Magazine article The Spectator

Sumptuous and Scholarly

Magazine article The Spectator

Sumptuous and Scholarly

Article excerpt

Art books

The inexorable rise of the exhibition catalogue continues apace, and many of the most enticing of this year's potential stocking-fillers (or -bursters) fall into this category. The old-fashioned idea of exhibition catalogues as souvenirs of shows one had seen is rapidly being supplanted by their new status as consolation prizes for saddos who missed out on the real thing. In the case of Van Gogh and Gauguin: The Studio of the South by Douglas W. Druick and Peter Kort Zegers (Thames & Hudson, 45), those of us unable to drop everything and head for Chicago do at least have a theoretical opportunity to see the show in question at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam in the New Year.

In the meantime, we are all able to feast our eyes on the delights of a veritable blockbuster among blockbusters, which also incorporates remarkable new scientific research revealing what the two protagonists were painting on an almost daily basis.

Less intellectually stimulating, but perhaps even more visually enticing is Impressionist Still Life by Eliza P. Rathbone and George T.M. Shackelford (Abrams, 30), the catalogue of an exhibition which is not going to cross the Atlantic. Here the achievement has been to make a balanced but above all exemplary anthology, in which there are numerous major works by the best artists, sometimes from obscure collections, but also distinguished canvases by lesser names, such as Gustave Caillebotte, an artist who may not rank with Manet or Cezanne, but deserves to be better known than he is.

At least one catalogue of an old master exhibition acts as a foretaste of treats in store for Londoners. This is Aelbert Cuyp edited by Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr (Thames & Hudson, 45), which will be at the National Gallery in 2002. Cuyp's pictures, sun-bathed land- and seascapes with more than their fair share of cows, may sound rather dull, but the truth is that at his best - and this is a peerless selection - he is one of the most undemandingly pleasurable of all the Dutch painters of the Golden Age, and the one who most successfully put the gold into it. Cuyp's drawings lack the warmth of his paintings, and are perhaps something of an acquired taste, but they too have their moments, both in the most ambitious panoramic views and in the meticulous studies of the leaves of rhubarb and butterbur.

Medieval Panorama, edited by Robert Bartlett (Thames & Hudson, L29.95), is a useful reminder of the sorts of things only books can do. It treats its impossibly vast subject theme by theme, and allows images - over 800 of them - to overwhelm text in a colourful and many-faceted cavalcade. Inevitably, some of the reproductions are of old favourites, but in the main considerable ingenuity has been expended in pursuit of the quirky and the unexpected. I would defy anyone not to meet with a few surprises on the way.

Two lavish but also seriously scholarly studies of the Florentine 16th century come from Yale. The first is Painting in Renaissance Florence 1500-1550 by David Franklin (Yale, 40), which includes chapters on such big names as Leonardo and Michelangelo, but is far from being a mere procession of masterpieces. Instead, it examines its chosen period in considerable detail, not only through a careful reading of Vasari's accounts of these artists, but often also through a profound knowledge of the original documents of the time. …

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