Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938
ed. Anne Umland. The Museum of Modern Art, New York
via Thames & Hudson, hbk, 256pp, 225 col ill, £45
In this handsome book, essays by seven authors skilfully
explore Magritte's early Surrealist evolution. Visionary
experiences triggered his mysterious awareness of such
mundane marvels as floorboards, mouldings on walls and
leaf veins. Disquietingly juxtaposed, such elements were
metamorphosed into ominous pictorial paradoxes: lovers
kissing swathed in face-obliterating sheets, 'large clouds...
crawling over the ground', bacon on a plate with an eerily
transfixing human eye at its centre. The story of his
commission for three paintings (1937-38) in Edward James's
spectacularly bizarre London house, is enthrallingly told; the
first photo of Magritte in his persona as bowler-hatted man
was taken there. Philip Vann
Matisse: The Chapel at Vence
by Marie-Thérèse Pulvenis de Séligny. 224pp, 200 col. ill,
Royal Academy Publications hbk, £60
This lucidly written book surveys Matisse's compact yet
transcendent Chapel at Vence from all possible angles.
1940s' encounters with a nun and monks – and a 1930
Tahitian experience of sky commingling with sea – helped
inspire Matisse to create 'a church full of gaiety'. Photos
of subtle artistry describe marvellous details like iridescent
indigos and yellows (cast by windows with radically
attenuated natural forms based on papercut studies)
staining the marble floor. The interplay between elegantly
austere Stations of the Cross drawings on ceramic panels
on one wall, and the glowing fluidity of stained glass on
another, is movingly evoked. Philip Vann
Director's Choice: Mauritshuis
by Emilie E.S. Gordenker. 80pp, ill. throughout, Scala pbk, £9.95
'The Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis' is a real gem amongst
European museums, housed in a classic 17th C. building in The
Hague and with an outstanding collection of Dutch and Flemish
Golden Age masterpieces. These include Rembrandt's The Anatomy
Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp, Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring
and View of Delft and works by Holbein, Hals, Steen, Rubens,
Ruisdael, Avercamp and many more.
In this engaging, compact
book, Director Emilie Gordenker comments on around 35 of her
personal favourites, reproduced one per spread (often with a
blown-up detail). A neat idea, well executed – look out for other
titles in the series. AA
Constant within the change: Gary Wragg – Five Decades
of Paintings: A comprehensive catalogue. 2 vols, Sansom and Co
This book includes over 500 illustrations as well as short, erudite
essays by Hilary Spurling, Terence Maroon, Matthew Collins,
Stefanie Sachsenmaier and Sam Cornish. However, the
contributions throughout by the Artist himself are also refreshingly
clear and to the point: "I feel the inner voice in painting will always
prevail, regardless of shifts in established taste in art." Wragg's Art
is optimistic as well as accomplished and this publication will
hopefully reach a new generation of painters. The final word
should be given to Bryan Robertson (quoted by Sam Cornish).
Wragg's paintings "do not reveal themselves at first glance; they
not only repay prolonged study, they demand it."
T.P. Flanagan: Painter of Light and Landscape
by S.B. Kennedy. 200pp, 100 col, 50 b/w ills,
Lund Humphries hbk, £40
With a thorough, perceptive text by S. B. Kennedy and
moving Foreword by Seamus Heaney, this is a fine survey
of the art of 'Terry' Flanagan (1929-2011), Ireland's pre-
eminent 20th century watercolour landscapist. Heaney and
Flanagan became friends in 1960, and the poet contrasts
'peat-brown tones of his [early] bogland pictures' – as in the
magisterial, minatory 'black butter' (Heaney's phrase) of the
semi-abstracted Boglands (1967) – with the artist's later
pictures, calligraphically taut portrayals of weirs, lakes, the
'fiery shorthand' of gorse moors: such 'works ... palpably in
thrall to water and earth ... [each] a little aria to light and air.'
by Alessandra Zamperini. 252pp, c.300 ills,
Thames & Hudson hbk, £60
Paolo Caliari from Verona was a brilliant colourist who
excelled at crowd scenes and became the star painter
(alongside Tintoretto) of the post-Titian generation in
Venice, where he was based for some 35 years until his
death in 1588. His decorative skills got him hauled
before the Inquisition in 1573 over a purported 'Last
Supper' that included 'buffoons, drunkards, Germans,
dwarves and other such scurrilous figures'. Veronese
pleaded artistic licence such as that afforded to 'poets
and jesters' and a neat alteration of the picture title to
'Feast in the House of Levi' did the trick and his highly
successful career continued unabated. Launched to
coincide with a major show at the National Gallery in
London (which owns 10 of the 50 or so exhibited
works), this scholarly book is translated from the
original Italian. The publishing blurb phrase 'sumptuous
volume' is absolutely spot on here and entirely
appropriate for the artist, whose paintings are done full
justice in the fine illustrations. AA
Craigie Aitchison Prints: A Catalogue Raisonné
by Andrew Lambirth and Louise Peck. Royal Academy
of Arts hbk, £35
Craigie Aitchison became seriously involved with printmaking
relatively late in his career when he turned to this alternative
medium around 1990. In his own quiet determined way he
then managed to produce a phenomenal body of prints –
mainly in silkscreen and carborundum etching. In painting
Aitchison is famous for pared down compositions, where his
recurring subjects of single flower still-lives, crucifix landscapes
and Bedlington terriers are set aglow in luminous and
sumptuous colours. Miraculously his prints also manage to
capture all these stunning qualities while still maintaining their
own distinctive graphic character. This catalogue raisonné is
published by RA Publications, with an informative commentary
by Spectator critic Andrew Lambirth and a comprehensive
body of high quality illustrations supervised by Louise Peck,
who worked with the artist during his long and successful
association with Advanced Graphics. This book certainly does
full justice to this important aspect of Craigie Aitchison’s art.
Art and the Second World War
by Monica Bohm-Duchen. 288pp, 215 ills,
Lund Humphries hbk, £40
A well illustrated and approachable survey of the artistic
response to the conflict, from the preludial Spanish Civil
War to the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan. A
dozen chapters discuss art in most of the major
combatant nations including China and the Commonwealth,
providing the most wide-ranging treatment of the subject
available in English. The big names and official schemes are
present of course, but especially welcome is the coverage
of lesser known images and artists, the work of civilian
internees and POWs. AA
Art as an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets
by Melanie Gerlis. 192pp, Lund Humphries hbk, £30
A widely researched and clearly written analysis by the Art
Market Editor of The Art Newspaper. Melanie Gerlis
examines art as an investment class in comparison to other
assets such as public equities (stocks and shares), gold,
wine, property, private equity and luxury goods. Not
least of the difficulties in assessing whether art is a good
investment (in the purely financial sense) is the general
paucity of hard information. Only around half of the
market's transactions – through an estimated 23,000 auction
houses – are a matter of public record; those of some
third of a million art dealers are not. So, what does the
author conclude? A hint may lie in the book title's
question mark . . . AA
Turner & The Sea by Christine Riding and Richard Johns.
288pp, 190 ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £35
JMW Turner bestrides 19th Century British art – arguably all
British art – as such a Colossus (to purloin a phrase) that it is
easy to forget that in his lifetime he could be described as ''the
great sea painter'" and that he adopted a "somewhat sailor-like"
persona. Indeed as the curators of the extensive National
Maritime Museum exhibition (until 21 April 2014) point out,
he painted the sea in its multifarious moods more frequently than
any other subject. It remained a central preoccupation
throughout his career, from Fishermen at Sea (1796) to The
Fighting Temeraire (1839) – recently voted Britain's favourite
painting – and beyond. This handsome publication, the
catalogue to the NMM show, combines an excellent contextual
overview with in-depth analysis of important works, many of
them displayed in close up detail. AA
Patrick Reyntiens: Catalogue of Stained Glass by Libby Horner
Intro. by Frances Spalding, Sansom and Co h/b, 352 pp, £60
Libby Horner has most admirably catalogued and illustrated
Patrick Reyntiens' tremendous, dynamic oeuvre as both maker
and designer of stained glass in his own right, and creative
collaborator working alongside, notably, John Piper but also
Ceri Richards and Cecil Collins. What Roy Strong calls in the
Preface Piper and Reyntiens' 'rare strange aesthetic marriage'
lasted from 1954 to 1991, producing Coventry Cathedral's
magisterial glass but also countless other commissions.
Notable too are Collins' beatifically radiant 1985 windows
for a Basingstoke church, and Reyntiens' autonomous panels
including an exuberantly painterly Orpheus Charming The
Trees (1984) and gorgeous multiple images of Dame Edna
The Story of Design by Charlotte and Peter Fiell
Goodman Fiell hbk, £30
From the moment humans picked up and shaped a stick
elements of what we now understand to be ‘design’ have
powered our evolutionary journey. Charlotte and Peter Fiell
– both highly regarded design historians – have put together
a delightful compendium of our historic strivings to weigh form
against function. Beautifully illustrated and lightly but
knowledgeably written – this is a book to pick up and dip into
for an hour or two – there is something on every page to
stimulate your inner creative and delight at human
resourcefulness and ingenuity – definitely one for the festive
coffee table. CM
Brandt Nudes: A New Perspective. Preface Lawrence Durrell,
Commentaries Mark Haworth-Booth. 176pp, 144 ills,
Thames and Hudson pbk, £45
'Brandt Nudes' brings together a collection of photographs that
span the whole of Bill Brandt's career. Famous for photographic
imagery that explored the female form in progressively new ways,
the book highlights how his artistic eye developed over the years,
evolving continuously towards the abstract. 'Brandt Nudes' fuses
together two previously published titles which Brandt edited
himself; however this new edition features photographs that have
not been reproduced to this standard before. The comparison of
the book's printed duotone images with originals recently studied
in the V&A print room is reassuring, at least from memory, while
the commentary, written mainly by Mark Haworth-Booth, a
friend of Brandt in his later years, brings a close informed and
friendly feel to the text. This approach provides a less artistic
stance and more of an anecdotal one, but still describes the
methodology and syntax of the taking of the pictures. Essential
for amateur and professional students of the genre.
The Paintings That Revolutionized Art. Ed Claudia Stäuble.
288pp, 175 col ills, Prestel hbk £22.50
'The Paintings That Revolutionized Art'; if you have trouble throwing
newspapers away as you get drawn into reading some snippet then
this book is for you. The title might invite a little scepticism among
the informed but they like the uninformed will almost certainly find
themselves drawn into first a look and then a read of the page the
book falls open at. Whether the paintings did 'revolutionise' art is
arguable but the one hundred selected by the Prestel 'editorial team'
are famously representative of their genre, if they did not actually
promote revolution. There is a pithy quote with each image drawn
from literature, a sage of the period or Don Maclean (Vincent –
Starry Starry Night 1971). It might all seem a bit like Sticky Toffee
Pudding but then its a favourite on any menu. Authorship of the
text is anonymous which is irritating and there are no footnotes but
a glossary of terms at the back supports the main descriptive texts
and the individual artist biographies that complete each review.
Hard to put down – a snip at £22.50. PH
Graham Sutherland: From Darkness into Light;
mining, metal and machines, with essays by Paul Gough,
Sally Moss and Tehmina Goskar, Sansom & Co pbk, 96pp, £17.95
This finely illustrated, discerningly written, compact volume
illuminates Graham Sutherland's at once visionary and informed
wartime portrayal of Cornish tin and Welsh coal-mining, Cardiff
steel furnaces, shells being pressed at Woolwich Arsenal, bomb
damage in French marshalling yards. Aged 36 at the outbreak of
War, Sutherland became an 'Official War Artist', a self-styled
'imaginative-realist journalist', hurriedly conjuring up, with vivid
rawness and flaring grandeur, a fractured London in the Blitz,
miners 'ennobled underground' and 'perpetual conflict with
intractable materials' in mines and quarries. As a result, he
created some of the most poignantly sublime, apocalyptically
charged images of the Second World War.
An American in London: Whistler and the Thames
by Margaret F. MacDonald and Patricia de Montfort. 192pp,
col/b&w throughout, Philip Wilson hbk, £35
The Thames, in a way, both made and destroyed Whistler; his
images of the river helped establish him in the 1860s and 70s
and one of his 'Nocturnes', featuring fireworks in the background
of Battersea Bridge, led to Ruskin's accusation of "flinging a pot
of paint in the public's face". This prompted Whistler to sue the
critic for libel and his Pyrrhic victory ruined the painter financially.
As Robert Hughes put it, "The falling rocket took him down with
it; that disputed firework might have been Whistler's own career."
A fine companion to the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery
(until January 12, 2014), this book illustrates and examines
80 or so of his wonderfully atmospheric paintings, prints and
drawings of the urban river, its bankside activities and those who
earned their living along it. For me, despite the celebrity of the
paintings, it's the etchings that really 'float my boat' . . .
Francis Davison by Andrew Lambirth. 160pp, col & mono ills,
Sansom and Company hbk, £25
A clear, readable introduction to the life and work of neglected
collagist Francis Davison (1919–1984). He began as a poet,
took up painting when he married artist Margaret Mellis in 1948,
and four years later embarked on a ground-breaking series of
abstract collages using found and torn papers. The rest of his
artistic life was spent exploring and developing these mysterious
and beautiful coloured constructions. His sense of privacy
prevented his work receiving the recognition it deserved during
his lifetime. This major study eloquently redresses the balance.
'Dear Winifred' Christopher Wood Letters to Winifred
and Ben Nicholson 1926-1930.
Edited by Anne Goodchild.
Sansom and Company pbk, £15
These letters which were obviously not written with publication
in mind show us the artist
at his most vulnerable. He was a loyal,
admiring and slightly needy friend to Ben and
Nicholson. At times he appears spoilt thanks to his special friend
Grandarillas, "and the chauffeur was asleep at the door of
an antique shop". He can even
appear as a dilettante, "I spent all
the hot lazy months doing nothing in Passy and then
Brittany and after a couple of months doing nothing, Froska
turned up . . . "
However, many of these fascinating letters shed
new light upon this important artist's life
and yet give no hint of
his tragic early death. Sadly the other half of this correspondence
has not survived.
Sign of The Times by Peter Brookes.
108pp, The Robson Press hbk, £17.99
Latest selection of full-colour cartoons, one per page, from
The Times newspaper's multi-award winning Peter Brookes.
Beautifully observed and drawn images spanning August 2011
to August 2013: Ed Miliband a more hirsute Wallace (as in
Gromit), 'Cleggers' as public school fag to Cameron, Osborne
and Johnson, an impish Alex Salmond, and of course the
Nature Notes series – Swivel-eyed Toad (ukipus farageis).
An ideal stocking-filler, worth the price for the Tory
grandees as 'Westminster Village People' alone . . .
Terry Frost: A Painter's Life by Roger Bristow.
264pp, Sansom and Company hbk, £30.
The publisher's sleeve notes explain that Roger Bristow has
"interviewed many of Terry Frost's friends, collectors, fellow
artists and members of his family." The author seems to have
presented the research in full and whilst those of us who
recognise many of the characters will enjoy the detail, the text
may have benefited from a harder edit. Frost's journey from
figuration to abstraction is often described in his own words:
"I had to stop being descriptive and start being pictorial." This,
together with the inclusion of a variety of photographs from the
family, help to make this book a welcome addition to the Frost
bibliography. Chris Insoll
Frank Holl: Emerging from the Shadows, ed. Mark Bills.
168pp, 90 ills, Philip Wilson pbk £19.95
Frank Holl RA (1845-1888) was a leading light (and arguably the
best painter) of the Social Realists of the 1870/80s, whose images
were based on realistic observation, avoiding the melodrama and
stereotyping of earlier generations. His Newgate; committed for
trial has been hailed as "perhaps the masterpiece of English social
realism" (Christopher Wood). In the 1880s Holl turned to
portraiture and such was the demand that he was producing 20 a
year on his death – from overwork, in defiance of medical advice,
at the height of his success. This book accompanies the first
retrospective in over a century (Watts Gallery, Compton
Jun 18-Nov 3 2013 and Mercer Art Gallery, Harrogate Nov 23-
Mar 30 2014) and offers a good cross-section of both the subject
pictures and his "killing portraits", as Millais bluntly called them,
with five informative essays on his life and work. One minor carp:
many of the images are reproduced twice; alternatives would have
been preferable, but perhaps there were availability problems? AA
The Civil War and American Art by Eleanor Jones Harvey.
316pp, 200 ills, Yale University Press hbk, £45
The Civil War was the defining event for the United States,
a struggle for a vast future, as Lincoln put it. Over 75,000 books
have appeared on the subject – that's more than one a day since
the end of the conflict in 1865 – though few on its impact on art.
Which makes this splendidly written, illustrated and presented
survey – produced in conjunction with an exhibition at the
Smithsonian American Art Museum – especially welcome.
focuses principally on the transformation of landscape and genre
painting, exploring artists' direct, allusive and metaphorical responses
to both the disruption and reunification of the American Republic –
notably those of Frederic Church, Winslow Homer and Eastman
Johnson, amongst others. There is also substantial coverage of
battlefield photography, then of course in its infancy, and the
revelatory images made by George Barnard, Alexander Gardner
and Timothy O'Sullivan. AA
Edward Burra by Simon Martin, with contributions by
Andrew Lambirth and Jane Stevenson, 176 pages, 120 col,
30 bw ills, Lund Humphries hbk, £35
The art of Edward Burra (1905-76) is expertly re-appraised here in the
first full-scale monograph on a remarkable cultural outsider, a great British
artist who has been relatively neglected, perhaps owing to the sheer
disquieting subversiveness and surreally outré wit of his visionary
watercolour and gouache paintings. Simon Martin examines his affinity
with German Neue Sachlichkeit painting; 'the pinnacle of his achievement'
as ‘a painter of modern black culture' in Harlem; and the macabre
hallucinatory quality of pictures true to the minatory spirit of the 1930s.
Burra’s beautifully ominous, subtly sinister late landscapes are surveyed
by Andrew Lambirth.
100 Ideas That Changed Art by Michael Bird.
216pp, 288 col ills, Laurence King pbk £19.95
This survey aims to cover art from early times to the present without being
overcome by 'isms'. And indeed art historian Michael Bird has succeeded
in excluding virtually all of them to produce an approachable, concise
volume with c.500 words and 2 or 3 images per 'idea' – whether technological,
cultural or conceptual. "I have looked for ideas that shaped the ways in which
artists worked, rather than those that determined how their work was
(retrospectively) thought and written about." The result is attractively produced
and priced, perfect for dipping into rather than for a cover-to-cover read.
Public Sculpture of Historic Westminster, Volume 1
by Philip Ward-Jackson. 500pp, b/w ills throughout, Liverpool University Press pbk, £30
The National Recording Project, initiated in 1993 by the Public Monuments and Sculpture
Association, is one of the truly heroic art-historical schemes of our time, on a par with
Pevsner's pioneering 'Buildings of England' in its scope and thoroughness, perhaps rather
more so. This, the fourteenth volume in the series, takes on perhaps the grandaddy of them
all, the public sculpture of the country's civil, military, political, religious and constitutional
heartland “an open-air national Valhalla” as they term it – Westminster. Indeed there is so
much to cover that this is subtitled, somewhat ominously, Volume 1. How many more
there are to come they shrewdly don't say – this one covering only work out of doors –
no churches, cathedrals, museums, public buildings or architectural sculpture. It's a rich
haul even so – Chantrey, Rodin, Le Sueur, Gilbert, Jagger among the stars, while Liam
O'Connor's Commonweath Gates on Constitution Hill receive a more circumspect account.
Meanwhile his other, gigantic, Bomber Command Memorial on Green Park was, sadly, still
on the drawing board at the time of publication. But what exemplary stuff this is! NU
El Anatsui: Art and Life, by Susan Mullin Vogel
176 pages, 45 col ills, Prestel Publishing hbk, £40
This sumptuously illustrated, thoughtfully written book explores the work of the globally
acclaimed Ghanaian-born, Nigerian-based artist, El Anatsui (b.1944). His philosophy is
'you do art with whatever is around you'. He transfigures locally-retrieved detritus such
as caches of aluminium alcohol bottle tops (then flattened, crimped and crumpled, etc.)
and copper wire, stitching these into immense undulating assemblies of infinitely sinuous
beauty and diverse, subtly mesmerising palettes. His work, which, he says, is 'a marriage
between sculpture and painting' – revolving 'around the history of the continent of Africa'
– paradoxically unites quotidian grittiness of materials with an awe-inspiring ethereality.
The Face of Courage: Eric Kennington, Portraiture
and The Second World War
by Jonathan Black. 168pp, 134 ills, Philip Wilson
Publishers pbk, £19.99
Educated at St Paul's and Lambeth College of Art, Eric Kennington
(1888-1960) served as a soldier and latterly as a War Artist in the
First World War. 'The Kensingtons at Laventie', depicting a battle-
weary infantry section (himself included) is one of the most remarkable
paintings of that conflict. He was also a sculptor and an outstanding
draughtsman, a widely acclaimed portraitist in charcoal and pastel,
producing images of extraordinary insight and power.
Art historian Jonathan Black has assembled a wide array of portraits
from the Second World War (when Kennington was again an official
artist) for an exhibition at The Royal Air Force Museum (until June
2012) and written this impressive, fully illustrated book to accompany it,
with much useful biographical detail on the artist and his sitters.
These include the high ranking and the famous – Douglas Bader, John 'Cat's
Eyes' Cunningham, Richard Hillary, Peter Townsend – but Kennington was also keen to
celebrate ordinary servicemen doing their bit, such as Stoker Martin of
HMS Exeter. Civilians are not neglected either, Desirée
Ellinger, musical comedienne and National Fire Service driver, adorning
the back cover. Not least are the Home Guard NCOs, resolute men in
their forties, WW1 medal ribbons on their battledress – a far cry from
the amiable old duffers of 'Dad's Army'. I, for one, would not wish to
have confronted Sgts Moir or Stokes . . . AA
Your Loving Friend, Stanley:
the Great War correspondence between Stanley Spencer and Desmond Chute
ed. & essays by Paul Gough, 143 pages, 42 bw ills, Sansom & Co pbk, £12.95
This gem of a book transcribes the 31 letters the artist wrote to Desmond Chute,
a young aesthete, whom Spencer befriended as a 24-year old orderly in a Bristol
military hospital. Chute introduced Spencer to St Augustine’s Confessions, which
transfigured the latter’s understanding of the hospital’s ‘menial grime’. There are
many moving passages such as when Spencer, in the Macedonian theatre of war,
talks about, how in his art, ‘I shall be able to show God in the bare “real” things,
in a limber wagon in ravines, in fowling mule lines.’ Spencer’s wartime
reminiscences of his native Cookham have a hallucinatory vividness. Philip Vann
Isaak Levitan – Lyrical Landscape
by Averil King. 160pp, 80 col ills, Antique Collectors' Club hbk, £35.
