Svetlana Alpers

  • Bradley Walker Tomlin

    It has been forty years since Bradley Walker Tomlin (1899–1953) last had a retrospective. The stated rationale of this exhibition is to bring home to the Hudson Valley the Syracuse-born artist who lived in New York and chose to have a place in Woodstock. But a deeper reason is to attend to an artist who, now as then, is overlooked. In the years right after his early death, Tomlin was admired by collectors and museums of high and advanced taste. Since then, the distinctive paintings of his final years these patrons and institutions so admired have not been given the respect they deserve. But,

  • Rembrandt at the National Gallery in London

    “REMBRANDT: THE LATE WORKS” offered a splendid chance to consider the possibilities of painting. With the exception of some early works, Rembrandt’s painting seems to me to be remarkably all of a piece. Did he have a late style as Titian and Picasso are said to have had? Despite its subtitle, this exhibition in fact included works from the last third of Rembrandt’s life (the 1650s to 1669). “The Mature Works” might have been the truer subtitle. He did not swerve from his course despite the fact that he suffered bankruptcy (1656), rejection by the town hall (1662), and death (his common-law

  • Walker Evans: The Magazine Work

    THIS BOOK IS ABOUT the overlooked work of Walker Evans. We know the iconic photographs he made in the South in the mid-1930s, we know his subway portraits (shot between 1938 and 1941, though not published until twenty years later), and we know the memorable Polaroids he made at the end of his life. But his early magazine work (his first published folio was in 1930, in the Architectural Record) and his years with Luce publications—briefly at Time and then at Fortune magazine, from 1943 to ’65, as special photographic editor for the last seventeen years—have been either ignored or

  • Svetlana Alpers

    Instead of waiting for the summer, I read That Which Is Not Drawn right off—another brilliant design from Seagull Books, presenting the artist William Kentridge in conversation once again. This time, he is in Kolkata with the anthropologist Rosalind C. Morris. The topic is the spoken and the hidden, or, what Kentridge has not yet drawn. At the heart of the matter are the distinctions that make his timely art what it is: moving images rather than still; metamorphoses instead of individuals; continuity, not loss. The “virtues of bastardy” is the provocative phrase Kentridge uses to sum it

  • THE BEST BOOKS OF 2011

    Ten scholars, critics, writers, and artists choose the year’s outstanding titles.

    SVETLANA ALPERS

    Imagine that you are listening to a spirited conversation between a French art historian and a German painter. De Rouget and Daimler, as they are called, are at lunch on a recent October Sunday near Pontarlier. It is where Degas vacationed briefly in 1904 and where absinthe is made. In Il était plus grand que nous ne pensions: Édouard Manet et Degas (Paris: Nouvelles Éditions Scala/Collection Ateliers Imaginaires), Éric Darragon, author of a subtle biography of Manet and writings on contemporary German

  • “El Greco to Picasso: Time, Truth, and History”

    Spanning the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, this show will include approximately 135 works by mostly high-profile artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Zurbarán, Picasso, Miró, and Dalí.

    Once again the Guggenheim will use its rotunda to unfurl the art of a single nation. Previous exhibitions of the art of Brazil, the Aztec Empire, and Russia put unfamiliar objects on view, and there were discoveries to be made. Spanish painting as a category is different. Spanning the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries, this show will include approximately 135 works by mostly high-profile artists including El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Zurbarán, Picasso, Miró, and Dalí. The painters are well known, though not primarily because they are

  • Svetlana Alpers on the life of painting

    I WENT TO SEE “The Triumph of Painting: Part 1” at the Saatchi Gallery on a morning in February. (There will be three more installments this year and next of this vast survey of some 350 canvases from Charles Saatchi’s collection.) I went out of curiosity about seeing the works, of course, but also out of curiosity about the site—the old London County Hall (opened in 1922; until 1986, the seat of the city’s government), which had been vacated, sold, and converted into a leisure complex with hotels, an aquarium, and, eventually, the gallery. As it turned out, the paintings and the site had an

  • Rembrandt

    Rembrandt has been exhibited on many occasions and under many rubrics in recent years. But “Rembrandt’s Late Religious Portraits,” an international loan exhibition organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, in association with the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, will be unique.

