan van Eyck's "Arnofini Portrait".

- Tangent: "The Night Watch" is in the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the painting was so big that they couldn't fit the entire thing in, so they had to cut a bit of it off.

- XL Tangent: The ancient Greek sculptor Phidias in 4th-3rd century BC made a statue of Athena in the Battle of the Amazons, and put his image on Athena's shield. This self-insertion was considered desecration and he was jailed for it.

- Tangent: Self-insertion appears to be a male thing, because only the men did big paintings. The women painted in smaller rooms and smaller salons. Of all the works featured in major permanent collections, only 5% is by women. A survey of the National Gallery in 2011 showed that out of the 2,300 works in it only 11 were by women. Alan suggests women should do better paintings, to which Sandi replies if Alan is curious to know what it's like to be on his last show.

- XL Tangent: In 1989, a poster was made protesting against the lack of women's work in the Metropolitan Museum in New York that read: "Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female."

- Tangent: Self-insertion also occurs in films, most famously with Alfred Hitchcock. In Lifeboat, Hitchcock appears in a newspaper advertisement. Self-insertion also appears in literature, such as in Dante's The Divine Comedy and Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales. It is most common in fan-fiction, where a "Mary Sue" character appears, which is when the author makes a character based on themselves that is really heroic. One woman, Paula Smith, wrote some Star Trek fan-fiction called A Trekkie's Tale in 1973 that featured a character called Mary Sue. The Mary Sue character is often the one who saves the day, and is typically rewarded by some kind of sexual favour with one of the main characters. Sandi says she has written 25 books and none of them feature any sex, which she plans to change.

- Tangent: Sandi says she thinks self-insertion is self-indulgent and narcissistic, but then it cuts to film footage of her sitting in the audience. Noel looks into the audience mistakenly thinking she is actually there.

- XL: The panel are show a portrait and are asked who is wearing the pants in it. While the picture seems to depict what looks like Abraham Lincoln, the body is of a Southern pro-slavery politician named John Calhoun. In 1957, photojournalist Stefan Lorant was collecting pictures for a book entitled Lincoln: A Picture Story of his Life, and noticed that in this particular painting the mole on Lincoln's face was on the wrong side. Thus this painting is an early example of what PhotoShop does, with this being done by an artist named Thomas Hicks. (Forfeit: Abraham Lincoln)

- XL Tangent: Other examples of reworked images include a 1939 photo of George VI, the Queen Mother and the Canadian Prime Minister, which the PM altered for an election poster by removing the King to make him look stronger. In 1942, a picture of Mussolini on a horse was altered to remove a handler who was looking after the horse. Another example is a photo of Stalin with his secret police official Nikolai Yezhov, who was removed from the photo and executed by Stalin after he fell out of favour with him.

- Alan is shown a picture and is asked what is missing from it. Luckily for him, for once it is a blue whale. The painting is "View from Scheveninggen Sands" by Hendrick van Anthonissen, and in 2014 the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge was cleaning it when they discovered that there was a whale in the picture that had been painted over in either the 18th or 19th centuries to make the picture more saleable.

- The panel close their eyes and are asked to think of the pinkest thing imaginable. The pinkest thing imaginable is actually the world's pinkest pink paint, created by the artist Stuart Semple. Semple created it in response to another artist, Anish Kapoor, who created the blackest black paint (aka Vantablack, which absorbs 99.96% of light) and denied anyone else from using it. Semple disagreed with this move, so he created the pinkest pink in protest, allowing it to be used by anyone except Kapoor. When you buy it, you have to sign a piece of paper saying that: "You are not Anish Kapoor, you are in no way affiliated to Anish Kapoor, you are not purchasing this item on behalf of Anish Kapoor or an associate of Anish Kapoor." Kapoor however did get hold of some of the pinkest pink, painted his middle finger with it and posted a picture on Instagram mocking Semple.

- XL Tangent: Other colours created by Semple which he has banned Kapoor from using are the yellowest yellow, the greenest green and the loveliest blue. The pinkest pink is now in the Forbes pigment collection in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which also includes pigments such as royal purple (made entirely out of sea snails) and mummy brown (made from ground-up Egyptian mummies).