Born in 1860 in Lithuania, Levitan was an exact contemporary and lifelong friend
of Anton Chekhov – indeed he appears in various guises in the playwright's works,
notably The Grasshopper and The Seagull. An admirer of Corot, Daubigny and
Monet, Levitan in his short life (he died at just 39) established himself as the leading
contemporary artist of the Russian landscape, a master of nature in its diverse
moods. A member of the Predvizhniki or 'Wanderers' – who rejected the
restrictions of the Academy style and sought modern subject matter, often with a
gritty social engagement – his most famous image is Vladimirka Road, an eerily
evocative depiction (almost devoid of figures) of the route taken by countless
prisoners, "the one on which so many people died on their long walk to Siberia".
He was equally adept at up-beat pictures such as the ebullient Spring Flood which
celebrates the departure of the harsh Russian winter.
Despite Chekhov's verdict – "the greatest landscape painter of his day" – Levitan
is little known in the West and this is the only survey in English, now issued in a third,
revised edition. Averil King's extensively researched text devotes considerable space
to the cultural background and is enhanced by excellent illustrations that benefit from
the book's landscape format. AA
Stanley Spencer and the English Garden
ed. Steven Parissien. 96pp, 43 ills, Compton Verney/Paul Holberton pbk, £16.99
Spencer is best known for his portraits, his mystical religious paintings or his work
as a War Artist. This collection of essays, which accompanies the show at
Compton Verney (until October 2011) highlights his landscape pictures, often of
domestic buildings and gardens, whilst also covering related topics such as 'The
Artist and the Garden from Allingham to Spencer' and 'Landscapes and
Gardens of the Long Weekend' (the inter-War period). Though sometimes
disparaged as 'potboilers' (even by Spencer himself) "they came from the hand
and eye of a visionary artist with a fierce attachment to the countryside around
him" as Keith Bell argues here. "Every nettle, every bean, every tulip has the
potential to be more than it seems while remaining exactly what it is". AA
The Art of Simon Palmer
with essay by Elspeth Moncrieff.
144pp, 113 col ills,
Oblong Creative Ltd, hbk £35
Simon Palmer was born in Yorkshire in 1956, but grew up in Kent and went to art
school in Surrey, where he studied graphic design and illustration. It was not until he
returned to his native county that he was able to tap the wellsprings of his imagination.
For the past 25 years he has delighted a loyal and ever-growing circle of admirers
and collectors with his distinctive watercolours, which could be described as Paul
Nash meets Stanley Spencer, with a shake of Ravilious and a dash of Francis Towne.
Could be but shouldn't be. The more one looks at his detailed pieces, the stranger
and more haunting they become, while still being utterly rooted in the particularity of
the landscape. Palmer is served well by this book, published by a local company in
association with the dealer James Huntington-Whiteley. Elspeth Moncrieff does a
good job in her essay: just enough personal detail, just enough putting works in
context, just enough critical analysis. Then the reader is left to himself to ponder “the
hills behind with Sleddale and Beggarman's Road cutting up through shadow to the
ridge beyond”. SD
An American Experiment: George Bellows and the Ashcan Painters
by David Peters Corbett with Katherine Bourguignon and
Christopher Riopelle. 56pp, 27 ills. National Gallery pbk, £7.99
Excellent introduction to the gritty realism of Bellows and fellow Ashcanners
William Glackens, Robert Henri (pr. 'Hen-rye'), George Luks and John Sloan
who flourished on the cusp of 19th Century and Modernist art. The show
(National Gallery, London until 30 May, admission free) presents a dozen
works – seven by Bellows – and the catalogue includes an informative essay
on this lively American artist and his peers. AA
Public Sculpture of Bristol
by Douglas Merritt & Francis Greenacre,
with Katherine Eustace. 496pp, 450 b/w ills,
Liverpool University Press hbk £60, pbk £30.
Number 12 in the authoritative, irresistible Public Sculpture of Britain series,
this one itemises more than 200 works spanning almost 800 years in what
was for long Britain's second city. Detailed, illustrated entries cover a wide
variety of statuary and sculpture from the venerable headless Virgin and
Child Enthroned in Christmas Street (1240) to the chirpy Greater Crested
Plunger by Jason Lane (2008) in Ashley Road. AA
Van Gogh's Twin: The Scottish Art Dealer Alexander Reid, 1854-1928
by Frances Fowle, 180pp, 94 ills, National Galleries of Scotland hbk, £19.95
When Reid died he was rightly hailed as “a prince among dealers” This richly
illustrated and highly informative book by the Reid specialist Frances Fowle
traces the remarkable career of Britain’s most successful commercial champion
of early modern painting. A committed international modernist, Reid moved
easily between Glasgow, London and Paris working for major collectors like
Burrell, and promoting the then challenging art of The Glasgow Boys, The
Scottish Colourists and The Impressionists long before anyone else in this
country. The individual artists he admired included Whistler and Degas but
ironically he never rated Van Gogh, even though he shared a Paris flat with
Vincent and was painted by him on two occasions. They also shared such a
“twin” resemblance that after Vincent’s death both these pictures were initially
catalogued as self-portraits – one of which stares out from the cover of this
The Prints of John Piper: A Catalogue Raisonné 1923-91
ed. by Orde Levinson, 232p, 428 col and 60 b&w ills, hbk £125
The essence behind Piper’s scintillatingly diverse oeuvre presented here is that
for him as ‘a painter and draughtsman of landscape and architecture’,
‘the tradition … has to stretch … to include anything and everything that has
a pointed reference to life’. Thus the prints here range from 1930s abstract
compositions to the glowing, subtly painterly 1980s’ screenprints of ancient
buildings that double as both acutely observed record and poignant palimpsest.
Uppingham’s Goldmark Gallery, which launched both the book and special
collectors' edition, has its own impressive permanent display of Piper’s prints;
for details see its website, www.johnpiperprints.com
The Dictionary of Scottish Painters: 1600 to the Present
by Julian Halsby & Paul Harris. 244p, col ills throughout, Birlinn pbk, £25
The fourth edition of this excellent work (first published in 1990) has been fully
updated and re-illustrated and runs alphabetically from Glaswegian Douglas Abercrombie
to Aleksander Zyw –who came to Scotland in 1940 with the Polish Army. The 2,000
pithy entries, varying in length according to the subject, cover all the major figures from
Ramsay, Wilkie and the Scottish Colourists down to today's Bellany, Howson, Rae and
such rising stars as Mark I'Anson. Even Jack Vettriano gets a look in. A well-thumbed
earlier version of this Dictionary is perhaps the most frequently accessed volume on the
Galleries shelf – vital for distinguishing William McTaggart from William MacTaggart and
much more besides . . . AA
Most Influential Painters . . . and The Artists they Inspired
by David Gariff. 192pp, fully illustrated,
A & C Black pbk, £16.99
This is a neat idea, neatly executed. With the sub-sub-title ‘The stories
and hidden connections between great
works of Western art’, Gariff
(an art historian at the National
Gallery of Art, Washington) has divided
his subject into seven periods –
Renaissance to Contemporary – and 50
principal artists from Giotto to
Bridget Riley, via Rembrandt, Turner and
Picasso. Each has a timeline and
short chapter with selected works treated
in depth, but the u.s.p. is the listing
and illustration of works that influenced
them and that they in turn inspired.
This throws up some interesting
juxtapositions, some more obvious
than others: Van Eyck and (Grant) Wood,
Velazquez and Manet, David and (Alison)
Watt. It goes to reinforce the
fairly obvious point that all art
to an extent borrows from what went before,
but the book is well laid out and
approachable, providing a decent survey.
If anything, one wishes some of the
influences and inspirations were explored
further, yet as the author himself
states, his purpose is to stimulate exactly
that desire . . . AA
ed Bejtullah Destani and Robert Elsie.
225pp, 21 col ills, I B Tauris (in association with the Centre for
Albanian Studies) hbk, £24.50
Subtitled ‘Journals of a Landscape Painter in the Balkans’, the
charts Lear’s travels through
Albania and Macedonia in 1848. Setting
off from Constantinople with the
aim of meeting up with a friend,
Charles Church, on Mount Athos, Lear
finds Saloniki in the grip of
fear of cholera, the only way out
of the city being northwest towards
Albania, “a country”,
according to Gibbon, “within sight of Italy less
known than the interior of America”.
Journeying with a dragoman as
guide and interpreter, Lear found
the country immensely stimulating if
at times unaccepting of his artistic
endeavours: fortunately his sense of
the ridiculous always came to the
rescue which endeared him to the
locals if not to the tiresome religious
leaders who would raise the cry
of “Shaitan scroo!” (“the
devil draws”) if he so much as produced a
sketchbook. More suitable for your
adventure rather than art shelves,
and none the worse for that, this
is a thoroughly enjoyable account of
a country still largely unexplored.
The Lure of
the East: British Orientalist Painting
ed Nicholas Tromans. 224pp, 160 col ills,
Tate Publishing pbk, £24.99
Buying the excellent book that accompanied the exhibition at Tate
Britain (closed August 31 2008) will
allow any visitor who has
failed to absorb all the messages
to bone up on the subject from the
comfort of his armchair. The tone
is earnest, there are copious
footnotes and suggestions for further
reading on a range of subjects
from British interests in the Holy
Land to Monuments of historic Cairo,
plus a useful few pages of artists’
biographies. Perhaps the most
lasting artistic legacy the Orientalists
left us was an awareness of the
properties of strong natural light
and its translation into paint. As a
critic noted in 1864, what had been
missing before their passionate
involvement with the east were ‘the
rays of the sun’. Good fare for
a dull northern climate. SD
Italy's Divisionist Painters
by Simona Fraquelli, Giovanna Ginex et al.
192pp, 150 col ills, National Gallery Company, hbk £25, pbk £19.95
This book does more justice to the Divisionists than the National
Gallery show (until Sep 7 2008) can,
partly because it covers the
paintings on display in Zurich as
well as London and thus gives a
wider view of some of the artists.
The absence of two fine Pellizzas
and a vibrant Carra are to be particularly
regretted, though we are
lucky to have Boccioni's 'The City
Rises'. An opening essay puts
the Divisionists into context, bringing
them into focus as individuals,
an analysis of their painting techniques
follows and further essays
deal with symbolism and the artists'
Comprehensive notes accompany each
illustration, and a chronology
charts the artistic, cultural and
historical events of the period from
1876 to Italy's declaration of war
in May 1915. SD
Scene, Prints from Hopper to Pollock
by Stephen Coppel. 276pp, 170 col
ills, British Museum pbk, £25
To anyone unaware of the rich tradition of American printmaking,
especially that of the first half
of the 20th century, this book will be
a revelation. The catalogue of almost
150 prints from the Museum’s
collection includes work by George
Bellows, Thomas Hart Benton,
Edward Hopper, Grant Wood, Milton
Avery. I was struck by the
exhilarating variety of scenes: skyscraper
boxers, lovers, afternoon tea in
the country, jazz players – and styles.
Coppel’s excellent introduction
fills in the background on the artists
and their many printmaking schools.
The book is full of surprises: an
early Pollock of almost feminine
delicacy; Benton’s expressionist
race between a horse and a train;
the chiaroscuro of Martin Lewis’
dramatic cityscapes; Bellows' electric
chair prefiguring Warhol’s.
Many of the artists were immigrants
and the prints reflect the energy
and resourcefulness of a society
fertilised by talents from around
the world. RC
The St Ives
Artists: A Biography of Place and Time
by Michael Bird. 248 pp b&w ills,
Lund Humphries pbk, £19.99
You really wouldn't have thought there was any more room for yet
another book on post-war St Ives
art, so it is some compliment to
Michael Bird's range and depth of
research that this book really draws
you in and keeps you reading –
there is a lot in here I, at least, really
didn't know before. It is, too, very
much a social/historical account of
the post-war period in St Ives (with
only 22 b&w images it couldn't be
anything else) and none the worse
for that, his account of the human
interactions of the School warmed
by a largely sympathetic and often
sharply perceptive point of view.
by Diana Newall. 192pp, 200 col ills,
A&C Black pbk, £12.99
“I shut my eyes in order to see” said Paul Gauguin. This is a book
looking at art and, within the limits
of Western Art, it is clear, compact and
informative with beautiful illustrations.
Dividing the canon into the usual
categories (The Nude, Portrait, Still
Life, Religious, Landscape etc) it
examines major movements and key works.
I imagine it might be very
useful for the newcomer to art appreciation.
However there are no surprises!
And isn’t it time that “Art”
should also include major (and influential) works
from traditions such as Chinese,
Japanese or African art (Hokusai’s
“The Wave”, for example,
or the Benin bronzes)? Isn’t it time we really
shut our eyes to limitations and
embraced the rich heritage of humanity as
a whole? RC
a life in art
by Ceri Thomas. 144pp, Seren (Poetry Wales Press, Bridgend), pbk.
Ceri Thomas’s loving and meticulous study of Zobole (1927-99) enhances
our understanding of what multi-culturalism
really means. Born of an
Italian immigrant father and a Welsh
mother, Zobole spent most of his life
in the Rhondda Valley, which he painted
with an infectious zest. His
canvases are a world away from the
dour industrial atmosphere you might
expect. Mysterious, naïve and
colourful, they feature bird’s eye views,
street views, night-time scenes and
interiors with jazzy compositions,
showing that he was acutely aware
of continental art movements, Matisse’s
work being a clear favourite. Charting
Zobole’s painting and teaching
careers in chronological order, Thomas
engages the non-specialist reader by
introducing wider social and political
issues (for example unemployment,
poverty, war) and beds his narrative
firmly in the place he is writing about.
The Railway: Art in the Age of Steam
by Ian Kennedy & Julian Treuherz.
288pp, 258 ills, Yale hbk £35
As the first mass transport system, the railway had an enormous impact
on 19th century society. This book
places the artistic response in context
through paintings, photographs and
prints from the 130-odd years of the
steam age, spanning the UK, Europe
and America with works by Turner,
Monet, Hopper, Kandinsky and many
more less familiar names such as
George Luks, William H. Rau and Winston
Link. Although serving as the
catalogue to the show at the Walker
Art Gallery, Liverpool, this really is
with twice the number of items and eight thematic but
essays. The result is an authoritative, readable and
survey of rail-related art. AA
Treasures of Botanical Art
by Shirley Sherwood and Martyn Rix. 272pp, col ills throughout,
Kew Publishing pbk, £24.95
Published to coincide with the opening of the elegant Shirley Sherwood Gallery
of Botanical Art at Kew Gardens,
this book accompanies the first exhibition
which skilfully combines works from
Kew's own collection, woefully undershown
in the past, with a selection of
Dr Sherwood's contemporary holdings. Kew has
around 200,000 works of art of exceeding
high quality, mainly collected for
scientific purposes, so there is
plenty to choose from. The Sherwood Collection
comprises 700 works, of which 113
are in the opening exhibition (on till mid
October 2008). The building has been
designed to mirror the proportions and lines
of the adjoining Marianne North Gallery,
its interior kept at 50 lux, 55% humidity
(most of the paintings are in watercolour,
many on vellum). The mix works well,
around a historical backbone, with
for example the striped tulips of Simon Verelst
(1644-c1721) and Georg Dionysius
Ehret (1708-70) hanging alongside those of Celia
Hegedus (b.1949) and Rory McEwen
(1932-82). The book follows the exhibition's
divisions into the ages of Antiquity,
Discovery and the Exotic, with commentaries
on the plants and biographies of
all the artists, and a lively essay by Dr Sherwood.
The next exhibition will take Trees
as its theme: if the catalogue is half as good as
this one it will definitely be something to treasure. SD
The History of Western Architecture
512pp, col ills throughout, A &
C Black pbk, £12.99
The chunky little follow-up to Essential Art is aimed at students and enthusiasts
need a quick summary of facts, dates
and names. Its scope being so huge, it is not a
relaxed read, but it certainly covers
the ground. The introductions to each movement
or style are clear and should stimulate further enquiry: many hares are set
which deserve pursuit. Inevitably,
it's overweighted on the contemporary side (78 pages
for post 1945 compared to 42 for
the whole of Gothic) but at least the Norwegian
stave churches get a mention. SD
of Thomas Eakins
by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick. 576pp,
95 ills, Yale pbk, £16
"I see no impropriety in looking at the most beautiful of Nature's works,
the naked figure." Unfortunately
for Thomas Eakins, strait-laced Victorian
Philadelphia tended not to share
his more progressive views, and his four-
decade career was dogged by scandal
and rejection. He had only one solo
exhibition in his lifetime and was
dismissed from teaching at the prestigious
Pennsylvania Academy. Almost as interested
in medical science as
in art (two of his greatest works
depict operations) he might well have
turned his talents in that direction.
However this great realist painter (whose
heroes were Phidias and Velazquez)
persevered and the 'Revenge' of the
book's title is the fact that he
is now, a century later, recognised as perhaps
the greatest American portraitist.
It has been neatly said that he could capture
subjects "at the moment when
they lapsed into themselves." This is a well-
paced, clearly written account of
an influential painter, originally published in
2006 and now available in paperback.
Modernism, Precisionism and the Borders of Abstraction
by Mark Rawlinson. 210pp, 37 ills,
I.B. Tauris pbk, £18.99
Painter and photographer Charles Sheeler (1883-1965) is often hailed as a
'stark poet of the machine age' with
his pared-down, peopleless images of
inter-War America - factories, skyscrapers
and industrial machinery. Mark
Rawlinson argues that the 'Precisionist'
artist who trod the borders of realism
and abstraction was far from 'precise'
in technique, and that rather than being
viewed as an apologist for industrial
capitalism or at least ambivalent towards it,
his work can be read as a “deeply
negative meditation on American modernity”.
This is a worthwhile, if academic
re-appraisal, but be prepared for discussions
of critical theory and headings such
as 'The Mimesis of Reification'; it is also
somewhat underpowered on the illustration
front. (Readers wishing to pursue
the subject further will find useful the
catalogue to the National Gallery of Art,
Washington's, 2006 show 'Charles
Sheeler: Across Media'. AA
How To Read
Buildings: A crash course in architecture
by Carol Davidson Cragoe. 256pp, ills throughout, A&C Black pbk, £9.99
A nicely illustrated pocket guide by an architectural historian, with sections
on period styles, building types,
materials and individual elements - arches,
vaults, windows, ornamentation, etc.
Spanning the ancient and the modern
it also includes a handy glossary
of terms. A perfect starting point for those
who don't really know their apse
from their ogee . . . AA
ed K. Crouan, essays S.B. Kennedy,
208pp, 200 ills, Lund Humphries hbk,
Crozier is not readily thought of as Scottish artist yet he was born and
educated in Glasgow. Through a long
committed career he is rightly
regarded as a major contributor to
post war figurative painting. This
welcome monograph traces the development
of his work within the wider
context of international modern art
and ideas. His painting is also seen
within an inherited Scottish tradition
through his synthesising of the decorative
and the expressive, the sensual and
the uncanny. This dialectic tension
always gives vital energy to Crozier’s
painting and the high quality colour
reproductions throughout this informatively
written publication does full justice
to the work of this distinguished
The Camden Town Group
ed. Robert Upstone. 184pp, 120 ills,
Tate Publishing pbk, £24.99
The years immediately preceding World War I saw considerable social
change in Britain – the campaign
for female suffrage, pensions, health
and unemployment insurance,
the impact of the motor vehicle, mass
transportation and the rise of suburbia;
this was also the time of the short-lived
Camden Town Group, whose best known
members were Walter Sickert,
Robert Bevan, Harold Gilman, Charles
Ginner and Spencer Gore. They
merged into the longer-lived London
Group after just three shows and
most of them spent the war
years painting the Home Front. The final image,
Walter Bayes' depiction of shelterers
in the Underground, is a portent of the
unfolding 20th century . . . This
fine catalogue to the Tate Britain show
(until May 4 2008) sets the Group
in context with eight scholarly, readable
essays then provides detailed notes
on the 100 pictures by these
unsentimental, often grittily realist,
painters of modern life. Malcolm
Drummond, for one, deserves wider
Wonder: a Portrait of John Opie
by Viv Hendra. 220pp, 16 col ills,
Truran Books pbk, £11.99
The story of John Opie (dubbed 'The Cornish Wonder' as an early
publicity ruse) is a classic 18th century rags-to-riches tale retold
by Viv Hendra with a panache that fits the period. There may be too
many 'sparkling eyes' and 'warm bodies' for some, but the basic facts
of Opie's meteoric rise to become one of the most successful painters
of the age and Professor of Painting at the Royal Academy to boot are
fleshed out successfully enough to make an entertaining and
informative read. Though buried alongside Reynolds in St Paul's,
Opie's reputation did not endure in the same way - it is hoped that
The Royal Cornwall Museum's accompanying show (until January 19 2008)
went some way to redress the disparity. PP
The Genius of Photography
by Gerry Badger. 256pp, fully illustrated,
Quadrille hbk, £25
Accompanying the 2007 BBC TV series of the same name, this attractive
book sets out to explore the nature of photography and to reveal what
makes a great photograph. Practitioner/curator Gerry Badger looks at
key images and their makers from the early pioneers Niepce and
Daguerre through Cameron, Stieglitz, Evans, Cartier-Bresson and Capa,
to Sherman, Goldin and the digital revolution which has led to such
extraordinary proliferation. Much interesting detail is revealed in
the picture analyses - the first people photographed were a shoeshiner
and his client captured incidentally by their relative immobility
during the long exposure time of an 1838 Daguerre street scene - and
there is a useful technical glossary together with a timeline at the
back. 80 years ago Laszlo Moholy-Nagy said that "the illiterate of the
future will be the man who does not understand photography". Even a
browse through here should dispel fear of that. AA
St Ives 1975-2005, Art Colony In Transition
by Peter Davies. 148pp, fully illustrated,
St Ives Printing and Publishing Co
Peter Davies' erudite and informative new survey is a timely reminder
that the story of its art colony is a continuum. From the death of
Hepworth, Hilton and Wynter in '75 Davies traces its later history and
uses chapters dedicated to Landscape, The Figure, Potters, Hard Edge
etc., to list and expand on the work of many recent and contemporary
artists. One hesitates to recommend any book as a definitive 'must
have' but for collectors, students and anyone with an interest in
recent British art and the St Ives connection, this surely comes
Bird on a Wire: The Life and Art of Guy Taplin
by Ian Collins. 224 pp, 250 ills,
Studio Publications hbk, £29.95
Street-trader, life-guard, fashionable 60s belt-maker, Bird Keeper
at Regent's Park, bird decoy collector - East Ender Guy Taplin's route
to becoming the most sought after bird sculptor of his generation on
either side of the Atlantic has, to say the least, not been a
conventional one and certainly never involved art-school - quite
possibly to the huge benefit of his art! It is, as they say, a helluva
story and one Ian Collins, art correspondent for the Eastern Daily
Press, tells with characteristic verve and warmth, his keen
journalist's eye for a story transforming the usual concept of an
artist's monograph into something closer to biography/social history.
