PRINT December 1984


The Golden Age, Images of a Golden Past, A toute épreuve, Cézanne and the End of Impressionism, and 19th Century Art

THIS HANDSOME AND INFORMATIVE BOOK will be of use to specialists and laymen alike. The text is comprehensive, almost encyclopedic, covering—in addition to its discussion of individual artists and pictures—such matters as patronage, theory, and subject matter, as well as the political, historical, religious, and economic contexts in which Dutch painting developed during the 17th century. The treatment of individual artists is organized geographically, in terms of major artistic centers, which has the advantage of conveying a good deal of the specific texture, and variety, of the life out of which the paintings came. Though the scope of a book like this precludes extensive analysis of individual pictures, the discussions of works are nonetheless pithy and to the point, and a good deal of interpretive information is supplied. The book is also richly illustrated. Although only 74 of the more than one thousand illustrations are in color, the tonal values of the black and white illustrations are for the most part excellent—enhanced by rich blacks which recall those in Dutch etchings of the period. And the color illustrations, though relatively small for a book of this size, are also generally of high quality and make up in richness what they lack in size. Speaking of size, the book is quite large, quite thick, and quite heavy; but on the whole—and this must be relatively rare among art books—the wealth of its contents adequately compensates for the physical effort required to handle it.

Bob Haak, The Golden Age: Dutch Painters Of The Seventeenth Century, trans. and ed. by Elizabeth Willems-Treeman (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc.), 536 pp., 1043 black and white illustrations, 74 color plates.


THIS BOOK PROVIDES A GOOD introduction to 17th-century Dutch genre painting—its basic nature and premises, and the ways in which scenes from everyday life are invested with symbolic meaning. The introductory section provides a good deal of useful information about the social, moral, and intellectual contexts in which Dutch genre painting developed and thrived, and also provides an informed but commonsensical approach to the question of underlying symbolism. The succeeding chapters are arranged thematically, and cover various aspects of such general themes as “The World of Work,” “Private and Domestic Life,” and “Recreation and Pleasure.” Individual paintings are described sympathetically and in some detail, with attention given to the conventions by which underlying meanings were generally understood during the period. As a result, a lively picture of life in 17th-century Holland is developed.

Unfortunately, the physical production of the book leaves something to be desired. Although the general layout is visually quite handsome, the text is often annoyingly broken up or crammed into odd spaces in order to accommodate the illustrations; and the illustrations are often poorly reproduced. The black and white plates are frequently either too light or too dark, and the color plates are sometimes quite muddy, or bathed in a printer’s “golden glow” which is very different from the one referred to in the book’s title.

Christopher Brown, Images Of A Golden Past: Dutch Genre Painting Of The 17th Century, (New York: Abbeville Press), 240 pp., 155 black and white illustrations, 120 color plates.


FOR MANY YEARS, IT HAS seemed as if there were two 19th centuries: one made up of progressive or Modernist artists, the other of academicians. This division has been reinforced by both the scholarly literature and museum exhibitions, and also by the way courses in 19th-century art are generally taught. The appearance of this book is thus a welcome event, since it brings the two 19th centuries together at last in a single volume; and, without ignoring either the ideological polarities between the two groups, or questions of relative quality, it nonetheless places them firmly within the single historical period that the in fact both occupied. The book also is unusual in that it includes a good deal of non-French art, and is organized in terms of chronological periods related to important dates in 19th-century history, rather than strictly by individual artists. Although both of these features present some problems, the book on the whole is remarkably successful. Rosenblum’s chapters on painting are especially admirable. They are informed by great knowledge of the art and of the period, they achieve a wonderful balance between the generalizations necessary in a broad survey and detailed discussion of individual works, and they are written in an interesting and energetic manner. The chapters on sculpture, which were posthumously edited from Janson’s book-length manuscript on the subject, don’t quite stand up to the painting chapters, and are not totally integrated into the rest of the book.

Although the book is well-designed, the color plates are sometimes surprisingly mediocre, and there is no list of either the color or black and white plates.

19th-Century Art, “Painting” by Robert Rosenblum and “Sculpture” by H.W. Janson, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1984.


THIS IS AN IMPORTANT book—thoroughly researched, carefully argued, and clearly (though densely) written. Shiff reconsiders the theory and nature of Impressionism and its relation to Symbolism; Cézanne’s relationship to Impressionism and Symbolism; and the place that Cézanne and Impressionism occupy within the history and theory of Modern art. The book is not only full of fresh and interesting ideas, but is also organized in a fresh and interesting way, which “imitates and illustrates” part of its subject, “the historical process of interpretive change and accretion,” as it progresses from historical to empirically based interpretation. Shiff combines a careful analysis of the critical literature with his own insightful analyses of individual paintings—thus clearly differentiating between accrued meanings and his own visual interpretations—and has much of interest to say in both contexts. In addition to a penetrating analysis and critique of the earlier literature, the book proposes a very fruitful approach to—and terminology for—the discussion of Impressionist pictures and of Modernist painting in general. Of particular interest are his distinctions between technique and style, and between the made and the found, and his discussions of technique in relation to discovery, to originality, and to content.

This book adds an important dimension to the discussion of Impressionism, Cézanne, and Modern painting, and should be an important point of reference for future discourse on these subjects.

Cézanne And The End Of Impressionism, by Richard Shiff, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1984.


THIS BOOK WAS ORIGINALLY published in 1958 by Gérald Cramer, in an edition of 130, after Miró had worked on the illustrations over a period of ten years. One of the greatest illustrated books of our century, it is also an extraordinary example of printmaking virtuosity. Miró used a number of “found objects” in the composition of his images, and several pages include collage elements—some of which were printed on after they were glued in. As Anne Hyde Greet notes in her informative introduction, 233 separate blocks of wood were used for the final edition, which required some 42,000 passes through the press. Thus, unlike most other modern illustrated books, the different copies of which are more or less exactly the same, the copies of Cramer’s edition of A toute épreuve inevitably differ from one another—sometimes slightly, sometimes quite considerably—in texture, density, and color. Braziller has reproduced copy number 75, which appears to be a particularly strong impression. And although one does miss the subtle handmade quality and textural differences of the original, which are so integral to its deeply moving effect, the Braziller edition is nicely done. It is printed on good paper, and a brave attempt has been made to capture the subtle colors and patternings of the original.

Because the book is very much a kind of “poem-picture,” in which the words and forms are integrally related, some readers will regret that an English translation of Eluard’s poem has not been included.

Paul Eduard, À toute éprove, woodcut illustrations by Joan Miro, introduction by Anne Hyde Greet (New York: George Braziller, Inc.), 22 pp., 84 color illustrations.


Jack Flam is a professor of art history at Brookyn College.