Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Two Tales of Two Pieces of Art and Their Controversies; 'Venus De Milo' and 'Madame X' Both Caused a Row

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Two Tales of Two Pieces of Art and Their Controversies; 'Venus De Milo' and 'Madame X' Both Caused a Row

Article excerpt

Title: Disarmed, The Story of the Venus De Milo

Author: Gregory Curtis

Data: Knopf, 247 pages, illustrated, 24.

Title: Strapless, John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X

Author: Deborah Davis

Data: Penguin Group, 308 pages, illustrated, 24.95.

Reviews by JUDY WELLS

It's rare that anyone writes a book about a single work of art in such a way that the casual reader will be entertained as well as enlightened. It's all but unheard of that two would do so at the same time, but they have.

Gregory Curtis, former editor of Texas Monthly, takes on the Venus de Milo from her discovery in 1820 by a farmer on the island of Melos to her arrival at the Louvre in Paris and the debate, controversy and adulation she has caused ever since.

Deborah Davis, a veteran story editor and analyst for the film industry, delves into European-born American painter John Singer Sargent, the Louisiana-born Parisian Creole socialite Virginie Amelie Avegno Gautreau and the life-changing furor created by their collaboration on the portrait known as Madame X.

Disarmed, The Story of Venus de Milo is at its best when detailing the egos and agendas of French, Greeks, Turks and Russians involved in the competition to obtain and remove the newly discovered the Venus de Milo and when setting the Paris scene into which the statue finally arrived in 1821.

A la grecque was the rage, thanks to the self-styled opinions and critique of the first art historian and critic, Johann Joachim Winckelmann. In his landmark publications, he decreed that good taste originated in Greece, where art reached its pinnacle in the "noble simplicity" and "quiet grandeur" of work produced between the age of Pericles and the death of Alexander. No capital was worth its museums without a masterpiece from this great, roughly 120-year-long period.

After the Revolution, Paris may have been the center of style and the arbiter of taste, but after the fall of Napoleon, other countries reclaimed the "artistic loot" Napoleon had appropriated. …

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