PRINT January 1965


Francis Bacon, The Golden Age of Spanish Sculpture, 100 European Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Soutine

John Rothenstein and Ronald Alley, Francis Bacon (New York: Viking), 1964.

IT HAS OFTEN been noted that writers never seem to live up to their pre-Nobel Prize performances, and that the Academy Award is usually the kiss of death to an actor’s career. One can only hope that Francis Bacon can survive this strange tribute of a catalogue raisonné of what one hopes will only be a frac­tion of his output. The book surveys and documents Bacon’s entire career, from his early abstract works (we have come to that) to the summer of 1963. An excellent selection of color plates is backed up by over 250 black and white reproductions, over 200 works are pre­cisely catalogued, there is a chronology of the artist’s life, a list of one-man exhibitions, a bibliography, and three appendices: one on “abandoned pic­tures,” one on “destroyed pictures,” and one given over to problems in dating.

When Bacon is right, an image is set into the consciousness of the view­er that is ineradicable. Such were the series of screaming, glass-caged figures of the early fifties and, most recently, the “Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe.” No criticism seems to have been able to penetrate down to the depths of the hell out of which these images emerge, and Rothenstein’s introductory essay doesn’t even seem to know it exists. “. . . there is something reassuring about, for instance, his va­pourizing heads, for we know that heads do not vapourize . . . ” Don’t they? One longs for a condition of in­nocence so pure that the art of Francis Bacon can be “reassuring.”

Manuel Gomez Moreno, The Golden Age of Spanish Sculpture (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society), 1964.

ART BOOKS MAKE SPLENDID Christmas gifts, and during the Christmas season publishers parade their most enticing spec­imens. Under the circumstances, the normal concerns of adequate index, careful cataloging of the works repro­duced and quality of text are over­shadowed by marketing elements more germane to the Christmas rush. But Christmas or no Christmas, The Golden Age of Spanish Sculpture is one of the most beautiful productions of the year. Devoted entirely to the painted wooden Spanish sculpture of the 16th and 17th centuries, and rarely reproduced in the standard art history surveys, the works are a revelation. Melodramatic and passionate, violent and composed, hysterical and ecstatic, their extravagant realism results at once in some of the most intensely expressive carvings of the suffering Jesus-along with tears of glass pasted to the cheeks of the weeping Virgin.

While the photographs are superb, they are superb not in the tradition of, say, Max Hirmer, with his even lighting, head-on confrontation and mini­mum of photographic editorializing, but in the tradition of the Malraux and Malraux-edited books, with their frank recognition of the camera’s potential for the creation of a new work of art. Under Malraux, however, the camera brings out what is latent; under Kenett (who did the black and white) and Pietzsch (who did the color) an already terrifying naturalism is given the accent of a contorted and uncontrolled ex­pressionism. Advantage is taken of the shadows that can form in the deep grooves of woodcarving under strong light that tends to exaggerate rather than to clarify. But the photographs communicate an excitement that re­productions rarely manage. Given, how­ever, the kind of photography involved, information regarding the dimensions of the objects is essential; the photography absolutely dispenses with in· dications of scale. The book’s failure to provide these often leaves us to­tally unable to orient ourselves; a given piece may be six inches or six feet high. The text lacks the inspiration of the photographs, though all the facts are there.

Jacob Bean, 100 European Drawings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Greenwich, Conn.: New York Graphic Society).

A TASTEFUL, well-designed volume, with good notes ac­companying each selection.

Marcellin Castaing and Jean Leymarie, Soutine (New York: Abrams), 1964.

A RUSH JOB, for the Christmas trade. The re­productions are neither sized nor dated, most of them from the collection of M. and Mme. Castaing. Something must sooner or later be done about this ubiquitous Jean Leymarie, who ap­pears capable of pouring out tons of copy for these books on artist after artist and displays a positive genius for never rising above the level of: “How was it that in this hidden backwater, without ancestors, he carried in his blood not only the torments of his race, but also the irrepressible demon of painting?” Etc., etc., etc.

––Philip Leider