PRINT February 1981


Photo-Realism, Egyptian Art, Native Arts of North America, Chinese Art, The Art of French Glass, American Art Nouveau

Photo-Realism, by Louis K. Meisel, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1980, 528 pages, 1,203 illustrations, including 710 in color.

As a key dealer in Photo-Realist painting, Louis Meisel is the ideal guide through this collection of illustrations, bibliographies and exhibition lists. While exception can be taken to Gregory Battcock’s suggestion in the foreword that Photo-Realism “has raised the possibility of art appreciation on the basis of subject matter,” Meisel’s first three criteria for Photo-Realist work seem to the point: “The Photo-Realist uses the camera and photograph to gather information. . . . The Photo-Realist uses a mechanical or semimechanical means to transfer the information to canvas . . . The Photo-Realist must have the technical ability to make the finished work appear photographic.” This book is an exhaustive reference on the subject.

Egyptian Art, by Cyril Aldred, 262 pages, 199 illustrations, including 20 in color; Native Arts of North America, by Christian F. Fiest, 216 pages, 193 illustrations, including 20 in color; Chinese Art, by Mary Tregear, 216 pages, 162 illustrations, including 20 in color. All in the “World of Art” series, New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.

These three new titles in the Oxford series share similarly authoritative voices, and useful approaches. Like the previously published volumes, each is written by an acknowledged expert in the subject, who is also, not surprisingly, connected in some way with Oxford University. The texts offer good, solid information without fuss. The color illustrations are terrible; the black-and-whites are passable references. These books provide general introductions that are grounded in firm scholarship.

The Art of French Glass 1860-1914, by Janine Bloch-Dermant, New York: The Vendome Press, distributed by the Viking Press, 1980, 204 pages, 300 illustrations, including 118 in color.

This splendidly illustrated book reveals a facet of Belle-Epoque style. Although it justifiably devotes half its pages to the School of Nancy (and most of them to the incomparable Emile Gallé) it also shows the origins in Brocard, Rousseau, etc. The author discusses sources of inspiration, artistic evolution and techniques, and in addition puts the artists in historical perspective. What a pleasure it is to discover (and how appropriate) that Gallé was a friend of Proust and Montesquieu, and that he was one of the signatories of the manifesto calling for a review of the trial of Alfred Dreyfus. This book is a moving tribute to glass as art. Documented with skill and understanding, though subject to a somewhat stilted translation, this exploration is fascinating.

American Art Nouveau, by Diane Chalmers Johnson. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1979. 311 pages. 394 illustrations, including 41 in color.

Although Johnson is at pains to emphasize the quality, depth and independence of American Art Nouveau, somehow the lack of a global perspective is disorienting for anyone interested in this international movement. On the other hand, it allows the reader to discover the parallels and coincidences of and the differences between, European and American Art Nouveau, and that is a pleasing challenge. Moreover, Johnson makes the most of the American artists and material at her disposal, which results in a fine book. The illustrations are well-chosen, and altogether the book is informative specialized and decorative. In an accessible manner it interweaves the origins, ideals, influences and many forms of Art Nouveau in its main flowering outside Europe.