Taken together with the evocative location photography of Andrew
Montgomery - it makes you want to go straight out onto those remote
Essex marshes that are Taplin's real studio - and some handsome art
photography by Robert Cotton, Ronald Blythe's observation that Taplin
is "the poet-artist-ornithologist of the shoreline" seems to capture
the true spirit of his achievement exactly. NU
Ansel Adams: 400 Photographs
ed. Andrea G. Stillman. 440pp, Little,
Brown hbk, £40
Ansel Adams (1902-84) is the doyen of American landscape photographers
and unquestionably ranks among the medium's finest artists,
technicians and teachers - 'the negative is the score, the print is
the performance'. He was a passionate defender of the American
wilderness (his ashes were scattered on Mount Ansel Adams in Yosemite
National Park) and this excellent compendium of his work over 50
years, the largest ever published, includes many of his most
celebrated images. They're beautifully presented, one per page, with
just the bare minimum of introductory text and notes, often in his own
words, on around 80 of them. A real treat. AA
A Singular Vision: Dod Procter 1890-1972
by Alison James. 144pp, fully illustrated, Sansom & Company pbk,
In 1927 Dod Procter's 'Morning' was the toast of the Royal Academy's
Summer Exhibition. Its immediate purchase 'for the nation' by the
Daily Mail, followed by a tour of twenty-three provincial art
galleries and a trip on two of Cunard's liners, secured Dod Procter
not just national but international fame. Less than forty years later,
the Thames and Hudson Encyclopedia of British Art contained no mention
of her and under 'Newlyn', where she had studied, lived and worked,
she is notable only by her absence. Written to accompany the
exhibition at Penlee House, Alison James' sensitive and well rounded
new biography traces the parabola of Dod's long and productive life
and demonstrates that, as the title suggests, it was the strength of
her vision as an artist which not only sustained her through the ups
and downs of her career but kept her painting till its end. PP
by Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith. 272pp, 200 ills. Tate Publishing
hbk £35, pbk £24.99\
The most successful of Victorian artists, Sir John Everett Millais is
best known for 'Ophelia' floating in her pool and 'Bubbles', whose
model (his grandson) became an Admiral in a career much prone to
teasing. This image, with Millais' approval, was used in a celebrated
advertisement for Pear's soap and led to accusations of him 'selling
out'. The wide range of his output and his prodigious ability is well
presented in this Tate Britain show and catalogue, which aims also to
portray him as 'a fundamentally modern artist' and to redress the
decline in his reputation prompted by the sentimental nature of some
of his work which jars with modern tastes. A large group of his late,
little known landscapes (painted outside like his cross-Channel
confreres) is offered here, but perhaps most impressive are his
characterful portraits, notably those of prominent contemporaries such
as Gladstone, Disraeli and Tennyson. AA
Where the Sea meets the Land: Artists on the Coast in
by Christiana Payne. 224pp, 100 col & 15 b&w ills, Sansom & Co pbk,
Not another account of complicated relationships in remote colonies of
artists, you'll be relieved to hear, but more an intriguing look
at the role the sea came to play in the cultural, scientific and
social life of the nation in the century that gave us 'Dover Beach'
and 'The Walrus and the Carpenter'. Much territory is covered, from
rock pool to dune, but the author has little sympathy for the
mischievous Victorian delight in the absurd. Everything is taken
seriously, opinions are measured, sentences well-balanced, even
when the subject is the odd behaviour the beach so frequently inspires
and which is caught so brilliantly by Rowlandson, Doyle and Leech. The
illustrations are excellently selected, one just longs for a little
Great Collectors of Our Time: Art collecting since 1945
by James Stourton. 480pp, 300 col ills, Scala Publishers hbk, £45
James Stourton as Chairman of Sotheby's UK is in a strong position to
produce an overview like this, though overview is too slight a term
for such a prodigious labour. He has gone for a geographic analysis,
dividing the book into seven sections: Paris, America, Switzerland,
Germany, Oriental, London and Europe since the 1950s. Inevitably
readers will find one area of greater interest than another and wish
that more had been written about it. He is, for example, very good on
Sir Denis Mahon, particularly in his poignant account of visiting his
empty house in Cadogan Square which bore just the vestiges of the
dispersed collection of Italian Seicento paintings. Daniel Katz also
earns special mention. As with artists, it's easier to write about the
collectors one has met rather than those one hasn't: personal reaction
is a necessary leaven to what might become indigestible. Because
Stourton is the quintessential diplomat, disapproval is kept for
between the lines, which makes it even more delicious. When he does
approve, he is fulsome, as here on J. Paul Getty Jr: "To those of us
interested in the mechanics of collecting, there is sheer amazement
that he was able to assemble such a library at the end of the 20th
century. Great wealth of course was used to good effect, but the
library bears the unmistakable mark of its founder." And that, in a
nutshell, is what makes a collector truly great: they collect with
their whole being - heart, mind and eye. SD
C'est Votre Passion, Monsieur!
by Fred Yates. 109pp, 100 ills, KeyWest Editions hbk, £20
This colourful book pairs the exuberant fauvist paintings of
octogenarian painter Fred Yates with extracts from his
journals/letters from the last 15 years spent in rural France. The
effect is endearing, life-affirming. His vivid, energetic pictures of
French village life are joyful and harmonious. The text expresses an
almost boyish wonder at the simple beauties of Provencal life and his
good fortune in being there. His eye (Manchester-born) has to adjust:
"At first I was confused. The colours were not English colours. It is
beautiful, but much too green for my vision . . . Suddenly . . . I
began to see other colours. So simple: if the trees are all green, the
shadows cannot be green . . ." RC
War Paint: Art, War, State and Identity in Britain 1939-1945
by Brian Foss. 254pp, 200 ills, Yale University Press hbk, £35
During World War II, the War Artists' Advisory Committee commissioned
6,000 works from over 400 artists of the calibre of Ardizzone, Eurich,
Moore, the Nashes, Ravilious and Sutherland. All these and more
feature in this expanded doctoral thesis, which started life as an
examination of the committee's administration, but now covers the role
of women, national identity, the depiction of conflict, censorship,
state funding for the arts and much else. Extensively researched, it
does occasionally reveal its academic origins by lapsing into jargon
of the 'valorisation of her attainment' variety. There is too a
certain unfamiliarity with military terminology ("royal army", "cannon
gun"), but such minor flaws are redeemed by the range of material and
excellent choice of illustrations. It certainly deserves a place on
the bookshelf alongside Meirion and Susie Harries' still indispensable
'The War Artists' (1983). Interestingly, few of the images are of
'action'. As Herbert Read put it, "though the English are energetic in
action, they are restrained in expression . . . war cannot change us,
and we are fighting this war precisely because in these respects we
refuse to be changed." AA
The Writer's Brush
by Donald Friedman (essays by J. Updike & W H Gass). 457pp, 400 ills,
Mid-List Press hbk, £25
"The line between picture and symbol is a fine one . . ." writes John
Updike, "the tools are allied, the impulse is one." This collection
paintings by writers from Goethe to Kathy Acker is a fascinating
glimpse into parallel creative expressions. Some writers' paintings
contrasted strikingly with their literature (Edward Lear's magnificent
landscapes, Charles Kingsley's erotic drawings). Others famous for
challenging prose traditions were curiously moderate in their art
(Baudelaire, Ibsen). Lovers of literature will want to dip repeatedly
into this book, with its short biographies and pictures on 200
writers, indices and bibliography. Some lovely discoveries were Henry
Miller's childlike paintings and Herman Hesse's harmonious landscapes
which he credited with saving his life: "Painting is marvellous; it
makes you happier and more patient." RC
Roger Hilton: the figured language of thought
by Andrew Lambirth. 288pp, 230 ills, 200 in col, Thames & Hudson hbk,
Roger Hilton was in many ways a disagreeable man - he had an instinct
for someone's weak spot and had no compunction in going for it - but
he did inspire a loyal band of friends, including Terry Frost, Sandra
Blow and the poet W S Graham. More important than all this, he was one
of the most original artists to appear in this country last century,
someone who though not an intellectual thought long and hard about
what he was doing. This excellently written and illustrated monograph
achieves the difficult task of concentrating on the work while giving
us a powerful feel of what Hilton's life was like, the flavour of both
the man and the art. The life was anything but simple, the glory years
short, the decline and death a long drawn out affair. What remains
though are paintings that pulsate with emotional intelligence, that
seize you by the scruff of the neck and shake you back into
observation. As Hilton said, "The more alive a person or picture, the
better they are." LH
London Art Deco
by Arnold Schwartzman. 154pp, over 200 col ills, Aurum Press pbk,
Excellent collection of photographs of London's Deco buildings which
will make us look up a bit more as we stroll round town. Buildings in
their entirety feature alongside details, all too often overlooked but
integral to the overall design. Senate House looks stunning against a
butterfly blue sky, but how many of us have noticed the fine metal and
glass lamp on the main gate posts? The book is divided into sections -
corporate buildings, stores, hotels, cinemas, factories etc, and is a
mine of information about architects, influences and social history.
The 1933 bas-relief Labour and Technology' panels at Derry & Toms in
Kensington High Street included a monoplane being handstarted by
swinging its propeller: five years later on the front of a
neighbouring building, Barkers, among a low-relief montage of up-to-
the-minute transport is a futuristic Vee-wing jet engine aircraft. SD
by Rowena Loverance. 248pp, 160 col ills, The British Museum Press,
Such a huge subject in such a compact volume. Who is it for? The
author is a specialist in the interpretation of Roman and Byzantine
culture, and, interestingly enough in view of their general aversion
to visual imagery, a Quaker. The 12 chapters side-step chronology in
favour of themes such as "Embodying the divine" and "Forging
solidarity" which are explained and justified in the first chapter
(where the problems facing Christian art at this time, mainly through
growing ignorance of the Christian tradition, are also squared up
to). One of the strong points of this thoughtful book is the
opportunity it affords to show lesser known works: the art illustrated
is largely drawn from the collections of the British Museum. Many
other works are referred to in the text so it's quite handy to have a
selection of books to hand unless one carries, for instance, the
Monreale sequence of mosaics in one's head. My main gripe is the
author's strange assertion that "Women do not play major roles in the
Christian story and hence do not feature strongly in the subject
matter of Christian art". As she then goes on to disprove this
extraordinary statement, I just put it down to the illogicality that
is said to occasionally afflict the female sex. SD
by Susan Lawson. 192pp, 128 col/b&w ills, Chaucer Press hbk, £30
In her introduction, Lawson asks whether people have fallen out of
love with Rubens, and examines the reasons for contemporary
discomfort with an artist who once commanded such high esteem. The
National Gallery's recent exhibition of work carried out in his
formative Italian years (1600-1608) has perhaps opened eyes and minds,
and this well-written and intelligently planned book should continue
the process, even though it does slightly push the parallels between
Rubens' concerns and practices and those of contemporary artists. If
some of the reproductions are not brilliant, this just encourages one
to try and see the paintings 'in the flesh': only then can one get any
idea of their dazzlingly potency. SD
Dutch Portraits: The Age of Rembrandt and Frans Hals (Review posted 10/07)
ed. Quentin Buvelot, etc. 280pp, 140 ills, National
Gallery/Mauritshuis pbk, £19.95, hbk £35
Shave the men's beards, soften the women's hairstyles, change the
(beautifully rendered) 17th C. clothing and you feel you know people just like these, painted with intense character and bravura by Hals,
Rembrandt and 27 other artists. A joint production of the Mauritshuis
in The Hague and London's National Gallery, this outstanding show
celebrates the immense skill and variety of portraiture depicting the
affluent burghers of the Dutch Republic, from domestic intimacy to civic meetings. Even if you can't make it to the exhibition - until
September 16 at the National Gallery - do invest in this excellent
catalogue with its essays, detailed entries on each picture and fine
Life's Pleasures: The Ashcan Artists' Brush With Leisure, 1895-1925 (Review posted 06/07)
by James Tottis et al. 216pp, 125 ills, Merrell hbk, £29.95
Merrell have done well by the 'Ashcan school' in recent months; first a monograph on George Bellows (see review here) and now this admirable survey of their depictions of the leisure activities of all classes, less familiar than their pictures of the harsher side of urban life in the early 20th century, from which they derive their nickname. The companion publication to a touring show originated by the Detroit
Institute of Arts, it reproduces the 75 paintings by theme, sets the
scene with five illustrated essays and includes short biographies
of the artists - Bellows, Henri, Sloan and the rest.
The Green Fuse: Pastoral Vision in English Art 1820-2000 (Review posted 05/07)
by Jerrold Northrop Moore. 255pp, 203 col ills,Antique Collectors' Club hbk, £35
In the short epilogue, the author asks whether the traditional English combinaton of pragmatism and romance will find a solution
to multiplying populations and a government apparently set against
all that remains of country life. He detects a new generation
of artists reluctant to accept that a way of looking based on personal discovery and private illumination has had its day. In an
incisive introduction Moore (author of an acclaimed biography of
Elgar) traces what he regards as the distinguishing mark of the
English tradition, "the envisioning of local land and light as an
essence of character", before moving on to his specific subjects:
Samuel Palmer, William Hyde, F.L. Griggs, Edward Gordon Craig, Paul
Nash, Graham Sutherland, John Piper, John Minton and the Neo-Romantics, and, finally, the Ruralists. Of these, the revelation is Hyde (1857-1925), master of the monochrome, of atmospheric light and shadow, darkness and dusks. This is the first attempt to piece together his story, one of dogged persistence and belief in the importance of personal vision, and for that alone this thoughtful book should find a place in any collection on English art. SD
The Artists of the Alpine Club: A Biographical Dictionary (Review posted 05/07)
by Peter Mallalieu. 219pp, 98 ills, The Alpine Club and the Ernest Press hbk, £20
Beautifully produced, small landscape format and easy to use, this book is a delight. Whether your taste is more Loppé than Lory, Piercy than Pierse, this record of the men who go up mountains carrying sketchbooks and canvases whets the appetite for more. Founded in 1857, the Alpine Club has built up an enviable collection, almost entirely the result of gifts from members, families and friends (150 works, together with Whymper's tent, were recently on show at John Mitchell's Gallery in Old Bond Street to celebrate the club's 150th anniversary). Peter Mallalieu has been Keeper of Pictures since 1996 and has done much to make the collection more widely known and appreciated. His lucid entries for each artist are temptations to dig deeper: hardly surprising when there are such characters as Teddy Norton or Howard Somervell. One of the artists describes how his subject 'is there before him, overwhelmingly obvious, impossible to imitate'. The vigour of contemporary painting in tackling this dilemma is heartening, with a roll call that includes Julian Cooper, James Hart Dyke and George Rowlett. SD
Camouflage (Review posted 04/07)
by Tim Newark (intro Jonathan Miller). 192pp, Thames & Hudson hbk, £24.95
Accompanying the exhibition at the Imperial War Museum, this is an abundantly illustrated, stylish survey of the art of camouflage, from its origins in nature, through the two world wars to the present - not forgetting its impact on culture and fashion. Dazzle-painting ships was supposed to confuse the periscope-view of U-Boats, 'disruptive pattern material' is meant to blend troops with their background; camouflage couture, on the other hand, is contrived to make you conspicuous. There's really something for everyone here in over 100 years of artifice and design: paintings by Nevinson, Bomberg and Ravilious, sniper suits and a Gaultier chiffon gown, speckled Focke-Wulf aircraft and pink stilettos - even the nude-but-camouflaged photograph of Lee Miller that surrealist Roland Penrose used to spice up Home Guard lectures . . . AA
George Bellows: An Artist in Action (Review posted 04/07)
by Mary Sayre Haverstock. 160pp, 120 ills, Merrell hbk, £29.95
Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1882, George Bellows was one of the leading lights of what was later dubbed the Ashcan school, gritty American realist painters who flourished at that transitional moment between 19th C. and Modernist art. A keen sportsman, the technically adept Bellows' vigorous brushwork brought him early artistic success and he was elected to the prestigious National Academy at just 26. This is a beautifully illustrated, workmanlike account of the life and work of a significant American painter, who died suddenly from peritonitis in his early 40s. He's probably best known for his boxing pictures and was an accomplished portraitist, but it's the bustling urban scenes, the coastal and other landscapes that really hit the mark . . . AA
The Abu Ghraib Effect (Review posted 03/07)
by Stephen F. Eisenman. 144pp, 66 mono ills, Reaktion books hbk, £14.95
The notorious Abu Ghraib torture pictures aroused widespread outcry, yet polls showed most US citizens were unconcerned and George W. Bush
was re-elected to the Presidency soon afterwards. One explanation, argues American art historian Stephen Eisenman, is the nature of the images themselves. Showing the victims engaged in apparently sexual acts makes them seem complicit - even deriving pleasure from the experience - and this echoes a stereotype which he traces back through Greco-Roman, Renaissance and later artistic representations of abuse.
Gaudí: Builder of Visions (Review posted 1/03)
by Philippe Thiébaut. 127pp, 60 col, 53 b&w ills, Thames & Hudson pbk £6.95
One of the admirable New Horizons series, designed to go with you on your travels. From the 12 line synopsis of Gaudí's life and work on the first page to Evelyn Waugh's article in 'Architectural Review' of June 1930 in which he talks about the shock of a first encounter with his creations ("it is not so much propriety that is outraged as one's sense of probability"), this small book tackles the difficult task of encapsulating and making sense of an architecture even less easily reducible than most to the confines of text and photographs.
The Look of Architecture (Review posted 8/03)
by Witold Rybczynski. 130pp, 34 b&w ills. Oxford University Press pbk £7.99
Based on a series of lectures given under the auspices of the OUP and the New York Public Library, this small book explores the role of style in architecture. The author roams backwards and forwards from the classical period to the latest work by the likes of Greenberg, Jacobsen and Norten, drawing comparisons and lessons with apparently effortless skill. He is particularly acute when analysing the discomfort many architects feel with the word "style" and advances the idea that architecture, interior design and fashion are intimately connected, contrary to received opinion which prefers an absence of people and their clutter. (Have you noticed how architectural photographs always make buildings look more like works of art than constructions with a functional purpose?) His three essays "Dressing Up", "In and Out of Fashion" and "Style" provide an excellent synopsis of American architecture, besides giving much food for thought. It's pure delight to see hoary old maxims like "Form follows function" being given such elegant short shrift.
Mackintosh's Masterwork: The Glasgow School of Art (Review posted 7/04)
ed. William Buchanan, 198pp, 200 b&w/col ills, The Glasgow School of Art Press/A & C Black, hbk £ 30
Second edition, redesigned and expanded, of 1989 celebration of the country's most easily identifiable art school. Succinct accounts of the influences at work on Mackintosh, his planning ability and interest in contemporary technology (a facsimile of the explicit Competition Conditions, dated June 1896, is included) combine with excellent photographs to show why this building continues to inspire and enthuse. If only London's Royal College could achieve such a happy outcome.
Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain (review posted 12/05)
by Alan Powers, Photography by Morley von Sternberg. 240pp, 250 ills, Merrell hbk, £35
The sensual enjoyment and intellectual appreciation of modern architecture in this country has long suffered from a reactionary
'carbuncle' complex. This book on the British modern movement in the 1930s radically sets out to overturn that prejudice through the sumptuous illustration of stunningly innovative buildings and a lucid and highly informative commentary. A beautifully produced publication and genuine eye-opener with an illuminating and challenging presentation of a relatively neglected subject.
Anthony Fry (Review posted 5/02)
162pp, 153 col ills. Longfellow/Umbrage Editions hbk, £50
A celebration of the "poet of colour", magnificently illustrated but not just a picture book: contributions by John Berger, Bryan Robertson, Andrew Lambirth and Tom Stoppard, together with Cathy Courtney's interview with Fry for the Artists' Lives series at the British Library, make this a comprehensive and refreshingly idiosyncratic monograph of a painter who has drawn inspiration in
particular from North Africa and India ("I can't paint unless I'm warm").
Art by Film Directors (Review posted 12/04)
by Karl French. 208pp, 82 col ills. Mitchell Beazley Press hbk, £25
23 film directors' art held between these pages - from the more established work of Jean Cocteau and Derek Jarman to the insecure
cartoons of Alan Parker and Akira Kurosawa's accomplished paintings.
For some, like Wim Wenders, his photography feels more akin to location shots or unrealised films than stand-alone art. But by not getting too hung-up around the interpretation of art it does give a wide overview of a film director's influences, interests, beginnings and personal creative expression that happens off-camera.
The Black Paintings of Goya (Review posted 2/04
by Juan Jose Junquera. 96pp, 50 col ills. Scala pbk, £12.95
The black paintings - 14 terrifying murals painted on the walls of his country house (the Quinta del Sordo) and the culmination of
Goya's art - now hang in the Prado. I can testify to the power of these works - the blood-curdling image of Saturn devouring the
head of one of his children is branded on my mind. This is a brief,
if opaque, study of master works whose influence extends to Motherwell, Kline and Bacon inter alia: "Their darkness has been the guiding light for (those) artists . . . who have best captured
these facets of the collective unconscious."
Botticelli (Review posted 6/04)
by Susan Legouix. 128pp, 75 col/b&w ills, Chaucer Press hbk, £15.99
Botticelli is one of those artists whose work suffers badly in reproduction. We miss what Walter Pater called "the peculiar sensation, the peculiar quality of pleasure which we cannot get
elsewhere". This book struggles gamely with the problem, with a few
layout hiccoughs (Mars' knees disappearing between pp.110-111) and should serve as a useful aide-mémoire. As well as containing much interesting and worthy information such as the diagram of the original scheme of the Sistine Chapel and a plan of where to find Botticelli's work in Florence, there is a well written account of the development of Botticelli's style and personal idiom, and the varying status accorded him over the centuries. The careful research is what we'd expect from the author of the acclaimed 'Gainsborough in Bath'.
Daemons and Angels: A Life of Jacob Epstein (Review posted 7/02)
by June Rose. 300pp, 25 ills, Constable hbk, £20
Born New York (1880) into a family of Polish Jewish merchants, Epstein arrived in London in his 20s armed with a recommendation from Rodin and was soon impressing arty bigwigs over here such as George Bernard Shaw. His powerful, often controversial works and turbulent career culminated in a knighthood in 1954 and recognition as a major player in 20th C. sculpture. Still, June Rose feels his contribution to the cultural life of this country has been "shamefully neglected", which she hopes to help rectify with this biography, launched at the Boundary Gallery's July 02 show for the artist.
Daumier (Review posted 11/04)
by Sarah Symmons. 128pp, 109 col/b&w ills, Chaucer Press hbk, £15.99
Well-illustrated thematic survey of the career of the great caricaturist of mid-19th Century France. An outstanding draughtsman, Daumier produced thousands of satirical lithographs on social and political themes, though his aspirations for recognition as a painter remained largely unfulfilled in his lifetime. Indeed his sole (well-received) painting exhibition took place the year before his death aged 71 in 1879, though he could count Degas, Delacroix, Millet and Corot amongst his supporters. By the end of the century, however, his stature was such that forgeries of his work became common.
This revamped edition of a 1979 title contains a useful chronology
of his career, perceptive illustrations of his artistic influences
and extensive captions for the featured prints, paintings and sculpture. AA
David Blackburn: The Sublime Landscape (Review posted 3/03)
by Charlotte Mullins. 120pp, 60 col ills, Hart Gallery hbk £30
One of the illuminating and cheering facts gleaned from this thoughtfully illustrated and written book on the much travelled (but
endearingly non-driver) Blackburn is that he didn't visit Cornwall until 2001, and then only to prepare his exhibition at Hart South
West. This immediately brands him an individual, and his unswerving devotion to the medium of pastel confirms him as such. The chapter on his technique is perhaps the most interesting in the book, which concentrates on work since the 1994 retrospective at Huddersfield Art Gallery. As is de rigueur with monographs these days, an interview with the artist, by Ron Phillips, is included.
