Archive for category Subject: Art History
“Everyone”, it says here, “loves a castle”. That’s a broad, bold statement, but I for one wouldn’t disagree. Not my place, not my pay grade, I’m just here to write about books.
As with a lot of Sansom books, this accompanies an exhibition. I like that because I get to see a lot of paintings I otherwise wouldn’t – I can’t get to everything. It also provides a lasting record after the show has finished and, while the works are all collected together, there’s an opportunity to do some quality origination, as well as a captive market for the initial print run, making the whole thing an economic possibility. It’s a neat, virtuous circle.
Subject-based exhibitions provide an opportunity for a varied and eclectic choice of works: you’re not limited by artist, style or period. Here, we have watercolours, oils, etchings, drypoint, casein, linocuts and anything else I’ve missed. The castles don’t even have to be real – there’s one of Gormenghast. The choice of works is right up to date, the most recent being 2016 (more recent than Le Brun, by the way).
As if all that wasn’t enough, there’s even a potted history of the development of castles as well. If you’re interested (and, as the blurb hints, aren’t we all?), but not so interested to want a whole book on the minutiae of the subject, this will do nicely.
The arrangement of the book is topical, with each chapter introduced by a different writer: a historian, art historians and an archaeologist. Each illustration is reproduced at a good size and has an extended caption explaining both the subject and the image; some of these are by the artists themselves.
There is much to like about this book, from the subject matter to the curating and the standard of production and reproduction. It’s also very reasonably priced, another thing Sansom are rather good at.
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Or you could buy from the publisher
When Americans collect, they really collect! It’s generally known that Orson Wells’ Citizen Kane is based on the life of William Randolph Hearst and that Kane’s massive and obsessive acquisition of European artefacts reflected both that of his original and of many contemporaries. This, then, is not a slim volume of dilettante collections, but a blockbuster of a book with 232 top-quality illustrations and all the academic research and authority that the Washington National Gallery of Art can bring to the feast.
The tale begins in 1815, when Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) arrives from across the Atlantic with an impressive collection of the Eighteenth Century art of his country. This kick-started fashion and mansions were furnished with works by artists such as Boucher and Fragonard. In modern times, the neoclassicism of David and others has been added to the mix and the interest continues.
This book accompanies an exhibition which brings together sixty-eight paintings by thirty-eight artists, having been gathered from no fewer than twenty-five states. It’s worth quoting those numbers just to give an idea of the extent of the collection and the distribution of the works across the country. Even then, it’s been selective. It should also be said that the book stands alone as a separate product and is a long way from being an exhibition catalogue that would benefit from a visit.
The book, with contributions from eleven different writers, doesn’t just list, reproduce and explain the works, even if that might have been enough. It also tells the story of the collectors, collections, museums and galleries that now house them. It talks about the art dealers who brought them to where they are and becomes, in the process, something of a social history, both in terms of the process of acquisition and the American fascination with the France of the period – with revolution, in a word.
The artistic scope of the book makes it worthwhile on its own, but the historical elements make it compelling reading. Yes, it’s a book about art, but it’s also about collecting, obsession and society and what that tells us about ourselves.
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