- The next Rembrandt is a computer. The panel are shown what looks like a classic Rembrandt portrait, but it is actually a 2016 project called "The Next Rembrandt". Artists and data experts analysed 346 paintings by Rembrandt and thus were able to create a picture in his style, in terms of looks, colour schemes, facial structure and brush strokes. "The Next Rembrandt" was 3D printed using 13 layers of paint.

- Tangent: The first person to make fraudulent Rembrandt paintings was Rembrandt himself. There were once over 650 official Rembrandts, but this figure has fallen by 50-60%. It seems that he signed a lot of paintings by his students, who were taught by copying, in classes of around 25 students at a time. Larger paintings were normally done by teams of artists. Noel says that he thinks Michelangelo worked alone, partly because he smelt so bad. Michelangelo self-inserted himself in a painting in the Sistine Chapel, depicting himself as a flayed skin in "The Last Judgement". When Alan visited the Chapel, all he could remember was a man in the middle of the room shouting at people, telling them not to take photos of the ceiling.

- XL Tangent: Noel had to copy paintings at art school. He copied a Monet terribly, and when he wrote Monet's signature his art teacher crossed it out and instead wrote, "Bob Smith".

- Tangent: Sandi once met Ronnie Barker's daughter Charlie, and she said that the first time she discovered that her father was famous was when they both went to see the "Mona Lisa" and all the British tourists were looking at Ronnie rather than the painting. When Hannah was a child she had a dog called Ronnie Barker, named by her father, but she didn't know the dog was named after a famous person. She thought it was named after the father of a school friend of hers called Ricky Barker, but Ricky's father was called Michael. It wasn't until she first watched Open All Hours that she discovered the truth. Noel meanwhile spends ages figuring out the punning dog name of Ronnie Barker.

- The studio has set up a mock art gallery with a Rembrant "painting", a fake laser beam security system made out of ribbons and a sleeping guard. Joe is tasked with stealing the painting without waking the guard. While he makes it past the lasers, he wakes up the guard because the painting has another security measure often deployed by American art galleries: there are loads of marbles behind the picture, so when Joe takes it off the wall, the marbles all fall and wake up the guard. US galleries use this because it is a cheap alternative to hi-tech systems. Most art thefts are not detailed plans like you see in films. Most paintings are stolen due to a lack of security, and most thieves don't have a specific target. Also, they don't know what to do with the painting afterwards or how to put it on the black market, so only 15% of stolen paintings are recovered. (Forfeit: *Joe wakes the guard.*)

- XL: Something that is less interesting than watching paint dry is watching a film of paint drying. In 2016, filmmaker Charlie Lyne crowd-funded a film called Paint Drying, which consists entirely of white paint drying on a brick wall for over ten hours. In the UK, the law states you cannot show a film unless the British Board of Film Classification has watched it. It costs £7.09 per minute to classify your film, so Lyne crowd-funded a film that was as long as possible for the money he had available. He raised £5,963, and thus made a film of paint drying that was 607 minutes long, that the BBFC were forced to watch. It was given a "U" classification.

- XL Tangent: Researchers at the University of Surrey have discovered that as paint dries small particles push away big particles. This means that when you are developing sun cream, if you can get the active ingredient pushed to the bottom and the sun-blocking particles pushed to the top, the sun cream is better.

- XL: The people who take 160 billion pictures a year are the US Postal Service. They photograph every piece of mail that goes through their system, making them probably the most prolific photographers in the world, but they delete the photos once the items are delivered. These photos are taken to help track the mail. (Forfeit: Kim Kardashian)

- XL Tangent: In Mexico, you can pay your taxes with paintings instead of money. Known as "Pago en Especie", it was brought in as a law in 1957. The Mexican government thus has a massive art collection, featuring 7,000 paintings, sculptures and graphics, all donated by the country's most famous artists. A jury decides how much the painting is worth.

General Ignorance

- XL: The safest way to go up and down in a building is using a lift. In the USA, about 20 people die per year on lifts or escalators, while 12,000 died per year on stairs.