An Artist Against The Third Reich: Ernst Barlach 1933-38 (Review posted 7/03)
by Peter Paret. 248pp, 38 b/w ills, Cambridge University Press hbk,
"Art", in the view of sculptor and playwright Ernst Barlach, "is not subject to the strictures of a political view of the world." Hitler, of course, thought otherwise, seeing the artistic front as another on which to wage the ideological struggle for National Socialism. As the new regime came to power Barlach, an established Expressionist artist in his 60s, soon came under attack; 400 of his works were removed from museums, public sculptures were destroyed and he was included in the notorious 'Degenerate Art' exhibition of 1937. His bid to maintain artistic independence, however, ended the following year when he died of heart failure. Peter Paret adroitly recounts this assault on freedom of expression and analyses Hitler's rejection of modernism as part of his wider contempt for liberal Western culture. Absorbing, thoughtful and admirably succinct.
Franz Marc (Review posted 9/04)
by Mark Rosenthal. 160pp, 71 col & 12 b/w ills, Prestel pbk £19.99
He painted brightly-coloured animals; founded with Kandinsky the Blaue
Reiter group; and was a close friend of Paul Klee. Like Van Gogh his early training was for the priesthood and was killed aged 36 in the Great War. Marc's distinctive paintings - rich colours, forms broken into facets - were strongly influenced by Delaunay whom he visited in Paris in 1912. Abstract painting ("mystic-inner construction") for Marc was spiritual: "This art is our religion . . . our truth." His Deer in a Monastery Garden is moving and mysterious, the deer at the heart of a jewel of deeply coloured resonating triangles. This beautiful book consists of big colour plates, mainly of works between 1910 and 1914, with a concise, readable introduction.
Friedrich (Review posted 11/04)
by William Vaughan. 352pp, 190 ills, Phaidon pbk, £12.99
Thirty years ago, a list of 'Greatest 19th Century Painters' would have been unlikely to include Caspar David Friedrich; now, though, he
has undoubtedly claimed a place in the Premier League of Romantic
era artists alongside Goya, Gericault or Constable. As curator of the 1972 Tate show - the first major 'international' - William Vaughan must claim some of the credit for this promotion and here he provides an up-to-date overview of Friedrich's career. This latest 'Art & Ideas' title amply fulfils the series mission statement of providing jargonless, authoritative introductions that set the subject in context. My only quibble, as always with this otherwise excellent series, concerns the typography. The over-bold, grey font and eccentric line-spacing really do impair readability.
Gainsborough (Review posted 5/02)
by William Vaughan. 224pp, 172 ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £8.95
An idiosyncratic bunch, the Gainsboroughs. 'Scheming Jack's' largely abortive
enterprises included a self-rocking cradle and attempts to tackle the
longitude problem (finally solved by John Harrison's celebrated chronometer);
fortunately his younger brother Thomas's artistic genius secured the Gainsborough
name's place in history, though he too did not entirely escape the family
trait of eccentricity, nor indeed did his daughters, appealingly depicted
by him as youngsters in 'The Painter's Daughters Chasing a Butterfly'
at the National Gallery. For this new title in the ever-expanding 'World
of Art' series, William Vaughan provides a diverting and informative resumé
of the great landscape and portrait artist's career, identifying the visual
perceptiveness and pictorial intelligence which lay at the centre.
Gainsborough in Bath (Review posted 1/03)
by Susan Sloman. 266pp, 173 col/b&w ills, Yale University Press hbk £35
Concentrating on Gainsborough's middle period (c.1758-74), Sloman has painstakingly unearthed a welter of information that does much to explain how he achieved a commanding position within the contemporary art world while living in a provincial city, albeit one as forward-looking and enterprising as Bath. Whether talking about heights of windows, women entrepreneurs or Gainsborough's refusal to be browbeaten by the RA "set", this book is at times, in its enthusiasm for every last detail, a little reminiscent of the dissertation it began life as, but it is never dull.
Gaudier-Breska: An Absolute Case of Genius (Review posted 3/04)
by Paul O'Keeffe. Penguin hbk, £25
In the opening paragraphs of this excellent biography O'Keeffe compares the technical ferocity of carving in stone to the shattering,
fatal impact of a First World War Mauser bullet on the body of the 23 year-old sculptor. A well-researched account of an extraordinary life at a particularly interesting moment in English Art.
Giambattista Tiepolo: fifteen oil sketches (Review posted 11/05)
by Jon Seydl. 95pp, 37 col, 24 b&w ills, J. Paul Getty Museum, distributed through Windsor Books, Oxford. Pbk £12.99.
Any publication that helps one understand an artist's modus operandi is to be welcomed. By concentrating on Tiepolo's oil sketches, particularly those held by the Courtauld Institute in London (part of the Seilern bequest), this book elucidates the relationship between his preliminary, often emotional and exuberant thoughts and the final, more considered results. Dr Jon Seydl, Assistant Curator of Paintings at the Getty Museum, manages to incorporate much fairly indigestible art historical material into a totally readable and even engaging volume. Only once did I detect American jargon creeping in, something to do with "valorizing" if I remember correctly. For the most part he writes in a refreshingly straightforward manner which really encourages one to look. Alas, where the final painting has been destroyed (for example the Apollo and Phaeton fresco from the Palazzo Archinto, Milan) some of the comparisons can only ever be with photographs, and the widespread dispersal of the surviving fragments of the Aranjuez altarpieces makes Seilern's success in bringing together the five preparatory sketches even more remarkable. The book accompanied an exhibition at the Getty (what Seilern would have thought of these works crossing the Atlantic has been hotly debated) but anyone visiting Venice would do well to have it along with them: the explanation of iconography is particularly lucid and would apply to the work of many artists besides Tiepolo.
Gilbert & George (Review posted 4/04)
by Robin Dutt. 144pp, 100-plus col ills. Philip Wilson Publishers hbk, £25
Most of us know that G&G have managed to become, at one and the same time, object and artist. What the author, no shrinking violet himself, does in this stylish volume is to unpick the motives and causes of their work - humanity, fear, unhappiness, but also an inextinguishable gusto for life.
Hokusai (Review posted 10/04)
by Matthi Forrer. 96pp, 50 col ills. Prestel (Pegasus) pbk £8.99
Isn't it strange that all of Hokusai's great works were painted between the ages of 71 and 77? He only came back to painting at 70
from retirement because his grandson practically bankrupted him. It
would seem that the history of art owes his reprobate grandson a great debt. His financial folly was our artistic gain. Hokusai had been a popular artist but his art hadn't reached the zenith of the Great Wave that swept the artistic world with a bewildering series of influences. The late works are endlessly inspiring: the mastery of composition and execution, the richness of colour and variety of subject matter. But what moves me particularly is his feeling for ordinary people: 2 men washing a horse in a waterfall, fishermen drawing in a net, palanquin
bearers on a steep hill, hunters by a fire in the snow. His eye reveals compassion for humanity in all its pathos. Because of the
illustrations this is a precious book; the text is short and dry. But Hokusai reminds us that it's never too late to make a great wave.
The Inward Laugh: Edward Bawden and his circle (Review posted 1/06)
by Malcom Yorke, 285pp, The Fleece Press, edition of 750 copies, £262
This sumptuously-illustrated volume vividly evokes Edward Bawden's personal character and artistic development, relating it closely to those of his companionable contemporaries: Eric Ravilious, Douglas Percy Bliss, and fellow Essex village artists. As a young man, prissy, taciturn and often rude, Bawden perhaps found himself during arduous years as a War Artist, then producing exquisite, soulful watercolour portraits of young soldiers. 'The Inward Laugh' was the way he evoked a recurrent secret feeling when working. We respond with similar enigmatic delight to his work's inimitable wit and madcap vigour.
Jacob Kramer: Creativity and Loss (Review posted 12/06)
by David Manson, 212pp, 37 col ills, Sansom & Company, hbk £19.95
This is a sensitive, well-illustrated biography of Jacob Kramer (1892-1962), the Ukrainian-born, Leeds-based painter. David Manson (himself once portrayed by Kramer) skilfully recreates the courtly Russia of Kramer's cultured forbears, poor Jewish turn-of-the-century Leeds, the artist's rousing time at the Slade with Bomberg, Spencer and Rosenberg, and later years of artistic decline. Kramer's early somewhat Vorticist pictures of Jews at prayer and both dynamically chic and anguished women are re-appraised as the taut, moving masterpieces they clearly are.
Jean Cocteau (Review posted 12/04)
ed Dominique Paini, 416pp, 470 b&w/col ills, Paul Holberton pbk £30
"Cocteau was very brilliant when we last met," said T.S. Eliot, "but he gave me the impression that he was rehearsing for a more important occasion". Trust a sensitive poet to encapsulate in a casual phrase something of Cocteau's elusive genius. A 20th C. French institution (poet, film-maker, novelist, photographer, graphic artist) Cocteau's quicksilver work nevertheless always suggested enchanted realms beyond the accessible. His enduring masterpieces are films such as Orphée, La Belle et la Bête, Les Enfants Terribles, inviolate and truly original. This compilation of essays and images is apposite: fragmentary, frustrating but inspired.
Kitaj (Review posted 9/04)
by Andrew Lambirth. 144pp, 66 col/b&w ills. Philip Wilson Publishers hbk £25
The greater part of this book derives from emailed questions and answers between the author and Kitaj, who now lives in California
"smouldering in his Yellow Studio like a volcano". Includes a
compressed introduction to Kitaj's entire career but its unique selling point is Kitaj's frank responses to Lambirth's probing questions. Mellowing he is not.
L.S. Lowry - Conversation Pieces: Andras Kalman in conversation with Andrew Lambirth (Review posted 12/03)
160pp, 94 col ills, Chaucer Press hbk £25
Andras Kalman (founder of the Crane Kalman gallery) was friends with L.S. Lowry for over 25 years and here recalls in a very personal and relaxed way many details about the man and his work. The beautifully produced book gives us a chance to appreciate the breadth and depth of
Lowry - seascapes, landscapes, portraits giving the lie to the idea that he was just a painter of 'matchstick men'. Each picture is accompanied by relevant comments from Kalman which are often very funny. Lowry may have been fond of saying, "I've a one track mind: poverty and gloom", but he said it with north country relish. An excellent Christmas present for Lowry enthusiasts.
Lynn Chadwick: Sculptor (Review posted 8/06)
by Dennis Farr and Éva Chadwick. 468pp, 965 b&w ills, Lund Humphries hbk, £75
When Chadwick died in 2003 the reputation of his work was, after years of critical neglect, very much on an upswing and this massive volume, illustrating and cataloguing his entire output will, unquestionably, do much to reinforce this process of reassessment, as well as becoming the standard work of reference on him for many years to come.
Maggi Hambling The Works and conversations with Andrew Lambirth (Review posted 2/06)
240pp, 200+ ills, Unicorn Press hbk, £40
Suffolk-born painter and sculptor Maggi Hambling has known 'The Spectator's' art critic Andrew Lambirth for 20 years, and here they
range across her career from schooldays to the recent (and controversial) Scallop sculpture commemorating Benjamin Britten on Aldeburgh beach. Never a shrinking violet, Hambling's forthright and articulate reflections complement the excellent illustrations of her work.
Martin Johnson Heade in Florida (Review posted 2/04)
by Roberta Smith Favis, 184pp, 15col ills, University Press of Florida hbk, $29.95 (available in UK from Eurospan, 3 Henrietta Street, London WC2E 8LU)
A compelling and warm read to be savoured during the grey winter months. Many admirers of Heade's work are often as ignorant of his life in Florida (1883-1904) as they are of the history of the state itself - a flat, semi-tropical wilderness dominated by water and floating hammocks of palm trees, scrub, wildlife, flowers and mosquitoes that could only be developed using the tools of the twentieth century. Heade, already a painter of strange marshland and exotic birds and flowers, became the first artist of any repute to settle in Florida - "the new Eden, the last frontier east of the Mississippi". In the same year fate also saw the arrival in north Florida of property developer Henry Flagler who brought tourism and the railway to St Augustine where he built the luxurious Ponce de Leon Hotel. He decorated his "palatial resort" lavishly and commissioned monumental paintings from Heade. In this exciting & informative account Favis tells the fascinating story of how the lives of these two men intertwined and why Heade's neglected Florida landscapes represent a significant final period in the artist's life, as well as being intricately linked to the beginnings of tourism in Florida, the preservation of the wetlands and the creation of the Audubon Society.
Nicholas Hilliard (Review posted 11/05)
by Karen Hearn. 93pp, 30 col ills, Unicorn Press London, hbk £19.95
At just over six inches square, this is part of a smart little series devoted to that most exquisite of paintings, the miniature (the other title published so far is devoted to Richard Cosway, written by the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's Stephen Lloyd). The format - illustration facing text - is rigorously adhered to which makes for very concise writing. Fortunately an introductory essay covers those subjects that immediately spring to mind (such as how were miniatures painted?) and provides details of the artist's career (frequent money problems) and treatise on limning (including his anxieties about dandruff and spitting in the working environment). Karen Hearn, curator of 16th and 17th c. art at the Tate, acknowledges that she is 'standing on the shoulders of giants', but there is always room, especially with Christmas coming up, for slim, beautifully produced volumes which condense and encapsulate rather than inflate knowledge. If further sponsors can be found, the series will be expanded: Oliver, Cooper, Meyer, Ross ...
Patrick Hayman: Visionary Artist (Review posted 12/05)
by Mel Gooding, 96pp, bw/col ills, Belgrave Gallery hbk, £29.95
Though much admired by such contemporaries as Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth, Peter Lanyon and one-time Tate Director Alan Bowness, Patrick Hayman's deeply poetic, idiosyncratic paintings never won him more than a cult folllowing in his lifetime. Now 17 years on, Mel Gooding's warm advocacy plus stunning colour plates might just change all that.
Pigs must eat on Sundays: Ben Hartley Notebooks (Review posted 12/05)
Intro by Bernard Samuels, 156pp, 142 col ills, Green Books, £9.95
This delightful book illustrates pages from seven day-to-day notebooks, made in Devon in 1964/65, by the countryman painter Ben
Hartley (1933-1996). This is the first publication from his 320
notebooks illuminating epiphanies of ordinary life. We follow Hartley's momentary, seasonal and visionary experience in his simple handwriting and fresh, immaculately spontaneous drawings. The words
read haiku-like: 'berry-ripe time/& nuthedge time'; 'Mrs House waves
her brush at the turkey on my roof'. The drawings of flowers,
cows, a man in red braces 'dratting the flies', a haymaker's jacket
abandoned on a stile, are, similarly, refreshingly true to the quick
Rachel Whiteread (Review posted 7/04)
by Charlotte Mullins. 128pp, 100 col ills, Tate Publishing pbk, £14.99
New title in Tate's 'Modern Artists' series, joining volumes on Peter Blake, Douglas Gordon, Sarah Lucas, Julian Opie and Paula Rego. London born in 1963, Rachel Whiteread originally trained as a painter but switched to sculpture at the Slade, her principal theme the representation of familiar items' unseen or alternative aspects. In 1993 she won the Turner Prize and made what is still her most widely known work 'House' - a full sized concrete cast of an East End terraced house (now demolished). Charlotte Mullins covers her career to date from the often eerily anthropomorphic early works to the major public projects such as the 'Holocaust Memorial' in Vienna and 'Water
Tower' in New Work. A jargon-free (well, she is an occasional contributor to 'Galleries'), definitive treatment of the Mistress of the 3D Reversal . . .
The Sculpture of Charles Sargeant Jagger (Review posted 12/04)
by Ann Compton. 144pp, 12 col, 106 b&w ills. Lund Humphries hbk, £60
At last a monograph on the creator of some of the best-loved public sculpture of the 20th C. This, the latest in the British Sculptors
series published in tandem with the Henry Moore Foundation, outlines
Jagger's career from 'Rising Star' to 'Industry and Empire' via 'Soldier-sculptor'. The last chapter uses his own book, Modelling and Sculpture in the Making, as a means of looking at the division between RAs and Modernists, or, to put it more bluntly, those who had served long apprenticeships versus direct carvers with little training. Jagger's sudden death in 1934 left his reputation vulnerable; this book reflects the increasing admiration and seriousness with which he is now regarded.
Stanley Spencer: Journey to Burghclere (Review posted 10/06)
by Paul Gough. 204pp, col & b/w ills, Sansom & Company hbk £35,
The Sandham Memorial Chapel at Burghclere in Hampshire is one of the
great monuments inspired by the Great War. Commissioned in memory of
Lt Henry Sandham, who died in 1919 as a result of illness contracted during active service, it gave Spencer an architectural scheme large enough to house his images of the war. This excellent account follows the artist from early days in Cookham, through the horrors of the Beaufort War Hospital in Bristol to the battlefields of Macedonia ('Up the line again, the sap of life has returned. I would far rather be out in the infantry than be working as an orderly in a hospital in England'), finally concentrating on his five years at Burghclere. Spencer often taxed his patrons' and the architect's patience (an interesting comparison is made with the Royal Artillery memorial, a true dialogue between sculptor and architect which shows how little
contribution Pearson was allowed to make to the chapel) but the result
is a vision quite unique in these islands. Spencer frequently
referred to it in musical terms, Gough describes it as designed
egalitarianism'. Either makes sense, and this remarkably well
researched and documented book allows both interpretations.
Thomas Gainsborough: A Country Life (Review posted 1/03)
by Hugh Belsey. 96pp, 65 col, 23 b&w ills, Prestel hbk £14.95
The Curator of Gainsborough's House in Sudbury has produced a study of the artist's early years in London and Suffolk, which dovetails neatly with Sloman's book (above). He fluently recounts the development of a talent that was only to find fame at a national level relatively late in life, when he was able to stop "drifting from commission to commission". Well illustrated with good details from a wide range of paintings that, as with the exhibition at Tate Britain, often make one look harder at the dogs than the people.
Georges de La Tour (Review posted 4/03)
by Jacques Thuillier. 320pp, 128 co, 237 b&w ills, Flammarion pbk, £34.95
First paperback edition of lavish monograph (translated from the French and originally published in 1993) on the elusive, Caravaggesque master. Active in the strife-torn border duchy of Lorraine during the first half of the 17th century, successful in his time and numbering Louis XIII among his patrons, La Tour nonetheless disappeared from history for at least 200 years and questions of attribution have bedevilled assessment of his surviving oeuvre ever since his rediscovery. But as the stunning blow-ups of his genre works and realist portrayals of peasants and religious figures in this volume demonstrate, La Tour is surely in the front rank of contemporary French artists alongside Poussin and Claude, and armed, furthermore, with a style of greater appeal to the modern eye. A visual treat, backed up by a catalogue raisonné and selection of documentary sources.
Goya (review posted 12/03
by Robert Hughes. 430pp, 230 ills, Harvill hbk, £20
Robert Hughes had been trying to 'do' Goya for years, but was finally propelled into this book by a near fatal car accident, the post-operative aftermath of which involved a nightmare of Goya-esque proportions. "It may be that the writer who does not know fear,
despair, and pain cannot fully know Goya." The hispanophile Aussie
clearly identifies with his subject - you sense a kindred spirit and there now even appears to be a facial similarity. The result is an engaged, wide ranging portrayal of Goya's life and times. The numerous illustrations appear where they are needed and complement Hughes's forthright, robust prose: as usual (agree with him or not) he is never dull. Readers who enjoyed other historical works of his, such as 'Barcelona' or 'American Visions', are unlikely to be disappointed with this one.
Guernica (Review posted 11/05)
by Gijs van Hensbergen. 374pp, 60 ills, Bloomsbury pbk, £8.99
A German officer in Nazi-occupied Paris, runs the story, points to a
postcard of Picasso's Guernica and asks "You did that?" "No," replies the artist, "You did." This readable, widely-researched 'Biography of a 20th Century Icon' follows what is arguably that century's most politically charged painting from its creation - in the aftermath of the 1937 bombing of the Basque town by Luftwaffe aircraft supporting the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War - to its return to Spain from exile in 1981. Still controversial and emblematic of the horrors of war, as recently as 2003 a tapestry copy was covered up for UN press briefings in the run-up to the Second Gulf War, which opened with air bombardment . . .
John Constable (Review posted 2/03)
by William Vaughan. 80pp, 63 col & b/w ills, Tate Publishing pbk, £8.99
"O no, this is only fields" was 8-year-old Minna Constable's disappointed reaction to her first sight of the real 'Constable Country' (as it was already known) - ample testimony to the power of her father's artistic vision. Professor Vaughan, very much at home in
this period, here provides a workmanlike overview of the Suffolk painter for this 11th title in the Tate's 'British Artists' series. The final section assesses his place in the art history pantheon down the years and points up the apparent contradictions - conservative
yet radical, truth-teller yet myth-maker. His position in the national consciousness, though, has long been secure: after all, how
many British artists can boast a geographical region promoted by their name?
Joseph Cornell: Master of Dreams (Review posted 5/02)
by Diane Waldman. 144 pp, 45 col & 55 b/w ills, Abrams hbk, £30
Cornell bridges two great 20th C. art movements: Surrealism and Pop Art; his reverence for his subjects however was neither blasphemous like the surrealists nor kitsch like Warhol et al. Maybe the dreamy purity of his oeuvre was tempered by his Christian Scientist faith or his impeccable good taste. Cornell's haunting world of enigma and nostalgia emerges from the inspired juxtaposition of disparate objets trouvés in wooden boxes - like window theatres or treasure chests. The poignant Medici series fuses Renaissance mystery with Victorian order. His observatory and hotel series merge classical clarity of structure with unsettling intimations of the unknown. Waldman's excellent text richly illustrates the manifold influences that nourished Cornell's fertile visions. A book to be treasured.
Joshua Reynolds (Review posted 11/03)
by Ian McIntyre. 608pp, 29 col & 13 b/w ills. Allen Lane hbk, £30
Reynolds always seems to suffer in comparison with other English greats - indeed Mrs Thrale's opinion ("Of Reynolds what Good shall be said? - or what harm? His Temper too frigid, his Pencil too warm" etc) are printed on the back of the bookjacket, hardly perhaps an incentive to the reader. We like our heroes either mad, bad or dangerous to know, and Reynolds was clearly none of these. Ian McIntyre, who has a distinguished track record with biographies of Robert Burns and David Garrick, delves into the world of the first president of the RA, portrait painter par excellence, friend of Johnson, Goldsmith, Burke, and weaves together so much information, opinions and fascinating minutiae, often in footnotes, that it is easy for the reader to be deflected from the main subject - mention of Pope Benedict XIV on p43 for instance tempts a detour round 18th C. Rome (and 15 pages of bibliography encourage such thoughts). Artistic judgments are often secondhand, culled from the experts, e.g. Nicholas Penny who edited the catalogue for the 1986 exhibition, but none the worse for that.
