Keeping an eye open Essays on art

Julian Barnes

Book - 2015

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Subjects
Published
New York : Alfred A. Knopf 2015.
Edition
First American edition
Language
English
Item Description
Originally published: London : Jonathan Cape, 2015.
Physical Description
viii, 278 pages : color illustrations ; 23 cm
Bibliography
Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN
9781101874783
1101874783
Main Author
Julian Barnes (author)
  • Géricault : catastrophe into art
  • Delacroix : how romantic?
  • Courbet : it's not like that, it's like this
  • Manet : in black and white
  • Fantin-Latour : men in a line
  • Cézanne : does an apple move?
  • Degas : and women
  • Redon : upwards, upwards!
  • Bonnard : Marthe, Marthe, Marthe, Marthe
  • Vuillard : you can call him Édouard
  • Vallotton : the foreign Nabi
  • Braque : the heart of painting
  • Magritte : bird into egg
  • Oldenburg : good soft fun
  • So does it become art?
  • Freud : the episodicst
  • Hodgkin : words for H.H.
Review by Booklist Reviews

Whether he's writing Booker Prize–winning fiction (The Sense of an Ending, 2011) or delving essays, Barnes is a consummate stylist, not only because of his artistic command of language but also by virtue of his searching intelligence, incisive candor, rogue wit, and righteous fairness. He brings these fine-honed qualities, along with his fluency in human complexity, to art criticism, elevating the entire endeavor to a spirited form of inquiry into creators, creations, and their reception. And his subjects are magnetizing. Barnes' reassessment of French painter Édouard Vuillard is a standout as he parses the tricky intersection of biography and critical analysis. Personal elements enliven his keen scrutiny of the work of Swiss painter Félix Vallotton. Barnes vividly recounts the wretched tale of ineptness, shipwreck, cruelty, and horror that inspired Théodore Géricault's shrewdly composed The Raft of the Medusa. Fantin-Latour, Braque, Magritte, Redon, Freud (Lucian)—all are given the invigorating Barnes treatment as he tracks the course art (especially French painting) took as it made its leaping, alarming, liberating way from romanticism to modernism. Handsomely illustrated, superbly written, felicitously thought-provoking. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Choice Reviews

This collection of well-written essays on art (1989–2013) has a distinct literary character that readers should expect from such a distinguished novelist.  The essays seem to come up short in their personalized application to 19th- and early-20th-century painters, mostly French, whose particular experiences are allegedly instrumental in shaping the pictorial and moral content of their work.  Barnes looks through the work of major artists, connecting his own strong reaction to their art to expose the operation of their personal prejudices in making art with the larger context of the passage from "romanticism" to "realism" to "early modernism."  For him, the agency driving the artists' personal expressions in painting seems to exist in response to moral considerations rather than to stylistics or aesthetic attitudes current at the time.  Unlike recent essays by Tim Clark or Michael Fried on painting—the dominant art form for centuries—that are grounded in analytical, critical foundations, transcending the personal, Barnes's essays seem too hermetically enclosed in well-crafted, highly personal language to be effectively useful to readers and viewers who lack his moral sensibility and concerns. Summing Up: Optional. Upper-division undergraduates and above. Copyright 2016 American Library Association.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

Man Booker Prize winner and best-selling novelist Barnes here collects 17 of his essays on art—not so unexpected when you consider that his 1989 novel, A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, has a chapter on Géricault's magnificent The Raft of the Medusa. As Barnes himself says, "Flaubert believed that…great paintings required no words of explanation. Braque thought the ideal state would be reached when we said nothing at all in front of a painting…. But it is a rare picture that stuns, or argues, us into silence. And if one does, it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged." Here's to understanding painters from Delacroix to Magritte to Lucian Freud. [Page 52]. (c) Copyright 2014. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Library Journal Reviews