    The focus is on only seventeen paintings. They are all approximately life-size portrayals of individuals (mostly men, and including a 1661 self-portrait of the artist posing as Saint Paul), depicted at half or three-quarter length, obscurely dressed, face and prominent hands illuminated, often with

  • Svetlana Alpers

    WHEN ART HISTORIANS SVETLANA ALPERS AND CAROL ARMSTRONG VISITED “MANET AT THE PRADO,” A SURVEY OF THE EARLY MODERNIST’S PAINTINGS AND PRINTS WITH SPANISH INFLUENCES, THEY DECIDED THE EXHIBITION WAS NOT ONLY AMONG THE BEST OF 2004, BUT AMONG THE BEST THEY HAD EVER SEEN. DEMANDING OF ITS AUDIENCES THE SAME PILGRIMAGE TO THE MUSEUM THAT MANET HIMSELF MADE OVER A CENTURY BEFORE, CURATOR MANUELA B. MENA MARQUÉS’S ENSCONCING OF THE ARTIST AMONG HIS FORBEARS PROVED A POWERFUL COUNTERPOINT TO A CONTEMPORARY ART WORLD DEFINED BY SPEED, AHISTORICISM, AND IMMATERIALITY—AN ART WORLD THAT MAY ASK, “WHY MANET?”

    The recent surge of interest in Manet and Velázquez bodes well for painting. The international “Manet/Velázquez” exhibition that toured in 2002–2003 had two venues and two incarnations. At the Musée d’Orsay in Paris it was subtitled “La Manière espagnole au XIXe siècle.” In its New York version the subtitle became “The French Taste for Spanish Painting.” Whatever else was intended, and there was more, looking at those two artists focused attention on painting as it has been in the past and prompted thoughts about painting now and its possibilities in the future. In Paris, Manet was presented as

  • Svetlana Alpers on Richard Wollheim

    RICHARD WOLLHEIM, who died on November 4, 2003, at the age of eighty, was one of the leading philosophers writing on art and on the mind in the twentieth century. Art and Its Objects (1968, expanded 1980), On Art and the Mind (1974), Painting as an Art (1987), The Thread of Life (1984), and On the Emotions (1999) were among the compelling books he wrote. But listing titles hardly does justice to the man or to his work. Wollheim’s friends were at a loss: How does one go on with one’s own work when his sustaining passion for painting and his endless vitality in pursuit of it are gone? His life,

  • “Rembrandt’s Journey”

    THIS OCTOBER, THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, Boston, will present an exhibition of some one hundred fifty of the finest examples of Rembrandt’s etchings together with about twenty paintings and thirty drawings which are similar to etchings in craftsmanship and scale. The idea for “Rembrandt’s Journey: Painter, Draftsman, Etcher” originated with Clifford S. Ackley, chair of the MFA’s Department of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs and a leading connoisseur of Rembrandt etchings. The list of loans promised by public and private collections from around the world is astonishing. All manner of subjects

  • REBECCA HORN: CHORUS OF THE LOCUSTS I AND II, 1991

    I CAME UPON this pair of works by Rebecca Horn on a miserable, rainy day in late winter in Hamburg. It was 1993. My visit to the Kunsthalle was an escape from the weather and a way to fill time before catching a plane back to Berlin where I’d been living since the previous fall. I was doubly on the road, away from being away, free, but also somewhat at loose ends, unfocused. There was a striking painting of a Delft church interior by Gerrit Houckgeest (hardly a household name, but long of interest to me) hanging in the museum. I wanted to see it.

    The Hamburger Kunsthalle is not very large. It