Ken Currie: Details of a Journey (Review posted 10/02)
by Tom Normand. 128pp, 85 ills, Lund Humphries hbk, £30
This is the first major study of one of Scotland's most important and
respected painters. At the heart of Currie's art is the human figure and Normand investigates the complex manner in which this central subject is treated throughout the artist's developing career, from his
early realism to his more recent apocalyptic visions of the human
Mark Gertler (Review posted 10/02)
by Sarah MacDougall. 398pp, 12 col, 33 b&w ills, John Murray hbk £25
A glance at the index gives a fair idea of Gertler's life, with health' commanding its own sub-sections - breakdown, depression,
headaches, stricture, TB. Full of enlightening details about the characters and tortuous relationships of the period, and even about
his work. 'Rabbi and Rabbitzin', for instance, recently on view at the Ben Uri exhibition, was originally bought by Thomas Beecham for £10, a sale Gertler wrongly interpreted as being the forerunner of commissions for opera scenery. Sarah MacDougall is undoubtedly a Gertler expert, having studied and lectured on the subject for some 10 years. She may now want to take a well-deserved break.
Maurice Cockrill (Review posted 1/03)
by Marco Livingstone and Nicholas Alfrey. 128pp, 88 col ills, Merrell hbk £29.95
This generously illustrated book is the first monograph on the work of Maurice Cockrill (b.1936), a 'painter's painter' who, in his early thirties, destroyed all his work and started again. It contains a comprehensive view of the artist plus the largest selection of his paintings ever published, emphasising the period from the end of the 1980s to the present day.
Menzel's Realism: Art and Embodiment in Nineteenth-Century Berlin (Review posted 10/02)
by Michael Fried. 314pp, 172 ills, Yale hbk, £35
For many visitors to the Berlin National Gallery show at its London
counterpart last year, the star turn was Adolph Menzel, 19th Century Germany's greatest artist after Caspar David Friedrich. Over a long life (1815-1905) he produced work of astonishingly diverse technique and subject matter - portraits, view pictures, interior scenes, historical illustrations and always outstanding drawings. One, of an unmade bed, has a quirkily contemporary resonance. Menzel, however, though a 'celebrity', was scarcely the Tracey Emin of his day . . . Although he is little known outside Germany, Michael Fried believes Menzel should be hailed alongside Courbet and Thomas Eakins (the latter also under-valued beyond his native land) as one of the century's great Realists. Matching his protagonist, Fried ranges widely across Western, especially Germanic, culture from Kirkegaard to the late W.G. Sebald, finding connections in an intellectually rigorous exploration of his themes. Above all, the author's
extensive analysis of the works themselves and the excellent
illustrations do much to plead the cause of an under-rated artist.
Though well written, this is not an easy read; it is, nonetheless, a most rewarding one.
Modigliani & the Artists of Montparnasse (Review posted 2/02)
by Kenneth Wayne. 224 pp, 87 col & 102 b/w ills, Abrams hbk, £42
Picasso mumbled repeatedly the names Modigliani and Apollinaire on his deathbed. The Italian-born painter of the haunting elongated faces with the dreamy pupil-less eyes who died of tuberculosis aged 35 was the quintessential Montparnasse artist. Cocteau said "(the death of) Modigliani represented the end of great stylishness in Montparnasse, although we did not realise it at the time." Montparnasse represented, as Duchamp pointed out, "the first really inter-national group of artists we ever had"; because artists such as Picasso, Gris, de Chirico, Rivera, Mondrian, Epstein, Chagall, Brancusi, etc were excluded from the formal art career-channels open to French-born artists they were free to experiment with breaking the boundaries of art. Modigliani was at the centre of this revolution: "What I am searching for is neither the real nor the unreal, but the Subconscious, the mystery of what is instinctive in the human race." This book succinctly and eloquently reinstates a powerful image-maker at the centre of the most dazzling artistic period of the 20th Century.
Morandi: Le temps et les choses (Review posted 5/02)
by Franco Basile. 158pp, col & b/w ills. Editions GAM collections Monte-Carlo, hbk
Short French memoire on the master of tones and semi-tones; the creator of dreamy still-lifes whose bottles and jugs radiate
silence and whose best landscapes hypnotise with a charged stillness
(Italian and English translations). The plates (descriptions in French) reproduce 21 paintings from 1940 to 1956 and 20 prints from 1921 to 1961. A useful introduction.
Paul Nash (Review posted 3/03)
by David Boyd Haycock. 80pp, 58 col ills. Tate Publishing pbk £8.99
One of the excellent British Artists series that aims to provide readable and intelligent introductions to the work of individual British painters and sculptors. Of particular interest in view of the imminent Nash exhibition at Tate Liverpool, this well-illustrated, portable volume is sound, steady and unflashy, quite a feat considering the ground to be covered from Flanders to the Wittenham Clumps. It may be that war and landscape provided the boundaries and stimulus to Nash's career, but it is his search for the 'reality more
real' that marks him out as one of the most influential of 20th C. artists.
Peter Coker RA (Review posted 12/02)
by David Wootton. 180pp, 253 col ills, Chris Beetles Ltd hbk, £45
The recent exhibition of Coker's work (see preview in November 02 Galleries) showed the range and breadth of this artist; the book gives one the chance of having a permanent record to hand, to enthuse and inspire. John Russell Taylor contributes a useful introductory essay, and then twelve sections are devoted to chronicling Coker's life and work, with a catalogue raisonné and lists of exhibitions, etc, bringing up the rear. At the very end is a moving piece by Richard Humphreys about Coker's son, Nicholas, who died in 1985. Many of the illustrations are necessarily on the small side, sometimes as many as four or five are arranged alongside a page of text, but the editor has managed to avoid the cardinal sin of having the reader flip back and fro to tie references to pictures, and this care is manifest throughout the production. Publishing houses, look to your laurels!
Picasso: Style and Meaning (Review posted 10/02)
by Elizabeth Cowling. 672pp, 600 ills, Phaidon hbk, £75
Not another book on Picasso! This, however, is something special,
coming from one of the most eminent scholars of his work. This
mammoth achievement is the first specifically to investigate the
constant stylistic changes throughout Picasso's career. Cowling, who co-curated the two major Tate exhibitions dealing with Picasso's sculpture and his relationship with Matisse, has the immense knowledge of her subject to guide and illuminate the reader through this fascinating aspect of Picasso's art.
Robert Motherwell - with pen and brush (Review posted 8/03)
by Mary Ann Caws. 208pp, 47 col & 84 b/w ills, Reaktion Books pbk, £14.95
What is the point of abstract art? Caws is a reverent advocate for Motherwell, painter, philosopher of art, articulate and well-read voice of the abstract expressionists: "We are much more interested in the structure of reality . . . not the appearance of the 'objects' of the natural world." We agree that all painting abstracts from reality, but why does eliminating all reference to the 'objects' of reality bring us closer to its structure? Why structure anyway? Maybe meaning would be a more fruitful question. Caws, a life-long friend, writes well and with sympathy about this thoughtful, radical and emotional painter. "From the aspect of colour . . . to that of form, Matisse believed in 'painting as a religious act', so too Motherwell." From Kirkegaard to Baudelaire, Motherwell's influences were many, his views heartfelt. "I can't stand cool paintings, " he said, "Goya has a warm mind." His art lies between the feminine of Surrealism's automatism and the masculinity of bare abstraction (like Mondrian, whom he thought dated!). Motherwell's gigantic paintings do not unfortunately have a strong emotional effect in reproduction. But his sincerity, passion and commitment are reflected in every page. "Nostalgia is the enemy of modernism," wrote Motherwell. Art should be integrated with the human, with the world. RC
The Sculpture of Eric Kennington (Review posted 5/03
by Jonathan Black. 112pp, 97 b/w ills, Lund Humphries hbk, £60
Another in the 'British Sculptors and Sculpture' series published in association with the Henry Moore Foundation which is doing a good job of rehabilitating reputations. Kennington's refusal to play according to the conventional rules, with "regular exhibitions, splenetic public pronouncements and healthy doses of controversy", has never stopped the public appreciating such works as the Infantry memorial in Battersea Park or the effigy of his friend T.E. Lawrence in Wareham, and this well written if rather expensive monograph should aid the process of opening eyes. Includes the first complete sculpture catalogue and some splendid photographs of the rigours of stone carving in the freezing winter of 1947.
The Sculpture of Michael Sandle (Review posted 5/02)
by John McEwen. 144pp, 120 duotones. Lund Humphries hbk, £60
First book on the sculptor who has earned a reputation for "doing the wrong things in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons". Best known for his tombs and memorials such as the Malta Siege-Bell at Valetta and the IMO tribute to seafarers on the Albert Embankment, Sandle draws his creative inspiration from a sense of continuity with the past, from the conflict between peace and war, classical order and romantic chaos. Part of the British Sculptors and Sculpture series,
published in association with The Henry Moore Foundation, this monograph illuminates not just the imaginative processes at work but the frustrations and practicalities of the public sculptor's lot. Eight chapters are backed up by a catalogue of works, an interview, and the mandatory chronology, lists of exhibitions, commissions, etc. Also, most useful of all, an index.
Sidney Nolan (Review posted 8/02)
by T.G. Rosenthal. 304pp, 373 ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £42
For a major figure of 20th C. Art Sidney Nolan has always suffered from a curiously desperate blight of good publications. Some excellent catalogues and smaller booklets over the years but, until the appearance of this volume no monograph had been generally available since the long out of print mid-career (1961) book by Kenneth Clark and Bryan Robertson. Sadly, his luck hasn't really changed, for despite the handsome production values here - lots of colour, substantial chunky format - this remains a plodding, cut and paste job that really doesn't make the case that urgently needs to be made to convince a 21st C. audience of Nolan's huge and continuing relevance to contemporary artistic concerns. No poetry in the writing (except Nolan's own letters and poems), few insights and even fewer still when it comes to the crucial visuals. From whence will his due recognition finally come?
Whistler and his Mother (Review posted 10/03)
by Sarah Walden. 304pp. Gibson Square Books hbk £15.99
Much acclaimed account of a three way relationship - that between Whistler, his mother and the conservator called in with trepidation by the Louvre to try to bring 'Arrangement in Grey and Black' back into some kind of harmony with itself. A completely engrossing account of Whistler the man, the artist and the son unfolds as Walden squares up to the task in front of her, but for those who love technical detail, the weft and warp of the canvas become the real subject, each scrape of the scalpel having the potential to make or mar a picture that has achieved almost iconic status. Walden, author of 'The Ravished Image', is definitely on the side of the angels, aka artists, rather than the brutal Anglo-American school of scientist-led interference with pictures, and she should win many converts with this sensitive and fascinating book.
William Gear (Review posted 3/04)
by John McEwen. Lund Humphries hbk £30
This long overdue monograph on one of Scotland's most important, yet sadly neglected post-war artists is a very welcome addition to our understanding of later 20th century British modern art. McEwen's text is both lucid and informative and backed by a comprehensive array of illustrations.
William Kentridge Prints (Review posted 12/06)
by Susan Stewart & William Kentridge. 160pp, 197 ills, David Krut Publishing pbk, £327
William Kentridge is well known for his films, drawings and theatre productions, but he began his artistic career studying etching at the Johannesburg Art Foundation in the late 1970s. Monoprints, engravings, aquatints, silkscreens, linocuts, lithographs and etchings have been a central feature of his art ever since and 'William Kentridge Prints'
is the first book to focus solely on this aspect of his oeuvre. As well as a perceptive essay by Susan Stewart, which places his work within the broader history of printmaking, it includes commentaries by Kentridge on the processes and ideas that inspired individual print suites. Like Henry Moore, Kentridge uses printmaking as both a forum to experiment with new motifs that are then realised in other media and also as the culmination of ideas that have previously been created in other forms.ave previously been created in other forms.
William Powell Frith: a Painter & His World (Review posted 12/06)
by Christopher Wood. 272pp, 70 ills, Sutton Publishing hbk, £20
"I know very well that I never was," wrote Frith in his memoirs, "nor under any circumstances could have become, a great artist but I am a very successful one . . ." And indeed he was, enjoying a long career that spanned the entire Victorian era and dying at 90. His three panoramas of contemporary social life - 'Ramsgate Sands', 'Derby Day' and 'The Railway Station' - produced in mid-century have cemented his reputation as a quintessential painter of his time. In addition to his meticulous working practices he somehow found time for an active social life - he had a wide circle of artist and writer friends - and fathered a total of 19 children by wife and mistress. Victorian specialist Christopher Wood's extensively researched account of the painter and his milieu coincides with the major Frith show at London's Guildhall Art Gallery, which travels to the artist's home town of Harrogate in 2007.
Winslow Homer: An American Vision (Review posted 10/06)
by Randall C. Griffin. 240pp, 200 col ills, Phaidon hbk, £39.95
For those who may have been disappointed by the recent Winslow Homer show in London - arranging loans of the most prized items is fiendishly difficult - this readable new overview is the answer. Covering his entire career from the Civil War pictures to the
final years on the coast of Maine, all the principal paintings that
secured his place in the top flight of 19th Century American artists
are excellently reproduced, together with many of his boating and 'outdoors' watercolours, which some enthusiasts prefer even to the oils for their freshness and immediacy.
Artists' Books in the Modern Era 1870-2000 (Review posted 5/02)
by Robert Flynn Johnson and Donna Stein. 302pp, 450 col ills. Thames & Hudson, hbk, £35
A survey based on an exhibition of 180 vols from the Logan Collection, San Francisco, ranging from Manet and Burne-Jones to Campbell and Motherwell. As with any book about books, one longs to turn leaves, or to have access to the computer technology that enabled visitors to view over 4,500 images from these livres d'artiste. But if only a flavour of the works is offered, the accompanying documentation is faultlessly detailed and as exhaustive as a conservator's pre-treatment report. Preliminary essays deal with the history of the genre, and hint at current practice in which the book is as much a
sculptural object as a choreography of image, text and typography. Picasso of course merits his own section, but the heart is stirred most by Maillol's Virgil and Nash's Genesis.
ART GALLERIES & MUSEUMS
Christ Church Picture Gallery, Oxford: A Short Guide (Review posted 5/02)
81pp, 48 ills, Christ Church Oxford, £6.50
One of the perks of being a student at Thomas Wolsey's imposing old
college in the early 1970s (apart from the climbing skills developed
in thwarting the perverse gate hours), was proximity to the recently completed Picture Gallery. This new in-House publication offers an outline history of a fine collection in a neat modernist building (the only college gallery in Oxbridge), then concentrates on 30 of its old master paintings and drawings, by Leonardo, Raphael, Dürer and Hals, amongst many. CCPG deserves to be better known: they really should list it in Galleries.
Masters of Dutch Painting
by G. S. Keyes, S.D. Kuretsky, A. Rüger and A.K. Wheelock jr. 288pp, 112 col ills, 140 b&w, Detroit Institute of Arts in assoc. with D. Giles Ltd London hbk, £40
It's taken some 25 years to produce this handsome catalogue of the DIA's 17th C. Dutch holdings - the slow progress the result of "increased and shifting demands on the time and expertise" of the curators. The opening chapter relates the history of the collection (interestingly the Institute has carried out a cull of some 24 works and used the money to buy others, notably the magnificent 'Flowers in a Glass Vase' by Rachel Ruysch on the cover). Although they admit some gaps may never be plugged - they have no Vermeer - this volume is testimony to the depth and breadth of the collection. Each painting is illustrated and accompanied by the artist's biography, a detailed commentary and technical analysis, an exhibition history and full provenance. 140 comparative illustrations provide useful context. Art historians can err towards tedious nit-picking and lose the common touch, but not in this case. Even the footnotes are enjoyable.
100 Best Paintings in London (Review posted 10/05)
by Geoffrey Smith. 252pp, 100 col ills, Arris Books pbk, £14.99
Hard on the heels of the Today Programme's 'Greatest Painting in Britain' poll comes this selection, "not the choices of an art
professional but of a committed gallery visitor, an enthusiastic
layman". The entries, each with discussion and biographical detail
on a double page spread, are arranged by location (10 public galleries, including lesser known venues such as Kenwood and the
Estorick) and span the 14th to 20th centuries. Mr Smith also sticks
his neck out to choose his top ten, only one of which, incidentally, Van Eyck's Arnolfini Portrait, appeared in the Today top ten (though six of the latter, including the winning Fighting Temeraire, feature in the 100). Readers are invited to pitch in with their own feedback on the publisher's website . . .
The Poetic Museum (Review posted 5/02)
by Julian Spalding. 184pp, Prestel hbk, £24.95
At last a counter-blast to the monstrous regiment of bureaucrats who have entrenched themselves on the moral high ground of the ideological battlefield that museums seem to have become. Passionate, intelligent and amusing, Spalding has no compunction about identifying shortcomings but provides as many positive suggestions for museums to combat the feared slide into narrowness and mediocrity. "It is so easy to lower people's horizons, especially if you are in the powerful position of being the person configuring the landscape."
School of Genius: a History of the Royal Academy of Arts (Review posted 6/06)
by James Fenton, 320pp, 270 col ills. Royal Academy of Arts hbk, £35
Fenton tracks the ups and downs of the RA, from its founding in 1768 to the present day. He does this partly chronologically but more interestingly by identifying themes which have threaded through the institution's history, coming to the fore at times, being submerged at others: independence (financial or otherwise), relations between Academicians and non-Academicians, the role of the President, public perceptions. It takes fire of course whenever dynamic personalities enter the fray, so naturally the century spanning 1750-1850 is the most entertaining, though the period of Munnings' presidency (and from which the Academy's reputation only slowly recovered) runs it a close second. Well constructed and full of excellent illustrations, it may be a little thin on the recent past, but with so many of the leading figures still around, discretion was probably inevitable. SD
Up Close: A Guide to Manchester Art Gallery (Review posted 6/02)
by Michael Howard. 88pp, 83 col ills. Scala Publishers, distributed by Antique Collector's Club, pbk, £5.95.
Published to coincide with the reopening of the erstwhile City Art Gallery, this general introduction to the holdings is necessarily highly selective but manages to give a flavour of what's in store for the visitor, without resorting solely to the Pre-Raphaelite favourites. Excellent photography and finely-cropped details bring both familiar and unfamiliar to life, and for once the decorative arts are well-represented and placed in context: a fine porcelain chess set made by the Leningrad factory in 1936 opposing the Reds (goodies) and the Whites (baddies), a huge Kate Malone pineapple, an exuberant dinner service designed by Laura Knight. Howard's text is a model of its kind, "accessible", to use the jargon of the day, but never condescending.
Art Deco and Modernist Carpets (Review posted 1/03)
by Susan Day. 224pp, 250 ills, Thames and Hudson hbk, £39.95
Fascinating account of carpet production in the context of art and design between 1910 and 1945, focusing on the influence of avant-garde trends. Reaffirms the "downtrodden" carpet's importance as a unifying element in the decorative schemes of such luminaries as Gropius, Hoffmann, Balla and Gray. Not exactly Fauvism or Cubism with tufts, but a salutary reminder of the number of artists who were happy to turn designer between the wars, and not just for economic reasons. Excellent photographs both of individual carpets and rooms which make contemporary taste look very bland: my favourite is the director's office at the Central Post Office in Palermo, complete with rug by Bevilacqua.
The Language of Ornament (Review posted 5/02)
by James Trilling. 224pp, 221 col/b&w ills. Thames & Hudson pbk, £8.95
A densely packed, densely illustrated guide to ornament, from
Paleolithic to the present age. Not the easiest subject to present, but Trilling manages to avoid lapsing into academic quibbles while
keeping his readers aware that matters are not quite as clearcut as
might sometimes appear. Just as he seems about to get drawn into an angels-dancing-on-pins argument, he pulls out of his hat another inspired example to illustrate his point and bring the reader back to the sense of real people making real things. He never forgets that ornament is above all a source of visual pleasure and that any writing on the subject should be a source of mental delight.
The Artist at Work (Review posted 6/03)
by Colin St John Wilson. 80pp, 28 col, 25 b/w ills, Lund Humphries pbk, £15.95
Subtitled 'On the Working Methods of William Coldstream and Michael Andrews', this book grew out of Wilson's experience of sitting for both these artists. With Coldstream it was "like looking into the aimed barrel of a marksman" (96 sittings); Andrews was "always on the move" (80+ sittings). But more than a description of individual methods, this is an exploration of two independent spirits confronting the predicament of how to look afresh at the world. It includes trenchant comments on Andrews' extraordinary, unfinished series of Thames paintings and a passionate defence of subversive traditionalism. Wilson's own perceptions of art and architecture give extra depth to the argument. A welcome reprint (first issued in 1999).
British Art: A Walk Round the Rusty Pier (Review posted 02/07)
by Julian Freeman. 366pp, 180ills approx, Southbank Publishing pbk, £25
As readers of this magazine will be aware, Julian Freeman wears his huge learning with extreme informality and is never afraid to express a contrary opinion (contrary to popular wisdom, that is). All of which makes him a superb essayist, as this new book of 16 chapters on themes as varied as the weather, the sea, spirituality, artists' groups, industry, war and portraiture, makes splendidly apparent. You love it even when you don't agree with it, but it's never dull . . .
The Eclipse of Art (Review posted 8/03)
by Julian Spalding. 126pp, Prestel pbk £12.95
Another blast from the author of 'The Poetic Museum', this time aimed at the dismal state of contemporary art in the western world. Spalding adroitly outlines how we have got to the state where anything a self-professed artist claims to be art is accepted as such. Few escape his anger: dealers, curators, critics, teachers, but he takes certain public galleries in particular to task for denying people the full compass of artistic options, thereby crippling their ability to pass judgment on the quality of much modern art. He hopes that once the eclipse is over, the one-trick self-promoters will be revealed for what they are and give way to the hitherto uncelebrated labourers in the dark. We could have done with more of the latter, if only to give them the publicity which seems wasted on the usual suspects. A rich mine for vituperative quotes: "No one would dare bring the achievements of the world's film directors to bear on the productions of videos in art galleries, because, if they did, they would virtually wipe this abortive art form, with its pretentious pricing structure, off the slate."
Face to Face: British Self-Portraits in the Twentieth Century (Review posted 12/04)
by Philip Vann. 312pp, 220 col, 25 b&w ills, Sansom and Company pbk,
Effectively a detailed examination of some 100 self-portraits, collected by the late Ruth Borchard in the 50s and 60s, this handsome book raises some pertinent questions about artistic reputations. For, alongside the now well-known names - Cecil Collins, Carel Weight or Roger Hilton for example - painters like Sinclair Thomson, Peter Morrell and Nathaniel Davies stand up powerfully and originally enough for us to ask just why they never achieved similar reputations. Philip Vann has done a remarkable job in researching these artists and then placing them expertly within the broader context of British self-portraiture of the 20th C. Highly readable and invaluable reference at the same time.
