The World’s Most Influential Painters and the artists they inspired || David Gariff

If you like serendipity, this is a fascinating book that leads you from one place to another, frequently unexpected and seemingly random. According to the cover blurb, it “provides a unique and accessible introduction to the history of art by examining the hidden connections between 50 extraordinary artists who have established or redefined movements and traditions”. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

If you were to take this as a primer in art history, I can’t help thinking you’d feel let down and rather confused. The idea of linking one artist to another by subject matter is indeed fascinating and can make you sit up: The Arnolfini Wedding and American Gothic do have echoes, as it happens, but are they intentional or only in the mind of the author? On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t have thought of it and it sets off a whole new chain of thought, which is great if you know your art history but, going back to where we started, as a beginner, you might feel led up the garden path.

More obvious connections exist: for example, Alison Watt’s 1990 Marat and the Fishes clearly references the David original, but equally, Munch’s The Scream might have been based on a Peruvian mummy in the Trocadero Museum in Paris, or it might not. This is where the serendipitous aspect comes in; some of these paintings reference works you’re unlikely to have thought of yourself and introduce things you may not even know about. It’s fun, even a bit educational, but probably only if you like that kind of thing. If what you want is a serious, time-line based history of art, there’s no doubt this is not a book for you. If you want a bit of fun, though, you’ll love it.

A&C Black 2008

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