Publishers Weekly - Publisher's WeeklyThe broad view of the artsthat they are meant to enlarge our worldis everywhere apparent in this collection of essays by the author of such books as A History of British Art and the art critic for The Independent where these pieces were initially published. Through reviews of significant exhibitions of Western art, the pleasures of good painting emerge, informed by a journalistic critic who gets close to the work he is considering. "None of the people here seems to be communicating with one another," Graham-Dixon writes of the half-lit creatures in Toulouse-Lautrec's painting, Au Moulin Rouge. Even when he comes across an artist he cannot wholeheartedly embrace, such as the pointillist Seurat, he uses his wit and erudition to produce a fresh insightin this case, wondering if Seurat is the father of Pop art. One view of journalistic criticism holds that its primary function is not to tell the reader whether a work of art is bad or good but, instead, to give the reader enough information so that he can make up his own mind. To his credit, Graham-Dixon does both, enhancing his supple, reportorial style with an exuberant tone. The British critic William Hazlitt, whom Graham-Dixon admires, defined the common-place critic as a "pedant of polite conversation," a person who "thinks by proxy and talks by rote." Graham-Dixon is anything but. Four pages of color reproductions, 38 photographs. (Sept.)
Library JournalGraham-Dixon is touted by the voluble Robert Hughes as the "most gifted English art critic of his generation." Although the contents of this superb compilation of (mostly) exhibition reviews have previously appeared in the British daily Independent, where the author has a regular column, they are far better than most art journalism. Like Hughes, Graham-Dixon writes in an impressively learned and opinionated fashion, but he has less of a predilection for the rhetorical cri de coeur. Still, he's unafraid of expressing an unpopular view, as in daring to begin an essay on Rembrandt by calmly asserting that he was "a thoroughly inconsistent and frequently inept artist." But he fleshes out this last statement by gracefully articulating how its evident truthfulness undermines recent controversial attempts to deattribute many works previously thought to be Rembrandt's own. He's gently convincing in coming down on the side of old-style connoisseurship vs. X-ray science in evaluating creative authorship. These 53 essays are wonderful reading for any art lover and should attract a deservedly wide audience. Highly recommended.Douglas F. Smith, Oakland P.L., Cal.
Kirkus ReviewsGraham-Dixon, the art critic for the British newspaper the Independent, notes in the introduction to this collection of his terse critiques of museum exhibits and gallery shows that they were written not "for posterity but for tomorrow's newspaper." That makes them more, rather than less, impressive: Whether discussing Egon Schiele's disturbing nudes, Cézanne's turbulent apprenticeship, Claude Lorrain's "radiant, melancholy" landscapes, the "graceless, scurrilous, irreverent" late art of Picasso, or the ideology of nationalism and hygiene shaping Vermeer's paintings, Graham-Dixon is exact and persuasive. He renders the specifics of a work of art with great precision (and, often, sympathy), and matches the specifics with short, deft passages on each artist's background, tastes, intentions, and career. He doesn't mind sharing his enthusiasms, is witty without ever seeming jaded, and can usually find a metaphor or image to nicely sum up the particular impact of a work of art. The hasty origins of the pieces sometimes intrudes; there's little room for documenting assertions. Nonetheless, this is a stimulating, often surprising debut collection.
- Knopf Publishing Group
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