The Geographies of Englishness: Landscape and the National Past 1880-1940 (Review posted 6/02)
eds. David Peters Corbett, Ysanne Holt and Fiona Russell. 386pp, 10 col, 112 b&w ills. Yale University Press hbk, £40
Collection of essays arising out of a conference on "rethinking Englishness" held at the University of York. Fairly academic in tone, debated round two central themes, English landscape and the national character, via George Clausen, Spencer Gore, Wyndham Lewis, Ben Nicholson et al, plus, inevitably, Ruskin, Fry and Read. The idea of a native tendency in art throws up all sorts of anxieties, prejudices, imagined pasts and fanciful connections for the writers to get their teeth into - and they do, with a dogged determination that makes one at times long for a touch of hellenic brevity.
Hang-ups: Essays on Painting (Mostly) (Review posted 01/05)
by Simon Schama. 352pp, 31 ills, BBC hbk, £30
Ideal for dipping into in spare moments, a selection of witty and informed pieces by the TV and academic historian, mostly from his New Yorker column during the 90s. Discussing exhibitions as well as artists, Schama progresses entertainingly through the centuries from Goltzius to Goldsworthy, with, as he admits in the introduction, "something of that shamelessly noisy quality that the normally demure and restrained Professor Schama is famously careful to avoid."
John Tusa on Creativity: Interviews exploring the process (Review posted 6/03)
268pp. Methuen hbk £14.99
Interviewing artists is becoming an increasingly popular practice for journalists, critics and writers of all aspirations. Often the result
is dreary reading. Not so in this case, as one would hope when a
broadcaster of Tusa's calibre is in command (the book is based on his Radio 3 series). Occasionally the tables are turned and it's Tusa himself who is in the spotlight (David Sylvester accomplishes this feat), struggling valiantly for responses that are neither pompous nor flippant. Representing the visual arts, Anthony Caro, Frank Auerbach, Paula Rego, Howard Hodgkin and Eve Arnold are in the hot seat; others include Muriel Spark, Nicholas Grimshaw and Tony Harrison. Tusa ends with an essay on his approach to interviewing, summed up as: "I like starting with what I think I know about people, and ending with things they may not have known themselves before we started talking."
Patterned Ground (Review posted 9/04)
ed by Stephan Harrison, Steve Pile & Nigel Thrift. 312pp, 80 b&w ills. Reaktion Books pbk £17.95
Subtitled 'Entanglements with Nature and Culture' and with Paul Klee on the cover, this remarkable book, consisting of some 111 essays on subjects as diverse as floods and ice sheets to archives and ghost towns and grouped under three sections - flow, site and matter - has the stated hope of encouraging us "to go back to the world with eyes full of wonder and to ask questions about the patterns we see". With some intensely thoughtful introductory essays that place this 'new' geography firmly within the world of the arts and philosophy - Deleuze and Klee among them - this is a book every artist and critic should absorb in our de-naturised times.
This Enchanted Isle (Review posted 6/02)
by Peter Woodcock. 151pp, 24 col, 117 b&w ills. Gothic Image
Publications, pbk £18.95
A plea for a return to the art of the imagination, art which concerns itself not only with the "genus loci" but connects to a higher state of consciousness. Woodcock writes equally passionately and informatively about visual art, literature and film-making, teasing out the threads that link, for example, Clough and Craxton, Bowen and Ackroyd, Crichton and Jarman. 29 short chapters are dedicated to those who have tapped into "our own indigenous magic" using a vocabulary "hammered out through the centuries". A highly readable summary of Neo-Romanticism.
South from Ephesus: an escape from the tyranny of Western Art (Review posted 1/03)
by Brian Sewell. 244pp, 14 b&w ills, Gibson Sq Books pbk £7.99
A welcome reissue of Sewell's 1988 account of various journeys in Aegean Turkey, largely inspired by the 19th C. journals of Charles Fellows. Sewell brings to the archaeology and ancient history of the area a refreshingly undidactic approach, which, when mixed with his caustic attitude to fellow travellers, guides and the more trying aspects of modern life, make for a thoroughly entertaining book. It is however Sewell's emotional responses to certain sites that stick in the mind: his haunting account of Endymion's sanctuary drew me across country to Heracleia to see if it could possibly be that powerful. It was.
EXHIBITION RELATED TITLES
American Beauty: Paintings from the Detroit Institute of Arts 1770-1920 (Review posted 8/02)
by Graham W.J. Beal. 128pp, 96 col ills, Scala pbk (distr. Antique Collectors Club), £12.95
This has been a good year for fans of pre-modern American art: American Sublime at Tate Britain and the Thomas Eakins touring show, both accompanied by excellent publications. And now here is an attractively produced extended essay on the period, illustrated through works in the Detroit collection, once again as companion to an itinerant exhibition. Director Graham Beal has some big names through which to weave his narrative - Copley ('Watson and the Shark'), Bingham, Homer, Church ('Cotopaxi'), Whistler, Cassatt, Sargent and Eakins all put in an appearance.
American Sublime: Landscape Painting in the United States 1820 1880 (Review posted 5/02)
by Andrew Wilton & Tim Barringer. 284pp, 150 ills, Tate pbk, £29.99
Tate Publishing are keen that their books are treated as significant in their own right, not just as adjuncts to shows they accompany - an aim certainly fulfilled here. (In fact it became the first winner of the Art Newspaper/AXA Art Exhibition Catalogue Award.) The co-authors explore the golden age of American landscape and focus on paintings by 10 leading artists, from the cinematic productions of Church and Bierstadt - the blockbusters of their day that Victorians queued to see - to the quieter pictures of Kensett and Heade. The 100-odd works, their painters in many cases plainly awestruck by the sheer spectacle of the subject, are often imbued with spiritual, even 'conservationist' implications, or reflect the tensions of a divided society in the long shadow of the Civil War. The excellent selection of oil sketches provides a fascinating counterpoint to the better-known highly finished canvases. As 19th Century America was a land of immigrants, it is hardly surprising that three of the ten should have been born abroad. It is, however, curious that both Cole and Moran should hail from Bolton, Lancs, of all places . . .
Andy Warhol Retrospective (Review posted 5/02)
Edited by Heiner Bastian, 368pp, 220 col ills, Tate Publishing pbk,
A catalogue as big and heavy as a telephone directory is a deserving
accompaniment to the Warhol retrospective currently showing at Tate Modern. There can be no denying the importance of Warhol to the development of art in the late 20th century. In particular, his eye for an icon and the development of silkscreen printing to produce multiple images have given us a rich seam of American life. This highly illustrated catalogue presents a comprehensive survey of the
familiar work 1960 1986 but begins refreshingly with the early drawings, which may be generally unfamiliar. The illustrations are
preceded by four essays. Heiner Bastian, a friend of Warhol and
curator of this exhibition, gives a clear and informed history of the
artist's development in which he demonstrates his clear intention
to portray Warhol " . . . as one of the great artists of classic
Modernism". Kirk Varnedoe and Donna De Salvo, respectively, discuss the Campbell's Soup Cans series and Afterimage. The final essay, Warhol and Goya by Peter-Klaus Schuster is provocative and intriguing.
Arcadia and Metropolis (Review posted 01/05)
by Roland März, 164pp, 38 col & 62 b/w ills, Prestel hbk, £29.95
They turned from painting arcadias to painting nightmares and the reason was German history. The early Expressionists like Pechstein and Kirchner painted bold outdoor nudes in bright colours. But their idealism got corrupted by politics and rejection. War and, later, Hitler burning "degenerate" contemporary works traumatised Expressionism. The paintings of Dix, Grosz and Beckmann are brutal and dark. This useful book, subtitled "Masterworks from the Nationalgalerie in Berlin", is a short history of this diverse movement and its turbulent times.
Bill Viola: The Passions (Review posted 2/04)
ed John Walsh (essays by Walsh and Peter Sellars inter alia). 298pp, 250 col ills. JP Getty Museum pbk, £34.50
This is a beautiful book. The stills from Viola's videos echo the deep simplicity of Renaissance paintings and the essays are clear and thoughtful. For Peter Sellars the trauma of 9/11 requires "space for healing . . . a culture of mourning". Viola's recent work exploring (personal) grief and loss thus resonates with the contemporary zeitgeist of the US. Reflection is a Bill Viola state: at the
same time images mirrored through water and thought mirroring inner
truth. The dynamics of video are subverted by slowing them
down to the point of stillness and reverie. Viola stands out from
other video artists in his classicism and spirituality. You have to be
in the environment of his works to receive their full effect but this
book will inform and fascinate meanwhile.
The Bone Beneath the Pulp: Drawings by Wyndham Lewis (Review posted 2/05)
ed Jacky Klein. 88pp, 64 ills. Courtauld Institute/Paul Holberton, pbk
Until mid February 2005 53 drawings are on show at the Courtauld, loaned by the Wyndham Lewis Memorial Trust which was established
in 1980 to promote awareness of his work. Would that all artists had
such devoted and diligent supporters to encourage on-going research: this selection definitely challenges the idea that, Vorticism aside, Lewis should be regarded principally as a literary figure. The essays and notes pack in a great deal of useful information and are peppered with quotes as incisive as his line: "It is quite true that the fine draughtsman, like the honest man, is rarely met with . . ."
Botero: Abu Ghraib (Review posted 10/06)
With Essay by David Ebony. 110pp, 80 ills, Prestel pbk, £19.99.
Not one for the squeamish, this. Colombian artist Fernando Botero
(his gargantuan 'Broadgate Venus' sculpture in Exchange Square will be familiar to City of London folk) here responds to the treatment of prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison with shockingly graphic paintings and drawings in his pneumatic figure style. Imagine Beryl Cook meets Goya and the Mexican Muralists . . .
Canaletto in Venice (Review posted 2/06)
by Martin Clayton. 232pp, 130 col ills, Royal Collection Publications, pbk £7.95
Accompanies the memorable exhibition at the Queen's Gallery, (Buckingham Palace till 23 April, then at Holyroodhouse) which displays 14 paintings of the Grand Canal together with 70 works on paper, the largest group of Canaletto's drawings ever shown in the UK, all from Consul Smith's collection, acquired by George III in 1762. Canaletto's manipulation of subject matter is well-known and the catalogue often notes these alterations - elimination of buildings, changing of perspective, etc - to help us understand what and why he was doing. Not least of the pleasures on offer are the four views of the lagoon in ink with grey wash and pencil, delicate and imbued with a melancholy not usually associated with Canaletto. In the exhibition the twelve smaller paintings are hung in a straight line down one side of the room, against a background of periwinkle blue wool, woven on the Isle of Bute, a bold experiment which magnificently pays off. The same attention to detail and flair has been applied to the catalogue.
Christo and Jeanne-Claude: The Würth Museum Collection (Review posted 03/05)
128pp, 90 col ills, Philip Wilson Publishers hbk, £25
Born on the same day in 1935, the Franco-Bulgarian couple have been creating textile-based installations around the world for some 40 years. These ephemeral, often massive enterprises - which have included enveloping the entire Berlin Reichstag building in fabric and the recent 'Gates' project in New York's Central Park - are funded by the sale of related items and can involve epic planning applications: the gestation period for the Gates was 26 years. This book accompanies the show drawn from the Würth Museum collection currently on tour in the United States, providing a useful summary of the career of our leading Wrap Artists.
Constable to Delacroix: British Art and the French Romantics 1820-1840 (Review posted 3/03)
by Patrick Noon. 296pp, 250 col ills, Tate Publishing pbk, £29.99
The post-Waterloo period (especially the 1820s) was one of enthusiastic Franco-British cultural dialogue, now that the Napoleonic Wars were finally over. Walter Scott and Byron were all the rage in both countries, Constable and fellow Britons exhibited successfully in Paris and the 'English medium', watercolour, was embraced by Delacroix and his compatriots. In turn the 'Raft of the Medusa' packed them in when displayed in London. The show which this excellent publication accompanies (Tate Britain, Minneapolis and the Met, NY), curated by Patrick Noon and 20 years in gestation, seeks to demonstrate the "profound engagement between two previously unsympathetic schools of painting". The result is a telling cross-Channel snapshot of this interchange: Géricault's 'Raft' is here, Delacroix's 'Greece on the Ruins of Missolonghi', Wilkie's 'Chelsea Pensioners Reading the Waterloo Dispatch', Delaroche's 'Execution of Lady Jane Grey' plus fine works by Turner, Constable, Corot, and others. Last year Tate Publishing won the Art Newspaper/AxA Catalogue Award for 'American Sublime'. This volume is a worthy stable-mate, with informative essays and detailed, illustrated entries on the 200-odd works, backed up by a useful chronology. AA
Cullercoats: a North-East Colony of Artists (Review posted 9/03)
by Laura Newton (with Abigail Booth Gerdts). 182pp, 69 b/w, 79 col ills, Sansom & Company pbk £19.99
I have to admit that all I knew of the thriving late 19th C. art colony at the fishing village of Cullercoats, just 10 miles from the centre of Newcastle, was that the great American artist Winslow Homer worked there for a while. (Scornful Geordie cry of 'blinkered
southerner'.) Concentrating as they did on the regional client base
rather than cultivating the London market (like their Cornish
coevals) the Cullercoats artists remain relatively unknown to art
history, with the exception of a couple of visiting national names
such as Frank Holl and William Quiller Orchardson. This diligently
researched and presented volume is a reworking of Newton's
PhD thesis - it occasionally betrays its origin with academic twaddle such as 'problematise' - plus Gerdts' specialist contribution
on Homer, and together with the associated show at the Laing in
Newcastle bids to rescue them from this neglect.
David Wilkie: Painter of everyday life (Review posted 10/02)
by Nicholas Tromans. 160pp, 74 col, 31 b&w ills, Dulwich Picture Gallery pbk, £16.95
Catalogue of the exhibition of Wilkie's paintings and drawings at Dulwich, running through October and November. Includes 21 page essay by the curator, Dr Tromans, analysing aspects of the period and exploring the changes in Wilkie's style and concerns. Other essays concentrate on Wilkie's debt to Netherlandish art and his 'Studio Secrets'. A surprisingly welcome addition to an already well-documented era.
Edgar Degas: The Last Landscapes (Review posted 8/06)
by Anne Dumas et al. 128pp, 100 col ills, Merrell hbk, £19.95
Degas is of course best known as a figure painter, although his only solo show in France, in 1892, consisted of landscapes. Accompanying an exhibition at the Columbus Museum of Art and Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, Copenhagen, this book examines a less familiar aspect of his output through four extensive essays. The well-presented illustrations also include works by contemporaries such as Monet and Pissarro together with period photographs, some by the great man himself.
Edward Hopper (Review posted 8/04)
ed. Sheena Wagstaffe, 256pp, 165 ills, Tate hbk £40, pbk £29.99
Many of Edward Hopper's images are so well known that they have achieved almost iconic status - 'Nighthawks', for instance,
which depicts a sparsely-populated city diner. So much so, indeed, that 'Hopperish' has become a glib shorthand term, useful to evoke a particular atmosphere of figurative isolation or urban alienation. It might equally be argued, though, that his work is as much about the play of light and colour as it is about mood: "What I wanted to do was to paint sunlight on the side of a house." This catalogue for the major Tate Modern exhibition, presenting many of his celebrated works, also contains five informative essays on such topics as the 'Elation of Sunlight' and 'Hopper's Melancholic Gaze'. One minor carp for Hopper fans is that neither show nor book includes his splendid sailing and shoreline pictures; but that aside, here is an ample survey of a major 20th C. American painter whose influence is still widely felt, not least by cinematographers.
George III & Queen Charlotte: Patronage, Collecting and Court Taste (Review posted 6/04)
ed Jane Roberts, Essays by Christopher Lloyd and Jonathan Marsden.
408pp, 479 col ills, Royal Collection Enterprises Ltd, pbk £19.95, hbk £40
A magnificent work that accompanies the exhibition running at the Queen's Gallery, London, till January 2005. George III may be remembered chiefly for his madness and losing America, but his long reign (1760-1820) witnessed extraordinary advances in the sciences, arts and manufacturing. He was a man of vision and learning, eager to promote British industry and encourage artists, a connoisseur of books, who loved taking watches apart and putting them together again (his handwritten 'Directions for mounting a watch' are included in the exhibition). Both the catalogue and the exhibition build up a picture of an enterprising, energetic and endearing, but surprisingly under-rated, monarch. Not to be missed.
Henry Moore (Review posted 7/04)
by Ian Dejardin, Ann Garrould, Anita Feldman Bennet, 176pp, 160 ills, Scala pbk, £19.95
High production values (as we have come to expect from Scala) enhance this catalogue to the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery (until September 12), the first major UK show for the artist in over 15 years. Explores the main preoccupations of Moore's career with works on paper and sculpture of varied scale and materials. Includes contributions from Dulwich and Henry Moore Foundation curators and the artist's niece Ann Garrould.
The House of Osama Bin Laden (Review posted 6/05)
by Langlands & Bell, 300pp, 297 col ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £18.95
Commissioned under the Imperial War Museum's award, The Aftermath of September 11 and the War in Afghanistan, Ben Langlands & Nikki Bell travelled to Afghanistan in October 2003 for two weeks. Though a snap shot diary of that journey that takes in a destroyed museum, a murder trail, an American Army parade, caves and multipliable Aid Programs, the large historical legacy of Afghanistan, as the back door war field of the Americans and Russians is everywhere - especially as the Americans are incapable of leaving for their own good reasons. The last chapter of the book contains pictures of the interactive digital animation called 'The House of Osama Bin Laden' which they constructed from hundreds of photographs of his former home in Daruntah, East Afghanistan, next to the Pakistan border and first exhibited at the Imperial War Museum in April 2003. Using pioneering games technology, the three dimensional environment allows visitors to 'walk around' by joy stick the panoramic digital world. The vacant house at Daruntah becomes through art a metaphor for the elusive presence bin Laden
maintains by the fact of his disappearance.
Joan Miró 1917-1934: I'm going to Smash Their Guitar (Review posted 6/04)
ed Agnès de la Beaumelle, 420pp, 500+ ills, Paul Holberton publishing, £40
Accompanies the exhibition at the Pompidou Centre, Paris (which closes at the end of June 04). Includes a month by month account of the busy years which saw Miró progress from his first exhibition aged 24 to his retrospective in 1934. A wealth of fascinating details pulls the reader hither and thither as Miró shuttles between Barcelona and Paris, abstraction and surrealism, but on the whole the extracts from letters, etc, are well-chosen to reveal the artistic temperature of
the period. Seven essays examine specific facets of his work, for once as strong on the physical processes as the mental, but it is the excellent illustrations that make this reference book invaluable.
Lucian Freud (Review posted 8/02)
by William Feaver. 240p, col ills, Tate Publishing hbk £34.99, pbk £24.99
Catalogue of the Tate exhibition at Millbank till September 02. Opening essay by Feaver runs to 37 pages and gives us as accurate a glimpse of the man who claims his first word was "allein" (alone) as we are likely to get for the time being. Glides over points that could bear more discussion, eg Freud's debt to Craxton, but helpful in casting light on his methods of composition, and the influence of the art of past centuries and civilisations. Skimpier on his handling of paint, which is what holds the attention of, and in some cases repels, the visitor to the show itself.
Manet and the Execution of Maximilian (Review posted 02/07)
by John Elderfield. 200pp, 104 ills, The Museum of Modern Art New York hbk (distr. Thames & Hudson), £17.95
Maximilian, dutiful brother of Habsburg Emperor Franz Josef, is one of modern history's tragic figures; set up as client ruler of Mexico in the 1860s by Napoleon III, he was abandoned to his fate by the French and shot when the puppet state was overthrown. Manet, no fan of Louis Napoleon, produced five images of Maximilian's execution by firing squad, politically controversial subjects not shown in France during the artist's lifetime. The three paintings, oil sketch and lithograph are rigorously analysed here by curator John Elderfield to accompany a show (replete with régime change resonance) at MoMA, New York. This well-produced book also examines the sources of these works and their influence on such diverse artists as Picasso, Jasper Johns and RB Kitaj.
Matisse Picasso (Review posted 8/02)
400pp, col ills, Tate Publishing hbk £40.00, pbk £29.99
A 'book of the show', destined to become a classic. 12 page introduction by John Golding explores the relationship between the two artists which is currently delighting, intriguing and polarising visitors to Tate Modern. Lucid and impartial and highly recommended for anyone wanting a crash course in the major developments of 20th C. art. Essays by the 6 curators explain the rationale behind each of the 34 groups or pairings. Not all of these are on view at each of the exhibition's venues (London, New York and Paris), so this catalogue is more than a useful aide-mémoire.
Nordic Dawn: Modernism's Awakening in Finland 1980-1920 (Review posted 9/05)
ed Stephan Koja. 240pp, 250 col ills, Prestel hbk, £35
This book highlights the lack in this country of a centre dedicated to touring exhibitions from abroad. With shows of this quality doing the rounds of Vienna, The Hague et al what do we get? - Strindberg if we're lucky! Can't help feeling a bit hard done by - surely there is somewhere that could be used as a venue for shows of this quality? Back to the book. At the end are illustrated biographies, very useful as the Finns seem to have wanderlust and it is sometimes difficult to remember who was where and when, plus a chronology from 1500 BC for those who may be a little forgetful of Finnish history. The essays themselves are on the earnest side and suffer from that slight dislocation that affects even the smoothest of translations, but the excellent pictures and photographs are really what keeps one dipping in for more.
Oscar Bluemner: A Daughter's Legacy (Review posted 3/04)
by Roberta Smith Favis, 96pp, 43 b/w & 55 col plates, The Stetson University Art Department, Deland, Florida 32723 pbk $20
This beautifully illustrated catalogue accompanies the extensive exhibition of 86 pieces, mostly watercolours and temperas but including drawings and 1 oil painting. They were selected by Favis from the more than 1,000 pieces that comprise the Vera Bluemner Kouba Collection, bequeathed to Stetson University in 1997. The exhibition, at the Duncan Gallery of Art, Stetson, is a comprehensive and enlightening survey of the range and depth of Bluemner's work, some of which has not been seen since his death. Oscar Bluemner (1867-1938), born in Germany, was one of the first significant American Modernists. He painted those strange and empty places at the edge of cities, combining some of the formal qualities of Cézanne with the vivid, spiritually intense colours that he had studied in Van Gogh. His work was admired by Georgia O'Keefe and Arthur Dove, and he exhibited regularly in avant-garde shows in New York including the Armory Show, 1913, and the Forum Exhibition, 1916, as well as at Stieglitz's Gallery. He did receive critical acclaim but sales of his work were poor and he experienced terrible poverty and neglect from the art world during his later life, which resulted in his suicide. His work was kept together and cherished by his daughter Vera, always an avid supporter of her father's talents. Favis's catalogue is an invaluable addition to the exhibition and excellent source material for anyone who would like to discover this artist. Every picture in the exhibition has been reproduced in the catalogue and Favis has written a very informative and perceptive account of Bluemner's peripatetic life as well as his approach to his art.
