The Private Life of a Masterpiece

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The world's most well known works of art are both instantly familiar and profoundly mysterious. What has made these images so popular, and how did they come into existence? The Private Life of a Masterpiece answers these questions by delving into the secrets of iconic works of art dating from 1501 to 1950. Piecing together a trail of clues, it examines each work from conception through completion to afterlife, detailing how the commission came about, the preparation undertaken by the artist, the way the work was executed, how the finished work was received, and its influence on other artists. We learn, for example, that Leonardo devised a new form of perspective when painting the Mona Lisa, and that four centuries later Picasso was detained for stealing the portrait from the Louvre; that Goya painted The Third of May 1808 as a criticism of the monarchy but nonetheless offered it to the king as a gift; that Van Gogh's Sunflowers owes much to improvements in the postal system; that Munch's The Scream was influenced by the Incas; and that Jackson Pollock's paintings were promoted by the CIA. Along the way, we also learn about each artist's life, including the struggles with family, lovers, patrons, and critics.

The works featured in this book met with a variety of reactions when first unveiled, and the author details them all, from admiration and respect to horror and contempt. Now readers can judge for themselves.

Beautifully illustrated and lucidly written, The Private Life of a Masterpiece offers an innovative and compelling introduction to the extraordinary stories contained in the history of art. It will enthrall all those who wish to know more about this fascinating subject.

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Editorial Reviews

Christian Science Monitor
This lucid book is primarily for the lay reader, and, mercifully, is largely free of art-history jargon. [Bohm-Duchen's] essays are always thought-provoking and informative. They amount to 'biographies' of each work.
Library Journal
This companion volume to a BBC2 series of the same name delves into eight famous artworks selected by freelance author Bohm-Duchen: one Renaissance statue, Michelangelo's "David"; one Renaissance painting, Leonardo's "Mona Lisa"; four 19th-century paintings, Goya's "Third of May, 1808," Manet's "Olympia," Van Gogh's "Sunflowers," and Munch's "Scream"; and two 20th-century paintings, Picasso's "Demoiselles d'Avignon" and Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm." Interesting aspects of their production are noted; for example, American artist Pollock cited Navajo sand painters as an influence on his drip technique. While Bohm-Duchen acknowledges that others might not agree with her particular choices, she does succeed in showing why these eight artworks have become iconic if not in their own time, then through time, as illustrated by "Sunflowers," which set a record in 1987 when it sold for almost $40 million. Bohm-Duchen also discusses the paintings' influences on commercial culture; for instance, the advertising poster for the film Home Alone shows Macaulay Culkin in the same screaming pose as Munch's image. Mainly intended for the lay reader, this is recommended for larger public libraries that collect comprehensively in art. Anne Marie Lane, American Heritage Ctr. Lib., Laramie, WY Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520233782
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2002
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 8.50 (w) x 11.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Monica Bohm-Duchen is a London-based freelance writer, lecturer, and exhibition organizer. She has worked for the Open University, the Tate Gallery, the National Gallery, the Royal Academy of Arts, and the Courtauld
Institute of Art. Her books include Understanding Modern Art (1991), The Nude (1992), and Chagall (1998).

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Table of Contents


Chapter 1. Michelangelo buonarroti
Chapter 2. Leonardo Da Vinci
Chapter 3. Francisco De Goya
Chapter 4. Edourd Manet
Chapter 5. Vincent Van Gogh
Chapter 6. Edvard Munch
Chapter 7. Pablo Picasso
Chapter 8. Jackson Pollock

Further Reading


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