This impressive title examines 19th-century French art as a manly morality tale beginning with romanticism in 1825 and extending up to cubism in 1925. Four final chapters address English and American art since World War II. Barnes is a well-known, multi-award-winning English author of fiction (A History of the World in 10½ Chapters; Flaubert's Parrot) and nonfiction (The Pedant in the Kitchen; Nothing To Be Frightened Of). This volume assembles key book and exhibition reviews Barnes published in leading journals such as Modern Painters and the New York Review of Books since the 1980s. The author digs into fascinating details of isometric proportions based on many scholarly biographical and autobiographical works. Some illustrations are absent, but they can be pieced together by readers. Both artists and their clients have been aware of the destructive effect of industrialization for hundreds of years, and this book explores its impact on the socioeconomic base in the lives of artists and the forms of paintings. VERDICT Comparable to New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl's Let's See, Barnes's latest is highly recommended to all art readers. [See Prepub Alert, 4/13/15.]—Peter S. Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr., MA [Page 98]. (c) Copyright 2016 Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

In these sharply observed essays, English novelist Barnes (Sense of an Ending), levels a fine critical eye at the visual arts, principally focusing on French painting and the transition from romanticism to modernism. The Booker Prize–winning novelist first wrote about art for his novel A History of the World in 10 ½ Chapters (1989), which contains a study of Théodore Géricault's Raft of the Medusa; that study is this collection's stirring opener. French art remains Barnes's forte, and the book includes pieces on Eugène Delacroix, Édouard Manet, Odilon Redon, and Georges Braque. He submits thoughts on these and other artists with sentences that coolly snap and continually delight. In his wonderful study of Edgar Degas's portrayals of women, Barnes knocks down the charge of misogyny and shows an argumentative spirit that is somewhat wanting in other places. "Do you constantly and obsessively fret at the representation of something you dislike or despise?" he provocatively asks. Barnes also revisits Édouard Vuillard's late paintings and Henri Fantin-Latour's star-studded group portraits; vividly brings out the crude bravado of Gustave Courbet, "a great painter, but also a serious publicity act"; and questions some of the more astronomical praise of Paul Cézanne. He is equally deft on non-French artists, too. Pop artist Claes Oldenburg's work is "about as political as a hot dog," and Lucian Freud's pictures are exclusively about the "here and now." It's both a pleasure and an education to look over Barnes's shoulder as he interrogates, wonders at, and relishes works of art. He's a critic who prioritizes the objects themselves, and his work is always satisfying. Illus. (Oct.) [Page ]. Copyright 2015 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A collection of essays by the award-winning author of The Sense of an Ending and Levels of Life traces the artistic evolution from Romanticism to Realism and Modernism to share insights into the opposing dynamics between experiencing art silently and the need to verbalize art's impact.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A collection of essays traces the artistic evolution from Romanticism to Realism and Modernism to share insights into the opposing dynamics between experiencing art silently and the need to verbalize art's impact.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

A collection of essays by the award-winning author of The Sense of an Ending andLevels of Life traces the artistic evolution from Romanticism to Realism and Modernism to share insights into the opposing dynamics between experiencing art silently and the need to verbalize art's impact. Illustrations.

Review by Publisher Summary 4

An extraordinary collection—hawk-eyed and understanding—from the Man Booker Prize–winning, best-selling author of The Sense of an Ending and Levels of Life. As Julian Barnes notes: “Flaubert believed that it was impossible to explain one art form in terms of another, and that great paintings required no words of explanation. Braque thought the ideal state would be reached when we said nothing at all in front of a painting . . . But it is a rare picture that stuns, or argues, us into silence. And if one does, it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged.” This is the exact dynamic that informs his new book. In his 1989 novel A History of the World in 10½ Chapters, Barnes had a chapter on Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa, and since then he has written about many great masters of nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, including Delacroix, Manet, Fantin-Latour, Cézanne, Degas, Redon, Bonnard, Vuillard, Vallotton, Braque, Magritte, Oldenburg, Lucian Freud and Howard Hodgkin. The seventeen essays gathered here help trace the arc from Romanticism to Realism and into Modernism; they are adroit, insightful and, above all, a true pleasure to read.