Art historian, Biographer, Professor, Curator, Photographer
works indelibly portray the lives of artists.
1. "William Morris" by Fiona MacCarthy (Knopf, 1995).
AArtist, poet, lecturer,
businessman, politician, social reformer and environmentalist--no single
description could encompass William Morris, who dominated the art world in
the Victorian age. It is difficult nowadays to imagine why Morris's furious
nostalgia for the medieval should have seemed so revolutionary. But he was
appalled by the flood of cheap, ugly manufactured goods that followed the
Industrial Revolution in
2. "A Life of Picasso" by John Richardson (Random House, 1991, vol. 1; 1996, vol. 2).
John Richardson, the
author, editor, curator and all-around aesthete, has the ability to combine
superb scholarship with a delicious style and unfailing wit. In the
mid-1980s, then about 60, he embarked on a four-volume study of Pablo
Picasso's life. It took him six years to publish the first volume (with a
staggering 900 illustrations), covering the artist's life from 1881 to 1906.
The second (1907-17) came five years later. At last, after more than a decade
in the making, the third volume (1917-32) arrives this fall. It is joyous
3. "Savage Messiah" by H.S. Ede (Literary Guild, 1931).
This portrait of French
sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska begins in 1910, when he became infatuated with Sophie Brzeska, a 38-year-old Pole who had come to
4. "Augustus John" by Michael Holroyd (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1974).
Michael Holroyd, a biographer's biographer, is particularly attuned to the problem of writing about the lives of artists. They tend to "translate all their energies into their work," he writes, leaving behind precious few clues about what they thought and felt. Then again, some artists save a bit of energy--as did Augustus John (1878-1961)--for living the sort of life outside bourgeois morality that is often expected of them. John was, to be sure, notoriously absent-minded about money and careless about women. The result was that over time the British painter, as Holroyd puts it, was "simplified into a myth." Holroyd's accounting of John's life (a subject he revisited in 1996 with "Augustus John: The New Biography") reflects the author's relentless dedication to undoing this simplification. With meticulous attention to the facts, Holroyd gives us an Augustus John who spent much of his long career trying to come to terms with the rapturous reception--and corresponding expectations--that greeted his work as a young man. The messy personal affairs are all here, to be sure, but so is Johns's brilliant, troubled life as an artist--presented by Holroyd with sublime intelligence.
5. "Edward Hopper" by Gail Levin (Knopf, 1995).
There is something
about the work of Edward Hopper that uncannily evokes a decade. Look at
"Nighthawks," his famous painting of a deserted street lit at night by a
café, its inhabitants frozen on their bar stools. Once again it is the early
1940s. It took years for Hopper to refine his signature style, which infused
seemingly innocent images, whether of small towns or of the
Ms. Secrest, who has written biographies of Frank Lloyd Wright, Richard