- XL Tangent: Women tend to have more accidents on escalators between 12.00-18.00, while for men these accidents tend to be on Saturdays between 18.00-24.00. When the first escalators were installed people were scared of them. The first one in England was in Harrods in 1898, and members of staff were waiting at the top with brandy and smelling salts to help scared women. They discovered that women liked the escalator so much they immediately went back downstairs and used it again.

- The best investment you could have made 10 years ago was buying a tin of poo. In 1961, Italian artist Piero Manzoni put his poo in 90 tin cans, weighing 30g each. The labels say in three languages: "Artist's shit. Contents: 30g net. Freshly preserved, produced and tinned in May 1961." In 2007, the Tate Gallery purchased a tin for $30,000, and today each tin is believed to be $300,000. One problem however is that no-one is sure if the tins actually have poo in it, and they can't open the tins because that would destroy the artwork. Manzoni is dead so it is impossible to ask him, but someone who worked with him, Agostino Bonalumi, claims the tins really contain plaster.

- There is no truth that the brown note makes you want to poo. This was a myth that was popularised by an episode of South Park, which states that there is a very low sound that makes you want to go to the toilet. (Forfeit: Poo)

- Tangent: There are other colours associated with sound, such as white noise, which has all the frequencies of human hearing at the same level and is used to soothe babies.

- Tangent: Noel claims he always wanted to poo in the library when he was a kid. He asks if anyone else had the same feeling, but no-one does. Sandi was once at a dinner party, and a perfectly nice gentleman said: "Do you remember when you were little, you used to play at being florists?" No-one else did.

- XL Tangent: Brownian noise relates to Brownian motion. Brownian motion is the random way in which the particles in a fluid move about. However, you can record the noise of this motion. It sounds like water falling.

- Tangent: Another myth is that standing too close to a subwoofer at a concert can make your lung collapse.

- The panel are shown some railings in London and are asked what colour they are. While they look black, they are actually invisible green. It is not actually invisible, but it is a dull, dark green that blends in with vegetation. (Forfeit: Black)

- Tangent: There are impossible colours such as reddish green. Reddish Green however is a place in Stockport. Other impossible colours include yellowish blue, because the frequencies of the two colours cancel each other out.

- Tangent: There are railings in South London with a slight bend in them. Found in Peckham and Camberwell, these railings were all once stretchers that were left over from World War Two. There were steel stretchers that were believed could be easily disinfected, and could be used by ARP wardens during gas attacks. After the war, left-over stretchers were converted and used as railings. There are now societies set up to protect these railings.

General Ignorance

- Hannah Gadsby: 8 points
- Noel Fielding: 7 points
- Joe Lycett: -6 points
- Alan Davies: 27 points

Broadcast details

Date
Monday 15th October 2018
Time
10pm
Channel
BBC Two
Length
30 minutes

Repeats

    Cast & crew

    Regular cast
    Sandi Toksvig Host / Presenter
    Alan Davies Regular Panellist
    Guest cast
    Noel Fielding Guest
    Joe Lycett Guest
    Hannah Gadsby Guest
    Writing team
    James Harkin Script Editor
    Alex Bell Question Writer
    Production team
    Ian Lorimer Director
    John Lloyd (as John Lloyd CBE) Series Producer
    Piers Fletcher Producer
    Justin Pollard Associate Producer
    Nick King Editor
    Jonathan Paul Green Production Designer
    Nigel Catmur Lighting Designer
    Howard Goodall Composer
    Mat Coward Researcher
    Will Bowen Researcher
    Anna Ptaszynski Researcher
    Andrew Hunter Murray Researcher
    Ed Brooke-Hitching Researcher
    Alice Campbell Davis Researcher
    Mandy Fenton Researcher
    Mike Turner Researcher
    Sarah Clay Commissioning Editor
    Kalpna Patel-Knight Commissioning Editor

    Video

    A better investment than bitcoin?

    One artist seems to have taken a step away from the traditional paint brush and has eluded to something slightly more alternative.

    Featuring: Sandi Toksvig, Alan Davies, Noel Fielding, Joe Lycett, Hannah Gadsby.

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