Richard Eurich (1903 1992): Visionary Artist (Review posted 8/03)
by Edward Chaney & Christine Clearkin. 96pp, 113 ills, Paul Holberton pbk, £20
"One of the best paintings to come out of the war" - Winston Churchill on 'Survivors from a Torpedoed Ship', Richard Eurich's 1943 depiction of sailors on an upturned lifeboat, one of over 30 paintings, especially of the war at sea, that place him among the leading War Artists of WWII. (Indeed such was its power that it was withdrawn from public display lest it discourage the recruitment of merchant seamen.) Born in 1903, that extraordinary year for British Art - Hepworth, Piper, Sutherland et al, not to mention George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh - Eurich trained at the Slade under Tonks, where he was noted to be influenced by painters not "dead long enough to be respectable" and enjoyed a lengthy if somewhat under-recognised career, still active into his 80s. Above all he was a master of the coastal landscape and seascape and it is these that really stand out from this survey of the full range of his output, accompanying a touring show originated by the Southampton Institute. A timely tribute to an overlooked artist.
Ron Mueck (Review posted 5/03
by Susanna Greaves and Colin Wiggins. 72pp, 78 b/w & col ills, National Gallery pbk, £9.95
As befits a former commercial model maker, Ron Mueck is a manipulator of scale. Although familiar to the initiated from the 1997 'Sensation' show at the RA, he came to the attention of a wider general public with his giant crouching boy in the Millennium Dome (though come to think of it, not that much wider a public). This neat, well-illustrated NG publication marks the polychrome figurative sculptor's culminating exhibition as Associate Artist at the Gallery, with essays on the production of his new meta-realist pieces and their inspiration (mother and child themes loom large), plus a look at his work in the broader sculptural context.
The Shape of Color: Joan Miró's Painted Sculpture (Review posted 11/02)
by L. Coyle, W. Jeffett & J.P. Miró. 176pp, 156 ills, Scala pbk, £14.95
Published to coincide with an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, many of the sculptures featured in this catalogue will be familiar for visitors to the Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona. Brought together, however, with relevant sketchbooks, archive photographs and preparatory drawings the genesis of these beguiling creations is, if not exactly revealed, then at least hinted at. Three essays, packed full of information, opinions and insights, make this a valuable addition to the bibliography of 20th C. sculpture. It manages, against the odds at times ("Transformation is unending in the realms of the fortuitous and the fated"), to retain the flavour of Catalonia's "imp of the devil".
The Silk Road (Review posted 10/04)
edited by Susan Whitfield. 366pp, 360 col ills. The British Library, hbk £45, pbk £25
Catalogue of recent exhibition at the Library, this is a joint venture with the British Museum and a real achievement both of research and presentation. 11 preliminary essays preface the catalogue itself, tackling subjects such as The Role of the Huns, The Tibetan Military System, Aurel Stein and, most fascinating, the conservation of the Dunhuang manuscripts (photos of oriental books jammed into western bindings make one shudder for the misguided endeavours of the past). An utterly compelling monument to 'east meets west', though as the introduction makes clear, "Very few travellers ever saw either end of the Silk Road." This book is concerned with the countries and cultures in between, in the first millennium AD, about which so many of us, in the third millennium, know pathetically little.
Titian (Review posted 5/03
ed. David Jaffé. 192pp, 128 col ills, Yale University Press hbk £25, pbk £9.95
Catalogue of the exhibition at the National Gallery until 18th May 2003. No wonder this has been selling like hot cakes: the paperback
especially is excellent value. Essays by experts from both the academic and museum worlds are short, interesting and highly readable even the one by a conservator, which is quite an achievement. The catalogue itself is divided chronologically into five parts, with the opportunity being well used to make formal or narrative points by including smaller photographs of pictures not in the show alongside full page ones of those that are. Lays to rest many of the myths e.g. that Titian's last years were lonely and isolated and generally makes the 16th C. come magnificently alive.
Turner and Venice (Review posted 11/03)
by Ian Warrell. 280pp, 230 ills. Tate Publishing, hbk £40.00, pbk £29.99
Accompanies splendid exhibition at Tate Britain (for once Turner has been allowed out of the Cloreset and into the main wing) which shows the fruit of the artist's three visits to the city (1819, 1833, 1840). Dickens may have thought that 'Venice is above, beyond, out of all reach of coming near, the imagination of a man,' but Turner in sketch after sketch proves him wrong. An introduction by Jan Morris sets the pace: this is that rare thing, a catalogue full of erudition and information which one actually craves to read from beginning to end, preferably seated somewhere with a view of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Turner Whistler Monet (Review posted 2/05)
ed Katharine Lochnan. 264pp, 148 col ills. Tate Publishing, pbk £29.99
Catalogue of exhibition at Tate Britain February-May 2005 (previously at Ontario and Paris). Should appeal strongly to all those fascinated by weather and hygiene (contains an absorbing chapter on "The Poetics of Pollution" and a comparative chronology that charts the artistic
progress of the triumvirate against metropolitan sewage and building
projects). The thrust of the exhibition - an examination of the influences and relationships between the three artists - is so
obvious it is surprising it has taken since 1988 to come to fruition.
This may be partly a result of the ambitious loan programme such a comprehensive overview necessitates, partly the inevitable result of three teams of experts working in parallel. Many illuminating comparisons (eg Whistler's 'Chelsea in Ice' side by side with Monet's 'Ice Floes on the Seine') and lesser seen gems.
William Orpen: Politics, Sex & Death (Review posted 3/05)
by Robert Upstone, etc. 160pp, 165 ills, Philip Wilson Publishers hbk/pbk, £29.95/£19.95
On his death in 1931, Irish-born Sir William Orpen was perhaps the best-known, most highly paid artist in England. This fine catalogue to an excellent Imperial War Museum exhibition includes a substantial overview and contributions on specific aspects of his work. The very diversity of Orpen's output is possibly a clue to his later neglect: the show ranges from tongue-in-cheek self-portraiture in various guises, to his bravura society portraits of the 20s, via his powerful First World War pictures, during which he was an Official War Artist (later gifting many items to the nation). For all his access to the Great and Good his facility as a draughtsman is never bettered than in his depictions of 'ordinary' front line soldiers; his colour sense never deployed to greater effect than in his evocative battlefield landscapes.
The Cats Gallery of Western Art (Review posted 5/02)
by Susan Herbert, 128pp, 63 col ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £9.95
This book, with a foreword by Professor Marmalade Katzenboge, will appeal to both cat and art lovers. The Cats Gallery of Western Art presents a humorous challenge to our memory of well-known paintings
as we see again our favourite pictures through cats-eyes. Classic images like "The Rokeby Venus", "Death of Marat", Van Gogh's "Self Portrait" and, best of all, Raphael's "Pope Leo X" are presented with the cat as model. Strangely, the most purr-pleasing pussy models are those wearing hats . . .
PERIODS & MOVEMENTS
American Realism (Review posted 5/02)
by Edward Lucie-Smith. 240pp, 250 ills (115 in col), Thames & Hudson pbk, £18.95
American realist art, runs the argument, is rooted in the egalitarian, anti-elitist and pragmatic national culture. Furthermore, its subject is not just the experience of the everyday, but the setting of this within a distinctively American context. In the first paperback edition of his 1994 book, the reliably readable Mr Lucie-Smith examines one of the principal strands of art in the United States, from Independence to the 1990s. Prominent groups and
individuals - Ashcans, Precisionists, Regionalists, Social Realists, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer, Thomas Hart Benton, Edward Hopper - are well displayed and incisively discussed.
Artists at Walberswick: East Anglian Interludes 1880-2000 (Review posted 6/02)
by Richard Scott. 184pp, 120 col/b&w ills, Art Dictionaries hbk, £29.95
Not so well known as Newlyn in Cornwall, the fishing village of Walberswick and its environs (now at the top end of the Suffolk coastal house price boom) has been a draw for artists for just as long. Plein-airists seeking escape from stuffy academicism began to frequent the Blyth estuary in numbers from the 1880s, Philip Wilson Steer taking on something of the Stanhope Forbes role; other leading figures down the years have included artists as diverse as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Stanley Spencer and John Piper. All this is painstakingly, even exhaustively, chronicled by Richard Scott, himself a local practitioner. Some 400 artists are covered in the narrative, with short biographical summaries at the back of this well-presented volume, one indeed so up-to-date that it even carries advertisements for current related exhibitions.
Artists in Britain since 1945 (Review posted 01/07)
by David Buckman, 1900pp approx, no ills, 2 vol hbk, Art Dictionaries £165 (£175 slip-case)
The details above, in a sense, say it all, this extensively revised and extended second edition of Buckman's indispensable volume adding some 4,000 new names to the existing 10,500, to make this the first port of call when faced with an unfamiliar artist or one whose details are only hazily recalled. It is astonishingly accurate and inclusive too - a check-list of some 20 names (some quite obscure) revealed only one omission and one mistake, about both of which I will, as the author suggests, be writing to set the record straight. For this has to be, almost by definition, a collaborative venture with Buckman holding the reins of what is one of the most labour- (of love) intensive and monumental tasks of modern art reference. Who said we weren't an artistic nation and didn't value our artists?
The Arts in the West since 1945 (Review posted 5/02)
by Arthur Marwick. 371pp, Oxford University Press pbk, £9.99
Either Mr Marwick spends every waking moment (besides being a professor of history) listening to music, glued to the TV, lost in a
novel, haunting the galleries, going to the theatre and taking in movies - or else he's as adept at synthesizing as the eponymous Mr Moog (page 269). If you want an instant take on Western culture - both 'high' and 'popular' - this broad band survey rattles entertainingly through the last half century without getting stranded in the arid wastelands of cultural theory.
Art Under Control in North Korea (Review posted 9/05)
by Jane Portal. 192pp 135 ills, Reaktion Books pbk, £22.50
In this last bastion of Stalinism artists are registered by the state, receive monthly salaries, and keep regular hours to meet
their quotas. Abstract and conceptual work is banned and there are no private galleries. Their output, unsurprisingly, is very much in the personality cult, 'socialist realist' traditions promoted under Mao and Stalin, often depicting happy children or workers inspired by the presence of the 'Great Leader' Kim Il-sung, and latterly of the 'Dear Leader', his son Kim Jong-il. Not without reason has North Korea been characterised as a 'realm of hyper-reality, a theme park to the memory of the Great Leader'. British Museum specialist Jane Portal here offers a rare glimpse of a culture seemingly trapped in a time-warp, and sketches in the historical, social and political background north of the 38th Parallel.
The Arts and Crafts Movement (Review posted 01/07)
by Rosalind P Blakesley 272pp, 250 col ills, Phaidon hbk, £39.95
Mention the Arts and Crafts movement and perhaps most of us would think of Morris, idealistic socio-artistic ventures and covetable
houses, mainly in the Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian countries. This
book certainly includes all these but widens out to show us what was happening further afield, in Russia (the author is a specialist in Russian art), Hungary and Poland. Beautifully illustrated and set in Gill's Golden Cockerel type, it is a magnificent tribute to the architects, craftsmen and designers for whom shoddy workmanship was not only a sin against material but a spiritual transgression. Essential for all those who have secretly fancied living in the Windermere Motor Boat Racing Club.
Away we go! Advertising London's Transport (Review posted 8/06)
By Edward Bawden & Eric Ravilious. 48pp, The Mainstone Press pbk, £20
"In advertising the Underground, London itself is advertised." Thus Frank Pick in 1922, and the results of such enlightened thinking were fantastic commercial opportunities for young artists and designers. This book concentrates on the work of Bawden and Ravilious, produced between 1927 and 1938, now held at London's Transport Museum, and is itself cleverly designed, with egg yellow jacket, striking endpapers and distinctive format (330 x 168mm). Introductory essays by Oliver Green and Alan Powers set the scene (though refraining from telling us exactly what Churchill called Pick when they had their famous run-in during the war) but pride of place has to go to the press advertisements, those happy and ingenious combinations of graphic art and typography that conjure up a London and way of life long gone. One, 'New Buses for Old', explains the policy of introducing a standardised, improved bus on all routes: if they could see the hotch-potch fleet we've got now they would surely weep.
Celtic and Anglo-Saxon Art (Review posted 2/05)
by Derek Hull. 254pp, 217 col ills. Liverpool University Press, pbk £25
Subtitled 'Geometric Aspects' this beautifully produced and illustrated book explores the complex world of early mediaeval motifs, unravelling methods and principles with a diligence and enthusiasm worthy of an Emeritus Goldsmiths' Professor of Metallurgy. Familiar examples, from the Lindisfarne Gospels and the Book of Kells, mix with the more arcane or inaccessible, and may well prompt cross-country cross-slab trails, from Llantwit Major to Aberlemno, but be warned, as the author himself says, "It is as though the detail can, at one and the same time, be grasped and yet be beyond grasping."
German Sculpture 1430-1540 (Review posted 6/02)
by Norbert Jopek. 176pp, 8 col, 129 b&w ills. V&A Publications hbk, £50
The V&A's collection of German sculpture, from large altarpieces to small statuettes, is one of the most comprehensive outside Germany, and this present catalogue does a welcome job in bringing together pieces held by various departments. 69 of the entries are divided into 10 geographical regions which are subdivided chronologically and by artist, with certain works from the Lower Rhine to be found in the forthcoming companion volume on Netherlandish sculpture. The accounts of the actual acquisitions are often fascinating and make us tip our hats to the foresight of past curators. At times the local protests at the activities of zealous dealers such as Korn are heartbreaking, though to be fair the Museum did refuse to purchase where "it would be
directly responsible for the removal of a work of art from its position in a church".
Gothic by Suckale, Weniger & Wundram; Renaissance by Manfred Wundram; Baroque by Bauer & Prater (Review posted 12/6)
96pp, col ills, Taschen pbks, £4.99 each
500 years of Western Art across 3 volumes in the invaluable Basic Art Genre series. The format is twofold: a short readable introduction to the period, then a focus on one work from each of 35 key artists and some biography. Good value, colourful and useful material for thought - for example, the startling development between Giotto's Madonna of 1310 and Vermeer's Allegory of Painting of 1666 reveals a seismic shift in world philosophy.
The Horse: 30,000 Years of the Horse in Art (Review posted 01/07)
by Tamsin Pickeral. 288pp, col ills, Merrell hbk, £29.95
This book, besides being full of horses, includes many details that make it a delight to read: Napoleon, despite his stable of 150, including the famous Tamerlan and Marengo, was not a natural horseman. Given to rolling around in the saddle he needed well-trained horses that required little guidance, unlike another diminuitive hero, General Phil Sheridan whose black gelding was renamed Winchester after the American Civil War battle he helped to win. Alas no sign of Copenhagen but enough Brave Horses, Eastern Horses, Hunters, Racers and Romantics to satisfy the most critical art or horse lover. A useful timeline charts important facts in equine history (development of the Thoroughbred, Muybridge's photographs, 8m dead in World War I, 20m redundant in N America by 1940) and short essays accompany each section, but it's the magnificent illustrations which make this book a dead cert.
Japanese Popular Prints (Review posted 10/06)
by Rebecca Salter. 208pp, 221 col ills, A & C Black, pbk, £30
Salter is an artist who has spent many years in Japan learning the Japanese woodblock technique, which gives her writings on the subject a gratifyingly different slant than the purely academic. In this book she examines the tradition of prints for everyday life, from calendars and maps to playing cards and decorative papers. She adroitly places this wealth of ephemera within the context of the opening up of Japan to foreign influence from the mid 19th C. and the subsequent upheavals and cultural shifts the country experienced. Hesitating to claim equality with the finest Golden Age ukiyo-e, Salter makes a strong case for greater appreciation of these extraordinarily varied and frequently entertaining products of a society at times so similar, at times so remote to our own.
Making Waves: Artists in Southwold (Review posted 1/06)
by Ian Collins. 184pp, 50 b&w/230 col ills, Black Dog Books hbk, £27
Born and brought up in East Anglia and a one time cub reporter covering Southwold affairs (where he now lives part of the time) for the Lowestoft Journal - Ian Collins has been a distinguished roving arts writer for the Eastern Daily Press for many years now and this quite splendid book reflects well the passionate enthusiasm, insider knowledge and artistic sensitivities he brings to all his writings on the visual arts. He has too a real journalist's nose for a story and doesn't mind digressing some distance from the serious subject of art to tell them - those concerning the long-defunct Southwold railway, for example, have more than a touch of the Ealing comedy about them. The research also, both historical and visual is seriously good - making this a hugely valuable record of this small town's astonishing and lasting appeal to artists over the last 125 years. And if Margaret Mellis and her husband Adrian Stokes had got the house they wanted nearby at the beginning of the Second World War, we might, it seems, have now been talking Tate Southwold even!
Modern: The Modern Movement in Britain (review posted 12/05)
by Alan Powers, Photography by Morley von Sternberg. 240pp, 250 ills, Merrell hbk, £35
The sensual enjoyment and intellectual appreciation of modern architecture in this country has long suffered from a reactionary
'carbuncle' complex. This book on the British modern movement in the 1930s radically sets out to overturn that prejudice through the sumptuous illustration of stunningly innovative buildings and a lucid and highly informative commentary. A beautifully produced publication and genuine eye-opener with an illuminating and challenging presentation of a relatively neglected subject.
Modern Art Now: From Conception to Consumption (Review posted 7/06)
Caroline Wiseman 72pp, 60+ col ills, Strawberry Art Press, hbk £25
Featuring 30 British artists from Ben Nicholson to Tracey Emin, Henry Moore to Antony Gormley, and the parallel sketches of some recent collectors of their work, Caroline Wiseman's handsomely produced large-format book provides an intriguing inventory of collecting tastes and trends of the last 20 years.
The Nabis (Review posted 2/04
by Claire Freches-Thory & Antoine Terrassee. 320pp, 344 ills. Flammarion pbk, £28
In 1888 in the Bois d'Amour near Pont-Aven, the young Serusier painted, under Gauguin's tutelage, a small abstract landscape which seemed to embody all the ideas of that artistic epoch and was later adopted as the Nabis' talisman'. Named after the Hebrew word for prophet, this idealistic fraternity of artists flourished in Paris in the 1890s. They read Baudelaire and Mallarme; were interested in music and philosophy; were influenced by Japanese prints and Romanesque art. The works of Bonnard, Vuillard, Ranson, Denis et al represented a change of direction from the naturalism of impressionism. This is the first complete study devoted to their unusual vibrant compositions. It is richly illustrated; includes short biographies of the artists; and covers their manifold contributions to the decorative and graphic arts, sculpture and theatre as well as paintings. A thorough and readable book.
Nineteenth Century Art: a Critical History (Review posted 1/03)
by Stephen F. Eisenman and others. 428pp, 428 ills. Thames & Hudson pbk, £24.95
Revised edition of book by half-a-dozen American art historians first published in 1994. By no means a straightforward survey, it concentrates on the authors' 'new art history' preoccupations with "issues of class and gender, reception and spectatorship, racism and Eurocentrism". This won't please all readers, especially those not enamoured of notions such as 'body politics' nor those expecting a rehearsal of merely 'the usual suspects' - amongst the many illustrations, for instance, there are just three each for Monet and Degas, while Mary Cassatt gets sixteen. Much food for thought, though, and as The London Review of Books put it: "We emerge . . . with our appreciation of its visual subject matter immeasurably enriched."
The Northern Renaissance (Review posted 01/05)
by Jeffrey Chipps Smith. 447pp, 241 col ills. Phaidon, pbk £14.95.
Overview of artistic developments in Northern Europe between 1380 and 1580, avoiding the time-honoured organisational methods of artists, media and geography. Such bravery demands extra effort on the part of both author and reader. The author's intentions are revealed by the chapter sub-headings: 'Art, Artists and the Marketplace', 'Art in the Cities', 'The Materialization of Faith', etc, but still the nagging feeling persists that the vast unruly subject has had to undergo a drastic trimming to be squeezed into this compact volume. For those who prefer old-fashioned approaches, the reading list at the back should be a help, though a bit thin on the architecture front and brief biographies of major artists and key dates set events in a pan-European context. Excellent illustrations include old favourites and images less commonly seen.
Palestinian Art (Review posted 8/06)
by Gannit Ankori. 256pp, 17 b&w/143 col ills, Reaktion Books pbk, £19.95
In this, the first overview of Palestinian art in English, Ankori has deftly navigated a couple of tricky problems. First, as much of the artistic heritage of Palestine has been destroyed in the turmoil created by the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict, she has sensibly written a book that is as much about the tragedy of what has been lost as about what can still be saved. Secondly, she manages simultaneously to acknowledge that most of the artists she discusses would baulk at being given such a simplistic label as 'Palestinian artist', while at the same time suggesting how recent history has inevitably inscribed itself on their practice to some extent. This book, written as it is by an Israeli, stands testament to the ongoing cultural dialogue between two nations that survives despite the best efforts of extremists on both sides.
Portscatho: Portrait of a Cornish Art Colony (Review posted 12/06)
by Chris Insoll. 144pp, 214 col ills, Halsgrove hbk, £29.99
John Piper advised Insoll not to pursue an academic career but to stick with the painting. This book has perhaps been written to satisfy a suppressed pleasure in documenting and recording. Gregarious and energetic, Insoll has been the moving force behind the Portscatho Society of Artists since its inception in 1984, gathering together and encouraging a diverse crew from his base in the small fishing village on the Roseland Peninsula. Linked by a common interest in the gallery and the area, they include Lynn Golden and Trevor Felcey as well as many artists based 'down West' such as Eric Ward and Rose Hilton, who are attracted by the 'relaxed and unauthorised' atmosphere. This extremely engaging account of friendships, trials and triumphs is pervaded by a zest for life which is frequently lacking in the art world of the 21st century. As one might expect from Insoll, the book is bursting with photographs not just of paintings but of the artists themselves in various states of work and play. At a time when it is easy for artists to feel isolated, it is good to know there are professionals who foster old fashioned camaraderie and companionship. A perfect book for beating the blues of deepest winter.
A Private View: David Wolfers and the New Grafton Gallery (Review posted 2/03)
by Julian Halsby. 112pp, 53 col, 18 b&w ills, Lund Humphries hbk, £25
David Wolfers, who died just over a year ago, was one of the most idiosyncratic London dealers and much missed, his championing of artists as gifted and often overlooked as Peter Greenham and Julian Trevelyan tenacious and ultimately vindicated. Halsby's delightful and affectionate pulling together of the man's life and work plus the handsome illustrations does him full justice.
Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters (Review posted 10/06)
by David Hockney. 328pp, 510 ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £24.95
David Hockney's thesis that optical instruments underpinned the creation of many of Western Art's masterpieces caused quite a stir when first published five years ago. He's adamant in refuting the allegation that he is accusing the Old Masters of 'cheating' with mirrors and lenses: "To suggest that artists used optical devices, as I am doing here, is not to diminish their achievements. For me, it makes them all the more astounding." This expanded edition includes sections of textual sources and recent correspondence, but two thirds of it is DH's engaging examination of the visual evidence, splendidly illustrated. Much food for thought here - and a feast for the eye.
Sport in the USSR: Physical Culture - Visual Culture (Review posted 10/06)
by Mike O'Mahoney. 224pp, 75 ills, Reaktion Books hbk, £25
Don't be put off by this title if you're not too keen on sport: it's by an art historian and is a welcome addition to Reaktion's 'Picturing
History' series. 20th Century dictators loved athletic endeavour. Photographs of ranks of young women tossing balls about are familiar images; Mussolini was snapped running bare-chested along the beach (much to Hitler's distaste), but he too was keen on the use of sport
to render the nation's youth "as hard as Krupp Steel" and even the austere Lenin espoused a Marxian variant of 'muscular Christianity'. Sport in the broadest sense - 'Fizcultura' to the Soviets - would improve workers' production quotas and aid their military training.
