My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
I had originally planned to do A for African literature, but first K left me having to choose between knitting or Kenya and then M for memoir turned out to have a considerable African content. So, I'm back to A for art - so far, so last year.
My back catalogue contain books which reference art works and books purely about art and/or artists. I read and enjoy both.
A huge fan of Donna Tartt, I was thrilled to discover her latest book was named for 'The Goldfinch' by dutch artist Carel Fabritius. Sadly, once Theo has stolen the painting, there is almost nothing connected with art in this massive tome of a book. That was just one of its many disappointments for me. More pleasingly, Tracy Chevalier weaved a story around very little fact in both "The Lady and the Unicorn" and "Girl with a Pearl Earing". The first, the tale of famous French medieval tapestries, is an ensemble piece of the impact their designer has upon his client, his client's family and finally the weavers. The second is more personal and slower, the tale of Vermeer and the maid he eventually painted whilst wearing his wife's pearl earings.
Chevalier writes most enjoyable tales, but I was absolutely entranced by "The Hare with Amber Eyes". Edmund de Waal, the author, is a well-known ceramacist who inherits the Hare - a piece of netsuke - which leads him to investigate (and document) the history of the collection and with it, his family. Despite words not being de Waal's primary talent, his prose caused me to purr more than once. Clearly a man with artistic sensibilities, this book is vivid, full of beautifully drawn characters and descriptive history as it impacted upon this once-wealthy Jewish family. The largest section of the book concerns Charles, who builds the netsuke collection, amongst other artistic collections. As a lover of Impressionist paintings, I positively pinged with pleasure (and no little envy) as Charles socialised with and purchased their works, even being identified as the man in the top hat in Renoir's 'Luncheon of the Boating Party'. That envy quickly disappeared when reading "it wasn't just Renoir who disliked the jews ..." for the story then builds up to that infamous time in history. Truly a great read!
Martin Gayford, long-time art critic for The Guardian, wrote of his experience sitting for my favourite contemporary artist - Lucien Freud - in "Man with the Blue Scarf". Gayford takes us, step-by-step, from the start of the project to its completion, eight months later. During that journey, we learn a huge amount of the technicalities of painting - both from Gayford's critical observations and from his lengthy discourse with Freud. Freud also covers subjects ranging from who he paints and why, to his views on other great artists, to the fascinating range of people he has met in his long life. Gayford blends in a bit of Freud's personal history with some lucious illustrations and the book is complete.
On my shelves still are "The Lives of the Artists", both volumes, but I was tempted away from them by "A Crisis of Brilliance: Five Young British Artists and the Great War". This is a superb work, sufficiently academic to be recommended by art historians, but accessible enough for an art lover. The artists selected - Dora Carrington, Richard Nevinson, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer and Paul Nash - were beautifully brought to life by David Boyd Haycock. We learn about each individually, we watch as their lives mingle and as they part, we see them mixing with other artists and intellectuals of their time. Considering the impact the great war had on that generation, our five artists come through remarkably unscathed. There is experience of war, although largely with medical units, with three of the five going on to become official war artists. The fear of conscription is depicted having a powerfully negative impact on two of our chosen few. Indeed, it is the mental and emotional trauma of the Great War that is largely examined here. Read this to learn more about these five artists, about their studies at The Slade, about the development of English art and literature; yes the Great War had an impact and cannot be ignored, but this work makes an excellent read with or without it.
Do you enjoy reading about art works within fiction? Or do have a similar interest that you like to see weaved into fictional works? How do you feel about books that are just about that interest - are they dry, or does it depend on the writer?