Page last updated at 23:00 GMT, Saturday, 30 May 2009 00:00 UK

British are 'barbarians' - Paxman

Jeremy Paxman looking at a Victorian nude
Mr Paxman described how Victorian art reflected the society of the day

BBC Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has described the British public as "barbarians" who are too busy working to find time to appreciate art.

He lamented what he regards as Britain's obsession with TV during a talk on Victorian art given at the Hay Festival of Literature in mid-Wales.

Mr Paxman said: "Watching TV is the most popular leisure activity in Britain. I find that very depressing."

In January, thousands tuned into his BBC TV series on the Victorians.

His comments came in a discussion following his talk, when he was asked whether paintings in galleries needed to be better explained to people.

"I think that the basic problem is that we are all a bunch of barbarians really," he said.

Social history

He said he appreciated part of the problem was that many people were just too busy to go to galleries.

"At work people are expected to be at the beck and call of employers all the time.

"You have Blackberries and other things, and they just don't leave you alone. People have less time just to drop into an art gallery."

During his talk he said whenever he travels the UK, he is in the habit of calling in at local art galleries, many of which have collections of Victorian art.

"It occurred to me that this was a fantastic way into Victorian social history," he said.

He said many Victorian artists such as William Powell Frith and James Sharples became rich celebrities of their time.

Some artists were so popular that their paintings toured the country "like rock groups do today," he added.

The arrival of an exhibition would often be advertised by men carrying sandwich boards walking the streets of towns.

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