Robert Tanitch’s Round-up of Books No 1 (2018)
Michelangelo: A Portrait of the Greatest Artist of the Italian Renaissance by William E. Wallace (Carlton Books £25). The portrait is vivid. Michelangelo (1475-1564), sculptor, painter, architect, draughtsman, poet, aristocrat, one of the great figures of the Renaissance, is celebrated for Pieta, David, Moses and the decoration of the Sistine Ceiling in the Vatican which includes the Creation of Adam by God, one of the greatest icons. More than any of his contemporaries he significantly raised the stature of his profession from craftsman to genius.
Leonardo da Vinci: 500 Years On: A Portrait of the Artist, Scientist and Innovator by Matthew Landrus (Carlton Books £25). Leonardo (1452-1519) was one of the greatest painters of the Renaissance and a most versatile genius: anatomist, civil and military engineer, mathematician, musician, naturalist, philosopher and sculptor. His influence to his own times and succeeding centuries was enormous. He was a prolific draughtsman and this volume has access to his notebooks. There is a magnificent collection of familiar images. Ginerva de Benci. La Belle Ferroniere, Lady with the Ermine, Vitruvian Man, Virgin of the Rocks, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. There are facsimiles of documents, letters and photographs, diagrams and three dimensional illustrations, notes and drawings for a crossbow.
Constable’s Skies by Mark Evans (Thames & Hudson £14.95) The paintings and sketches by John Constable include such favourites as The Hay Wain, Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, Hampstead Heath, Brighton and many more. The volume shows the painter as meteorologist. Constable had extensive knowledge of the weather and atmospheric effects and a particular interest in the formation of clouds. There is plenty here to delight. “Painting,” he said, “is a science and should be pursued as an inquiry into the laws of nature… It is difficult to name a class of landscape in which the sky is not the key note.”
Japanese Prints: The Collection of Vincent Van Gogh (Thames & Hudson £ 29.95). “All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” said Van Gogh, who bought a considerable number of Japanese prints (over 600) in Paris. The landscapes, Kabuki theatrics, and courtesans are colourful and decorative. They had a profound influence on his work. He was thirty-three and still financially dependent on Theo, his brother. He had acquired the prints for 3 sous and hoped he could sell them for five. The selling exhibition flopped; but they helped his art and it is fascinating to see the prints and his art work side by side. “We wouldn’t be able to study Japanese art, it seems to me, without becoming much happier and more cheerful.”
Vintage Travel Posters: A Journey to the Sea in 30 Posters (Thames & Hudson £19.95). The adverts promoting seaside holidays have an immediate visual impact and make Bridlington, and Lowestoft look really sophisticated. I particularly like the art deco graphic designs in the 1920s and 1930s.The striking poster for Cornwall by Edward McKnight Kanfer was probably too arty, too modernist, for the general holidaymaker in 1932. The collection is full of nostalgic pleasures. It used to cost only 20 guineas to travel on the Orient Line Cruise to Norway. Andrew Johnson’s poster, Goodbye England! La Belle France!, is hilariously snobbish. The posters are detachable and (I am being totally serious) ideal for bathroom and lavatory walls.
Olafur Elliasson Experience (Phaeton £65). “Art presents a holistic retrospective on what it means to be human… When I create installations and other special experiments, I basically construct milieus in which life can be experienced.” The Installations, sculpture, paintings, photographs, architectural projects, interventions in public spaces produced by this Danish-Icelandic artist over three decades are immersive, dynamic and awesome, often achieved with strobe lighting and monofrequence light. The Interactions between viewers and art work or subjects and objects are riven with tensions, conflict and misunderstanding.