In 1992 I was commissioned by the Oxford University Press to produce a revised and abridged edition of Harold Osborne Oxford Companion to Twentieth-Century Art ( 1981). Once I began work, however, I soon realized that I was changing the material in the Companion to such an extent that I was creating a book which bore little resemblance to its notional starting point. I also found that in rewriting I was tending to expand entries rather than shorten them. The OUP therefore allowed me to scrap the original idea and generously gave me the time to produce a book that is twice the length we had originally envisaged (half a million words rather than a quarter of a million words). Although Harold Osborne Companion provided my initial framework, probably less than two per cent of its text has survived into the present book, which is very different in spirit--less austere and I hope more geared to the interests of the general reader (there are many more anecdotes, for example, and in the biographical entries I have tried wherever possible to give some glimpse of the subject's personality as well as an account of his or her career). I have also incorporated material from the Oxford Dictionary of Art ( 1988, new edition 1997), but this, too, accounts for a fairly small proportion of the text. Moreover, of the 1700 entries in the Present book, about a quarter are on personalities or topics that are not included in either the Oxford Companion to Twentienth-Century Art or the Oxford Dictionary of Art. Thus, although it is related to other titles in the Oxford family of reference books, this dictionary is essentially a new work.
The scope of the book is difficult to define with precision. Primarily it deals with painting, sculpture, and the graphic arts (including some material on cartoonists and illustrators), but it also embraces various other fields of activity that are now usually grouped with the more traditional visual arts--Conceptual art, Performance art, Video art, and so on. Architecture, design, photography, and the applied arts are outside the book's territory, although they are often mentioned in passing, and there are entries on various individuals who were active mainly in these fields but who also worked as painters, sculptors, or graphic artists; Brassaï and Le Corbusier are examples. Most of the entries are biographical; in addition to artists, they cover collectors, dealers, museum administrators, patrons, and writers. There are also a few figures who fall into a miscellaneous category: the forger Elmyr de Hory, the model Kiki of Montparnasse, the publisher Albert Skira, the bookseller Anton Zwemmer, and so on. The non-biographical entries are devoted mainly to groups of artists, movements, and styles; they also cover artistic techniques that have been invented-- or most fully exploited--in the 20th century, such as acrylic and linocut, as well as important exhibitions, major art journals, and institutions of various kinds, notably galleries and museums that are devoted solely or primarily to 20th- century art.
In deciding which artists are chronologically eligible for inclusion, I have adopted a rule of thumb employed by Philip Larkin in his Oxford Book ofTwentieth-Century English Verse( 1973)