It became associated with the idea of the 'New Soviet Person' and was extensively tackled by artists from the heady days of post-revolutionary modernism to the state-prescribed socialist realism of the Stalinist era. The widespread representation of sport and what it reveals of the USSR's social and political preoccupations, is O'Mahoney's theme in this illuminating survey, full of interesting detail: Soviet youths, for instance, were wearing football shirts as fashion items 50 years before the trend was marketed so successfully in the West.
Styles, Schools and Movements: An Encyclopaedic Guide to Modern
Art (Review posted 9/02)
by Amy Dempsey. 304pp, 266 ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £24.95
From Impressionism to Internet Art, Dempsey travels with brio through
an accelerating landscape of art movements. I particularly liked the
quotes at the head of each - Des Esseintes: "the age of nature is
past; it has finally exhausted the patience of all sensitive minds by
the loathsome monotony of its landscapes and skies" (Decadent
Movement); Jean Tinguely: "Every-thing moves continuously. Immobility does not exist" (Kinetic Art); Jean Dubuffet: "Art springing from pure invention and in no way based, as cultural art constantly is, on chameleon or parrot-like processes" (Art Brut). Such a clear overview does inspire worries: can art continue to reinvent itself so rapidly without consolidation in the 21st C.; is this disposable consumerism masquerading as art; have we forgotten what art is for? Or as Ben Okri put it: "Their order has become our chaos."
Transgressions: The Offences of Art (Review posted 12/02)
by Anthony Julius. 272pp, 176 ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £24.95
Well known lawyer's often provocative reflections on art that has caused outrage, from Manet's 'Le Déjeuner sur l'Herbe' of 1863 (fully clad gents and naked women on a picnic, rather decorously depicted) to the Chapman Brother's Hell (tiny model Nazis shown undergoing appalling tortures) of 2000. He identifies three kinds of 'transgressive' art in the period: art that breaks the rules of art, art that violates social sentiments and art that challenges the state - some works of course do all three. There's a point though when the 'rebels' can become the 'establishment'. Julius quotes John Ashbery in 'Reported Sightings': "Almost all artists are somewhat subversive in their attitude towards art, and when you get a situation where everybody is a subversive, sabotage becomes the status quo. Marcel Duchamp really did it once and for all."
Under the Open Sky (Review posted 3/03)
by Catherine Wallace. 98pp, 100 col ills, Truran pbk £14.99
For all lovers of Cornwall, this round up of who was who (and who married who) between 1880 and 1940 in Newlyn and Lamorna will be essential reading. Using paintings from the four public galleries of the county, Wallace does an admirable job, though an index would help navigation.
PHOTOGRAPHY & FILM
American Photography (Review posted 6/03)
by Miles Orvell. 256pp, 31 col & 106 b/w ills. Oxford University Press pbk £12.99
Thematic overview (which still broadly sustains the chronology) of photographic theory and practice in an American cultural context. There's a good selection of images by the likes of Brady, Muybridge, Stieglitz, Adams, Evans, Warhol and Sherman, together with those of lesser known practitioners. These are complemented by Miles Orvell's far-reaching and clear-cut text, mercifully free of wearisome jargon - not always the case with this 'Oxford History of Art' series.
Film: A Critical Introduction (Review posted 7/05)
by Maria Pramaggiore & Tom Wallis. 448pp, 50 col ills, 475 b/w.
Laurence King Publishing pbk, £24.95
On the back cover this book states that it is aimed at students of film studies and general readers interested in a comprehensive introduction to the field: that holds true. Organised in three main sections, Parts 1 & 2 are on film analysis. With chapters on narrative form, mise en scene, cinematography, editing, sound, we are taught every detail that goes towards producing a film's meaning. Part 3 is the area where we learn to form sophisticated arguments about film culture. A book that has sub-chapters on 'Reaffirming or Resisting Dominant Ideology' is a book that wants to be taken seriously, but it slowly becomes friendlier and more accessible the more you
dip into it. A bit like people, perhaps?
In the Wake of Battle: The Civil War Images of Mathew Brady (Review posted 5/04)
ed George Sullivan. 440pp, 350 duotone ills, Prestel £19.99
An extensive, compact album of photographs by Brady's team of cameramen (including Gardner, O'Sullivan and Gibson), with scene-setting annotations and Library of Congress/National Archives references. Although long exposure times and bulky apparatus precluded front line action pictures à la Robert Capa, Brady photographs caused a sensation when first exhibited in the 1860s, the post-combat battlefields (sometimes with corpses rearranged to improve the shot) doing much to bring home the awful realities of the first modern war. The selection here also includes views of terrain, camp life, ships, railroads, field fortifications and ravaged urban areas: a shattered Richmond, Virginia pre-figures the devastation of 20th century bombing. This is haunting imagery from pioneer photo-journalists.
Lee Miller: Portraits from a Life (Review posted 3/05)
by Richard Calvocoressi. 176pp, 157 ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £17.95
Born in New York state in 1907, Lee Miller was a fashion model who
moved behind the camera to become a celebrated photographer. She made her name in surrealist circles during the 30s - working with Man Ray and meeting Roland Penrose (whom she later married) - and became
British Vogue's war correspondent, covering both the home front and
North West Europe. This survey of her career has been reissued in paperback to coincide with the National Portrait Gallery Exhibition, curated by the author. Images from three decades capture diverse personalities from the famous - Picasso, Stravinsky, T.S. Eliot, Alec Guinness - to servicewomen, GIs, concentration camp guards and liberated inmates. Perhaps the oddest is a 'glamour' portrait of actor Charles Hawtrey (of 'Carry On' film fame) in drag, and among the most
poignant a bespectacled child wearing a cap (presumably his father's) with a 'Scharnhorst' tally, the German warship sunk by the Royal Navy in 1943 with virtually all hands.
New Cinematographers (Review posted 2/05)
by Alexander Ballinger. 192pp, 400 col ills. Laurence King Publishing, pbk £28
Laid out with illustrations, storyboards, sketches, location shots and lighting diagrams this allows you to follow the ideas and
inspirations of cinematographers Lance Accord, Jean-Yves Escoffier,
Darius Khondji, John Mathieson, Seamus McGarvey and Harris Savides. They discuss their influences, working methods and equipment - down to the light filters, lens settings and film stock on 34 films, including Lost in Translation, Delicatessen and Gladiator. A must for anyone interested in the part that Francis Bacon's painting had on the making of Alien Resurrection . . .
Art Galleries of the World (Review posted 8/02)
by Helen Langdon. 528pp, col ills, Pallas Athene pbk, £16.99
Need the opening times of the Moderna Galerija in Ljubljana, or a thumbnail sketch of Christ Church Picture Gallery in Oxford? Then this is for you. 800 galleries and other venues in 33 Western countries are encompassed by art historian Langdon, in what amounts to a more than cursory examination of occidental art and where to see it. All tricked out, furthermore, with profuse illustrations, an A-Z of 600 artists, a glossary and even foreign language tips - it's slightly unnerving to be reminded that 'tour guide' in German is 'Führer'. No dusty gazetteer this: hers is a distinctly personal approach with enthusiasms (and their reverse) abundantly clear. The last page lists her dozen favourite works: more than half of them are from the 16th and 17th centuries, as befits a biographer of Caravaggio. An idiosyncratic guide, then, and all the better for it.
At Home: The Domestic Interior in Art (Review posted 02/07)
by Frances Borzello. 192pp, c.160 ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £24.95
This sumptuously illustrated book impressively surveys how painters since Van Eyck have depicted rooms their subjects - and, increasingly since the late 19th C. the artists themselves - live and work in. Interiors range from the elaborately de luxe, echoing spaces of Zoffany and Lavery to Gwen John's spare yet intimately charged attic lodgings and Van Gogh's simple, vibrant bedroom. Vermeer, Chardin, Ensor, Manet, Degas, Bonnard and Vuillard are amongst those illustrated. Periods when the middle classes prosper - as in 17th C. Holland, 19th C. Scandinavia, fin-de-siècle Paris - are those in which mundane homeliness is portrayed in perhaps the most richly transfiguring light.
A Century of Remembrance: One hundred outstanding British War Memorials (Review posted 1/06)
by Derek Boorman. 230pp, b&w/col ills, Pen & Sword Books hbk, £19.99
From Hull's memorial to the fallen of the Boer War, erected in 1904, to the Animals in War memorial unveiled in Park Lane in 2004, a hundred years of military conflict is encompassed in this remarkable book. For those incorrigible war memorial fanciers who find themselves standing in village squares all over Europe trying to decipher exactly what is being celebrated or lamented, I hope this is the first of a series. Of course, as this book makes clear, memorials are not necessarily statues of sad-faced or noble soldiers: they can be sports grounds (Redhill), school chapels (Rugby, Oundle), windows (Rolls Royce, Admiral Ramsay), buildings (Aberdeen, Stockport, the Loughborough Carillon), the creation of many artists and craftsmen or just one. The photographs may not be brilliant but they are good enough, and eight pages of colour illustrations are used to good effect. The background to the stories is well told, though perhaps more attention could have been given to the artistic element for we are gradually coming to appreciate that these memorials do have substantial aesthetic as well as emotional value (the selection is certainly not chosen to highlight this angle - no Eric Kennington for instance). How many of the recent pieces of public art, scattered with such largesse by various organisations, will ever resonate so deeply in the common psyche? Here indeed is a royal fellowship of death.
Complete Illustrated Catalogue (Review posted 8/04)
802pp, 8000 ills, National Portrait Gallery/Unicorn Press hbk £50
Where do Mr Gladstone and Germaine Greer (almost) rub shoulders? Under 'G' in this vast archive of the nation's Great and Good, depicted from the 16th C. to the present day. Fully revised since the last edition in 1981, this really is a treasure trove of facial imagery: famous politicians, artists, soldiers, sportsmen, scientists, entertainers and other worthies now unfamiliar even to assiduous history buffs. The range is striking - not just formal portraiture, but sketches, group photographs, caricatures and 'off-duty' moments. Gladstone for instance, can be seen not solely as the Grand Old Man of Victorian Britain, but as an elderly gent with his feet up reading a book. How faces and styles change is another intriguing aspect: Ms Greer can be seen photographed by Snowdon in 'dolly bird' fashion c.1971, and rather differently (though in a related pose) in a pastel by Paula Rego 25 years on . . .
The Daily Telegraph Britain's Paintings (Review posted 1/06)
by Neil MacGregor (in association with the National Gallery). 200pp, Cassell Illustrated pbk, £19.99
Richly illustrated, large format thematic survey by the former National Gallery Director of the nation's international art collection - in galleries, museums and historic buildings. Chapters on Love and War, Work and Play, Gods and Humanity, Nature and Time, Pain and Pleasure. Also includes a useful gazetteer of venues, plus a chronological section with brief artist biographies and images of their work, together with location around the UK. An excellent introduction. AA
Dictionary of Art Terms (Review posted 10/03)
by Edward Lucie-Smith. 240pp, 400 ills. Thames & Hudson pbk, £7.95
How to distinguish a gambrel from a mansard roof, a kalyx krater from a bell krater, Neue Sachlichkeit from Nouveau Réalisme, and why you might need a pugging machine . . . First published 20 years ago, this updated edition also covers some of the more recent digital and lens-based preoccupations of fine and applied art and architecture.
The Gallery Companion: Understanding Western Art (Review posted 9/02)
by Marcus Lodwick. 224pp, 160 col ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £8.95
If you've never been able to tell your Hera from your Hagar, this
book is for you. It tells the stories behind the most frequently painted figures from both classical and bible mythology. Not only are the clearly told tales fascinating in themselves, they also illuminate the symbolism, epistomology and morality behind Western art - and
by extension behind Western culture and civilisation. If you want
to follow your Leda for a rich gallery experience, start here.
How to Read a Painting (Review posted 01/05)
by Patrick de Rynck. 383pp, c.900 col ills, Thames & Hudson pbk, £24.95
Subtitled 'Interpreting and Understanding the Old Masters' this book purports to unravel the symbols, themes and motifs that may elude those not blessed with a classical education. The author is himself a classicist and obviously an enthusiast for opening eyes and passing on his detailed knowledge of the Greek and Roman world. He is refreshingly open-minded: having put forward several meanings' for Giorgione's Tempesta, for example, including one that encompasses the Trojan War, he adds, apropos the fact that X-rays reveal the male figure on the right to have originally been a female bather, 'perhaps the scene does not actually refer to a specific story at all'. Too often though the book reads like a crib, an impression fostered by the emboldening of key words and the break-up of text into small, palatable sound bytes'. Inside this book is an intelligent one longing to get out. SD
...isms: Understanding Architecture (Review posted 1/06)
by Jeremy Melvin. 160pp, col ills, A & C Black pbk, £9.99
Travelling to work: Tubism, then Mallism and lastly, in the making, WhiteCityOptimism - or as we call it for short, Craneism. It really
is extremely easy, this categorisation malarkey. No need to worry about real influences and cross currents and all that boring stuff
that most books on architecture insist upon: the subtle manipulation of space, for instance, that distinguishes Gothic from Romanesque. No, just find a feature and attach those three little letters, and you're away. If you like an easy life, this is the book for you. If you don't, and get mildly irritated by pigeonholing (the swallowing of Soane into 'Sublimism' and Wren into 'Anglican Empiricism') then save your money for something that helps explain what actually produces such diverse creations as Pasmore's Pavilion or Gehry's Guggenheim or Venturi's house for his mother. Limited to the last century or so, the idea might just have worked, though the absence of Mackintosh is presumably explained by the fact that the publishers have produced a full volume dedicated to the Glasgow School of Art and could not face a mini-chapter called . . . Mack-ismo?
Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Review posted 7/03)
ed LACMA. 232pp, col ills throughout. Thames & Hudson pbk £8.95
LACMA is the biggest art museum on the West Coast, and although the youngest of the United States' broad coverage institutions it boasts over 100,000 works from all periods and every continent in a wide range of media. This 'World of Art' title offers an illustrated tour of the museum's eleven departments in the hands of its curators, highlighting varied treasures from an Assyrian alabaster relief to an Edward Weston photograph via a Georges de La Tour Magdalen. 'Wide range' is no exaggeration.
Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in West Yorkshire: Leeds (Review posted 8/04)
300pp, fully illustrated in colour, The Public Catalogue Foundation hbk
The first of some 80 volumes destined to encompass the entire UK, this clearly presented, exhaustive gazetteer (to modify an over-used phrase), does exactly what it says on the cover. All paintings held in public collections in the Leeds area, both on show and in reserve, are illustrated and detailed - even some that are 'missing'. Brainchild of former diplomat Fred Hohler, the PCF has three principal aims: to create a complete record of the nation's paintings, to make them accessible to the public through affordable catalogues (and ultimately online), and to donate funds from sales to exhibit, conserve and restore works. The urgency of the latter task is poignantly highlighted by the pieces of conservation tissue (covering damaged areas) visible in some of the illustrations.
Oxford Concise Dictionary of Art & Artists (Review posted 9/03)
ed Ian Chilvers. 664pp, Oxford UP pbk, £7.99
Making dictionaries is dull work, reckoned Dr Johnson, performed (tongue firmly in cheek here) by harmless drudges. Ian Chilvers has
alleviated the tedium by tossing in entertaining asides and the
occasional splenetic outburst. 19th C. French artist Meissonier, for
instance: "Astonishingly conceited as well as mean-spirited, he
cultivated a huge white beard and liked to be photographed or
painted in attitudes of fiercely profound thought." He also quotes
Thomas Hart Benton on Modern art, "a simple smearing and pouring of material, good for nothing but to release neurotic tensions", pointing up the irony of Benton's influence on Jackson Pollock, whom he taught. This 3rd edition of the OCDA&A scores pretty well on the 'Who's Been Left Out' test, reflecting much hard lexicographical graft, and encapsulates a wide swathe of Western art from Praxiteles to Damien and The YBAs. At this price it remains a strong contender in what is becoming quite a crowded arena.
The Oxford History of Western Art (Review posted 12/02)
ed. Martin Kemp. 564pp, 750 col and b&w ills, Oxford University Press pbk, £19.99
Over 2 kilos of art history may not sound like everybody's idea of a refreshing Christmas present, but this bulky volume justifies its pre-publication claims. It really does offer a radical and stimulating overview of 2700 years of art, from classical Greece to post-modernism. Old categories have largely been avoided as new angles are explored and new connections made, all of which will benefit both jaded old hands and bright eyed newcomers alike. In the 410-1527 section, for example, sixteen pages are devoted to the art and technique of stained glass, brought to life by means of excellent close-up photographs. The quality of illustration is exceptional, with the obvious choices studiously avoided throughout. Each subject (apart from Critics and Criticism) inspires the reader to ask for more - exactly what this book is aiming at.
Painters in the Northern Counties of England and Wales (Review posted 7/02)
by Dennis Child. 335p. University of Leeds hbk, £35
Second edition of this invaluable research tool for sorting out your Nicholsons, Harrisons and Richardsons. Updated with new material and incorporating some 8,500 entries, the book covers the period from the 17th C. to those born before 1940 (though I spotted the mountain-painting scion of the Lake District Coopers coming in with 1947). Part 1 follows the original format with details of exhibitions, sales and biographical information for the better known artists, Part 2 consists of one line entries for the more obscure. The perfect antidote to glossy coffee table monographs.
Paintings in the Musée d'Orsay (Review posted 12/04)
ed. Serge Lemoine. 768pp, 830 col ills, Thames & Hudson hbk, £50
The stellar collection of paintings from the second half of the 19th C. housed in a converted Paris railway station, introduced by its
director and his curatorial team. Courbet, Cézanne, Monet, Manet, Van
Gogh, Gauguin . . . A hackneyed phrase maybe, but this truly is a visual feast.
The Prado Masterpieces (Review posted 9/03)
by Javier Portús Pérez & M. Leticia Ruiz Gómez (transl). 144pp, col ills, Scala Publishers pbk, £12.95
Divided into 3 sections, Spanish, European and Other Works, this book is exactly what it claims to be, a roundup of highlights from the Prado, 61 paintings, 2 sculptures, 3 items from the Dauphin's Treasure. Well illustrated, a helpful reminder of how exhausting
a visit to this great museum can be - and how much one often misses.
Public Sculpture of North-East England (Review posted 8/02)
by Paul Usherwood, Jeremy Beach and Catherine Morris. 400pp, 485 b&w ills, Liverpool University Press hbk £47.95, pbk £19.95
One of the 4 volumes published so far in the series cataloguing the public sculpture and monuments of Britain (excluding religious), a huge project sponsored, inter alia, by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Henry Moore Foundation. Excellent accounts of the purpose, commissioning, creation, siting, installation and critical reception of each piece, together with a report on the materials, condition, size, inscriptions, status, etc. This volume is particularly poignant because of the number of colliery disaster memorials (West Stanley, Trimdon, Tudhoe, Wingate Grange, Easington, Ashington . . . ) and monuments to the fallen of the Boer, First and Second World Wars. Statistics show the peak decades for sculpture installation in the area to have been 1900-09 and 1980-89 (approximately 38 for each period), figures dwarfed by the 180 that sprang up between 1990 and 1999. Unfortunately, in this august company some of the more recent works look trite and irrelevant, without even the saving grace of aesthetic worth. A small price to pay for a fascinating and absorbing book: for details of present and future volumes (City of London in the pipeline) contact 0151 794 2233.
Reading Women (Review posted 7/06)
by Stefan Bollmann 152pp, 70 col ills, Merrell, hbk £14.95
A handsomely produced compendium of pictures of women and girls absorbed or exhausted by the act of reading. The readers are divided into types, ranging from 'Blessed' (led in by Simone Martini's Virgin Mary, looking rather cross at being interrupted by the angel Gabriel) to 'Solitary' (which includes the wonderful shot by Eve Arnold of Marilyn Monroe perusing Ulysses). A foreword by author Karen Joy Fowler entertainingly examines the female love of reading, focusing on its ability to provide an escape from real life, edging round the topical issue of why at the moment it's the girls who read rather than the boys. The examples are well-researched, with many lesser known or rarely reproduced images. It comes as no surprise that not one of the readers wears spectacles. SD
Creative Drawing (Review posted 10/02)
by Howard Smagula. 311pp, 317 ills, Laurence King Publishing pbk, £16.95
Second and expanded edition of American manual aimed at both beginners and those with a little more experience. Clearly conceived and laid out, with each section designed to help the student achieve a particular goal, the book narrowly escapes falling into the "how to" category thanks to frequent excursions down the highways and byways of art history and contemporary practice. Imaginatively illustrated, it sensibly includes a series of practical guides on handling, framing and photographing drawings, useful skills however you care to wield the graphite.
Drawing Landscapes (Review posted 11/02)
by Melvyn Petterson RE (with Ian Kearey). 128pp, col throughout, David & Charles hbk, £17.99
Techniques and tips for drawing landscapes of varying kinds - skies, hill country, open spaces, woodland, water - culminating in five projects to bring it all together. A clearly set out, well re-produced 'how to do it' volume by an established artist and experienced teacher of printmaking and drawing, which "aims to be as much about inspiration and encouragement as it is about instruction".
The Instant Printmaker (Review posted 3/04)
by Melvyn Petterson & Colin Gale, 128pp, Collins & Brown hbk, £17.99
A useful printmaking manual which presents new ideas for printing at home without expensive equipment as well as more advanced techniques for the studio. The step-by-step directions are easy to follow and the illustrations show what varied, imaginative images can be realised by artists (and students) using these basic procedures.
Life Drawing: A Journey to Self-Expression (Review posted 3/04)
by Bridget Woods, 192pp, 328 b&w ill. Crowood Press pbk £16.99
Given the number of life drawing books already on the market this might seem superflouus to requirements but in its passion, thoroughness and extreme usefulness this is in a different class to the rest. Woods is a gifted and experienced teacher (and practising artist) and it shows above all in the wealth and quality of the illustrated examples. In short the benchmark textbook on life-drawing.
Prints: Art and Techniques (Review posted 5/02)
(new edition) by Susan Lambert. 96pp, 45 col & 58 b/w ills, V&A Publications hbk, £9.95
Useful, clearly-presented guide to print techniques, their development and history. Beautifully illustrated from the V&A's own collections. Highly recommended.
The Watercolour Expert: Insights into working methods and approaches (Review posted 01/05)
Royal Watercolour Society, 192pp, 150 col ills, Cassell hbk, £18.99
Published to commemorate the 200th anniverary of the RWS, this lavish book celebrates the skill and knowledge of its members. The outline of the Society's history by its archivist reveals the deeply conservative nature of the RWS and how much things have changed since the time of its founder John Varley. (Women members were only given fullrecognition in 1890, for example.) Today's practitioners use their highly portable medium (unlike this heavy-weight tome) to capture a vast variety of subjects and effects. Here they provide detailed personal insights into how they use drawing, composition, colour and wash to realise their subjects. Large scale reproductions show the eclectic range of styles and techniques that prevail in this most attractive of art forms.
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